Undercoating for Beginners

Whilst feverishly undercoating my Deathwatch army the other day two things struck me. The first was I was using a method taught to me by a bloke called Andy when I first began working for Games Workshop back in 2000.

The other was that occurred to me that not everyone necessarily knew how to properly undercoat their models.

As a couple of my friends are relatively new to the hobby and have only just begun painting their armies I thought it a good opportunity to pass on some long earned wisdom.

Whilst, arguably, there’s no right or wrong way to undercoat your models there is definitely prep and ‘best practise’ to help the unwary hobbyists along the way.

This guide is based around undercoating models black but the considerations are broadly the same whatever colour you’re using.

Step 1. Preparation

Be under no illusions, undercoating does not hide all sins. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Mould lines are far more prominent once the model has been undercoated than before so make sure you’ve been thorough when building your toys.

If mould lines don’t bother you chances are they will because they’re also a pain in the arse to paint over as well. Do yourself a favour, invest in some decent files and clean them off. It’s a couple of extra minutes per average size model and it’s well worth it.

Also be sure that any filings or other detritus is removed from the model. This can include dust if your models have been sat out for a while, or basing materials if they’ve been sat in a figure case or cabinet with a completed models.

If you’re spraying models that have been ‘dipped and stripped’ make sure that the stripping agent has been thoroughly washed off and the model is fully dry. Spray paint does not like oil and water. At all.

Step 2. Looking after your Spray

I use Games Workshop’s undercoat but I’ve also used Army Painter and I’ve found this to be true of all spray paint, regardless of colour: store your cans at room temperature.

Storing your spray paint in the garage or the shed will only spell doom and misery because the when the cans get cold the paint and propellant don’t mix properly which causes ‘chalking’ to occur on the models. It’s relatively easy to put right but (a) it’s a waste of paint (b) it’s a waste of time and (c) you’re a twat for doing it in the first place.

Step 3. Where to Spray

Personally, I couldn’t give two shits where you spray as long as you’re not vandalising someone else’s property or gassing yourself.

Spray paint is not good stuff to breathe in so make sure it’s a very well ventilated area.

As I rule I always spray outside, on top of a bin so I’m not having to crouch down. Granted this means that I can be at the mercy of the elements but better that than shaving days off my life by spraying in a poorly ventilated garage.

Step 4. How to Spray

This is where it gets a little subjective but personally I lay the models down and spray them in halves.

Make sure whatever you lay your models on is sturdy, easily movable and untreated. A cardboard mail order box is perfect. A product box lid isn’t ideal because the paint sits on the treated cardboard rather than being absorbed.

This can mean the paint can pool slightly underneath the model making them stick and can cause the box to tear when you lift the models clear. If you only have a box lid to use I recommend giving it a light spray to take the sheen off.

Lay as many models as you can on the box because any paint that isn’t going on a model is paint that’s being wasted. That said, make sure none of the models are touching otherwise the models will stick and you won’t get an even covering.

 

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As you can probably tell, this box is more paint than cardboard.

 

Before you start, shake the can well. Different brands mix at different rates. Army Painter spray has a bonkers amount of pigment in relation to propellant so whilst it doesn’t need as much shaking as GW’s, take the time anyway. The last thing you want is a bad mix.

By using short, controlled bursts in a sweeping action this allows for a smooth and even layer of paint on the model.

Rotate the box (hence using something a little substantial) so you can apply an even coat of paint to the front, top, bottom and sides of the model.

This is where placing your models on something reasonably high, is advantageous because you have more control over where the paint goes.

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When spraying make sure you keep the can a reasonable distance from the model. Most instructions will say eight inches, I’d say eight inches gives better coverage without compromising quality and detail.

Unfortunately, trial and error plays a part when learning to spray. You’ll quickly learn what’s too close and what constitutes a smooth sweeping action and what doesn’t…

4.1 Wobbly Models

The best and worst thing about modern models is they’re all dynamically posed marvels of sculpting genius.

It’s brilliant because the models are awesome, but it can make spraying models a tricky because they don’t have an even purchase when laid down.

Keep any model you think is likely to roll over once you start spraying towards the inside of the box. Give it some extra space so if it does roll over it won’t hit (and stick to) any other models.

Ultimately though, you’re better off positioning the model for stability as whilst you may not get brilliant coverage on the first coat, you will on the reverse side.

4.2 Leaving Your Models to Dry

Whether you’re letting them dry after the first spray or the second, where you leave you’re models is as important as where you choose to spray them.

If you’re spraying on a warm sunny day then leaving them outside is an obvious decision. However, summer days can bring with them dust, pollen and other airborne objects that can stick to the wet paint on your models.

If you do leave them outside to dry, make sure they’re shielded from the elements.

At the other end of the spectrum, leaving your models anywhere that’s cold and damp is likely to cause chalking as if the can was too cold. This again makes sheds and garages a less than ideal place.

A moderately insulated utility room works well and avoids pissing off wives, husbands, parents etc with the smell of the paint.

4.2 Finishing the Job

Once the paint is touch dry, flip the models and repeat the process.

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You won’t need to use as much paint on the reverse of the model so expect it to be finished in short order. Don’t worry about going over the sides of the model again. Providing you stick to short bursts all you’ll do is even up the coat and give you a smooth finish.

Give the models enough time to dry then you’re done.

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To Sand or Not to Sand

I’ve been asked by more than a few hobbyists over the years whether or not they should sand their models before they spray.

Both have their merits.

Spraying a model before sanding helps the glue take better and gives you greater versatility in how you paint it. Un-sprayed (if that’s a thing) sand can be inked/washed/shaded. Sprayed sand can’t.

The big advantage of spraying sand is that it seals it making it way more durable which is no bad thing. Just remember, you’ll have to paint the sand which can affect the finish. So whichever option you choose, stick to it.

 

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