Black, grey or white: What colour to use for plastic model primer

There’s a lot of debate about what colour to use as a primer and undercoating on models and miniatures but for me the answer is simple.

There are lots of colours available for priming but the main ones used by plastic models and mini painters are Black, Grey and White.

And when to use each, is pretty straightforward.

When to use Black primers

If the final colouring of the figure or building will be dark or metallic, then use a Black primer. Starting with a dark undercoat means you won’t need so many washes to tone down subsequent colours.

Use White primer when

In contrast, if the colouring is bright (yellow, bright blue etc.), white primers will give the best result.

You can also use white primer for darker figures and then apply a black wash over the top for the darker areas, which is what I do for darker but not dark models.  If you want to try this, read my guide on making your own washes.

And Grey primer when

The exception to this is if the plastic of the model is a dark colour and you’ll be painting it in a mainly inlight or bright colour, such as the case when painting skeletons. In this case, I prime with grey which can do a better job of covering the dark plastic.

This is when I use black, white or grey primers. Others use just one colour for everything with success. As always, I’d recommend a bit of experimentation and see how you get on. Try priming the sprues of the models and painting over them first and see what works best for you.

I’d love to know what colour primer you use and why or how your experiments worked out, let me know in a comment below. And if you’re struggling with acrylic paints, check out my guide to wet pallets, these handy accessories made a huge difference in my acrylic painting results.

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.
Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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