Zenithal priming,

airbrush vs. spray can

Zenithal priming it’s one of the easiest techniques which can improve your painting greatly, helping a lot with highlights and shadows. Plus it shortens the whole painting process significantly. Basically, you can make it in two ways, using airbrush or spray can. Below how zenithal priming works, description of both options and their comparison.

What do you need?

Airbrush way Spray can way
– Air paint, surface primer or regular paint* in: black, grey, and white**.

– Airbrush and compressor

– Spray can primer in: black, grey, and white**.

*you have to thin such a paint by yourself, unlike those ready-made paints dedicated to airbrush.
** you can different combination of colors, info about this in the next section

Zenithal priming miniatures paints

How zenithal priming works?

Generally, zenithal priming is just priming your mini with 3 colors instead of just 1 (it can be done also with just two colors, but effect are a little bit less great). The goal you trying to achieve is a nice gradient, shadows and highlights effects on your mini, giving the impression of the source of light lighting above the model (‘sun in zenith’).

The whole procedure consists of 3 easy steps:

  • Prime the entire model black (or any other color u want to use as a base).
  • From the very top, spray in a 90-degree cone using grey (or any other color, but lighter than base picked before). Try to use thin layers, don’t spray too much.
  • From the very top, spray in a 45-degree cone using white (or just brighter version of the color used in the previous step). Don’t forget about thin layers.

After this, you can simply start painting the mini. Using thin layers of paint with your brush you will see how highlights and shadows nicely pop out, thnx to previous zenithal priming.

Having airbrush, but you missing some paints? You can always mix the base color with some white.

Zenithal priming miniatures

Zenithal priming is a great way to paint whole armies if you don’t have time, but u hate to play with the pure grey plastic. After priming just use on the whole mini a wash matching color of the prime. 

Awaken Realms (creators of Nemesis, Tainted Grail, and many other great games) are selling their games with an optional ‘sun drop effect’ on minis, which is basically the same as zenithal priming.

Zenithal priming miniatures

Airbursh vs. spray can

Starting with the summary – spray can is a much worse solution if you want to make painting minis your regular hobby. It’s reasonable only when you have some cans left you are really scared of airbrushes. I’ve started with the spray can, but only because I can’t thin paints for airbrush properly. After I bought Air paints from Vallejo, I’ve never come back to cans. Below reasons why.

Airbrush way Spray can way
– You need to buy airbrush and compressor, but… + You don’t need to buy expensive tools, and every can is about 10$, but…
+ cheap, 30$ airbrush, and simple, 75$ compressor are enough for zenithal priming, so in the mid/long run, it’s the cheapest option. – it’s cheaper than airbrush only in the short term.
– You have to learn how to use it, but… + With cans there is not much to learn, but…
+ once you’ve done this you can easily control the stream of the paint achieving great results. – you can’t control the stream (only distance) and it’s easier for the unwanted thick layers.
+ Thin layers are easy to achieve. – It’s easier to ruin your work with thick layers or unevenly distributed paint.
+ You can use paint in any color you want, you can mix them, you can lighten them. – You are limited to a few colors only.
+ A quicker way to prime a lot of minis at once. – Spray hole can be clogged when trying to prime to many minis at once.

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