Zenithal Priming

by Lyn Stahl, Metalhead Minis


When painting a miniature, we go in with the objective of having shadows, midtones, and highlights. Over one color of primer (I.E.- white primer) the painter would have to make sure that the person viewing the model can see where the shadows, midtones, highlights are placed.

What zenithal priming does:

It gives you an undercoat with the tonal values relatively set. This style of priming does some of the work for you when it comes to placing the shadows and highlights. When you add in your colors, you will see the colors appear darker in the shadowed (black primed areas) and brighter in the highlighted (white primed areas). Here is a photo example using the Wargamma Oaklord tree.

Click to view larger image.

How to Zenithal Prime

Zenithal priming can be done with an airbrush, spray cans, and even by hand with a brush. When doing this technique by hand, the white/ highlight color primer would be applied by way of dry brushing or just straight brushing it on. If you need more of a visual on how this can be done, be sure to check out this video on the Metalhead Minis YouTube Channel –


1. Make sure that your mini is properly prepped.

If there are mold lines, pitting, and other imperfections; it will show in the priming process and definitely in the painting process.

2. Be sure to clean the model! 

All you need is warm water, Dawn dish soap (or similar), a soft bristled toothbrush, and let the model air dry. Cleaning the model is very important no matter what material the miniature is made from. Cleaning the model takes off mold release, dust particles, oils from skin from handling the miniature, etc. These are all enemies to a good paint job and a good primer coat. Another good benefit to washing the model, is that it will help your paint adhere better and help your paint job last longer.

3. Prime the whole model black.

Be sure to get all areas underneath, in between crevices, and gaps. In this photo example, we will use Gale Force Nine’s Firefly 28mm miniature, Mal.

Click to view larger image.

4. Decide where your light source will be.

This will determine where and what angle you will be placing the white primer.

5. Go in at an angle (typically 45 degrees) about 8” – 12” away from the model (smaller model-8”- larger models closer to 12”)

Spray the white primer in short sprays and let the primer fall (especially with a spray can). As you go along, check to make sure that you are on the right track and continue. If you mess up, you can always start back from the black primer step. Note: Do not keep layering on the primer. Going over again once is usually okay depending on the amount of detail. More than that, I would strip the model and start over. Too much layered on primer can take away detail and can also make your paint job chip off.

Click to view larger image.

Sometimes after applying the primer, you might want or have to make some small adjustments by hand. Examples of this would be repainting in black primer in some spots, or perhaps filling in some highlight areas with white primer, or even fixing the midtone primer. Keep in mind that zenithal priming takes practice. When it comes to tabletop painting, the technique of zenithal priming can be done with other primer colors in place of white primer to cut down on army painting time (I.E.- Warhammer 40K Space Marines). A more advanced version of zenithal priming would be to add in the midtone value. This can be done with colors such as gray and khaki. One khaki color example would be Games Workshop, Citadel color in Zandri Dust. The midtone primer would cover most of the model and you would usually go in at a smaller angle (about 25- 30 degrees depending on what you are looking for in your project) to apply the white primer highlight areas. If you have more questions on how to do this technique, please feel free to contact us on our website…


Stay Crispy in milk and keep on painting!


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