Home Forums General General Undercoating/priming, do you prefer “toothy” or “smoothy”? Reply To: Undercoating/priming, do you prefer “toothy” or “smoothy”?


‘toothy’ (I like that term!).

I’ve definitely heard/seen other people describe undercoats and painting surfaces as “toothy” and “having tooth”, so I can’t claim credit for it. I like the term, too.


So a couple years ago I moved to Liquitex professional gesso for both metal and plastic figures. Much happier with it. I’ve never had it obscure details even on 10mm figures and I can prime any time I want. No ventilation issues. No humidity issues. Just give it 24 hours to dry and don’t wet your brush with water.

This is the same gesso I use. I’m fond of it for the same reasons and will continue using it for the vast majority of surfaces, basically any surface that I don’t intend to paint as particularly shiny metal. As for drying time, I find it to be much less than 24 hours, assuming it’s not watered down and has been applied no more liberally than it needs to be.


Shininess is all about the smoothness of the top surface.

This is what I want to believe, and traditionally have believed, but my experimentation with undercoats, metallic paints and varnishes these last couple of days hasn’t really borne that out for me. Airbrush-formulated metallic paint (thin in consistency but rich in aluminium pigment) with a gloss varnish on top definitely looks shinier on top of a glossy surface, than on a surface undercoated with gesso. For most purposes, painting metallics on top of gesso will do perfectly fine for me, as the things I’m painting metallic aren’t usually meant to look polished to a gleam anyway. I’ll be reserving the shinier metallic finish for those few items that I want to have stand out as having an exceptional glint to them. This might not even be an issue with historical miniatures, but most of my miniatures are more fantastical so I want the odd bit of chrome and the occasional item of metal that looks like it belongs on a parade ground.


@Rhoderic: do you color or tint your gesso? If so how? I have used white gesso and have tinted it with a drop or two of brown.acrylic ink to help provide a warmer base. Was wondering if you had experience with that and if something other than ink would be better, like maybe pigments or plain acrylic paint.

Sorry, I don’t. In fact, I must admit I no longer even subscribe to the “received wisdom” that the colour of the undercoat affects the end result. When painting miniatures, I tend to prefer paints that are thin in consistency but heavily pigmented, especially for basecoats (by which I mean the coats that go on top of the undercoat, in case anyone defines “undercoat” and “basecoat” differently than I do), and to paint several layers of basecoat, however thin each individual coat may be. I really don’t see the undercoat “shining through” at all after that. To me, the only purpose of the undercoat is to provide tooth and make the paintjob more durable.

I’d personally steer clear of mixing inks with gesso, as I really don’t like watering down gesso at all. I’ve found that watered-down gesso has a weird habit of forming a skin and taking a very long time to dry underneath, so that it may “slop off” if I mistakenly believe it has dried and begin painting over it too soon. This has never happened to me with any other paint or primer, and with gesso it’s only happened when it’s been watered down.

I’ve heard that you can tint gesso with regular acrylic paint up to a ratio of approximately one part paint to two parts gesso. But I also have vague recollections of having had gesso turn thick and grainy when I’ve experimented mixing it with acrylic paint in the past. I suggest just doing some experimenting to see what happens.


I’ve tried gesso but despite what I’ve heard about how it shrinks and conforms, I’ve found that to be problematic for small scales. It simply ruined my small figures when I tried it.

I’ve actually never experienced the famous “shrinking gesso” effect myself. I only use white gesso. Maybe it only happens with black gesso, which presumably isn’t as “bulkily” loaded with pigment (because black pigment gives better coverage than white)? In any case, what I do is simply to apply my white, undiluted gesso very thin to begin with. I take care not to overload the brush, and I just sort of dab it on. If it goes on too thick for a start, I keep dabbing (insert joke about hip-hop dancing here) and wiping my brush on some paper until I’ve gotten it thin enough. A small amount goes a very, very long way. Even the thinnest of coats sticks very well to the surface and provides plenty of tooth. I’ve done this with 6mm figures but must admit I haven’t taken it down to 3mm yet, though I own figures in that scale.