Now I'm not sure about anyone else (mainly because I don't know many other painters), but I prefer to paint and prime the shoulder pads (and backpacks) separate from the figure, primarily because I like to make sure the figure itself gets as much paint and primer coverage right from the get go. Maybe I'm finicky, but it kind of bothers me if I know that I don't have at least a shade coat in the areas that aren't very visible - since I don't use black primer, this is maybe more relevant, because white primer glinting out brightly from crevices is a little jarring.
Anyways, I paint shoulder pads separately, and a while back I settled on a good way to paint the pads after priming without them touching or resting on anything and thus not getting good coverage themselves. When priming, I use two-sided masking tape and stick them to a paper plate on an angle. It lets me turn the plate 360° and get the pads from all sides, and get both bottom and back edges after a quick flip over once the first coat's dry.
For applying actual paint, I use the following method:
I attach the back of the pads to a coffee stirrer or something similar with poster putty (in the case of the image, they're stuck to the end of plungers from the 1mL syringes I use for measuring out paint ratios, using UHU-Tac reuseable putty) so that way I get 360° access to them when I'm painting, and can simply set the whole thing down to dry - post, pad, and all, when I'm done applying a color. I can do a bunch of 'em assembly-line style, as they don't take up a lot of room, and by the time I get done applying color to the end of the row, the ones from the beginning of the row will be dry. Two of these will be going on the Berzerker from my Disciples of the Four warband, as seen in the top-right of the picture, while the other two are saved for his friend, the inducted Ultramarine Berzerker I showed some while back - they're both nearly done, and should be getting pictures posted "soonish".
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