What Is Primer Paint and Why Do You Need It?

Bob Thomas


When embarking on a painting project, whether it's repainting a room or refinishing a piece of furniture, you might have heard about the importance of using primer paint.

But what exactly is primer paint, and why is it necessary?

In this article, we'll dive into the world of primer paint, explaining its purpose, benefits, and when to use it.

By the end of this guide, you'll have a solid understanding of primer paint and how it can improve your painting projects.

Quick Summary

Primer paint is a preparatory coating applied before the actual paint:  1) enhancing paint adhesion, 2) promoting even coverage, and 3) increasing durability. It's 4) essential for surfaces like bare wood, metal, and drywall, as well as when painting over dark colors or stains.5) Choosing the right type of primer (oil-based, water-based, or shellac-based) is crucial for achieving the best results.

What is Primer Paint?

Primer paint is a specially formulated coating that prepares a surface for painting.

It's designed to adhere to the surface and create a uniform, stable base for the paint, ensuring better adhesion, even coverage, and longer-lasting results.

Primer paint is particularly important when working with surfaces like bare wood, metal, and drywall, as it helps seal the surface and prevent paint from soaking in unevenly.

Benefits of Using Primer Paint

  1. Improved paint adhesion: Primer paint helps the topcoat adhere better to the surface, reducing the risk of peeling or flaking paint.
  2. Even coverage: Applying primer creates a uniform surface, allowing the paint to cover more evenly and requiring fewer coats for full coverage.
  3. Increased durability: Primer paint seals and protects the surface, increasing the overall durability and longevity of the paint job.
  4. Color accuracy: Primer can help neutralize the underlying surface color, ensuring that the paint color you've chosen is true to its intended shade.
  5. Stain blocking: Primer can prevent stains, such as watermarks or rust, from bleeding through the paint and becoming visible on the surface.

When to Use Primer Paint

You should use primer paint in the following situations:

  1. Painting over bare surfaces like wood, metal, or drywall.
  2. Covering dark paint colors or stains.
  3. Working with surfaces that have uneven porosity or texture.
  4. Painting over glossy or slick surfaces, where adhesion might be a problem.

Choosing the Right Type of Primer Paint

There are three main types of primer paint: oil-based, water-based (also known as latex or acrylic), and shellac-based.

The choice of primer depends on the surface you're working with and the type of paint you'll be using.

  1. Oil-based primers: Ideal for surfaces like bare wood, metal, and previously painted surfaces, oil-based primers offer excellent adhesion and stain-blocking properties. They're compatible with both oil-based and water-based topcoats.
  2. Water-based primers: Suitable for drywall, softwoods, and previously painted surfaces, water-based primers dry quickly, have low odor, and clean up easily with water. They're compatible with water-based topcoats.
  3. Shellac-based primers: Known for their exceptional stain-blocking abilities, shellac-based primers work well on surfaces with severe stains, knots in wood, or nicotine damage. They're compatible with both oil-based and water-based topcoats.

Important: Always read the manufacturer's instructions on the primer and topcoat labels to ensure compatibility and follow proper application techniques.

Personal Experiences

Last year, I was repainting an old wooden dresser that had a dark stain on it.

I decided to use an oil-based primer before applying my light-colored topcoat.

The primer not only covered the stain effectively but also provided a smooth, even surface for my paint to adhere to.

As a result, my dresser turned out looking fresh and new, with the light color looking exactly as I had envisioned.

Without the primer, I'm confident that the final result would not have been as satisfactory.


Primer paint is a crucial step in many painting projects, providing a stable base for the topcoat and ensuring a professional, long-lasting finish.

By understanding the benefits of using primer paint and choosing the right type for your specific project, you can significantly improve the outcome of your painting endeavors.

Don't skip this essential step – your paint job will thank you for it!

Suggested Products:

  1. KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain-Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer:  Best for: Stain-blocking - KILZ Original is a powerful oil-based primer that offers excellent stain-blocking properties, making it perfect for covering dark colors and stubborn stains. It's suitable for a wide range of surfaces, including wood, drywall, and masonry.
  1. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer: Best for - General-purpose priming - This water-based primer is a versatile option that can be used on various interior and exterior surfaces. It offers excellent adhesion, dries quickly, and is easy to clean up with soap and water.
  1. Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer: Best for: Odor and stain-blocking - Zinsser B-I-N is a shellac-based primer that provides unbeatable odor and stain-blocking properties. It's perfect for sealing in tough odors and stains, such as smoke, water damage, or pet odors, and it dries quickly, allowing for faster project completion.
  1. Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover Primer: Metal and rust prevention - Rust-Oleum's Painter's Touch 2X Ultra Cover Primer is specifically designed for metal surfaces and offers excellent rust prevention. It bonds tightly to metal surfaces, providing a smooth, even base for your topcoat and extending the life of your paint job.
  1. Valspar Pro PVA Drywall Primer: New drywall - This primer is specifically formulated for new, unfinished drywall surfaces. It seals the porous surface, creating an even base for paint and helping to achieve a professional-looking finish with fewer topcoat layers.

About the author 

Bob Thomas

A fully certified interior decorator and house painter , Bob Thomas brings immense expertise and knowledge amassed from many years of hands-on experience with residential, commercial and specialty painting and decorating projects of all sizes and scopes.

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