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  • Writer's pictureTyler Johnson

The Ultimate Guide To Primers

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

To prime or not to prime. A question that comes up more often than it probably should. The problem is it's not always entirely clear when you will actually need to use one. More often than you would probably think, we get asked the question ”Do we need to prime our walls before painting?” and more often than not the answer to that question is NO! But that doesn't mean that primers are useless in fact there are some projects that, if you decide to skip the primer, will make you regret every choice you've ever made. Let's prevent that outcome! Here is your Ultimate Guide to Primers!

Why prime?

First things first. Why prime? There are four main reasons for priming a surface before painting. The first and foremost is to promote adhesion. Some surfaces, typically very smooth ones, can be very hard to paint without a proper primer and if you choose to skip the primer there is a high likelihood the paint will start peeling off of the surface in no time at all.

The second reason is to seal the surface. Some surfaces such as new drywall are very porous and can soak up a lot of paint. By using the proper primer ahead of time you are able to seal those pores, not only saving you money since you will need to purchase less of your expensive topcoat, but it also gives your topcoat a more uniform and smooth finish.

The third reason is to prevent stains from bleeding through your topcoat. If you've ever had a roof leak then you understand what I'm talking about. Water stains have a very high chance of bleeding through your paint no matter how many coats you apply. The proper primer will prevent this from happening. This is also useful when painting over wood which can have a tendency to bleed tannins into your topcoat.

The last and least popular reason for priming is to increase coverage when painting over a dark or highly saturated color. Some colors such as deep red can take up to four coats of paint depending on the quality of paint you choose to use. Often it is much cheaper to first use a primer to give you a little headstart.

A quick warning about self-priming paint (Paint and Primer in One)

Now that there are so many self-priming paints on the market you may feel as if priming has become an obsolete practice. Wrong! Let's get one thing clear self-priming paint does not actually contain any primer! Yup that right. It is in fact quite the misnomer, and if used in place of a primer on certain projects it could cost you a lot of time and money down the road. What the paint stores actually mean to say is that these products are high coverage paints. In other words, some colors are very hard to cover with paint alone, and oftentimes people opt to use a cheaper primer to give them a headstart instead of using 3 or 4 coats of their expensive topcoats. However with the use of 2 in 1 paint products you cut out the need to use a primer since your topcoat has such good coverage. It can save you quite a bit of time in these situations but remember, these paints do not increase adhesion in any way.

For painting over things like wood, metal, or any other smooth surface you will want to use the proper primer. There's simply no substitute for proper prep work.

The 4 Main Types of Primers

These types of primers will typically be your all-purpose or drywall primers. All-purpose primers do a little bit of everything but don't shine too much at anything. These primers are fast drying, easy to clean up, have less odor, and are less expensive than some of the other primers on this list. These primers will serve you best when tackling projects that involve new drywall or drywall repairs. They are also a great choice for covering up dark or highly saturated colors.

Latex Drywall Primer Baltimore Maryland

Best uses:

  • New drywall or drywall repairs

  • Covering dark or highly saturated colors

  • When mild adhesion is necessary on surfaces such as softwood.

Oil-based primers are the gold standard when it comes to blocking stains from water, mold, and oils found in certain types of wood. Oil-based primers are also some of the best products for blocking stains caused by fires or cigarette smoke. Trying to cover these types of stains with a water-based product might take 2 or three coats at best and at worst they may never fully be able to stop stains from surfacing. That's why we recommend using oil-based primers whenever these problems are present.

Another use for an oil-based primer is to assist in converting a surface that has been painted or stained with an oil-based product over to a typical latex paint. Without an oil-based primer, water-based paint will never be able to bond causing it to peel straight off of the surface with even the slightest disturbance.

Best Uses:

  • Water stains

  • Smoke stains

  • Hardwoods

  • Converting oil-based topcoat such as wood stain to a water-based topcoat.

These alcohol-based primers offer the best of both worlds between water-based and oil-based primers. These are excellent at blocking stains, promote a decent amount of adhesion, and are powerful enough to block odors caused by fires and even pet waste. Shellac primers dry incredibly fast as well! The downside of these products, however, is that you should avoid using them on exterior surfaces if at all possible, they are very thin and messy to work with, and they are quite a hassle to clean. Often times painters will opt to use throw-away brushes and rollers instead of dealing with the clean-up afterward.

Best uses:

  • Water stains

  • Smoke stains

  • Hardwoods

  • Converting oil-based topcoat such as wood stain to a water-based topcoat.

  • Odors

Bonding primers do exactly what you expect. They promote extreme adhesion! These can stick to just about anything, and I mean it. They are rated by the manufacturer for allowing you to even paint over glass. Yes, glass! I personally still wouldn't recommend that but it is an option! Bonding primers are best used on any type of smooth surface that might be challenging to paint. We recommend using a bonding primer when painting over things like metal or even furniture that has a very smooth finish such as kitchen cabinets. These primers don't however block stains of any kind, so if stains are present consider going over your binding primer with an oil-based or shellac primer.

Best uses:

  • Smooth or hard to paint surfaces such as Metal or Cabinetry.

Kitchen Cabinets Primer Paint Baltimore Maryland


Even though primers aren't always needed for your paint project there are some projects that simply can't be completed without them. With a combination of these four types of primers, you should be able to tackle just about any paint project you have on your radar. So get out there and get the job done!

If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, we completely understand. perhaps you would rather leave it to the professionals. If you live in Maryland and you're looking to work with one of the best painters in Baltimore County, feel free to reach out to us at Aurora Painting! Schedule a call below!

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