Learning ‘What Is Primer’ Can Save You Time and Money

What is primer, anyway? And why is it important? Our pros tell when to use primer and when to skip it – and why using it saves you time or money in the long run.

We get it. Painting is a big job, and we’re all looking for hacks to make it faster and easier. Putting on a coat of primer before you paint feels like you’re doubling your work. But in many cases, skipping that first step isn’t the hack you’re looking for.

Primer is an undercoat that you put on the walls before you put on the paint. What is primer used for? Quite a few things, actually, including:

  • Making the paint stick better
  • Increasing the paint’s durability
  • Sealing and protecting the surface you’re painting

You don’t need to use primer for every job, but there are times when using it will make the difference between your paint job lasting and not.

Why Do I Need Primer Before Paint?

Here’s when you need to use primer before paint:

  • The walls are stained
  • You’re painting plastic or metal
  • The surface has never been painted
  • You’re painting over a darker color
  • You’ve got wallpaper (you’re either painting over it, or you’re painting after you’ve removed it)
  • You’re putting latex on top of oil-based paint

In all these cases, you’ll find that a coat of primer means you’ll get a better, longer-lasting paint job.

Are There Cases Where I Don’t Need It?

There are times you don’t need to prime. Here’s where you can skip the line and go straight to the paint:

  • You’re new paint almost matches the old
  • Your walls aren’t stained and are overall in good shape
  • Your paint has primer in it already

Speaking of Paint With Primer Already in It ….

Nearly every paint manufacturer now makes a self-priming paint. But is it worth the hype?

The truth is, most of those paints don’t have any primer in them. Instead, they have a higher level of solids, which are the materials that give paint its ability to cover. So, you’re really just getting a thicker paint. That does hide the underlying color, but it doesn’t make the paint more durable or likely to stick, meaning you’re missing out of two of the most important benefits of primer.

As a result, we recommend using primer separate from the paint for best results. And if you’re not sure whether your project needs an undercoat, we say to use it, anyway. It won’t hurt anything, and you’ll get a better-looking, longer-lasting paint job.

Got questions about color schemes? Want some free 8-inch x 8-inch paint samples? Hit up our professional color consultants – they can help you find the perfect color for your painting project.

Kelley Rebori

Kelley Rebori has written for national brands like Paintzen, HGTV, the DIY Network and Trulia for more than a decade. She loves home renovation projects, chocolate icing and small poodles. She and her husband split the year between their homes in Tennessee and Italy.