Do You Need To Prime

Dated: 03/01/2018

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What Does Paint Primer Do, and Do I Really Need Primer Before I Paint?

By  | Feb 28, 2018

What does paint primer do? Primer helps prep and protect the surface you're about to paint, leading to better-looking results.

"A primer works to seal in stains, create a smoother, more even finish, and ensures superior adhesion between the top coat and the surface you're painting," explains John Kim, a product manager at Dunn-Edwards. Using a primer will also increase your paint's durability. 

Do I need primer before I paint?

While applying primer may seem onerous since you're essentially doing double the work, it's an important step for certain projects. But not all paint jobs call for primer; it depends on several factors—including the surface you're painting, the type of paint you're using, and the shade you plan to cover up.

When to prime before you paint

  • You're painting over a dark color. Imagine trying to brush a sunny yellow shade over a deep purple one, and you'll quickly realize primer is necessary when making this transition. "In some cases when you're covering a dark paint, you might need a tinted primer to help the new color you've chosen look truer to the sample swatch," says Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KGP.

  • Your walls are (a bit) gross. Are you faced with water damage, mildew stains, or greasy patches? These blemishes might end up showing through that light green you bought if you don't use primer first. "There are specific primers such as KILZ that offer better coverage so these marks don't bleed through your new color," points out Gray-Plaisted.

  • You're painting a new surface. New drywall, bare wood, or a newly skim-coated wall (a technique used by drywallers to cover up blemishes) will all need primer. "These surfaces are very porous and will soak up your paint if you don't prime," says Kim. Primer will fill in the pores and reduce the number of top coats you'll ultimately need.

  • You plan to use latex paint over an oil-based one. Yup, using primer will help the top coat adhere to glossy, oil-based paint. Ask a paint store pro which primer is recommended by the paint maker you've chosen, as primers are specific to latex or oil-based paints, say the experts.

  • You have wallpaper. Whether you just removed a layer of paper or you plan to paint over existing wallpaper (yes—you can do this!), get the primer ready. Again, each of these surfaces is on the rough side and will benefit from primer as the base coat.

  • You're painting over metal or plastic. "Using a metal primer will protect against rust and serve as a strong foundation for subsequent coats of paint," Kim says.

When you can skip the primer

  • Your walls are in good shape. "If you're covering a wall that was previously painted with latex and it's in good condition, without any marks or stains, then you can probably get away without using a primer," reports Darla DeMorrow of HeartWork Organizing.

  • The new paint nearly matches the old one. If you're putting white over another, similar white, you might be fine without a primer.

  • The paint you've picked already has primer. "Some of the newer paints such as Sherwin-Williams' Duration and Emerald brands are paint and primer combinations," says DeMorrow. Dunn-Edwards also makes a self-priming paint called Everest.

When in doubt about whether to prime or not, go ahead and do it. It won't hurt the walls, and you'll have a chance to practice your brushstrokes. Also check with the paint manufacturer and, if you must prime, ask what's the best primer to go with the paint you've selected.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes creates content for, the National Sleep Foundation, Fisher-Price, and Mastercard.  
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Sallianne Serra

A real estate professional for more than 15 years, Sallianne Serra is known for integrity, diplomacy and sincerity in all her dealings. In her tenure in the business, she has first and foremost strive....

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