The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Types of Paint Primers

calander Jan 31 , 2023 user-icon Nash Painting

Read any of our articles and you’ll pick up on a recurring theme: preparation is everything when it comes to a high-quality paint job. You can have the right paint, the right tools, and all the right skills, but if your surface isn’t clean and fully prepped, you’re building on a crumbling foundation.

Our level of prep is why our residential and commercial painting services are so popular here in Nashville. It’s done right, so it lasts far longer than the industry average.

Today, we’re going to focus on which primers to use before painting, what your options are, and how to use them strategically for the best outcome.

Ready to dig in? Let’s go!

What is primer for?

Primer creates a smoother, more uniform surface that allows the paint to grip better and last longer. The right primer product also helps to prevent stains, provide protection from the elements, and hide blemishes on a surface.

Remember, it’s all about building a strong foundation for your paint. Whether you need a cleaner profile, have stains to hide, or are starting from scratch and painting bare wood, primer eases the transition and sets your paint job up for success.

Water-based primers

Water-based primer is a super popular choice. Also known as a “latex primer,” it’s perfect for wood, drywall, and masonry, making it ideal for priming over a wide range of interior surfaces.

Here are a few more perks:

  • Fast drying time (always a bonus)

  • Easy to use

  • No special equipment is needed for application

  • Lower VOC levels (i.e. less stinky)

  • Seals the surface well

Lots to love, right? Before your run out and buy a can though, there are a couple of drawbacks to keep in mind too:

  • Best used on interior surfaces

  • Not a great fit for areas that are exposed to a high level of moisture

  • It has a tendency to fade over time, so watch out if you’re painting a sun-drenched surface

The takeaway? Latex primer is a great fit for most general interior painting projects. But if you need moisture-resistance, color integrity, and heavy-duty durability, it might not be the right choice.

Oil-based primers

Not quite as DIY-friendly, oil-based (or “alkyd”) primers are a bit trickier to use, harder to clean up in the event of a drip, dribble, or spill, and tougher to apply. You’ll also need to factor in longer drying times too before it’s fully cured.

The pay-off though is that oil-based primers offer unparalleled durability and adhesion. These are the “big guns,” if you will. Here are a few other key benefits:

  • Superior coverage

  • Durable

  • Excellent at hiding stains, knots, and other surface imperfections

  • Plenty strong for outdoor use and moisture exposure

In short, oil-based primers are a great choice when painting raw wood, bare metal, and masonry. This type of primer also forms an incredibly strong bond with the surface so that the paint will adhere better and last longer, ideal for exterior projects in particular.

Please keep in mind that oil-based primers should be used in well-ventilated areas as well.

Specialty primers

Drilling down deeper than just your two main primer categories, there are also specialty primers that are formulated for specific applications and purposes. They’re good to be aware of as you weigh your options.

Stain-blocking primer

Stain blocking primer is a great choice when painting over surfaces with existing stains, knots, or other blemishes. It literally creates a seal between the stain and the paint, preventing any further penetration or bleed-through (no more brown knots slowly appearing on your white trim). This type of primer is also ideal for blocking water stains, smoke damage, or other stubborn blemishes.

High-adhesion primer

Have you ever wondered how in the world paint sticks to a slick, glossy surface, like something made out of metal or plastic? It all starts with a high-adhesion primer specifically designed for surfaces that are difficult to paint on. It also reduces the amount of paint that is required for a project since it helps the paint stick better to the surface, preventing peeling, cracking, and chipping at the same time.

Self-etching primer

A bit more of an advanced product, self-etching primer offers some pretty unique capabilities. It’s designed to chemically etch metal and aluminum to allow for a super strong bond between the primer and the surface, in turn making a rock-solid substrate for the paint. You just need to be very careful since it can cause damage to paint and other surfaces if not used correctly.

Shellac-based primers

One type of primer that is often overlooked is shellac primer. It’s an alcohol-based primer that dries quickly and provides a strong bond, ideal for surfaces that have been previously painted or stained, as well as for surfaces that have been damaged or have a high gloss finish.

Here are few other benefits to keep in mind:

  • Really good at sealing in odors from smoke, pets, etc.

  • Non-toxic

  • Odorless

  • Dries quickly

One caveat? Shellac primer should not be used on surfaces that have been treated with oil-based paint since it can actually cause the paint to peel.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of specialty primers?

On the one hand, specialty primers often rock better performance since they’re designed so specifically for your needs. This means better bonding between the topcoat and the surface being painted, sealing in odors, hiding stains, smoother finishes, and an extra layer of protection and durability. All good things. We just can’t emphasize enough the importance of really researching your primer and how to apply it safely and effectively. Many are more technical in nature and can’t just be slathered on…

How about disadvantages?

  • Longer drying times

  • More labor-intensive preparation

  • Can be difficult to find in stores

  • More expensive

The takeaway?

It may be a tired adage but it still rings true: if your paint job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Investing time in researching the ideal products will pay massive dividends down the road, creating a more beautiful and long-lasting paint job. And your primer plays a vital role in making that possible!

Have more questions abouthouse painting in the Nashville area? Contact us at Nash Painting! We’d love to chat with you about your goals.