Choose the Right Primer for Your Next Painting Project
Get the lowdown on the four most common formulations, and an overview of specialty primers for every possible substrate and situation, so you can find the right product for the job.
Synopsis: For this article, senior editor Patrick McCombe consulted experts from Sherwin-Williams, Dow Coating Materials, and Benjamin Moore, as well as FHB’s most-trusted painters. The result is a comprehensive look at a product that is never seen in finish work but is crucial for the longevity of that finish work. McCombe discusses the four main formulations of primer—oil-based, water-based, shellac-based, and synthetic shellac-based—as well as a product that hit the market relatively recently: paint and primer in one. He also provides helpful information on “do it all primers” and 11 specialty formulations: rusty-metal primer, vapor-barrier primer, problem-drywall primer, gray-tinted primer, PVA primer, high-bond primer, mold-killing primer, concrete-and-masonry primer, low-VOC primer, peel-bonding primer, and drywall primer.
Primer is one of those everyday building materials I’ve never given a lot of thought to. I’ve always used latex primer because it dries fast and is easy to clean up, but a quest for a durable exterior paint job on some basement bulkhead doors convinced me that I needed to know a lot more about the primer I use. So in the interest of science and a longer-lasting paint job, I interviewed primer experts from Benjamin Moore, Dow Coating Materials, and Sherwin-Williams. I also talked to Fine Homebuilding’s most-trusted painters about what they use and why. I’m grateful for everybody’s help, and I was surprised by the consistency of their advice. Here’s what I learned.
Primer and paint have different jobs, and they’re made differently for that reason. Primer prepares a surface for a topcoat and improves the topcoat’s adhesion. Paint sticks to the primer and provides color, dirt resistance, and weather resistance. As part of its job, a primer may have to cover or seal in stains, level an uneven surface, or effectively stick to…