What's the Deal With Primers?

Derived from the Latin word primus, which means FIRST, the word “primer” refers to the “first” coat or the “prime” coat, and prepares you for what comes next. Many people use primers in multiple aspects of their daily lives without giving it a thought. For example, a math primer can serve as the initial material that introduces a student to the world of numbers, counting, addition, subtraction, and other concepts and equations--providing the foundation for the more advanced concepts that will follow.

Many women routinely apply a primer or foundation for their face, eyes, lipstick, mascara, and fingernail polish. These primers, which function as a barrier between the product and skin, help ease the application and keep the makeup in place longer. Primer paint works in the same manner.

The preliminary layer of coating applied to wood, plastic, concrete, metal, and other surfaces ensures that the paint adheres to the surface properly. A paint primer enhances durability, improves appearance and adds an additional layer of protection to the painted surface. Whether giving yourself a flawless new look or creating a beautiful home environment, primers allows you to prepare the surface properly.

Types of Primers

Wood, concrete and other materials have various physical and chemical makeups, which requires you to use a primer that interacts with the chemistry of the surface. Each type of primer categories - oil, latex, and shellac - possesses different ingredient properties and applications, such as:

Oil-based primers

This paint primer fills the pores in the surface and produce a smooth finish. Oil primers, which dry slowly and require mineral spirits for thinning and cleaning, works well for the following paint projects:

  • Unfinished wood

  • Eroded wood
  • Varnished wood
  • Woods that bleeds
  • Existing paint surface that is worn cracks and other defects

Latex primer

Rising in popularity, latex primers consist of water-soluble products that dry in a short time. This primer allows for the passage of water vapors and produces a finish that resists cracks. Latex primers works for the following applications:

  • Unfinished drywall
  • Bricks and concrete blocks
  • Bare soft woods
  • Galvanized metal (properly cleaned)

Shellac primers

These primers have an unpleasant odor, contain denatured alcohol that kills bacteria known to generate certain odors. Use shellac primers for the following projects:

  • Cover smoke, knots, stop stains and prevent bleeding
  • Use when dying is required quickly


When shopping for a paint primer you will need to consider the differences between adhesion-promoting primers and porosity-sealing primers. The adhesion-promoting primer (tie coat) “ties” the new paint to the existing surface, and usually sticks to the material surface better than the topcoat. Porous surfaces such as wood and concrete require a porosity-sealing primer that helps the coating adhere reliably, without bubbles, blisters or pinholes appearing in the top coat.

How to Cover Difficult Colors

To task of painting dark walls of black, brown or red hues can seem rather daunting. Dark-colored walls typically require two coats of quality primer sealer, because you must fill the pores in the surface of the material in order to prevent bleeding. If you find yourself with fluorescent orange, neon green or some other bright color, take the same approach as recommended for dark colored walls and use two coats of primer.

Many professional painters tint the primer varying levels of gray or use a color close to the shade of the topcoat to prevent bleeding. The best advice for using paint primers is to follow the instructions on the paint can label or seek out professional advice.

If you need help with your residential or commercial priming and painting project, click here to choose a convenient time and date for your free estimate!

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