Last Updated: September 28, 2020
If you want the finished product of your next paint job to look polished and professional, you need to first apply a primer. This first step of priming your surface, whether it’s drywall, wood, metal, or concrete, can lay the foundation for a uniform, long-lasting final result. What you may not know is that choosing the correct type of primer can make a significant difference in the appearance of your completed painting project.
Primer paints come in three different types: oil-based, latex-based, and shellac. Each type gives you certain benefits, as well as a few drawbacks. When deciding which type of primer to buy, you’ll need to assess the surface you’re about to paint and match it up with the correct primer. If you’re not sure which one to choose, read on — we describe the pros and cons of each type of primer and when it’s best to use each one.
Perhaps the most widely used because of its versatility, oil-based primer paint works well on a variety of surfaces, both interior and exterior, and pairs effectively with most types of paints. While preferred for oil-based paints, you can get great results with most water-based paints as well. Additionally, choose an oil-based primer if you plan to apply enamel paint.
You’ll want to pick up an oil-based primer if your painting project involves covering a wood surface. The qualities of oil-based primer make it especially useful for wood because it seals the porous surface. For example, when working with cedar, redwood, or similar woods, it prevents tannins from bleeding through your painted product. Additionally, you can use an oil-based primer with confidence on heavily weathered wood, unfinished wood, and previously varnished wood.
For the same reasons that it’s effective with wood, oil-based primer paint prevents stains and other color inconsistencies from making an unwanted appearance on your freshly painted surface. It works well to smoothly cover existing paint that’s chalking or cracking. However, it’s important to note that oil-based primer paint is not effective on masonry.
For all its benefits, keep in mind that oil-based primer paints produce a large number of VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area and wear necessary breathing protection.
From a practical standpoint, the other drawbacks of using oil-based primer paints are that they take a considerable amount of time to dry and are difficult to clean off brushes, rollers, and painting equipment. Finally, you must take precautions to carefully and properly discard all unused products.
You may want to choose a latex-based primer paint if reducing or eliminating VOCs is important to you. Nearly all latex-based primers offer either low or no VOCs. There are many important health benefits to avoid these types of fumes. Choose a latex-based primer if you’re painting near children or around anyone with breathing difficulties.
Latex-based primer paint can be used on drywall, bare softwoods like pine, masonries such as brick or concrete block, and galvanized metal, after proper cleaning. You’ll especially want to choose this type of primer when covering unfinished drywall because it evens out the surface and covers up patched and repaired areas. Pair latex primer with either latex paint or acrylic paint.
Latex-based primer paint does have its limitations. If your project involves covering dark stains and deep discolorations, you’re better off applying an oil-based or a shellac primer. Latex primer can cover lighter, minor stains effectively. Also, keep in mind that latex primer is not preferred for hardwood and metal.
If you have a heavy-duty painting project that involves covering smoke and/or water-damaged walls, you’ll want the optimal stain-blocking qualities of a shellac primer paint. Water, smoke, and rust stains don’t stand a chance against the strong coverage of a shellac primer. You can also effectively use this type of primer to seal wood knots, pitch pockets, and stubborn tannin bleeding.
Shellac primer paint can be used on wood, metal, plaster, and even plastic surfaces. It dries fast and is highly adhesive. You can pair it with both oil and latex paints.
However, you can only use shellac primer on interiors. Also, be aware that this type of primer tends to produce more fumes. Make sure you properly ventilate and wear a protective air mask. Finally, be prepared for the difficulty of cleaning this product off brushes and painting materials.
We hope that you’ve discovered the correct primer for your next painting project. The decision comes down to a few factors. If your painting surface allows it, you may want to choose the healthier option, a low or zero VOC latex-based primer. Also, latex is the go-to for painting unfinished drywall. If you’re working with wood or repainting a mildly stained surface, you’ll get better results if you pick up an oil-based primer. Finally, if the interior you intend to paint requires a stronger foundation to cover up damage, shellac is your most effective choice.
Featured image credit: vitkalova, Pixabay
David Janus is the founder and CEO of Paint Sprayer Magazine. He has over two decades of experience in the spray paint industry and still enjoys writing about new products and technologies.
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