Do I Need
to Use Paint Primer?
Paint colors, dyes and compositions are getting better all
the time. Effects that would have been unthinkable just a
generation ago are becoming easier than ever to achieve,
from special matte finishes that resemble suede to
effortless crackle glazes that make faux effects a cinch.
One thing paint cannot do terribly well on its own,
however, is bond to every possible surface without a
little help. This is where paint primer comes in. If you
have come online in search of vetted and reliable info on
which primer to use and when, the following survey may be
of some use.
The basic rule of thumb for paint primer is that it is
necessary whenever you cannot create a totally flat
surface for painting. Surfaces with cracks, holes or
depressions that aren’t properly sealed could greatly
reduce the paint’s ability to set effectively, so
inherently porous substrates such as wood, drywall and
concrete tend to come with primer recommendations
attached. The natural holes in such materials can create
an uneven surface for painting. But each of these
materials requires somewhat different care, and it pays to
understand what distinguishes one from the next.
Wood is the most common surface for paint primers, a fact
that is hardly surprising considering its organic nature.
The reason you always want to prime wood before painting
is twofold – to protect the paint, and to protect the
wood. A number of modern paints dry into proper color and
hardness via evaporation, meaning they require the water
to find its way into the atmosphere. The problem is that
wood is a notoriously thirsty substance, and it is easy
for water to get absorbed into the grain itself. Often the
paint will begin to pucker and peel if the wood isn’t dry,
making it necessary to scrape and start over. Paint primer
creates a watertight seals between the two and ensures the
paint has a smooth and adhesive surface with which to
A second reason you always want to prime a wood surface is
because the same absorption can quickly undo your attempts
at an even coat. Lighter paint colors especially will
often reveal the telltale whorls of wood grain even after
several passes, requiring you to paint over and over for a
truly solid hue. Although you could indeed take the hours
necessary to paint repeatedly, often you can achieve the
same effect with a few fast coats of primer first. The
advantage extends well beyond mere convenience – primer
tends to cost far less than paint, easing your financial
burden in the process.
The wood itself can be injured without a primer in place.
Although a negligible amount of water is absorbed during
drying, considerably greater amounts may leech into the
grain if that painted surface is exposed to the elements.
Without a primer in place, it’s not unusual for repeated
thunderstorms to take their toll, creating devastating
conditions for mold, mildew and warping. Although many
people consider outdoor paints to be waterproof, often
they are anything but – their hardy nature derives from
their ability to absorb rainwater with ease.
Of course, paint primer is recommended for a variety of
other materials as well. In concrete and drywall, for
instance, you simply want to seal the surface and create a
solid bond without having to worry about similar problems
with drying and moisture. For metals – especially those
prone to rust – a paint primer can protect the surface
itself and keep moisture locked out. Plastics too can
benefit from a coat of paint primer, particularly if they
are porous in nature or you are putting a light color over
a darker one. Finally you may need primer to marry two
different paint types together, as when you apply latex
over oil paint.
One thing primers are decidedly not for is hiding
blemishes or “sealing in” mold and mildew. If you are
working with a material that may have absorbed or produced
an organic population such as this, it is essential to
clean thoroughly before you paint. Dry everything for
several hours and wait to see if the problem recurs. It is
better to discard a rotted plank than to use primer to
delay the inevitable!
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