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Imagine you have got your paint sprayer in one hand and a can of your favorite paint in the other, ready to transform that drab wall or piece of furniture into a work of art. But before you dive into the world of colors and creativity, there’s a important question that often stands between you and your masterpiece: “Do I need a primer before painting wood, walls, cabinets, and furniture?” It’s not only a problem for painters. It’s like the secret sauce for perfect painting.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the role of primers in wood painting, when to use them, types of primers, and some tips for a successful painting project.

using primer to paint walls

What is Primer | Primer vs no primer paint

Primers are like the foundation of a good paint job. It is an important base coat or undercoat applied before painting. It serves multiple essential purposes:


Primer plays multiple essential roles, creating a strong connection between the paint and the surface, resulting in enhanced adhesion. It prevents issues like paint peeling, cracking, or flaking over time.

I took a picture when I applied oil based primer with graco 395 sprayer on the surface.



Primers can seal porous materials, such as wood, preventing paint from soaking into the grain and providing a consistent base for applying color.

In my own experience, I’ve found that applying a primer is a useful method for tackling mold on both wood and wall surfaces. Personally, I’ve had success with Zinsser Mold Killing Primer. This water-based, EPA-registered fungicidal coating serves as a protective layer, effectively eliminating existing mold, fungi, and even odor-causing bacteria. It’s become my go-to solution for addressing various fungal issues.

Stain Blocking

Some types of primers are specifically formulated to prevent stains, thereby preventing them from seeping through the paint. This is particularly important when painting over wood with water or oil-based stains.

Enhancing Paint Coverage

The use of a primer can minimize the amount of paint coats required to achieve the desired outcome, resulting in time and cost savings.

Useful Resource: Learn how long you should wait for the primer to dry.

When you don’t need primer?

Pre-painted or Sealed Surfaces:

If you are repainting a wood surface that is already sealed or has been previously painted with no issues, you may be able to skip the primer. However, light sanding and proper cleaning are often necessary to ensure good adhesion.

Self-Priming Paints:

Many modern high-quality paints are formulated to be self-priming, meaning they can adhere to previously painted surfaces without a separate primer coat. Multi-Purpose Primers can be versatile, but ensure they are suitable for your specific purpose and use trusted name brands like Zinsser, Sherwin-Williams, PPG, or Glidden products. In such cases, you can save time and money by using a paint-and-primer combination, as long as it is suitable for the surface you’re working on.

No primer for Smooth Flat or Eggshell Finishes:

Walls and ceilings with smooth and clean flat or eggshell finishes often do not require a primer.

Primer Recommended for Glossy Finishes and Drywall Repairs:

Primer should be applied when painting over certain glossy finishes or when dealing with drywall repairs.

When to Use Primer Before Painting On Wood

Priming wood is generally recommended, but it may not always be necessary. Here are some situations where using a primer is advisable:

Bare Wood

When you’re painting bare wood for the first time, using a primer is essential. Wood is porous, and without a primer, it can absorb paint unevenly, leading to a blotchy appearance. Primer seals the wood, preventing it from soaking up the paint and providing an even base for your topcoat.

Stained or Discolored Wood

If you’re working with wood that has stains or discoloration, a primer can help block these imperfections from bleeding through the paint.

Wood with Knots

Knots in wood can bleed through paint, causing discoloration. Applying a knot-sealing primer can prevent this issue.

Painted Wood in Poor Condition

If you notice chipping, peeling, or if it’s in poor condition, applying a primer is a great step for a smooth finish.

High-Contrast Color Changes

When you’re changing the color of wood drastically from a dark color to a lighter one or vice versa, using a primer can save you from having to apply multiple coats of paint. A quality primer can provide excellent coverage and create a stable base for your new paint.

Unfinished or Sanded Wood

For unfinished or freshly sanded wood, the surface is often uneven and porous. It smoothes out imperfections, resulting in a more professional look.

MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard) and Plywood

Both MDF and plywood have smoother surfaces compared to natural wood but can still benefit from a primer to improve paint adhesion and prevent the wood from soaking up paint.

When to Use Primer On walls

Glossy Finishes and Oil-Based Paint

Primer is particularly useful when dealing with surfaces previously painted with glossy finishes or oil-based paint. It provides a suitable base for the new paint to adhere to, ensuring a more successful finish. Priming is often unnecessary when painting over latex paint, which has become the standard choice for wall surfaces, largely replacing oil-based paints.

New Drywall Priming

When working with new drywall, applying a primer is often recommended. It helps seal the porous surface of the drywall, promoting even paint absorption and preventing the need for excessive coats.

Walls Affected by Mildew or Mold

Priming is essential for walls that have had issues with mildew or mold. A quality primer can effectively block and seal these problematic areas, preventing them from reappearing through the fresh paint. Learn more about painting over mold here in this guide!

When to Use Primer On Metal

Using a primer on metal surfaces is essential in several scenarios to ensure proper adhesion of paint, protect against corrosion, and create a smooth and durable finish. Let’s explore when to use a primer on metal:

1. Bare Metal:

When dealing with untreated metal surfaces, applying a primer is crucial. Bare metal is vulnerable to rust and oxidation, and a primer acts as a protective barrier against these issues. Common metals that require priming include steel, aluminum, and iron.

2. Rusted or Corroded Metal:

If the metal surface is already rusted or corroded, it’s essential to use a rust-inhibiting primer. This type of primer contains corrosion-resistant additives that halt the rusting process and provide a stable surface for painting. Ensure you remove loose rust and scale before applying primer.

3. Galvanized Metal:

Despite being corrosion-resistant, galvanized metal can be challenging for paint to adhere to due to its smooth, non-porous surface. Using a specific primer specifically formulated for galvanized metal enhances paint adhesion and promotes a more durable, long-lasting finish

4. Non-Ferrous Metals:

Non-ferrous metals like aluminum, copper, and brass are less prone to rust, but they can still benefit from priming to enhance paint adhesion and overall finish. For this purpose, I used a non-ferrous metal primer.

5. High-Performance Coatings

When applying specialized or high-performance coatings, such as epoxy, polyurethane, or automotive finishes, using a compatible primer is essential. These coatings often require specific primers to achieve the best results.

6. Old Painted Surfaces

If you are repainting a previously painted metal surface in good condition, a primer may not be necessary if the existing paint is well-adhered to and in good shape. However, if the old paint is chipping, peeling, or in poor condition, using a primer is advisable to create a stable base for the new paint.

7. Multi-Metal Surfaces

When painting a surface consisting of multiple metal types, each metal may have different requirements. In such cases, using a universal metal primer that is compatible with various metal types is good practice.

8. Exterior Metal

Outdoor metal surfaces are particularly prone to corrosion due to exposure to the elements. You can use a primer designed for exterior metal applications to help protect against rust and ensure the paint finish remains intact over time.

Types of Primers

Water Based Primers

Water-based primers are user-friendly and dry quickly. They contain low levels of VOCs, which are chemicals that can be harmful to the environment and health. These primers are suitable for most wood surfaces and work well for indoor projects.

Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers offer increased durability and exceptional adhesion. They are best suited to exterior wood surfaces or interior areas where moisture resistance is a requirement.

Shellac-Based Primers

Shellac primers excel at sealing wood and preventing stains from bleeding through. They dry rapidly and are effective on both interior and exterior wood surfaces.

Stain-Blocking Primers

These primers are purpose-built to prevent stains from seeping through the paint. They are indispensable when working with wood that has stains or knots. You can get stain-blocking primers in both oil and water-based forms.

Bonding Primers

Bonding primers are designed to adhere to challenging surfaces like laminate or previously painted wood. They help the new paint stick better.

What is the best paint primer to use?

I tried and tested few best paint primer to consider when painting. One excellent choice is “THE ONE Paint & Primer.” This versatile and durable 2-in-1 paint is suitable for various surfaces, both indoors and outdoors. It simplifies your painting process by combining both paint and primer in a single product.

Another fantastic option is the Duration collection, which offers a paint and primer in one solution. This collection not only enhances the beauty of your surfaces but also provides exceptional durability and long-lasting performance.

If you’re looking to paint cabinets, furniture, or other hard surfaces without the need for extensive sanding and priming, I highly recommend Heirloom Traditions Paint. It’s a very durable product that includes the primer, paint, and even a top coat, making your painting project more straightforward and efficient.

Final Words:

In most cases, using a primer before painting wood is a wise choice. It helps improve adhesion, seal the surface, and block stains, ultimately leading to a better and longer-lasting finish. However, the specific type of primer you need and whether you should use one depends on the condition of the wood and the requirements of your project. By following proper preparation and application techniques, you can achieve a beautiful and lasting result when painting wood surfaces.


How should primer look before painting?

Before painting, a primer should appear as a smooth, uniform layer on the surface. It should have good adhesion to the substrate and provide a neutral base color that enhances the final paint’s vibrancy. Properly applied, primer should be free of brush or roller marks and any visible imperfections.

What happens if you don’t use primer before painting?

If you skip using primer before painting, several issues may arise. The paint might not adhere well, leading to peeling or flaking. Stains or discolorations on the surface could bleed through the paint. Additionally, the final finish may not look as vibrant or even, especially on porous or uneven surfaces.

What can be used instead of primer?

You can select all-in-one paint and primer product as an alternative, but it may not match the stain-blocking and adhesion capabilities of a dedicated primer. Some surfaces may require specific primers, such as oil-based for stains or high-adhesion for slick surfaces. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for the best results.

Martina Hitchcock-Holapaints writer

Martina Hitchcock

Martina Hitchcock is a versatile author with expertise in different fields. As a paint sprayer expert, she has in-depth knowledge of paint spraying techniques, tools, and equipment. Martina is also an experienced home remodeler who has worked on various projects, including kitchen and bathroom renovations, flooring installations, and room additions. Her knowledge of home improvement and remodeling is extensive, and she enjoys sharing her insights and tips with readers. You can follow her on Facebook.

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