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Best Paint Primers of 2021

Updated
Paint primer protects and seals, so your paint adheres better.

Priming your bare surfaces makes the paint adhere better, seals it against damage, and takes less paint to achieve the same great results. Primer contains more resin than paint pigments compared to paint, which is why it works well as a base layer.

We scoured the internet searching for the 5 best paint primers, gauging them on their coverage and value for money to bring you our definitive list.

Our Top Picks

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Model
Product Comparison Table
Features

Product Image of the Rust-Oleum 327914 American Accents Spray Paint, 12 oz, White Primer, 12 Ounce
Best for Plastic
Rust-Oleum American Accents Spray Primer
  • Simple to use and easy to store
  • Twice the coverage of similar products
  • Comfort-grip trigger for reduced fatigue
Product Image of the INSL-X SXA11009A-01 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer, 1 Gallon, White
Best for Drywall
INSL Stix Acrylic Bonding Primer
  • Water-based, so better for the environment
  • Coverage of 300 to 400 square feet
  • Recoats in just 3 hours
Product Image of the KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Interior/Exterior Latex Primer/Sealer, White, 1-gallon
Best for Wood
KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Latex Primer
  • Extremely low vocs at just 5 grams per liter
  • Primes, seals, and blocks stains
  • Recoats in 1-hour for speedy tasks
Product Image of the Rust-Oleum 7780502 Protective Enamel Paint, 32-Ounce, Flat Whtie Clean Metal Primer, 32 Ounce
Best for Metal
Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Paint Metal Primer
  • Suitable for bare, painted, and lightly rusted surfaces
  • Enamel primer dries rock hard
  • Recoats in 2 to 4 hours
Product Image of the Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer, Quart, White
Best General Purpose
Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer
  • Covers almost every surface
  • Contains a rust inhibitor
  • No need to sand to get the paint to adhere

How To Choose the Best Paint Primer

What are the most important factors when choosing the best paint primer? Is it the price or the coverage? How about ease of application? We answer these questions and many more.

Inside or Out?

Where you apply the primer matters. Exterior primers have added UV protections that deflect the damage of the sun’s rays on your outside surfaces. It’s important to choose the right primer because if you use an interior product on your garden deck, it will dry, peel and crack.

Similarly, you don’t need the same protection indoors as you do in external spaces. While sunlight inside your home can still fade wood, it rarely gets the same punishment as outside surfaces, so you can choose a primer that has lower UV protection.

Type of Surface

Some primers work better on different surfaces.

Untreated Wood

Oil-based or latex primers work best on virgin wood. It seals the porous surface, so the paint adheres better. Oil-based paints are damaging to the environment, so keep that in mind. Plus, they have higher VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that could lead to health complications.

Drywall

Latex paint is better for drywall as it seals the surface, making it less porous. Oil products can damage the surface, making it look uneven.

Painted Wood

Oil paints are thicker and adhere better to cracked and peeled surfaces. Remove the loose paint and sand to blend the layers, but oil-based paint will cover better and hide the imperfections.

Metal

Rust is always an issue when it comes to metal. Choose a primer with rust-beating qualities. Some primers even reverse the effects of rust. Water-based primers are not the best choice because their formula encourages rust growth.

Shiny Surfaces

Hard gloss surfaces like tiles and glass require a bonding primer to help the paint stick.

Primer vs. Self-Priming Paint

Self-priming paints are an excellent choice if you are coating pristine surfaces or going from a lighter paint shade to a darker one. Self-priming paints are unsuitable for untreated wood, chipped and flaking surfaces, or surfaces that need additional adhesion to make the paint stick.

For the most robust finish, primer is always the best choice. A dedicated primer covers and seals the surface, making it less porous, meaning you use less paint. It also dries hard, so you can get the paint to adhere better.

Primer and paint combos are cheaper and more convenient; however, they are a bit of a cheat and a great way to get to the endpoint faster.

Primer takes more work because you need to wait for each coat to dry, so you get a slower process but a much more usable and hard-wearing finish.

Drying Time

Water-based paint has a faster drying time compared to oil-based products. You should expect it to be dry enough for a second coat within an hour. Oil primers might take 3 or 4 hours between coats.

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Coverage

How far the paint spreads is crucial. This can vary depending on the recommended number of coats you should apply. Most 1-gallon cans of primer will cover between 200 and 500 square feet but it varies between primer types and the porosity of the surface.


The Best Paint Primers of 2021

Trying to narrow down the best primer paint is tricky, but with hours of research, gauging the opinions of the public, and comparing like for like, we have our top 5 products.

Rust-Oleum American Accents Spray Primer

Best Paint Primer for Plastic

This spray primer is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. It dries in a matte finish in just 20 minutes, and you get 12 square feet of coverage. It adheres to wood, plastic, metal, and unglazed ceramic, so it is a versatile spray primer.

It’s also easy to use and store. Simply pop the lid back on, and it sits on the shelf until you next need it. Rust-Oleum claims that this primer delivers twice the coverage of similar products. They even give you a comfort-grip trigger to reduce finger fatigue.

The only downside with this primer is it only covers small areas, so if you are respraying a chair or plastic components, that’s fine, but not if you want to undertake a significant project.

Also, spray applicators are not as accurate as brushing, so you might get some wastage through overspray.

Pros

  • Simple to use and easy to store.
  • Twice the coverage of similar products.
  • Comfort-grip trigger for reduced fatigue.
  • Dries in just 20 minutes.

Cons

  • Only suitable for small projects.
  • Lacks accuracy, increasing overspray wastage.

Additional Specs

Quantity 12 ounces
Application Spray
Drying time 20 minutes
Coverage 12 square feet
Type Oil-based

INSL Stix Acrylic Bonding Primer

Best Paint Primer for Drywall

Drywall is extremely porous, so sealing the surface makes the top layer of paint adhere better. While this product covers drywall, it also works on metal, wood, ceramics, PVC, and masonry walls.

It is a water-based product, so it is kinder to the environment, and it has low VOCs, meaning there are no health implications when using this primer. It also has low odors, so you can use it in areas with limited ventilation.

You can also clean up with soap and water. You get 300 to 400 square feet of coverage, depending on the porosity of the surface, and it even cures in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once down, it dries ready for recoats in just 3 hours, and once you’ve finished priming your drywall, you can take it outside into the garden and prime your deck or furniture.

However, many customers have complained that this primer is too thin, so you are forced to lay down 2 or 3 coats to get a smooth finish.

Pros

  • Water-based, so better for the environment.
  • Coverage of 300 to 400 square feet.
  • Recoats in just 3 hours.
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor applications.

Cons

  • Thin formula means you need to apply 2 or 3 coats.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Application Brush, roller, or sprayer
Drying time 3 hours
Coverage 300 to 400 square feet
Type Water-based

KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Latex Primer

Best Paint Primer for Wood

This KILZ Premium is a primer, sealer, and stain blocker in one. It hides stains, covers almost every paint color, and adheres to most exterior and interior surfaces.

You get 300 to 400 square feet of coverage, and it dries ready for a second coat in under an hour. Curing takes 24 hours, and because it is water-based, you get extremely low odors and a VOC level of just 5 grams per liter.

Because it is water-based, it is kinder to the environment, and you can wash everything clean with soap and water. It even features a mildewcide to combat mold growth, so it is suitable in damper locations like kitchens and bathrooms.

One slight negative is the number of coats you need to apply. Some customers have complained they needed 2 or 3 layers before they got a smooth and solid surface to hide any previous colors from showing through.

Pros

  • Extremely low VOCs at just 5 grams per liter.
  • Primes, seals, and blocks stains.
  • Recoats in 1-hour for speedy tasks.
  • Has a mildewcide to combat mold.

Cons

  • Thin formula requires 2 or 3 coats.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Application Brush, roller, or sprayer
Drying time 1 hour
Coverage 300 to 400 square feet
Type Water-based

Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Paint Metal Primer

Best Metal Paint Primer

This Rust-Oleum primer is the ideal product to use if you have bare, painted, or lightly rusted metal. It’s an oil-based formula, so it has excellent rust-preventing capabilities.

It dries to the touch in 2 to 4 hours and covers up to 90 square feet. This primer is ideal for high-use environments, and because it is weather-resistant, it is suitable for indoor and outdoor use.

It is not suitable for bare galvanized metal, and because it is an enamel primer, it has limited coverage. It is also not ideal for large projects. However, it adheres to wood, metal masonry, and concrete, so it is versatile.

The other consideration is its impact on the environment. Oil-based formulas are damaging, polluting rivers and streams and impacting ecosystems. And you need mineral spirits to clean up afterward.

Pros

  • Suitable for bare, painted, and lightly rusted surfaces.
  • Enamel primer dries rock hard.
  • Recoats in 2 to 4 hours.
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor use.

Cons

  • Doesn’t adhere to galvanized metal.
  • Damaging to the environment.

Additional Specs

Quantity 32 fluid ounces
Application Brush
Drying time 2 to 4 hours
Coverage 90 square feet
Type Oil-based

Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer

Best General Purpose Primer

Sometimes a primer needs to cater to many different tasks and surfaces. From metal to wood and lightly rusted surfaces to bare masonry, a general-purpose primer like this Rust-Oleum is handy to keep in the house.

It comes in 1-quart tins and covers 100 square feet. It dries in 1-hour, so getting a second coat down and finishing the project in one day is possible, and because it’s water-based, it cleans with soap and water. This primer is also kinder to the environment.

This Bulls Eye primer sticks to most surfaces without the need to sand, and it contains a rust inhibitor, making it suitable for most metal surfaces. It even coats new concrete.

On the downside, several customers have complained that the cans arrived dented, and some say the formula is so thick, it leaves brush marks.

Pros

  • Covers almost every surface.
  • Contains a rust inhibitor.
  • No need to sand to get the paint to adhere.
  • Water-based and dries in 1-hour.

Cons

  • Poor packaging leaves the cans dented.
  • Super-thick formula leaves brush marks.

Additional Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Application Brush
Drying time 1-hour
Coverage 100 square feet
Type Water-based

Paint Primer Comparison Chart

Product Best Quantity Application Drying time Coverage Type
Rust-Oleum American Accents Spray Primer Best for Plastic 12 ounces Spray 20 minutes 12 square feet Oil-based
INSL Stix Acrylic Bonding Primer Best for Drywall 1-gallon Brush, roller, or sprayer 3 hours 300 – 400 square feet Water-based
KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Latex Primer Best for Wood 1-gallon Brush, roller, or sprayer 1 hour 300 – 400 square feet Water-based
Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel Paint Metal Primer Best for Metal 32 fluid ounces Brush 2 – 4 hours 90 square feet Oil-based
Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer Best General Purpose 1-quart Brush 1-hour 100 square feet Water-based

FAQs

Should I Use Oil or Water Based Primer?

The type of primer you use depends on the material you are working with. Oil-based primers are better for stained or painted surfaces, where a previous coating might prevent the topcoat from adhering.

Water-based primers are better for drywall and bare wood. If you are priming a stain-prone surface, consider using a product with stain inhibitors, but the nature of the stain dictates the type of primer you use.

Is Primer Just White Paint?

Primer is not just white paint. It contains a higher amount of resin and far fewer pigments compared to paint so that when it goes down, it adheres and seals, creating a surface that the topcoats can bond to.

If you use standard white paint to coat wood or concrete, it would soak in and not sit on the surface to make the seal. Primer has the sole task of getting the paint topcoat to stick.

What Is the Difference Between PVA Primer and Regular Primer?

PVA primer is a primer that seals drywall so that the porosity decreases and the top coat of paint stick better. Without the PVA, most primers would soak in, and it would take several coats to get the proper surface consistency.

Does Paint and Primer in One Really Work?

Paint and primer in one is a good choice for inside walls that have been maintained, are clean, and previously sealed. They are suitable for changing lighter shades to darker shades, and they are cheaper and more convenient.

You can’t use self-priming paint on untreated or bare wood; plus, you need more coats than you would with a dedicated primer because more of the paint soaks into the surface of the material.

Is Drywall Primer the Same As Paint Primer?

Drywall primer is not the same thing as a primer. In drywall primer, the PVA helps to seal the porous paper surface of the drywall, so the top coat of paint adheres and coats more smoothly. It also ensures you use less paint because you achieve a flat and consistent finish with fewer layers of paint.


Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.