When Do I Need to Prime My Walls?
‘Should I prime my walls first?’ I get this question a lot with my Online Color Consulting, along with, ‘what is the best gray for my room‘ and, ‘do you prefer red or white‘ (red btw, in a box).
And the answer is complicated but worth exploring so that YOU can decide if you need to prime before you paint.
Use Primer if You Have Fresh Drywall
Drywall and drywall mud absorb paint more than previously painted surfaces (which often don’t absorb any paint). This means that your first coat of paint can actually be absorbed INTO the drywall, making it act more like a primer than paint. Which means that you are essentially putting 1 coat of paint on the walls – which is never cool.
This can be solved with ADDITIONAL coats of paint, but in the end, you’ll save blood, sweat and beers if you just prime to begin with and apply two coats of paint. If a painter tells you otherwise, he’s just trying to save money and time – don’t fall for it.
And yes this IS my office which is currently being renovated and I’m so FREAKIN’ excited…and stressed, as we are living in a plastic-sheathed hell-hole (oh you KNOW this isn’t the only project I have going on…). I can’t WAIT to show you how it all turns out! (and see it now here)
And I’m a HUGE sceptic of paints that say they can ‘paint and prime’ in one, you know, those paints that apparently have ‘built-in primer‘. Primer is primer, paint is paint. Are some of these paints higher adhesion and better than ‘regular paints’? Maybe. But for my money, I’m going to bust out the bucks and buy them separately so I don’t have to second guess myself.
Use Primer if You Have Lots of Patching/Big Patches
Because paint absorbs into new drywall and drywall mud/filler differently than it does paint, you can get a super blotchy look if you don’t set up a solid, consistent foundation. I don’t get carried away with priming if I have small patches, but if they are bigger than a twoonie…oh, this is awkward, I’m Canadian. Okay, so if they are bigger than…2″, I would probably slap a bit of primer on. And not the WHOLE wall, just on the patch.
In between trial holes and anchors, I had close to 50 holes to fill on this wall (remind me not to drink whilst hanging). However, they were pin holes, so I didn’t worry about priming as they filled with a weeee dab of mud. If I had any larger patches, I would have primed for sure.
Use Primer Before Painting Bright, Primary Colours
Primary colours are absolutely horrible to paint. Why? They have TONS of pigment in them, meaning that they don’t have the little googley-balls that bind together to give coverage (super technical, I know). This means that the more dark and bright your colour is, the less ‘hide’ you will get from it – resulting in a somewhat ‘translucent’ look. To get hide (the thing that covers your previous paint colour and creates a solid, consistent new colour) you have to do many…many coats of paint to build-up the surface so that it covers your old finish.
You want a photo? I’m not giving you a photo. Why? Because in the over 1000 online and 1500 local consultations I’ve done, nobody has wanted a primary colour…I wonder why.
And you don’t just want to use any old primer, you’ll want to get a quality primer and have it tinted to some version of gray. The lighter your ‘new’ paint colour is, the lighter your gray tint can be. The darker and brighter your ‘new’ paint colour is, the more shaded, darker your gray should be. Trust me. This will set you up for success so that you don’t have to do a freakin’ bajillion (give or take 6-8) coats of paint.
Want to read more, check out this little story… Apartment Therapy
Use Primer When Painting OVER Bright, Primary Colours
The same things that make bright colours a bugger to paint are the same things that make them a bugger to paint OVER. What’s the difference?
- You don’t HAVE to get your primer tinted to accommodate your new colour as long as your new colour is relatively neutral (although it’s free to do so and does set you up for success – so get some black added to your primer)
- With a high quality primer, 1 coat should do – 2 NEVER hurts
A good example is Maggie’s room. When we moved in it was a rather bright green. Not bright enough to be day-glo, but bright enough that it would be a small pain to cover…
Maggie’s Room Before…
Maggie’s room after being primed and painted…
To see more, check this out… Little Girls Bedroom
Use Primer When Painting Over Shiny Walls
The higher sheen a surface has, the less it can absorb and the less things will stick to it. This means that if you apply new paint to a wall that has any sheen (satin/pearl/semi-gloss/high-gloss) the paint won’t stick. It will dry and just ‘sit’ on the surface, ready to be peeled off.
This was our master bedroom when we bought the house, note the UBER shiny red wall…
This is it after PRIMING and painting…
*Note that we only primed the red wall, not the other walls.
This info also applies to painting surfaces like wood panelling.
User Primer When Painting Over Oil Paint
Back in the day (you know, 30+ years ago), oil paint was the go-to product for walls. And while I still have clients who prefer it over latex (the 80+ crowd), most people are realizing that the quality of latex has improved so much that there’s no NEED to use oil paint.
How to tell if it’s oil paint…
- Take a Q-tip or a rag (if you have white/light paint, use a darker coloured rag or cloth)
- Dip it in rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover (NOT the acetone-free type)
- Rub a sneaky spot on the wall in a small circle for about 8-10 seconds
- If the paint comes off and gets gooey, it’s latex
- If the paint feels maybe mildly tacky, but otherwise stays put, it’s oil (and you’re screwed…just joking…kind of)
If you paint over oil with latex your paint WILL peel off, I pinky-promise. Latex paint will not stick to oil paint, therefore you need to set up a new foundation for the latex paint to stick to. Sanding is NOT enough. Using a 2 in 1 product is not enough (or better cross your fingers it works, because if it doesn’t you are hooped.)
Use Primer When Painting with White
Seems weird, I know -BUT SADLY TRUE! White is one of the WORST colours to paint as there isn’t enough colourant to cover.
Ask me how I felt after doing 7 coats in my daughter’s bedroom with good quality SW paint – just ASK me if I wished I’d primed first…funny enough, the black was an EASY 2 coats.
Summary – When Should I Use Primer?
- When you have fresh drywall
- When you have a patch bigger than 2″ or so many small patches that your wall is more drywall filler than it is paint
- Before you paint a bright colour (a colour without any black in it)
- Before you paint OVER a bright colour
- If you are painting over a shiny surface
- If you are painting over oil paint
- When you’re using white paint
That’s it, that’s all! Need help? Gimme a call! Actually, email me, it’s better that way…