Should I Use Paint and Primer In One?

Well, Should I use paint and primer in one? I asked myself that question in my early days as a painter.

Many first-time painters like myself 25 years ago dread priming surfaces before coloring them because the process seems like an extra step that takes a lot of time.

Imagine applying two full coats of primer and waiting for them to dry and still not getting instant satisfaction from it when you can just use one coat of paint.

Paint companies desperate to address the ” impatience” started manufacturing paint primer combination products, also known as self-priming paints. These products appeal primarily to DIY painters because they allow starting a project without having to go through a separate priming process.

The prospect of cutting a project’s time by half is tempting to many. You might have at one point, asked yourself should I use paint and primer in one? 

Manufacturers designed paint-and-primer-in-one products to seal and color surfaces at the same time. They can provide sufficient coverage for surfaces with one coat. However, the formula of self-priming products is more like thick paint without the primer, meaning that they will not perform efficiently for all painting projects. 

You can use paint-and-primer-in-one on previously painted surfaces, provided you sealed them correctly the first time.

However, I recommend starting with a good quality primer whenever you’re painting any bare area, even if you intend to use paint-and-primer-in-one.

In this post, I’m going to take you through different aspects of paint and primer in one. Where you should and should not consider using it under different circumstances. Keep reading for more information.

What Is a Paint and Primer In One?

Paint-and-primer-in-one is a product that combines the benefits of both paint and primer in a single formula. Manufacturers designed it to offer painters the option of skipping the traditional priming step. They advertise it under different names, including self-priming paint, primer paint, and one coat paint.

Nevertheless, self-priming paints don’t have the traditional primer formula in them. Instead, they contain a higher solids concentration, making them thicker than conventional paint. Therefore they provide better coverage for surfaces in as little as one coat.

The ability of paint-and-primer-in-one to cover a surface in a single coat makes manufacturers refer to them as “self-priming.” However, because they lack a proper primer formula, you cannot use self-priming paints for all your projects.

Surfaces like bare wood and metal, for instance, require specialized primers to get them ready for painting. Raw wood needs an oil-based primer to seal it and prevent moisture in the paint from making it swell.

On the other hand, metal surfaces require specialized “direct-to-metal” primers that keep them from rusting after painting. Without these, you cannot achieve a flawless paint job with even the best paint-and-primer-in-one products on the market.

Self-priming paints work best for re-painting projects. I especially recommend them when you intend to re-paint a surface with a color in the exact shade as the old paint.

However, applying new paint directly over old paint only yields good results if the old paint is still in good condition. If your surface has cracked or peeling paint, you will have to strip the old coat and reapply the color, starting with a proper primer.

What’s the Function of a Primer?

Before we get to the functions of a primer, it is best to know what it is and why professional painters make so much fuss about it.

A primer is also commonly known as an undercoat, and it is the translucent preparatory coating that we put on materials before painting them.

Priming a surface before coloring ensures that the paint grips the material well, thus ensuring its durability and the ultimate protection of your object from the elements.

So, how does a single product help you achieve all these?

  • Primer Blocks Surface Stains

One of the functions of a primer is to block the stains on the material you want to paint. These could be water stains, crayons and pen markings on walls, or even nicotine stains.

Some woods such as redwood and cedar produce tannins that bleed through paint, leaving ugly patches on the finish coat. 

A good-quality primer will adequately cover the stains on the surface and block the tannins from seeping through the paint. Consequently, you will achieve a flawless paint finish on your material.

  • Primer Improves the Adhesion of the Paint

The adherence of paint to surfaces such as metal, plastic, and high gloss substrates is weak; hence they need proper preparation to make the color stick.

Primer is a transitional layer between your material and the paint; therefore, it has strong adhesion to both – think of it as a magnet between two items sticking them together. 

A good primer will improve the bond between your substrate and the paint, making the color last longer than it would on an unprimed surface.

  • Primer Evens Out the Surface

Sometimes the surface you want to color may have minor scuffs or slight dents that are hard to notice with the naked eye. You may also have unwanted texture on your substrate after repairing parts and sanding them down.

These imperfections often feel minor, but they stand out after applying paint to the surface, making the finished job uneven. A layer of quality primer will fill out these imperfections and create a smooth surface for painting.

  • How Does Paint and Primer In One Work?

Since the paint-and-primer-in-one is thick, it has a higher build. A higher build means that this product rises and cures into a thicker coat than regular paints. 

The density of the coat prevents most stains from showing or bleeding through the color. Moreover, the product flows evenly across the surface as you apply it, making for a more even finish.

These two features are similar to some of the regular primers’ main functions, hence the name “paint-and-primer-in-one.”

When Would You Need a Paint and Primer In One?

Paint-and-primer-in-one products come in handy when you’re painting over previously colored surfaces. Even so, some painted surfaces are more suitable for self-priming paint than others.

The following are factors that will dictate whether you need a paint-and-primer-in-one for your particular project or not.


You can use self-priming products if the color you want to apply precisely matches what’s already on the substrate. If you work with similar colors, you won’t have to worry about the old color seeping through and altering the fresh paint.

Moreover, your work will be significantly less because you only need one coat to achieve your desired coverage.

You can also opt for paint-and-primer-in-one if you’re applying a darker color or a more intense shade of the existing paint. In this case, you may need at least two coats to actualize the depth of color you’re aiming to achieve.

Nevertheless, it is still less work because you would need even more coats if you went with the individual paint and primer route.

I do not recommend using self-priming paints when switching from a deep color to a lighter one. Darker colors tend to show through lighter ones more effortlessly, so you may need two or more coats to cover them up completely. Even so, you may not achieve the exact color that the paint manufacturers intended.

More coats of one-coat paint also mean more expenses for you. So it would be best to start with a separate stain-blocking primer to give yourself a neutral surface to color.

Type of Stain

Sometimes your old paint may be in good shape in terms of color, but stains may tarnish its physical appearance. In such a case, I recommend figuring out the type of stain and what caused it so that you may take the proper measures before concealing them with paint.

Some stains such as crayon marks and pet stains are usually mild and easy to cover with one paint coat application. You can safely use self-priming paint on them, and they will stay hidden for years to come.

Some stains, however, are more stubborn and are hard to cover up with just one coat of paint. For instance, water stains, wood knots, and stains caused by wood tannins will require more effort to conceal, so paint-and-primer-in-one won’t cut it.

They appear covered when you apply fresh paint on them, only to bleed through the paint merely months after application.

Stains like these require a quality stain-blocking primer to keep them from seeping through the paint. All primers can block stains, but the ones that manufacturers label specifically as “stain-blocking” usually work best in such situations.

Finish Of the Old Paint

Paint finish refers to the level of sheen/glossiness of the coat of paint you intend to cover. You can efficiently use paint and primer in one if your existing color has a flat or eggshell finish. These finishes have a low gloss and accept paint more readily without a primer.

On the other hand, high gloss paint finishes are too sleek to paint over without a primer. If you apply self-priming paint directly to such colors, you will end up with peeling paint in a few months.

State of the Old Paint

Just because you can use paint-and-primer-in-one to rejuvenate previously painted surfaces doesn’t mean that it can work miracles on badly damaged coats of paint. Self-priming paints only work best on coatings that are still in good shape but require a color boost,

If your painted surface paint is peeling or cracking, the best cause of action is to strip the old paint and start the painting process afresh. This means sealing the substrate with a good primer before painting, even if you use paint-and-primer-in-one.

Will It Save You Money If You Use Primer Paint?

Primer paint will not save you money. Manufacturers advertise these products by emphasizing that you can use them without using a separate primer first. They use it as a selling point because it is more appealing to buy a single product for your project than separate ones.

However, paint-and-primer-in-one usually costs much more than ordinary paints, which means that the cost of your project will be higher by default. They even cost more than the total cost of individual paint and primers! Let me break it down for you.

One gallon of premium self-priming paint costs about $40. A gallon of quality primer costs at least $15, and quality standard paint stands at about $20 per gallon, totaling $35. These numbers by themselves already show that purchasing paint-and-primer-in-one is more expensive.

Looking at coverage, one gallon of coating product covers about 400 square feet of space – which is equivalent to the walls of a small room. If you cover the walls with two coats of primer at $15 per gallon and two coats of paint at $20 per gallon, your total painting cost will be $70.

All that is assuming you are doing the work yourself.

If you hire a professional painter for the job, the cost will increase by about $30-50 depending on his working rates. If you switch to self-priming paint with similar specifics, you may end up spending close to or more than $200 on products for painting a small space. 

You may argue that primer paint requires only one coat, but the reality is you will need two coats of paint to color most surfaces efficiently.

Cost of products aside, you may also incur more charges if you do not know where to use primer paint or how to use it properly. These products’ wrong application always leads to textured, chipped, or peeling paint on most surfaces. Consequently, you will have to strip the surface and repaint a job that will cost even more than the paint itself.

Ultimately, primer paints may reduce the work you have to do for some projects, but it comes at a high cost. So, how can you cut on cost when using paint-and-primer-in-one?

  • Look out for paint sales. Usually, selected paint stores hold big sales for their products at a point during the year. You can schedule your home improvement tasks for such times because you can get paints and painting supplies at an affordable price. You can also follow your preferred paint brands on social media to stay up to date on any sales or special promotions they may have.
  • Only buy the materials you need. Before purchasing paint, it is best to measure the size of your project so that you can make a rough estimate of the amount of product you will need. The last thing you need is to spend a lot of money on too much paint that will end up in your home store for years.

Don’t get me wrong; it is good to have some leftover product if you need to do some touch-ups but not too much that it expires in storage.

  • Reuse or share painting tools. The paint itself may have a standing expiration date, but tools such as paintbrushes, rollers, tarps, etc., have a longer life. You can reuse the supplies from your last painting project or borrow from a neighbor or friend who doesn’t need theirs anytime soon.

Do You Need to Prime If You Have Paint and Primer In One?

You don’t need to prime before applying paint-and-primer-in-one as long as your surface already has paint on it. Additionally, the old paint should be in good condition, and the new color should be an exact match of the old paint with a similar sheen level.

However, some situations call for a separate primer, even when using high build paint like primer paint. These include:

  • Painting Porous Surfaces

Porous surfaces absorb water and sometimes odors. So if you paint over them without priming first, they will absorb the moisture in the paint, causing damage to the surface.

An example of a highly porous surface is drywall. Unprimed drywall will absorb moisture from paint fast, but it will not show immediately. However, it will lose its structural integrity and may develop mold spores after a little while.

Untreated wood is also porous and will absorb moisture from paint. The excess water will cause the surface to warp, and eventually, the paint coat will start to crack.

  • Painting Smooth Glossy Surfaces

If you want to rejuvenate the look of glass, tile, or plastic surface with paint, you must apply a good bonding primer first. Bonding primers adhere tightly to the substrate and the paint, making the color more durable.

You can also improve the paint and primer grip on sleek surfaces by sanding them lightly before priming. Without the scuffing and the priming, your color will be easy to scrape off, even with a fingernail.

  • Painting Metal Surfaces

Metal surfaces are the most difficult to paint, and without a proper primer, your job will be even more challenging. Unlike most substrates, metal surfaces require special primers to prevent rust from forming on the surface while ensuring that the paint does not peel.

I recommend using either a rust converter or a galvanized metal primer to prepare your metals for painting. The rust converters will prevent rust from recurring and make the metal easier to paint, while the galvanized primers work better on surfaces such as aluminum which never holds paint well.

You can also use red oxide or zinc chromate primers for most metal surfaces, but they work best on iron and steel. 

  • Painting Latex Paint Over Oil-based Paint

Since latex paint is water-based, it does not mix well with oil-based paint. If you put water-based paint directly onto oil-based paint, the color will start rolling off your surface in a few days because it cannot adhere properly. 

The best way to avoid this is by applying a bonding primer over the oil paint before putting on the latex paint.

  • Painting Over Wallpaper

Wallpaper is easy to install, and it may look great for a while. However, getting rid of it once you get fed up with the look is hard, so the best option is to color it. Painting over wallpaper is an easy task, but you should never attempt it without priming first.

Always use an oil-based primer and oil-based paint on wallpaper. Water-based products do not mix well with paper, so they will loosen the adhesive beneath the wall cover if you use them. Consequently, the wallpaper will start to lift together with the paint.

Can You Just Use Primer As Paint?

You cannot use primer as paint! 

Most primers are either white or grey, and when you put them on a surface, the piece always looks flawless. From a different point of view, one might think that you have already painted the substrate, and you may get tempted to leave it that way.

This decision, however, is bound to leave your surface vulnerable to the elements. But why is that?

The primary contrast between paint and primer is in the formulation of the products. They may look similar, but they serve separate purposes, so you cannot interchange their functions.

Primer has a high consistency of resin in it that allows it to create a smooth layer on your surface for the paint to grip. On the other hand, paint contains both pigment (color) and resin, but the pigment ratio is higher than resin.

Moreover, it also has durability agents, drying agents, and a gloss medium that primers lack in their formula.’

The additives in the paint make it durable and allow it to protect surfaces from harsh elements. And since primers lack these essentials, they will deteriorate into a chalk-like form if you use them as a topcoat.

Even though the primer is not strong on its own, it does not mean that you have to apply paint to it. Instead, you can seal it with a clear top coat to keep the water and UV rays away.

Because most primers are either gray or white, I recommend using a polycrylic clear coat to protect them. These products offer ample protection from the elements for longer than most clear coats.

You can also use polyurethane to coat a primed surface, but I do not recommend it because poly’s often gain a yellow hue over time. However, they protect exterior surfaces better, so if you don’t mind the yellowing, go for it.

What Happens If You Don’t Prime Before Painting?

Here are some of the likeliest consequences of not giving your project the base coat:

  • The Paint Will Start to Peel.

If you paint without priming your surface correctly, the paint will lift and start to peel after some time. It could happen before the color dries to the touch or months after it cures. I mentioned that primer aids in better paint adhesion, so without it, your color will lose its grip faster hence the peeling.

Additionally, improper adhesion makes it harder to clean the painted surface without mishaps. Whenever you wipe the surface, you may notice the paint coat detaching from the surface in some areas.

  • You Will Have to Apply Several Coats.

Failure to prime a surface before painting will cause you to apply more than the two standard coats of paint to achieve your desired color density. This problem significantly affects unprimed porous surfaces such as wood and drywall.

Unprimed porous materials soak up much of the moisture in the paint, including the pigment that gives it color. When this happens, the pigment ratio of the paint reduces, causing the color to be lighter than it should be.

Because of this, you will have to apply several subsequent coats of paint to achieve the exact color of your product.

Even though applying several coats may work, some spots on the surface may appear more washed out than others, causing your paint job to look patchy. Moreover, the more layers you apply, the thicker the coat becomes, making it easier to peel off.

  • Minor Surface Imperfections Will Stand Out.

One of the functions of a primer is to seal out minor dents on surfaces to create a smooth canvas to paint. So if you skip the primer, your paint will flow into those dents to try and fill them.

However, due to the low resin concentration in paint products, the scuffs will remain unfilled, and they will stand out more once the paint cures.

The above paint misfortunes can also happen if you use primer on the wrong surface. But how do you know which primer best suits your project? Below are the different types of primers and where they are best suited to work

  • Oil-based Primers

Oil-based primers are the most versatile primer types and have been a favorite among painters for years. They work well with oil and latex paints, and you can use them on various surfaces, including wood, steel, and house walls.

On the downside, oil-based primers take much longer to dry than most types of primers. Furthermore, they have high levels of Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are a health hazard in high concentrations with prolonged exposure.

Even though oil primers work well on most surfaces, I do not recommend them for masonry substrates. Materials such as bricks are highly alkaline, which can cause pH burn, a condition that causes coating products to deteriorate faster than usual. For such surfaces, I recommend using an alkali-resistant specialty primer.

  • Latex Primers

Latex primers are water-based and perfect for sealing unfinished drywall before painting. They also work well on concrete, galvanized metals, and softwoods like pine. 

Furthermore, these primers dry much faster than oil-based primers and are more flexible. Their flexibility makes them expand and contract with their substrates making them less susceptible to cracking and peeling.

They also contain low VOC levels than their oil-based counterparts, making them the healthier alternative for surface preparation.

On the downside, latex primers have a more challenging time covering stains on surfaces than oil and shellac primers. They can get the job done; however, there is a risk of the damages showing much sooner, especially for darker stains and strong odors.

  • Shellac Primers

Shellac primers are the best stain-blocking products on the market. They are suitable for interior paint projects, sealing severe water and smoke stains on walls and sometimes even smoke odors. They also work well on almost all surfaces, including plastic, plaster, wood, and metal.

Shellac primers are highly adhesive; hence paint grips them more tightly. They also dry as fast as latex primers, and you can use them with oil-based and latex paints.

On the downside, shellac primers release a lot of fumes when you work with them, so you need to ensure that your workspace has sufficient ventilation to keep you safe.

Rules to Follow When Piming Any Surface

  • Clean the surface properly before priming to get rid of dirt and grease. If you put primer on a dirty surface, the debris will interfere with the product’s adhesion to the surface. Consequently, you will experience paint failures even if you use the best quality primer.
  • Avoid using an old primer to reduce the chances of putting expired products on your surface. If you’ve had cans of primer sitting in your garage for more than a year, you need to assess their quality and consistency before using them. And how do you do that?

Open the old can of primer, then concentrate on its smell. A sharp stink is a clear indicator of spoiled primer. If there is no smell, lightly stir the can contents to mix the solids at the bottom with the liquids on top. If the solids seem detached – like coagulated milk – then it is best to purchase a new batch of primer.

  • Use quality tools and techniques when applying primer just like you would with paint. The more attention you pay during the priming step, the better your results after painting.
  • Apply two coats of primer to ensure that your surface is adequately sealed. Ensure that the first coat dries well before the next one to avoid issues with damp paint.
  • Sand in between the coats primer to improve their adhesion to each other, which will subsequently transfer to the paint. 

Can I Wait A Week to Paint After Priming?

You can wait a week to paint over primer, but it is a big stretch. I recommend coloring your surface immediately after the final coat cures to ensure a flawless paint job. If you leave it bare too long, you may have to prime your surface again before painting it. But how long is too long?

Priming a surface takes as much time and energy as painting it, so it is understandable to feel too tired after the task. You can rest for 24 hours, then resume your project, and you will still achieve good results. A week can also work, but since primers’ formula cannot stand up to the elements, the coat will slowly deteriorate.

The longest you can leave a primer coat unpainted is 30 days, but this time will vary depending on the primer you have. Primer manufacturers always indicate how long you can safely leave their products uncoated, so always read the instructions before using a product.

If unavoidable circumstances push you to leave a primer coat unpainted for one month, worry not because there are two ways to salvage your project:

  1. You can apply a fresh coat of primer to the old primer, let it dry, then paint over it immediately as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. If you don’t have leftover primer and cannot purchase one, you can sand down the chalky bits of the deteriorating coat then paint it. However, this method is more tedious than the first one, and your paint job may not last as long as expected.

Why Prime Before Paint? Watch the Video Below:


The task of applying primer to a surface before painting is often tedious and seems unnecessary to painters, especially DIY painters. The process takes too much time and energy, but it does not offer the instant gratification of seeing color spreading on a surface.

So when paint companies started producing and advertising paint-and-primer-in-one products, it came as a relief to many.

As much as self-priming paints appeal to the masses, there is still so much controversy surrounding it that it may confuse people. DIY painters, especially those who are just starting, get so confused and always ask…

Should I Use Paint and Primer in One?

Paint-and-primer-in-one works fine, and it reduces project times by cutting off the priming step. However, these products only work well on surfaces that already have paint on them, so always use a separate primer for your other projects.

Not all previously painted surfaces are suitable for self-priming paint. For instance, if you are making a drastic color change from dark to light, you will have to use a separate primer to prevent the old paint from showing through the new coat.

You will also need to apply primer first to cover major stains on old paint coats.

Additionally, you can only use self-priming paints on old paint coats that are still in good condition. You will have to strip chipped or peeling paint off a surface and start fresh from priming.

One big misconception of paint-and primer-in-one is that it cuts down on the cost of a painting project because it eliminates the need for a separate primer. This assumption is wrong because all paint lines that produce self-priming paints charge up to 30% more than standard paint products.

Even if you are using paint-and-primer-in-one, it is best to have a good quality primer in hand if you need it for your project. However, you cannot just use any primer on any surface and expect good results.

You have to choose a suitable product for the surface you are painting and use good priming techniques to ensure the durability of your color.