Knowing when you need to prime your walls before painting and when you can do a professional quality job without priming can save you both time and money. When you do use a primer, make sure it is the appropriate one for your particular paint job.
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Bonding primers create an adhesive bond between a hard, slick surface and the final coat of paint. They are usually oil based or pigmented shellac. Use a bonding primer when painting with latex over glossy oil-based paint or when painting over any wood or vinyl panelling. A bonding primer is not necessary when using latex paint of any sheen over glossy latex paint; however, you should use two coats of your final paint if it is a different sheen than the existing surface.
Stain Blocking Primer
Some primers are used to block bleed-through from water damage and tannin staining from cedar and redwood. Often they have the same qualities as stain-blocking primers. A good example is Kilz Original pigmented shellac primer (see Resources). These primers are also effective at sealing crayon, smoke, magic marker and many odours. For instance, a stain blocking primer will seal both the discolouration and the smoke odour from rooms that were occupied by a heavy smoker.
Drywall primer creates a uniformly absorbent surface for the final coat of paint and should always be used as a first coat on new drywall or large drywall patches. It is inexpensive and high-hiding (meaning it will hide the grey or green colour of the underlying wallboard), and it sets the stage for a more durable, washable finished surface.
Some tinted primers will reduce the number of coats needed for red and other strong colours. Ask the paint store representative whether you need a colour primer for your finish paint. It depends on the particular base and colourants used. Tinted primers are often grey.
A misconception is that dark walls require primer before being painted with light finishes. Most whites, taupes, beiges and off-whites will require just two coats of paint over even the darkest coloured surface. Even if you use a primer, you probably would still need two finish coats.
Should you really want to use a white primer to cover a dark surface, avoid all purpose primers because they are often quite thin. Ask at the paint store for a high-hiding primer.
Any time you are changing the sheen of the wall paint--such as from satin to flat or from semi-gloss to eggshell--you will need two coats for uniform sheen. Since most primers have a flat finish, put on two coats of your final paint (unless it is a flat paint).
You should never need more than one coat of primer.
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