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Paint Primer - Why, When and How

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Paint primer provides coverage as an undercoat at a cost that is less than a coat of paint. Primer coats are used to cover entire surfaces that are being prepped for paint and small areas that have been patched or repaired. It evens out the color on a wall that has been patched so the finish paint will cover evenly.

When should paint primer be used?

Paint primer should be used when planning to paint a significantly lighter or darker color of paint on a wall. By applying a primer coat, the old paint color is neutralized and the finish paint will cover better with fewer coats.

If you are planning to change from a semi-gloss or eggshell finish to a flat finish wall paint, using paint primer will help the flat paint adhere and cover.

When painting over a faux finish, a mural, a painted border or any multicolor area, paint primer will help even out the color on the wall so your finish paint will cover smoothly and the previous finish won’t show through.

Primer is also to hide the edges of a smoothly-sanded patch. Professional painters will coat each patch individually with a roller of primer to begin fading the new area into the rest of the wall. If the wall has a large number of small patches or a few large repairs, painting contractors will prime the entire wall to bring a more uniform finish to the wall as a whole.

Primer is not an effective way to cover grease, crayon, lipstick or some other stains. Walls that are dirty due to cooking or smoking in the home need to be washed before being primed.

How does using paint primer differ from using paint?

Paint primer is typically of a thinner consistency than finish paint. When applying primer, a low-nap, 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch roller cover should be used. Since the primer is thinner than finish paint, a lower-nap roller will provide more even coverage.

As with paint, primer should not be over-saturated in the roller sleeve. If the paint primer drips and runs off of the roller there may be lines (known to painters as ropes) or drips that appear vertically on the walls. If a particular small area has a stain or mark that is not covered easily, several coats of paint primer or a special blocking primer may be necessary.

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