Do I Need to Prime Before Painting? A Guide to Paint Primer

Painting a room in your home is a simple DIY home improvement, but one question that always comes up is “Do I need to prime before painting?” It’s a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. High-hiding paints and premium self-priming paint products can make it seem okay to skip that base coat of primer. However, there are many interior paint projects when it’s still important to use primer. Read on to learn about when to prime and how to choose primer, plus get some expert tips for the best possible paint job.


Checklist of situations when it's ok to not use primer when painting


Which primer should I buy?

If you know you need to prime first, it’s time to choose a primer. Our guide to primers explains the best type of primer for every painting project - including drywall, cabinets, exterior siding, and more.

When to Use Primer with Interior Paint

If your interior walls are in excellent condition and you’re painting over a light color, two coats of a self-priming paint should provide excellent results. However, many situations absolutely require priming:

Wall Patches, New Plaster, and Unpainted Drywall

Patched areas require primerPatched areas require primer

Primer is absolutely necessary on new drywall and plaster to seal the porous surface and create a smooth, uniform base coat. Walls with a skim-coat will need a full coat of primer. Patched areas should be spot-primed before painting too, so if you’ve filled in nail holes or patched dents, be sure to prime those spots after sanding. Without primer, the paint absorbs into the surface unevenly, leaving an inconsistent finish with patched areas showing through the final coat of paint.

Unpainted Woodwork

Man painting unpainted woodwork with primer

Just like unpainted drywall, bare wood surfaces need a coat of bonding primer before painting. Sealing new door and window casings, crown molding and baseboards before painting helps guarantee a smooth, professional finish.


Unpainted Wood, Plaster, or Drywall? Use Benjamin Moore Fresh Start High-Hiding Primer

All-purpose acrylic primer with mildew-resistant coating and maximum hiding that’s fast drying and  seals porous surfaces.

Significant Color Changes

Woman painting dark blue over white walls

Using a paint primer is important if your new paint color is a much lighter or darker color than the old one. A primer coat keeps the old paint color from affecting the new one. For example, suppose you have blue walls and your new wall color is going to be yellow. Without primer, the blue could cause the final yellow color to have green undertones, even with two coats of paint. A coat of primer protects the integrity of your new paint color.

Covering a dark color with a light paint color (or vice versa) will take a few coats of paint, but it’s much easier if the first coat is a primer. Primer will hide the old color so it won’t compromise your new shade, and it helps the new color to adhere for solid and even coverage. Self-priming paints will not provide sufficient coverage when there is a drastic color change, so if you don’t prime the walls you’ll probably need a third coat of paint.

Stained or Discolored Walls and Ceilings

Ceiling with a stain that needs to be primed

Priming is an important step when repainting walls and ceilings that have stains or discoloration from smoke, water damage, or mildew. Regular paint will not seal the surface. A primer will prevent the stains from bleeding through your fresh new paint. Darker stains like tobacco smoke may require two coats of primer in addition to two coats of paint.


Covering stains or damage repairs? Use Benjamin Moore Fresh Start Fresh Start All-Purpose Primer

All-purpose alkyd primer with excellent adhesion, sealing, and stain blocking properties.

High Gloss Surfaces

Glossy front door being painted needs to be primed first

High gloss and semi-gloss finishes are typically too slick for new paint to adhere well. The paint job may look great at first, but even a quality paint will chip or peel over time if the old paint isn’t prepared correctly. A coat of primer creates a “grippy” surface that helps the new paint adhere. Homeowners should plan to use primer when repainting doors, glossy trim, and cabinetry, as well as over glossy paint in places like bathrooms.

Surfaces Previously Painted with Oil-Based Paint

Most acrylic and latex paints will not stick to oil-painted surfaces without primer. So before you begin, it’s important to check whether the existing paint is oil-based or water-based. In older homes, the wood trim and walls were usually painted with oil-based paints, so it’s important to know what’s on your walls.

There is an easy way to tell what type of paint is on a surface. Just dip a white rag or cotton ball in 70% isopropyl alcohol and rub it vigorously on the surface. If the paint does not come off, it’s an oil-based or alkyd paint. If it does come off, it’s a water-based acrylic or latex paint. With this information, you’ll know whether you need to prime first.

When is it ok to skip the primer?

While primer is an important step, it’s not always necessary. You don’t need to use a primer if your paint project has all of these conditions:

  • You’re painting drywall surfaces that are smooth, clean, and don’t need repair
  • Surfaces were previously painted with latex in a flat or eggshell finish
  • You choose a high-quality paint that is labeled Self-Priming, or Primer In Paint
  • The new paint color is a light shade, similar to the old color

Expert Tips for Using Primer

Professional painters often tint the primer so it’s close to the chosen paint color. Tinted primer is a great idea when you have a dramatic color change because it adds extra coverage and color support for the new shade. Primer is typically less expensive than paint, so it’s tempting to try to use a tinted primer coat instead of a second coat of paint. However, primer is formulated for increased grip, not coverage. If your wall needs two coats of paint for full coverage, it will still need two coats even if you use a primer first.

Contact the experts at Ring’s End using our online chat or by texting (203)-PRO HELP.  They’ll be able to look at your chosen paint color and select the right primer tint for your project.

How to Choose the Right Primer

Now that you’ve figured out you need a primer for your project, does it matter which primer you use? Absolutely! The type of surface, its condition, and future use are contributing factors that determine which primer is best. Check out our guide, Best Paint Primers for Your Home Improvement Project, for primer recommendations based on common painting situations.

Choose the best primer for your project with our Primer Review

Where to Buy Benjamin Moore Primer & Paint

Professional painters and homeowners alike appreciate the premium quality, richness of color, and durable finish provided by Benjamin Moore paints and primers. We’re confident you’ll find the right products for any paint project among their extensive collection sold through Ring’s End – and we ship anywhere in the U.S. with fast, free shipping on all orders over $150. 

If you have remaining questions about whether or not you should use primer, how much to use, and what kind – contact the paint experts at Ring’s End using our online chat or by texting (203)-PRO HELP. We’ll be happy to help!

Paint Primer FAQs

Is primer really necessary before painting?

What is the difference between primer and paint?

What happens if you don't prime before painting?

Do professional painters prime first?