How to Choose the Best Paint Primer

Selecting the best paint primer based on the specifics of your next project will help you achieve great results.

A person uses Fresh Start® primer on trim around a door.

Ready to Learn How to Choose the Best Paint Primer?

Primer plays a vital role in the ultimate success of many painting projects.

The primer you choose to start with is going to impact everything about your project, from what the final finish looks like to how long it lasts. With finish, performance, and overall job results on the line, we’ll help you pick the best paint primer for your project.

Step #1: To Prime or Not to Prime?

  • Priming is not always necessary for every project, especially as many Benjamin Moore paint products are self-priming (paint and primer in one*). Before you select a primer for your project, you should first determine whether you even need to prime.
  • If you’re working with a previously painted surface that is in good condition, you most likely do NOT need to prime.
  • Here are a few painting scenarios for which we highly recommend using a primer:
    • Bare substrates that have not been previously painted or coated
    • Any bare PVC or composite material
    • Surfaces that have been sanded down to the bare substrate due to damage
    • Surfaces where rust or stains are present
    • Dramatic color changes
    • Any hard-to-coat substrates like plastic, laminate, glass, high-gloss or non-porous surfaces

Helpful Tip

If you’re priming a previously painted or coated surface, identify the type of coating used (acrylic vs. alkyd) to select the best primer and paint for the job.

How can you tell? Rub a cotton ball dipped in 70% isopropyl alcohol on the surface. If the paint does NOT come off, it’s an alkyd-based paint. If it does come off with the alcohol, it’s an acrylic-based paint.

Have more questions? Contact your local Benjamin Moore contractor rep or visit your local retailer for expert help.

Step #2: A Primer on Primer: Things to Consider

  • Once you’ve determined that you DO need to prime, it’s time to choose the right primer for your project.
  • Choosing the best paint primer for your project will save you time and optimize everything from stain suppression to adhesion.
  • The right primer will also help you achieve optimal performance and aesthetics from your finish coat.
Read on for our overview of the top considerations for choosing the right primer for your painting project.

Step #3: Acrylic vs. Alkyd (Oil-based) Primers

  • When it comes to choosing a primer, the primary consideration will usually be whether to use an acrylic primer, or an alkyd, oil-based primer.
  • Acrylic paint primers offer easier application, water clean-up, and fewer environmental considerations. This type of primer can be used for almost any surface, including wood, laminate, and metal, unless there is the presence of rust (more on that later).
  • Alkyd (oil-based) primers offer superior stain blocking—think tannin-rich woods, rust, smoke, or water stains.
  • Alkyd-based primers are a good choice for both interior and exterior bare wood substrates. They are efficient in penetrating the wood's porous surface, and provide long lasting adhesion.
  • You may also want to go with alkyd products if you have removed wallpaper because it seals the residual adhesive.

Helpful Tip

  • Most acrylic and oil-based primers will accept both acrylic and oil-based top coats. For example, acrylic paints can be used over oil-based primers.
  • If your project surface has an existing oil-based top coat and you would like to repaint it, either use another oil-based top coat, or the appropriate bonding primer. We generally do not recommend putting an acrylic finish over a previously painted oil-based top coat without added surface preparation.

Step #4: Primers: At-a-Glance by Type

Benjamin Moore’s premium quality Fresh Start® interior and exterior primers offer superior adhesion and hold for smooth, long-lasting top coats. Here’s a look at our Fresh Start primers by type:

  • Fresh Start High-Hiding All Purpose Primer
    • Use: Both  Interior or Exterior
    • Type: Acrylic
    • Substrates: Most, including wood, laminate, drywall, plaster, and most non-ferrous metals, including galvanized metal.
    • Features: Provides a mildew-resistant coating, maximum hide, superior adhesion, and stain blocking. This acrylic latex primer is low-VOC and fast-drying. It performs well when a significant paint color change is needed.

  • Fresh Start All Purpose Primer*
    • Use: Both Interior and Exterior
    • Type: Alkyd, oil-based
    • Substrates: Best for wood and some laminate; not suitable for galvanized metal, PVC, ceramic tiles, or fiberglass
    • Features: A premium quality, low VOC alkyd primer offering excellent adhesion, hide and tannin blocking. This undercoater and stain-blocking sealer provides a mildew-resistant coating and a 4-hour recoat time.

    • *Not available in all areas. Please check with your local Benjamin Moore® retailer.

  • Undercoater & Primer/Sealer*
    • Use: Interior
    • Type: Alkyd, oil-based
    • Substrates: Best for interior wood projects, previously painted surfaces, and drywall; not suitable for aluminum, brick, cedar, redwood, concrete, stucco, galvanized metal, PVC or fiberglass
    • Features: Provides excellent adhesion. This premium quality primer can be sanded or recoated in two hours and offers outstanding enamel holdout and stain suppression for a smooth, uniform top coat.

    • *Not available in all areas due to VOC regulations.

  • Fresh Start Deck & Siding Primer*
    • Use: Exterior only
    • Type: Alkyd, oil-based
    • Substrates: Tannin-rich woods and weathered or chalky surfaces
    • Features: Suppresses stains and blocks tannin bleeding, penetrates wood surfaces for maximum adhesion and lasting results, even on damaged surfaces. This premium deck and siding primer seals uniformly for a durable finish.

    • *Not available in all areas due to VOC regulations.

Key Watchout

Alkyd (oil-based) primers can have environmental considerations: Because of varying regulations, products with certain VOC levels are not available in all markets. Consult your local Benjamin Moore contractor rep for more information on VOC levels and local regulations.

Step #5: Specialty Primers

While Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start premium primers cover the most surfaces, there may be times when you’ll need a specialty priming product, like a bonding or metal-specific primer, including:

You’ve Got the Right Primer, Now Get More Painting Tips for Success.

From project advice and how-to guides to troubleshooting and project highlights, we’ve got contractor resources to help you achieve the best results on every project.

As always, visit your local retailer for help with all your painting needs, and contact your local Benjamin Moore contractor rep.

* Paint and Primer products are self-priming on most properly prepared surfaces; however, Benjamin Moore recommends two coats to achieve full color development and to optimize performance. To learn more about the importance of priming or about situations where a special purpose primer may be needed, read more here or in our FAQ.
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