Does Primer Have to Be Perfect? How Should It Look on Walls?

Author: Pat Freling | Updated: | Affiliate links may be present.

When it’s time to paint your walls, you’ve probably noticed that a majority of the paint brands recommend that you use primer before you use the paint. Even if it’s a simple drywall repair, you should opt for primer before painting your walls.

The goal of the primer is to seal the surface of the wall prior to applying the paint. It does not have to look perfect, just as long as it’s an even coat that covers the entire area that needs to be painted.

Once you know the material of the wall you are painting over, determining your primer needs is easy, and applying it is even easier!

What is Primer for Walls?

Simply put, primer is the base coat for all other paints or applications. It has multiple functions. It can help to seal small holes and cracks prior to the main application. And it also provides a clean, slightly coarse surface for the paint to stick to.

There are many different kinds of primer, from low grade to high grade. Be sure to pick one that works with both the type of wall you are painting and the type of paint you are using.

Oil-based Primer

Oil-based primers are recommended for latex and oil-based paints and can be used on both interior and exterior walls. One drawback of this type of primer is that it has a longer dry time, and you may need a thinner to get the correct viscosity before applying it.

But if the dry time isn’t an issue, oil-based primers have the benefit of being very stain resistant. So, if you’ve got a wall that receives a lot of contact with hands, opt for an oil-based primer to make cleanup easier in the long run.

Latex-based Primer

This type of primer is ideal for most drywall projects. It’s flexible, fast-drying, and fairly sturdy. They usually work well for covering stains on walls as well, making sure that any paint you use afterwards will have a uniform color.

One large benefit of using latex-based primers is that their odors are not as aggressive as their oil-based counterpart. If you are concerned about odors after painting, this would be an excellent choice.

One important thing to note about latex-based primers is that the majority of them contain a high amount of water, so there is the potential for them to cause wood to swell. Be sure to do a patch test on any area you wish to paint to ensure this isn’t an issue for your project.

Shellac Primer

This is the king of primers! It’s durable and ideal for covering heavily soiled walls, such as those with extensive smoke damage or multiple areas that are stained. Shellac primers can also be used with almost any paint type, making it a perfect candidate for most projects.

How to Apply Primer

After you’ve decided on the type of primer you need, applying it to your walls is fairly straightforward. It’s honestly the same technique as painting. You want to clean your walls the best you can and then protect your carpets and baseboards with tape or a tarp to prevent any splatter.

You can pour the primer into a paint pan and apply it using a roller, or even just a brush if you are only working on a small area. Allow it to dry completely before applying your paint. Oil-based primers need approximately 24 hours to dry, while latex and shellac primers only need about 3-4 hours.

Does My Primer Need to Be Even?

While you want to do your best to make the application as even as possible, don’t worry about being a perfectionist. You just want to make sure it covers the entire area you want to paint in as even a layer as possible. If you feel you missed a spot or two, you can touch those up after it’s dried.

Take special care in corners and around baseboards, since this is where paint peeling most commonly begins.

How Should a Primer Look on a Wall?

When applying the primer, most brands are white or off-white in color. The only exception is primers that have been tinted with an undertone of your top paint color, but those are usually special cases.

As it dries, it may lose its opacity, but this is normal. Once it’s completely dried, you should have an even, flat, white color on your wall with no shine. Again, if you have a tinted primer, it won’t be completely white.

You may get concerned if you start to see streaks or spots as the primer dries, but don’t worry, this is normal. Allow the wall to dry completely and then reassess the area. If there is still a large amount of noticeable streaks or missed spots, you can either touch these up or apply a second coat.

How Thick Does Primer Need to Be?

How thick your primer should be depends on a few things. For most projects, one even coat should suffice. This is especially true if you are just painting a white wall a different color since there is no other color to cover up.

If you are painting over a dark-colored wall or a wall that is heavily soiled, two coats may be necessary to make sure the new paint color doesn’t come out blotchy and uneven. Two coats are also recommended if you are painting over fresh drywall.

Final Thoughts

It’s not uncommon to think that the way your primer looks on your walls is indicative of the way your paint will look. While this is sometimes the case in cases of extremely uneven application, in most cases, primer that is a little uneven can easily be painted over and it will still look crisp and clean.

The most important thing to keep in mind is choosing the correct type of primer that works well with your paint, whether that be oil-based, latex-based, or shellac. Consider all your options, and you’ll have a freshly painted wall looking beautiful.

About Pat Freling

Pat has been into DIY painting since he was 14 years old. He's painted interior walls, decks, patio, and even the first car that he'd purchased at 18.

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