What You Should Know About All-in-One Paint and Primer

Updated on November 24, 2017
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Matt is a professional painter sharing house painting tips and product reviews.

Paint With Primer in It—Is It Real?

Practically every paint manufacturer now sells a product that supposedly primes the surface while painting. Behr was the first company to successfully market and sell these products through a massive marketing campaign in 2009 that eventually led other paint manufacturers to add "self-priming," or "paint and primer in one," to their paint can labels.

The real question is whether the paint really contains primer that primes the surface. The truth is really nothing more than deceptive marketing that has caused confusion and even lawsuits. In reality, these paints are not formulated with primer, but instead have a higher concentration of solids for better coverage. Basically, think of these products as nothing more than thick, premium paint, that covers in less coats than cheap paint.

Unfortunately, many homeowners unknowingly buy these paints thinking they can bypass the task of priming, but depending on the surface being painted, a separate primer still might be needed to avoid problems with adhesion and coverage.

First, it's important to understand the purpose of primer and when it's needed.

When Is Primer Needed?

Primer is needed when painting porous surfaces like bare wood, or surfaces with visible stains that paint alone won't cover without bleed-through. If you were to apply an all-in-one paint and primer product directly over bare wood, tannin from within the wood would likely bleed into the top coats of paint, no matter how many coats are applied. The paint would also be more likely to peel prematurely if it's outside. Primer seals a surface and bonds well with paint for maximum durability.

Self-priming paint won't get rid of water stains, crayon, or smoke damage, on walls. An oil-based primer is needed in those situations to seal over stains on drywall and hide them when painted. Another example is for new, unpainted drywall. A separate PVA (poly vinyl acetate) primer is needed to seal the drywall and form a strong bond with paint.

Another example is when painting walls that are coated with glossy, oil-based paint. Latex paint will form a weak bond if the surface is not coated with a separate bonding primer first.

When Should Paint-and-Primer-in-One Be Used?

Self-priming paint is fine for repainting walls a similar color that have already been painted with latex paint. The consistency is thicker than cheap paint and covers well in less coats, due to the high build. These paints are typically of premium grade too, which allows dirt on the wall to be cleaned easier without ruining the painted surface. The overall finish looks much better too.

For major color changes though, it is usually more cost-efficient to apply one coat of inexpensive primer first, followed by two coats of your premium paint. The savings add up when you're painting the whole interior of a home with only two coats of pricey paint instead of three.

Best Paint-and-Primer-in-One

I'm personally not a fan of Behr paint. The paint is too thick and difficult to cut-in as a result. Most of the paint I use is from Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore.

Sherwin Williams Duration

Duration has always performed well for me, even long before it was labeled a self-priming paint. I use both the exterior and interior versions with satisfactory results. The coverage is excellent. There have been instances where I was able to get solid coverage in two coats, painting very light colors over dark colors.

The paint is also very washable. The exterior version boasts one coat coverage, but unless the colors are similar, two are usually needed. The cost is about $65 per gallon at regular price.

Sherwin Williams Super Paint

The paint is not as washable as Duration, but the coverage is excellent. Expect only one to two coats in situations where three would normally be needed using cheap paint. This paint was around long before Behr. Super Paint flat sells for about $57 per gallon.

Benjamin Moore Regal Select

Regal Select is thick and covers really well in my experience, compared to the regular Regal Classic. At $45 per gallon, the price is more affordable than their expensive Aura brand and performs very similar.

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