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Priming a piece of furniture can be a little confusing. What primer should you use? Does it look like a coat of paint? What types go with which surfaces?As you probably read on my Aboutpage, this blog is not HGTV, and I’m no expert. But over the last two years of blogging (speaking of which, yesterday was my 2nd blogiversary, no April Fools!) and countless projects in apartments prior, I’ve come up with a few tips that are worth sharing:1. Yes, you (probably) need primer.  Painting a glossy surface? Going from dark to light (or vice versa)? Painting anything other than a wall or ceiling? Painting bare wood? Then yes, you probably need primer. There are some exceptions, and you can even use paint and primer combo style paints, but more than likely, you’ll need something for your paint to stick to. The primer will stick to the surface, and the paint will stick to the primer. Skip this step, and you risk the paint chipping and peeling sooner or later.

2. Sanding is the primer’s partner.  Whenever you plan to prime a surface, you should also plan to sand the beginning surface and also between coats. It helps the primer and subsequential coats of paint stick all the better. Exceptions exist of course, like using spray paint (where the between-coat steps can be skipped, but the initial surface should still be scuffed), but sanding helps to create a rougher surface for paint to adhere to and smooth out brush strokes, which can be an issue with oil-based primer (since it dries so fast).

3. Not all primers are created equal.  I’ve had mixed results from using paints that have primer mixed in. They are called a variety of things nowadays:  self-priming, duo, ultra, -in-one, etc. The combo is great for painting a wall between two contrasting colors (like when I went from pale blue to navy in the study-o). But for some projects, I still use the primer and paint separately. Tinted primer can help you save a few bucks because it’s cheaper than a gallon of paint and helps establish the color on the wall. I always use oil-based primer for water stains and glossy surfaces. Cover Stain Zinsser primer is the one I like most, but the VOC requires good ventilation to use it. For water-based primers (like priming molding or bare wood), I prefer Bull’s Eye 1-2-3 (pictured above).

4. Canned for convenience.  I really like spray primer for small projects (like painting my bathroom mirror). They leave a smoother surface and get in hard-to-reach areas. The exception to the primer rule for sprayed surfaces is if you’re painting plastic. The Krylon Fusion for Plastic sprays work very well on a clean, dry plastic surfaces – no primer. I mention the specific brand here because other plastic sprays (like Valspar) bubble and crack in temps that Krylon still seems to work well in, and I paint a lot during hot Georgia summers.

5. Streaking is fine.  Especially if you bring your green hat (if you don’t know the movie reference, you probably won’t enjoy this blog). But for anyone who has ever wondered, the primer step should be smooth, but it doesn’t have to completely cover the surface in the same way you would want a coat of paint to. Streaking and blotching is fine – just be sure to make the coat thin and even (no globs).

There you have it. My top five tips. Got any of your own you’d like to add? Feel free to leave yours in the comments section.

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  1. Thanks Sarah! I knew some of these, but I liked that you mentioned specific brands. It saves someone else alot of trial and error! :) And I used to skip the sanding alot thinking it would remove some of my paint. It doesn't though and it makes it look so much better!

  2. I'm not a great painter but I've never had any issues with peeling, etc. because I always wash the walls down with a TSP solution, used a primer (lately Klitz2) and at least one coat of paint.

    I've contacted some painters for stuff I don't want to do or don't have time to do and you'd be surprised how often they seem to want to skip the priming step. I usually have to insist on it.

    I have to admit to skipping the sanding part most of the time since that means more time, more dust, more cleanup, etc. but I agree it is a good idea and in some cases definitely necessary.

    I think I only have another weekend of painting and then I will retire from it for a while since the main level will have been entirely repainted. The upstairs will have to stay as is for now.

    Good Luck.

  3. thanks for the primer advice i'm doing my kitchen ,and didn't know about sanding some of the surfaces, i'm glad i found out before it was to late.