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INSL-X Stix Primer Review

INSL-X Stix Primer is a primer made by INSL-X and owned by Benjamin Moore. INSL-X has been around for over 70 years and has become increasingly popular since being purchased by Benjamin Moore in 2008.

INSL-X has two main products that many DIY Painters ask me about; those are its Stix Primer and its Cabinet Coat.

In this post, I am going to be discussing Stix Primer, what I think of it, it is good for priming cabinets, exteriors, and other DIY projects, how to best use it, and more.

You can purchase INSL-X STIX Primer here.

What Is INSL-X Stix Primer

INSL-X SXA11009A-01 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer, 1 Gallon, White

Stix Primer is an acrylic urethane bonding primer (water-based bonding primer).

This means that it is a primer specifically made to bond to surfaces that are traditionally hard to bond to, such as PVC, vinyl, plastic, glass, tile, glazed block, gloss paints, pre-coated siding, fiberglass, and galvanized metals. All this, while still having a low VOC content and can be cleaned up with water.

What is also fascinating is that Stix dries to an incredibly hard and durable finish that can be top-coated with alkyds, latex, urethane, epoxy, and lacquer coatings. This is NOT common for a water-based primer; most would literally melt when top-coated with alkyds, epoxies, or lacquers.

Lastly, INSL-X Stix primer can be applied in temperatures down to 35 degrees; again, not common as most primers require temperatures between 50-90 degrees.

So what does this mean for the average DIY Painter? A lot, actually.

Stix is a primer that can be used for almost any project you can dream up and used in a wide range of conditions.

My Experience With INSL-X Stix Primer

Priming Cabinet Doors with INSL-X Stix Primer
Spraying INSL-X Stix Primer on cabinet doors with my HVLP Sprayer.

Even though I’ve been painting for 20 years, I hadn’t used INSL-X Stix until after I started DIY Painting Tips. I’ve had so many questions about it that it was time to get some hands-on experience.

The main project I’ve used Stix for so far is priming kitchen cabinets. A high-quality bonding primer is great for cabinet painting projects. Stix will help prevent future peeling and chipping issues found with many inferior primers.

I’ve used it on a handful of different projects and really liked how well it bonded and covered.

I’ve experienced no failure of the primer; it blocked out most stains except for a few tannin bleed throughs which I spot-primed with a can of Kilz original oil spray (which is normal for all the primers I’ve used).

It also didn’t peel off easily after 24 hours which many water-based primers do. Usually, water based primers don’t get to their full bonding and durability until days (even weeks) after application.

I have not used Stix on exteriors, metals, or PVC yet, only previously painted and clear-coated surfaces (typical cabinet surfaces).

My Rating & Specs

 Category Rating
 VOC Content5
 Dry Time4
 Carrier Typeacrylic urathane (waterbase)
Volume Solids40%
Dry Time Touch30 Min
Dry Time Recoat3-4 Hrs
Coverage300-400 sq ft/gal
VOC Level87.6 Grams / Liter

Volume Solids: Explained

Primed Cabinet Door
Primed Cabinet Door

The volume of solids in a paint or primer refers to how much of the product is solids and how much of it is liquid. The liquid is the carrier, and the solid is what is left behind after the carrier is gone.

This is drastically oversimplified, but an easy way to tell the quality of a paint or primer is by the percentage of solids in it. The higher percentage of solids, typically, the better.

Stix Primer is made up of 40% solids, meaning 40% of the gallon is solids that are left behind after the paint has dried.

In comparison, Kilz 2, which is a good primer, has 30% solids, while Zinsser Smart Prime has 50% solids.

The percentage of solids is one of my main factors when deciding which product to use.

Odor & VOCs

Odor and VOC levels are my second biggest factor when deciding which product to use.

INSL-X Stix has a VOC content of 87.6 grams per liter. While not terribly high, this also isn’t low. It’s high enough where I do recommend making sure you have a good fresh air supply and a good respirator face mask.

Here are a few other primers’ VOC content levels for comparison:

  • Kilz Orginal oil-based primer has 442 grams per liter.
  • Kilz 2 Latex has 10 grams per liter (NOTE: I’ve found conflicting technical data sheets, so I cannot stand behind this number 100% but I am going with Kilz TDS).
  • Zinsser Smart Prime has 25 Grams Per Liter.

I personally won’t use anything with more than 100 grams per liter these days, and try to go as low as possible while using the best product possible.

Spraying INSL-X Stix Primer

Stix sprays absolutely great. Whether you are using an airless sprayer or HVLP, Stix primer has no issues spraying.

If you plan on using an airless paint sprayer like the Graco Magnum X5, no thinning is necessary. This method would be perfect if you plan on using Stix for exterior priming or larger interior priming projects such as new drywall.

If you plan on using it for priming furniture, kitchen cabinets, or other small projects, I would recommend using an HVLP sprayer. My favorite cheap HVLP is the Wagner Flexio 5000 which I recently reviewed. It’s a solid entry-level HVLP.

In order to get Stix to spray well from an HVLP sprayer, you will need to thin it out before spraying. I found that thinning roughly 20% gave it the perfect viscosity (thickness) for spraying from an HVLP (I used my Titan Capspray 115 to spray).

Brushing and Rolling Stix Primer

I don’t have any Earth-shattering advice for brushing and rolling INSL-X Stix primer. It brushes and rolls pretty much how you would expect with any primer.

Make sure to use a tight roller nap and long, even brush strokes to avoid as much texture and brush marks if you plan on priming furniture or cabinets.

Dry Times & Cure Times

Primed Cabinet Door Dryinng
Primed Cabinet Door Drying in my Shop

INSL-X Stix primer dries to the touch in roughly 30 minutes and is able to be recoated in 3-4 hours. This number will vary depending on the humidity of the environment but should be relatively close in most situations.

When I’ve used Stix, I’ve usually waited around two hours before using a fine sanding sponge to smooth down the prime coat and that has been a perfect amount of time before sanding.

For a full cure, 3-4 days is needed at low humidity. In higher humidity, an extra couple of days may be needed.

Top Coating

Finished Cabinet Door
These cabinet doors were top coated with BM Advance with a satin finish.

INSL-X Stix can be top-coated with almost any topcoat. That means latex paints (interior and exterior), lacquers, oils, epoxies, and other topcoats.

Most DIY Painters are going to be top coating with an interior or exterior latex product such as INSL-X Cabinet Coat or exterior paint.

I’ve found that the primer gives a nice uniform base coat that top coats very well. I’ve top-coated Stix with both Cabinet Coat (review coming soon) and BM Advance.

Best Uses For INSL-X Stix Primer

These are some of the uses I would recommend DIYers to use Stix for:

Where To Purchase

INSL-X Stix Primer can be purchased at most Benjamin Moore dealers and also online at Amazon.

Alternatives To INSL-X Stix

While Stix is a great primer, we always need alternatives when you can’t find the product you want or for other reasons.

Zinsser Smart Prime

ZINSSER 1 qt 249727 White, Smart Prime Water-Based Interior/Exterior Primer/Sealer

Zinsser Smart Prime is actually my number one choice for priming kitchen cabinets. I’ve been using it for a few years now and have never had any issues.

Smart Prime has a lower VOC content than Stix and a higher percentage of solids, two main factors I look at when choosing a primer.

Read my full review of Zinsser Smart Prime here.

Kilz 2 Latex

KILZ 2 All-Purpose Primer, Interior/Exterior, 5 Gallon

Kilz 2 Latex is a good cheap primer. You can buy it for roughly $15 per gallon. Of the three primers I’ve talked about today though, this is number 3. While it works for priming cabinets, I don’t use it for that. I only use Kilz 2 for walls and ceilings, but it can be used for priming cabinets if you are on a budget.

Read my full review of Kilz 2 here.


How Can I Thin INSL-X Stix?

Stix can simply be thinned with water. 10-20% water is all that should be needed for most applications.

Can I Spray INSL-X Stix?

Absolutely. Stix can be sprayed with an airless sprayer or HVLP paint sprayer.

Can I Use INSL-X Stix To Prime Kitchen Cabinets?

Yes, Stix is a great cabinet primer and one that I will be using in the future.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend INSL-X Stix primer and have had great experiences with it so far. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, I make sure to reply to every single comment on DIY Painting Tips. k

INSL-X SXA11009A-01 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer, 1 Gallon, White

Ready To Learn More?

Check out our Painting Kitchen Cabinets hub page for everything you could want to know about cabinet painting including costs, how-tos, reviews, and more.


Monday 25th of September 2023

INSL-X recommends 3-4 hour drying time...is that between subsequent coats of Primer or does that apply to the top coats too? After reading that it can take 3-4 days to fully cure, I became confused if the 3-4 hour dry time only applied to primer and then you have to wait 3-4 days to apply top coat. Thanks!

Ryan Cunningham

Wednesday 18th of October 2023

3-4 hours to dry is correct. Curing is different than drying. Cured is when it has reached it's maximum hardness. I honestly coat over it about as soon as it is dry to the touch.


Friday 24th of September 2021

Hi Ryan, I’ve been DIY interior painting for years and am always amazed at how much there is to learn. Your tips & reviews are really helpful.

A friend put me onto INSL-X Stix a few years ago and I found it a true gift because of the amount of semi-glossed woodwork I have to paint. With Stix it’s just a matter of cleaning well & applying. When it’s cured you really can’t scratch it off, giving you a great surface to paint with another coat of satin latex (my preference because it doesn’t seem to chip as easily as semi-gloss). Pro painters don’t usually have the luxury of waiting for a full cure. So what do you do with semi-gloss woodwork?

Tina Fitzgerald

Monday 3rd of January 2022

@Ryanc, after priming with stix how long should you wait to paint with BM advance ?


Monday 27th of September 2021

Hi Richard,

Honestly, I almost never use Semi-Gloss. For me, it's probably 99.9% satin. I haven't even used semi-gloss in years. I just don't like the look. BUT, a clean surface with INSL-X Stix as a primer is a great starting point for any top coat. I always tell my clients to give their woodwork a good two weeks to fully cure. After that, I never get call backs about chipping or scratching.


Tuesday 24th of August 2021

Hi Ryan -- Great site you have here. I am about to paint unfinished doors, drawerfronts and face frames of new cabinets. The face frames are solid maple and will be brushed/rolled. I am going to spray (airless FFLP) the doors and drawerfronts (MDF which has been factory sealed on the fronts and is unsealed on the rears). I am undecided for a topcoat between Advance and Cabinet Coat . I am undecided on primer although I've been leaning toward Stix. I have never sprayed before and will practice on old cabinet doors first.

Questions: 1. I know you love Advance for topcoat. How does it compare to Cabinet Coat? 2. Stix vs. SmartPrime vs. ? -- my biggest concern is grain-raising on the unsealed MDF rears (or should I seal them?)



Saturday 28th of August 2021

Hi Lew,

Honestly, Advance and Cabinet Coat are both great. They both spray well and both have a great finished look. I lean a little towards Advance, but have no problems with Cabinet Coat.

Same with Smart Prime and Stix. I prefer Smart Prime, but I will use Stix any day of the week.

Basically, you can't go wrong with your options.


Tuesday 24th of August 2021

Hi Ryan, I am going to be refinishing oak cabinets and have access to a friends Graco Ultra handheld HVLP sprayer with FFLP 515 tip ( Have a FFLP 211 tip but don't think I can use that for the primer, only the BM advanced topcoats.) I do not want to damage his sprayer or run into any unexpected issues when using Insl-X STIX primer. I cannot seem to find any info on if I can use STIX with this Graco battery operated sprayer. My concern is the TSD on STIX says to spray it with a min of 2200 psi, but the Graco ultra specs states it has 2,000 as its max. STIX also says not to thin it on its instructions, yet you mention you can add up to 20% water to it. Not sure if I should return the STIX and use a primer with a less then 2000 psi requirement. Certainly do not want to use brush and rollers here as have allot of area to cover. What are your thoughts.?


Saturday 28th of August 2021

Hi Paul,

The Graco Ultra handheld sprayers are actually mini piston sprayers that use high pressure and no air (HVLP uses high volumes of air at low pressures).

I wouldn't use the 515 tip as it would spray out a lot of paint and have about a 10" spray fan. You would likely end up with a lot of runs. It's just too big of a tip for a beginner (or even experienced painters) to use on cabinets.

The 3 numbers on the tip refer the spray fan size and the orafice size of the hole in the tip. The first number is multiplied by 2 and that will be the width of the spray fan at a distance of 12 inches away. So your 515 tip would have a 10" spray fan, where the 211 would have a 4" spray fan (much better for cabinets).

The second number is the size of the orifice in thousandths of an inch. So the 515 has a 15-thousandths of an inch orifice where the 211 has a 11-thousandths of an inch orifice.

The 211 should perfect for spraying cabinets.

Since the hole is smaller in the tip, you will also need less pressure to spray your fluid.

Thinning: Almost every paint says not to thin it, but in order to get it to atomize to the point where you're going to get a fine finish for your cabinets, you need to thin your paint. Once you thin your paint, you'll need even less pressure to spray.

My advice, use the 211, use Stix, thin your paint by roughly 10%, and then start with your pressure as low as possible and slowly turn it up until your spray fun looks perfect. You won't damage the sprayer and should end up with a nice spray fan.


Saturday 8th of May 2021

Ben Moore talked me into STIX for my stained cabinets. I’m going to white. I have first coat on and am now reading reviews that it’s not good for blocking the stain and will have bleed through. Is this your experience? Should I switch to another primer for second coat? Thanks in advance for assistance.


Wednesday 9th of June 2021

Hi Anna, The truth is that most all water based primers are not great at blocking tannin bleed throughs (stains). They are just ok. But, I don't recommend using oil based primers for your cabinets either. I don't like breathing in the high VOCs that come with oil. What I do is prime everything, then go back and double check everything before the top coat and hit any bleed throughs with a spray can of Kilz Original (oil). This allows me to only use the oil based primer where absolutely necessary. It works great. Usually, there are only a handful of bleed through areas and you can get away with using less than a half of a can of Kilz.