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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, is it good for priming cabinets, exteriors and other DIY projects, how to best use it, and more.

What Is INSL-X Stix Primer

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 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 projects 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
 Flow★★★★
 Durability★★★★ 
 VOC Content★★★★★ 
 Adhesion★★★★ 
 Sprayability★★★★ 
 Brushing★★★ 
 Dry Time★★★★ 
 Cleanup★★★★★ 
 Price★★★★ 
TOTAL37/45
SPECS
 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 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. A cheap HVLP is the Wagner Flexio 2000 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:

  • Priming kitchen cabinets (painted and unpainted).
  • Priming furniture projects.
  • Any interior wall painting.
  • New drywall.
  • Exterior – While it would absolutely work, it would be quite expensive.
  • Priming gutters.
  • Vinyl siding.
  • Priming any plastics that need painting.

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 Smart Prime

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.

Kilz 2 Latex

Kilz 2 Primer

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 cabinet if you are on a budget.

INSL-X Stix FAQ

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.

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Anna

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.

Ryanc

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.

Meredith

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

I got new, unfinished kitchen cabinets earlier this year. I am still trying to decide what color to paint, and in the meantime we are using the cabinets and they are beginning to get finger prints and spills on them, soaking into the wood. I have GOT to at least prime them til I decide on color. What primer would you recommend, and how would I clean/prep unfinished cabinets with greasy finger prints?

Ryanc

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

Hi Meredith, To clean bare wood cabinets, I think I would just sand them down with a fine or medium grit sanding sponge. That should take off any greasy fingerprints. For priming, I really like Zinsser Smart Prime and INSL-X Stix. Either should do great for you. Good Luck!