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Paint and Primer in One: What It Is and When to Use It

It`s time. Time to cover the dull and lifeless neutral paints you bought the house with. It’s time to take each space and add your personality. It’s time to add some color.

But, after all the hard work of moving furniture, picking the perfect color, taping the walls and spreading the paint, the new color isn`t quite right. 

Paint and Primer in One

It seems like you can still see the old color in the washed-out tone of the new one. While the new paint is an improvement, it isn’t the brilliant clear color you’ve been dreaming of. What went wrong?

Most likely you`ve made a common DIYer mistake. You`ve skipped the priming step or used plain paint instead of paint and primer in one. Or maybe you used paint and primer in one, but your paint surface needed traditional primer instead. 

Instead of this being you, next time you take on a big home improvement project, read on to learn everything you need to evaluate your space and pick the right paint and primer. 

Buying the right product for your space and project needs is the first step to professional-looking results. It can even be easy. 

The Difference Between Paint, Primer, & Paint and Primer in One

Painter priming a room

Before we explain the best situations for paint and primer in one, you need to understand the differences between traditional paint and primer, and what each product is designed to do. 


Primer is the step everyone wants to skip. Applying the standard 2 coats of primer takes time, and you need to give it drying and setting time before you can paint over it. 

Everyone looks forward to the cathartic moment when you see your room, minus all the tape and drop cloths, with a fresh new coat of color. 

But primer serves several important purposes in every paint job. 

For one thing, primer helps cover the old paint color and lets you use less of the more expensive tinted paint to get good coverage and vibrancy. It`s also an important part of covering stains and giving you an even-toned paint surface.

More important for the longevity of your paint, primer makes sure the surface you`re painting has the right texture and porousness. 

Glossy surfaces are hard to paint because there isn`t enough texture for the paint to stick to. You`ll find yourself applying coat after coat and not getting the results you need. 

On the other hand, overly porous surfaces tend to soak in too much paint. You’ll go through more paint with each stroke. The finished paint is also likely to look dull and old even if the color is there since the paint has been pulled into your drywall instead of forming a smooth outer coat.

Primer fixes both problems. The first coat addresses the texture issue on the wall, and the second creates a ready surface for painting.

Primer can also help seal wood, preventing some of the resinous bleed-through that often ruins paint over wood paneling. 


Traditional paint is just the pigment and binder. It doesn`t prep a surface and has specific texture and surface requirements based on the binder used. 

If you’re planning on using oil-based paint you need an oil primer. The same goes for latex paint.

Traditional paint is thinner than primer and doesn’t build up on your paint surface. Instead, it creates a smooth thin layer. Depending on the pigment used, it may also be slightly translucent.

One common practice you can use if you choose traditional paint and primer is to tint your primer. Adding a small amount of paint to the primer will change the color without significantly changing the texture or other properties of the primer. 

Tinting your primer is especially important if you know your paint is highly translucent since it reduces the number of paint coats you need to achieve high-quality, solid-looking, color. 

Paint and Primer in One

Paint and primer in one aren’t quite the same as just mixing paint and primer together. Because different pigments have different effects on the binder they’re mixed with, every paint and primer combination has to be mixed slightly differently to achieve good results.

Some basic qualities are shared across most paint and primer in one product, however.

Paint and Primer in One is thicker than traditional paint. Instead of creating a very thin layer of pigment, paint and primer in one builds up on the paint surface. 

As the product builds up it works to prep the surface so that your final coat resembles the bright smooth finish of traditional paint. 

Most paint and primer in one products don’t include a traditional primer formulation. Instead, they rely on the thicker coats and darker coverage of the high-quality paint to achieve a similar effect.

Unfortunately, this does mean that paint and primer in one products don`t properly seal unsealed wood, fresh drywall, and other paint surfaces the way a primer would.

Some paint and primer in one products advertise a perfectly painted wall in a single coat, but more often you`ll need at least two coats to get the results you want. 

When to Use Paint and Primer in One

Painted Living Room

Paint and primer in one is best used on interior walls. Since exterior paint is protective, as well as decorative, it`s best not to skip the primer step. 

Even on interior walls, some situations are better suited to paint and primer in one than others. Note: Always remember to clean walls before painting!

If you`re painting a similar color to the existing one, paint and primer in one is a good option. There`s less to cover, and you need to worry less about the old paint changing the color and appearance of the new paint. 

You can also choose a paint and primer in one if you’re going for a darker or more intense color than the existing paint. You may need two or more coats to achieve the depth of color you’re looking for, but you would need multiple coats of traditional paint over primer as well.

Paint and primer in one may also be a good option if you`re covering mild stains in the paint without making a big color shift. Since paint and primer in one is thicker than typical paint, it will cover light staining easily. 

Darker stains do run the risk of bleeding through over time. 

It`s also important to consider the sheen and finish of the existing paint compared to the finish you want on the new paint. Paint and primer in one works best if you aren`t making a significant finish change. It also works better on low-gloss existing paint than paint with a high sheen. 

Overall, paint and primer in one is a good option for interior walls that are clean, well maintained, and have been previously sealed. 

They work best for subtle color changes, or for painting a dark color over a lighter one. 

And paint and primer in one can cover some minor cosmetic damage and staining but isn`t suitable for significant stains and damage.

When You Don`t Need Paint and Primer in One

Blue Sunroom With Painted Trim

Just like some situations are best for paint and primer in one, there are some situations where it isn’t a good option. Sometimes the traditional method works best, and sometimes paint alone will do.

You`re Touching Up Same-Color Paint

One common DIY task is refreshing an existing coat of paint. Paint can chip or fade over time. The result is a dingy, damaged or dirty looking wall, even if you still love the color. 

In cases like these, it might be tempting to match your existing paint to a paint and primer in one, but you probably don’t need to spend the extra money.

Paint and primer in one is usually more expensive than either product separately. It uses more high-quality pigment and thickening agents that are more expensive than normal paint products. 

If all you`re doing is refreshing an existing paint job, skip the paint and primer in one. Wash your walls thoroughly and apply 1-2 even coats of plain paint across the whole surface. That way you avoid contrast between the old and new paint. 

You`re Painting Stained Wood

Paint and Primer in One: What It Is and When to Use It 1

One of the most popular ways to update a stale kitchen is to enamel the kitchen cabinets.

Unfortunately, since most wood finishes such as cabinets aren`t suitable to paint over with simple paint and primer in one. Wood surfaces need the extra care and attention of a traditional primer. 

When you are enameling kitchen cabinets, you want to use a traditional primer, or a primer specifically made for priming wood furniture and cabinets. These primers have better bonding features and higher durability.

Want to learn more about enameling your kitchen cabinets? Check out our post on How To Paint Kitchen Cabinets Like A Pro.

The New Paint is a Bright Color and Lighter Than The Old Color

Depending on the level of color difference you might be able to get away with paint and primer in one if you`ve chosen a lighter shade than your current paint, but you`re likely better off with traditional paint and primer. 

If the colors are still similar, and you`re only going a shade or two lighter, you don`t have to worry as much about the old color bleeding through the new paint. 

But, if your new paint is a very different color, like slate blue going over bright red, paint and primer in one will need too many coats to be worth it. You`ll put on just as many layers of a more expensive product. 

Instead, use traditional paint and primer. Tint your primer with the new paint color so it helps with the color transition as well as blocking out the old color.

Your Paint Surface Is Significantly Stained

Food stains, oily stains, smoke stains and everyday stains from kids and life can be hard to cover. Some can be too hard for a paint and primer in one.

While you can cover some small minor stains with paint and primer in one, most of the time it`s better to use traditional paint and primer. 

Since paint and primer in one is mostly just thicker pigment and thicker binder, it doesn`t do anything to create a seal between layers. Even if the paint and primer in one covers the stain initially it can start to bleed through and show over time. 

A primer such as Kilz helps to seal off smoke stains and other damage so the staining particle or pigment can`t get through to your new paint. 

The Best Paint and Primer in One for Your Projects

Olive Room With Painted Trim

In the last decade, paint and primer in one become a rather common product. You can find paint boasting about it’s added primer or one-coat finish in almost any home-improvement store. It isn’t a specialty product limited to dedicated painting supply stores, anymore.

But all that variety also makes it harder to know that the product you`ve purchased is the right product for the job. 

You might easily buy what looks like a bargain product only to discover you need so many extra coats that you lose all your savings in wasted time and extra paint. 

Worse, cheap paint might look fine at first but begin to wear out and age significantly quicker than high-quality competitors, forcing you to re-do and replace all your hard work that much sooner. 

Here are some of the best paint and primer in one products you can trust to get the job done, right. 

Regal Select by Benjamin Moore

Regal Select by Benjamin Moore

Regal Select is a high-pigment, easy to use, paint and primer in one. The colors and bright and vibrant, and most balance the translucence needed for depth of color, with great coverage and high pigment saturation. 

This paint comes in a variety of finishes as well, from completely matte to high-gloss. Their website also provides a helpful guide for which finish rating translates to which level of gloss. 

They also make recommendations for what kind of finish looks best and is more durable in different rooms of your home. 

Regal Select is also all non-VOC or low-VOC paint, even after the pigment is added. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are harmful compounds in paint that easily disperse into the air. VOC`s are most of the reason paint smells bad. 

More importantly, most VOCs are known to be health hazards, and many are known carcinogens. 

 Low VOC paint is safer for you and your family while you’re painting and in the long term. VOCs can continue leaching into your air for months after you paint, so it’s important to get low or no VOC paint to reduce your exposure.

Despite being a thicker paint with more pigment, Regal Select is still usually compatible with paint sprayers. You won`t need to thin the paint. 

Behr Premium Plus

Behr Premium Plus Paint and Primer

Behr was the first company to create and successfully market a paint and primer in one back in 2009. While other high-quality paint companies have been around longer, Behr is the real innovator over the years. 

Their products tend to have a high level of pigmentation and great coverage. They are also smooth and easy to use paints, compatible with brushes, sponges, and paint sprayers. 

Unfortunately, Behr usually doesn’t offer no-VOC paint. Their paints are advertised as low-odor and better options for air quality, but that doesn’t mean that they are VOC free.

Instead, think of these paints as low VOC. Try to give the paint extra time to breathe and air out before you start using freshly painted rooms again. 

As with most paints, including low and no VOC products, it’s a good idea to buy an air filter fan for that room and use it regularly for the next several months.  

Valspar Signature

Valspar Signature

Valspar Signature is another line of VOC-free paint. You can trust that there is no VOC content from either the base paint or the pigment which helps preserve the air quality in your home. 

Valspar Signature is best for surfaces that aren`t entirely smooth, or where you need to hide some minor surface damage and scuffing. All the gloss finishes in the Valspar Signature line are designed to help your eye move and skip over the surface, making it appear smoother than it is. 

That means it`s not the best paint for a highly textured surface you want to preserve, but great in rooms that have minor wall damage from children or pets. 

Valspar Signature is also an easy paint to find and has a wide color selection in a variety of finishes, so you can get exactly the color you want. 

Sherwin-Williams Duration

Sherwin-Williams Duration

Sherwin-Williams Duration line offers one feature you can`t get from the other paint and primers on our list. 

In addition to choosing the color and gloss of your paint finish, you can select from different base options to further customize the finish of your paint. They do recommend a specific base for the color you chose, but if you have a specific reason for wanting a different base, you can change it.

Duration is also designed to be stain-resistant and to create a stain seal. Unlike other paint and primer in one, this is a good option if you’re covering existing stains.

It`s also a good choice in high-traffic rooms like your living room, dining room, and kitchen, that are more likely to be stained. 

Sherwin-Williams also includes compounds in their paint designed to resist mold and mildew, a major health and appearance bonus, especially if you live in a humid climate. 


Tuesday 20th of April 2021

Is Behr Paint & Primer OK for ceiling painting or should I use paint specifically named ceiling paint?


Tuesday 20th of April 2021

Funny timing, I am actually writing up a review post on Behr Ceiling paint right now! You can use any paint on your ceiling that you wish and you will be just fine. But, ceiling paint has a couple of benefits. First, it is going to be very flat. Meaning, it won't reflect light in a way that shows imperfections in the ceiling. Two, it tends to be thinking and not drip as much as other paints can. Last, it's cheaper than normal wall paints. That's about it. So, if you already have a different paint, go ahead, you'll be fine. But if you haven't bought paint for your ceiling yet, consider actual ceiling paint.


Sunday 10th of January 2021

Hi Ryanc....I'll be using Behr Premium Plus Semi Gloss to cover a LOT of trim that has recent contractor (SW) paint that is in great condition. Old color and new color are very close. Old sheen is less than the Premium Plus I'll be using. I don't want to sand first -- way too much, too messy. I've test 2 approaches. First, I tried Zinsser's primer followed by the Premium Plus. Then I tried just the Premium Plus directly over the old paint (no sanding, no priming, just washing first). Results were the same in both approaches -- great coverage, even sheen, only one coat of Premium Plus needed. So, is there any reason why shouldn't just skip the primer coat? Will long term durability be comparable with vs without primer?


Monday 11th of January 2021

@Ryanc, Thanks for the reply! I think I'll sand and use the primer for the baseboards, door frames and a built in cabinet and then use just the Behr on the rest (including a ton of ceiling beams/trim and window trim).


Sunday 10th of January 2021

Hey Guy,

Personally, if you're just painting trim and you don't expect it to get too much abuse, you are probably fine just painting over it with your Behr Premium Plus. I would probably do the same in my own home. I wouldn't recommend the same for cabinets or a high traffic area, but general trim, sure, save some time and you'll probably never have an issue.