Before you paint, good surface prep is important for an overall even, smooth, and professional-looking paint job, but just how many coats of primer on drywall are needed for the best result? The key to a great looking finish is not just the number of coats, but the type, quality, and amount of primer you apply. Exactly how much drywall primer-sealer you need depends largely on how you’ve prepped your drywall, but read on and you’ll learn how to apply the right primer for a perfect, high-quality paint job that will stay vibrant and chip-free for years.
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Number of Primer Coats to Use on Drywall
For the majority of unfinished drywall paint jobs, you need just one coat of primer. Some contractors and painters will sometimes tell you that you don’t even need to use primer on bare drywall. While primer is never technically mandatory, using primer on any surface helps create an even, adhesive surface for painting. Primer is specially designed to be a glue-like base between your paint and surfaces. In the case of drywall, primer ‘seals’ the board and drywall mudding, providing the surface uniform absorption. Primer is generally dry to the touch after 30 minutes, though you should give it at least three hours to dry completely before painting.
Might you need to give your walls another coat of primer? In a perfect world, no. The right amount of primer goes on smoothly, will seal your drywall and give you an ideal surface on which to paint. However, drywall itself and drywall mud have different absorption properties. If you notice ‘flashing’ or a shiny area on the wall when the light hits it, surface contamination or your priming job looks blotchy, you can layer on another coat of primer. Getting a nice even coat takes some practice, so don’t worry if your single coat doesn’t look perfect. You are also more likely to need a second coat if you have ‘fuzzy’ areas from over-sanding. Primer is meant to help achieve a smooth, uniform look and improve the adherence of paint so don’t skimp if it truly looks like you need two coats of drywall primer.
Use the right kind of primer. It’s less likely you’ll need more than one coat of primer if you use something that’s specifically made for fresh drywall. Oil-based primer is not recommended for drywall as it is more brittle and prone to cracking. A high-build, high-adhesion, water-based primer like the Rust-Oleum Drywall Primer or KILZ Adhesion Interior Latex Primer.
are good choices that will sink into the porous surfaces and create a smoother surface with less work.
Do I Really Need to Prime Drywall?
It’s true, you could paint directly onto drywall. The problem with skipping the primer, though, are many-fold. Drywall is uneven, porous, and absorbent. A coat of drywall primer seals the porous surface of the drywall, protecting the surface and providing a smooth, even surface on which to paint. Skipping primer may make your walls more prone to yellowing, chipping, water stains and deterioration, and there are plenty of other reasons a simple coat of primer is the way to go.
You will use less paint. This is not just an issue of cost-saving – primer is much less expensive than your interior paints – but of ease. Starting with a base coat of water-based primer and sealer means you can use just one or two coats of paint on the walls. Without primer, drywall and compound will absorb the paint at different rates, and you’ll end up with a blotchy paint job, and using more paint to cover it up. Save some dough and save some time by choosing a good drywall primer first.
It will look better. Starting with an even, smooth surface ensures your paint will go on nice and even. Painting on primer rather than directly onto the drywall will give a more professional and glossy look with less effort.
Further reading: Priming drywall before tiling.
Too Much Primer
There is a danger of using too much primer. A thick coat increases the risk the primer will crack or chip, ruining your paint job. It will also take a long time to dry, and could possibly soak the drywall too much, causing bubbles, peeling and failure in your new drywall. When applying primer to drywall, your roller shouldn’t be dripping with primer. Apply primer evenly so the wall is a uniform color. Add another layer only if the first coat has absorbed differently, or there are visible flaws and nicks still showing.
Self Priming Paints
Should you use 2-in-1 paint and primer on your drywall? Normal paint (even paint that isn’t labeled 2-in-1 paint & primer) has some adhesion properties already, and premium paints should, in theory, contain more giving you better coverage. While a blend of paint and primer may seem appealing, in truth, a primer and paint mixture is not ideal for painting bare drywall. Self-priming paints, or paints with primer added, works for some jobs, but on porous, absorbent drywall, you will end up having to use multiple layers. Save yourself some money, and opt for a good drywall primer first.
Paint is a science, and many paints are tested for maximum effect with the brand’s primer and other products. If you’re using a white paint or lighter paint color, vs a dark paint, tinted primer is not necessary. For some dark hues, local paint stores might suggest tinting the primer towards the finish color. This is completely up to you. Tinting your primer is not a substitute for a well-done coat of paint. You won’t save a bunch of time, but your end result (if it’s a fluorescent or dark color) may be more true-to-color IF you tint according to the manufacturer’s suggestion.
It is always a good idea, no matter the wall material, or quality of paint, to start with good primers. A high-quality water-based primer or water-based latex primer is best for drywall. You should start with one coat of high-build drywall primer to seal, protect and smooth out your painting surface (two coats of water-based primer if necessary). Let your wall surface dry for three to four hours before applying your first layer of paint. Using a base coat of primer allows you to use less paint, and achieve an over-all better, longer-lasting paint job.