How Many Coats Of Primer Do I Need?

Last Updated on October 19, 2020 by Kimberly Crawford

Painting jobs could be costly depending on the color combinations that you want to achieve.

If only you could do it yourself, you would not need to doze out much money right? The truth is, you could do any painting job on your own and it all starts with knowing how many coats of primer you should need.

Well, the easy response is, there are specific painting jobs that will require you to use one coat of primer while others would need two coats. Sometimes, a painting job will not need any primer at all. We will reconcile all of these questions in this post so read on. 

Is the primer necessary for painting?

In most painting jobs, a primer is necessary. Sure, the paint will stick to any wall even without a primer but you are only submitting yourself to more work. Why? Because the paint will either be blotched or will peel in no time. 

Primers have less pigment but come with more resins. With this composition, primers are necessary preparatory paints because it makes the paint stick to the surface more. The other function that it provides is that it can limit the absorption rate of the surface, costing you less when it comes to other paints. This does not only save you time but also money. 

What does primer look like?

apply primer on white wall

Primers are used as a preparatory coating applied to surfaces before painting them with the final hue thanks to better paint adhesion. The most common primers are water-based primers. They are runnier like water-based acrylic and produce thinner coats. Oil-based primers are of course thicker, both in composition and in terms of the coat it produces. 

Primers look like paint essentially. They come in white color most of the time. But there are also tinted primers composed of lighter hues of common paint colors used in finishing. Primers are bought by liters or by the gallons because it is assumed that there is always a large surface to ‘prime’.

When to use one coat of primer?

apply primer on the floor

Applying a single coat of primer will depend on two situations: covering a full white surface and applying a tinted primer. 

Painting over a white wall to bind a new paint with the old paint and to mask stains, cracks, and blotches, one coat of oil-based primer or any high-quality water primer will suffice with just one coat. Through this, you will reduce the new paint that you need to cover the entire surface that needs to be painted. 

Using a tinted primer will only require a single coat too. By tinted, it means that you can buy a primer that is close to the hue of your old paint shade. This is important if you want just minimal changes in the paint like making it lighter in color. 

If you are not so sure about the primer balance, you can always ask the hardware man to mix the tinted primer at a 50% balance with the new shade. That is just enough to get the desired mixture for the new shade to be achieved. 

When to use two coats of primer?

The next question is when to use two coats of primer and for this question, there are three situations to remember: one, when you need to paint an unfinished surface; two, when painting unfinished wood walls; three, when you need to paint a wall with a lighter hue. 

Drywalls and plasters with no primer will have blotches all over. Thus, without a primer, you will find uneven pigments on the surface. To amend this, you will need to apply two coats to the unfinished drywall. The first coating is used to soak up the wall and even the blotches. Applying one more coating will make sure that the wall will be fully covered and spotless. 

Unfinished drywalls can make use of high-build drywall sealers. On the other hand, unfinished wall plasters will need stain-blocking primers that are oil-based so that lime scents will not manifest on the surface. 

Note that walls that were never primed are more absorbent as compared to unfinished drywalls or plasters. This means that there will be more cracks, peels, and blotches on the surface. For this reason, you will need to smoothen out the grain, and to achieve this, you need to apply a double coating of wood-recommended, oil-based primer. This type of primer will fill all the pores in the wood. 

If you intend to use a water-based primer for unfinished wood walls, sanding the surface before the coating is essential. This will flatten the surface and will fill the pores. 

Now, if the situation calls for lightening the hue, you will need two coats of high-hide primer. You can choose between tinted or white primer, then thinly apply a double coating. The reason for this is that the darker hues from the old paint still has the tendency to peek through. 

Just to clarify, there are some instances when a surface would not need any priming. This is done when you use self-priming paints. You should note, however, that while this type of paint is thicker, they are more expensive than regular primers. They also take longer to dry than the regular ones. 

How much does primer cost?

When you hire a paint contractor, you would find that the primer paints are listed first and they are estimated depending on the area that needs painting, the hue that you want to get, and the previous situation that the surface had that made the need for it to be repainted. Here are some tentative ranges of primer costs. 

Oil-based primers

This one is the best fit for unfinished wood walls or bare wood. It has been a standard industrial primer to seal porous wood surfaces. Oil-based primers range from $20-80. 

Shellac primers

If you need a primer to block stains or on surfaces that are vulnerable to smoke and water damages, shellac primers are perfect. This type of primer will cost $40-70. 

Latex-based primers

Its other name is a water-based primer. This one is ideal for softwoods, plasters, and drywalls. They are less dense and more brittle compared to oil-based primers but this is an upside because it makes it less vulnerable to cracking and peeling. Latex-based primers range from $15-75. 

Self-priming paint

Since it is both a primer and finishing paint in one, it is naturally more expensive than the others. As such, self-priming paints start at $35-50. This could be a practical choice for some and hefty for others but it is still a solid choice to consider. 


Primers are necessary parts of any painting job. If professional painters always give a tentative estimate to primers for every contract project, it means that primers have an inherent function to achieve what is expected.

Note that primers are not generic, however. There is a specific type of primer to be used depending on the type of surface to be painted. More than this, specific surfaces will need a specific number of primer coating.

Drywalls and plasters will need a single coat while unfinished wood surfaces need two coats since they are more porous. Sometimes, painting primers could be skipped thanks to the existence of self-priming paints.