When and How to Prime When Painting

Danny Lipford priming wall paneling with a paint roller.
Danny Lipford priming wall paneling.

Priming before painting has two purposes: to increase bonding between the surface and the paint, and to hide stains and dark colors so they don’t bleed through.

It’s important to prime before painting:

  • Unfinished wood, plywood, particleboard, or MDF
  • New drywall or plaster
  • Water stains on ceilings
  • Knots in wood that have bled through the paint
  • Dark or bright paint colors

Primers are available in water-based, oil-based, and shellac-based. Use special stain blocking oil-based or shellac-based primers when painting over knots, water stains, or dark colors. Latex (water-based) primers can be used on new drywall and wood.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

Danny Lipford: The most common questions I hear from people about painting have to do with primer. When do you use it and what kind do you use?

Primers chiefly serve two purposes: they promote bonding and they mask color or stains. Now, anytime you have new wood or drywall, the first coating on it should be a quality primer. This seals the pores of the materials; and, at the same time, creates a surface that is ideal for later coats to bond with.

Primers aren’t made to be durable, but they do help make the more durable coating stick. Stain-blocking primers do just what the name says. They block stains created by wood resins, water, and other materials from bleeding through both themselves and the topcoat.

If you’re painting a ceiling that has had a leak in the past, primer—preferably one that is shellac-based—is a must to prevent those brown water stains from reappearing in the new coating.


  1. Silly question… how can you tell if wood has been primed? I can’t get in touch with the fella that built my free little library box to see if it was primed. It’s not the bare wood, but it has a whitish coat of paint over it. We are ready to design it and paint it, but want to be sure that it was primed. If this sounds like it was, is it necessary or would it hurt it if we primed it again?


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