How to: One-Step Paint and Primer

Are all-in-one paint/primers really worth their hype?

Q: I’ve seen ads for paints with primer in them, so that you can skip that step. Are they any good? Can you really eliminate priming? Or is it just marketing? — A.M., Peekskill

A: Many paint companies now offer a paint-and-primer in one, usually with names that suggest fabulous results (Behr’s Premium Plus Ultra wins the Roget’s Thesaurus award). Most claim they will cut your painting time in half, so that benefit, along with the prospect of eliminating the boring priming step makes the product sound like an enticing breakthrough.

As for whether they’re any good, here’s the short answer from Paul Viggiano, the director of marketing at A.G. Williams Painting Company in Pelham ( “If you need to prime to hide color, self-primers for interiors are usually good. If you need to prime to seal a bare surface or to create adhesion, it’s better to use a stand-alone primer and a finish paint.”

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Here’s the longer answer: Self-priming paints are thicker paints whose newer “waterborne” chemical makeup offers better coverage. “The problem is that we’re talking about at least a dozen different paints, so one brand may not work as well as another,” Viggiano continues. As with most things, you get what you pay for. The professionals at A.G. Williams use only quality paints from Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore.

“But even Benjamin Moore has different self-priming paints that perform differently under different circumstances,” Viggiano explains. “You need to consider your scenario. Are you painting wood, Sheetrock, or plaster? Are you removing wallpaper before you paint? Is there a lot of prep on the surface? Is it a deep color? All those situations warrant a different paint and procedure. … Benjamin Moore’s Aura doesn’t even advertise itself as self-priming,” he goes on, although both Aura and the company’s Regal Select line are high quality, waterborne choices that provide better color and durability, as well as lower VOCs than latexes, acrylics and alkyds. 

DIY-ers’ reviews of self-priming paints online range from warnings (“the worst”) to effusive endorsements (”fabulous”). Because the paint is more viscous, some claimed it was harder to roll on, and doesn’t flow easily if you’re using a brush. Some mentioned blotches and roller marks, uneven color or color rubbing off.

“Blotches and other problems are usually a sign of the painter, not the paint,” Viggiano responds. “Paints are not made to fail. Maybe there was poor surface prep, or the patches weren’t dry. Or it could have been the wrong paint.” 

Self-priming paints are more expensive than the regular stuff, so the cost of applying two coats, should you need them, could be considerably higher than using a primer and a single good top coat. 

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“Talk to a pro,” Viggiano suggests. “Everybody thinks, it’s just paint, but it’s not that simple. Get some sound advice.”

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