Paint vs. Primer and can primer be used as the finish coat of paint (2023)

This post outlines the differences between paint vs. primer and answers the question about if you can use primer as the finish coat of paint.

A friend asked me a question about primer that I had never thought about. Can you use primer as paint? In other words, can primer be the final coat of paint on a furniture piece? I was giving him pointers on how to refinish laminate cabinets, so I of course told him to use primer first. After the primer dried, he liked the finish so much he didn’t want to paint over it. Can primer be used as the finish coat of paint? I had to think about this one and do a little research and I’ve outlined my conclusion below. I figured if he was asking, someone else has probably asked or wanted to know this too. I’ve outlined all my thoughts below about paint vs. primer and can primer be used as the finish coat of paint.

Paint vs. Primer and can primer be used as the finish coat of paint (1)

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Let’s talk about primer vs. paint first. Even though they both seem similar, they have different purposes.


Primer contains resins that seal to most surfaces, even porous ones, and provides a bond. This enables you to paint surfaces that would not adhere with regular paint.


Paint on the other hand has what they call “pigments” which provides color and also durability to fight the elements.

Since primer’s function is mainly to bond and cover porous surfaces, it is not made to withstand elements like paint. Because of this, if you leave primer without a top coat (or paint) it will deteriorate and break down, probably in a chalk like form.

Looking for more painting tips? Maybe you want a little help choosing the right type of paint. You also might want to know if you really need to prime furniture before painting it.

Can paint be used without primer?

Yes, if the surface is smooth (non porous) and will allow the paint to adhere easily paint can be used without primer.

Can you paint directly over primer?

Yes you can paint over primer as long as it’s been freshly painted within a month or so. Using paint over old primer will not work because the old primer will more than likely start to break down.

Can primer be used as the finish coat of paint?

My opinion is simply No.

This doesn’t mean you have to apply paint over it, but you do need to seal it in some form or fashion.

A quick tip; since most primers are white or gray, I would suggest using a poly acrylic top coat and NOT a polyurethane top coat. The urethane family of top coats yellow with time. This is ok if you are using it to cover wood with a yellow or red tone, but if you are covering a white or lighter surface, you don’t want any yellowing over time.

I’ve seen this a few times when people paint kitchen cabinets a lighter or white color. They seal it with poly urethane because historically it was the strongest and most durable top coat. But a few years or so down the road you can see a hint of yellow on their bright white cabinets. This is more apparent in an area that sees a lot of sun.

I’ve shared all about how to seal furniture or wood for high traffic use in another post if you’re interested.

Related posts about primer:

Best Primer for Wood and Wood Furniture

Best Primer for Cabinets

Do you Need to use Primer for Furniture before Painting?

Paint vs. Primer

  • Use primer when you’re painting a porous surface or a surface that most paint won’t adhere to. Also use primer when you need to cover a dark color with a lighter one.
  • Always cover primer with a top coat of sealer or paint.
  • You don’t always have to use primer before paint.
  • Primer and paint have different purposes, make sure you are using it right.
  • Use a poly acrylic top coat when painting over a white or lighter color

Simply put;

You cannot use primer as a final coat of paint

What happens if you don’t prime wood before painting?

If you don’t prime wood before painting chances are that the paint will look blotchy because the different areas of wood will soak up the paint unevenly. Also, over time you might get what’s called “bleed through.” Bleed through happens when the old tannins (or old paint, stain etc.) in the wood start to show through the new paint and you will see spots of color.

Paint vs. Primer and can primer be used as the finish coat of paint (2)

I hope this post has answered some question for you regarding primer and paint and when to use them. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop them below.

Thanks for stopping by,



Paint vs. Primer and can primer be used as the finish coat of paint? ›

Primer is cheaper than paint. And sometimes, you can use primer in place of a coat of paint. To be extra clear: not always, and you will absolutely still need a paint topcoat, but if you're doing a project where you're going to need multiple coats of paint, often times a coat of primer will cut out a coat of paint.

Can you use paint primer as final coat? ›

Since primer's function is mainly to bond and cover porous surfaces, it is not made to withstand elements like paint. Because of this, if you leave primer without a top coat (or paint) it will deteriorate and break down, probably in a chalk like form.

Can you use paint and primer as paint? ›

Paint and primer combination products do work in certain situations, but every paint job is different. Paint and primer have two different, distinct functions and many times work best as two separate products.

Does primer count as a coat of paint? ›

Although both primer and paint are classified as “architectural coatings” they are not the same. The formula of paint is different from the formula for primer. Paint is formulated to deliver color while primer is formulated to stick, better protect the surface, and in some cases block stains.

What happens if you put primer on top of paint? ›

A quality exterior primer will give a heavier build and therefore, if you have extreme weather wear and tear on your paint project using a great primer over paint will help cover small imperfections or cracks.

Can you use kilz primer as a finish coat? ›

Because of its texture, it is perfect for a base coat but not for a topcoat. Kilz is amazing, however, when it comes to painting over and trying to cover up something. Kilz works to hide and block stains and odors, including old paint jobs and cigarette smoke stains.

When should you not use primer when painting? ›

If the wall surface is smooth, you can skip the primer step. However, if there are textured areas or wrinkles on the wall, you'll need to prime it first. If your wall has been previously covered in wallpaper, you should definitely plan on using a primer before painting.

Do I need two coats of paint if I use primer? ›

On a new wall, you'll want to follow the rule and apply two coats of paint after primer. Follow the same standard for drywall. If you're repainting a wall, you'll only need one coat if you're using the same color and it's a quality paint.

What happens if you leave primer unpainted? ›

Primer is made take paint. Lots of surface area for paint to stick too. This quality makes dirt stick too. If you leave it for long, you will have to sand and redo the primer.

Is it better to use 2 coats of primer or 2 coats of paint? ›

You will want to use 2-3 coats of primer to ensure there is a good bond between the new paint and the wall, and also to cover up any previous colors, especially if they are red, orange, or a strange outdated color. In short, you will typically need 2 coats of primer for most painting projects.

Is primer just normal paint? ›

The basic difference between paint and primer is that paint is typically made up of resins pigments whereas primers are resins. The primer's basic function is to provide a sealed and stable surface for your topcoat (paint) and the resins contained in primers seal porous surfaces and provide that bond to the surface.

Do I need to sand between primer and top coat? ›

For your finish to be vibrant and not dull sanding after primer will ensure that the finish is not excessively dulled when you apply your paint top coat. You will typically use finer grit sandpaper and aim to achieve a smooth wood finish so that you get a fine appearing wood finish when you apply your topcoat.

Can you put primer over paint without sanding? ›

The highest quality bonding primers will often state 'no sanding is necessary' and will adhere to almost any shiny surface, such as glass, metal, tile etc. Primers like Kilz, Fuse, and Zinnser are good for bonding very strongly. Primers can be costly, but if they are of good quality there will be no need for sanding.

Is it bad to put too much primer? ›

Using too much primer may make your skin feel clogged and coated. One of the main benefits of primer is a smooth skin surface for even makeup application. If you've applied too much, you may notice that your foundation grabs or clumps in certain areas.

Can I use primer instead of base coat? ›

Nope, not necessarily. Base coats are for traditional polish and gel nails, whereas primer is used for both gel and acrylic.

How long should primer dry before final coat? ›

Most latex primers dry to the touch in 30 minutes to one hour. But for best results, don't paint until the primer completely dries—which can take up to 3 hours, depending on temperature and humidity.

What is the difference between primer and finish coat? ›

Primer is a preparatory base coat applied to the paint surface before painting. Primer is basically paint but without the pigments. Paint is the top coat which is more like a decorative coating or performance coating. It is not always necessary in every paint job to apply primers.

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