Dec 20, 2008

Drywall primers... again!

bare drywall

We receive countless emails asking about when to use drywall primers with all the talk today about self-priming (Paint and Primer in One) paints. We’ve also received comments from paint contractors on our YouTube videos saying we should use wall primers on bare drywall rather than applying wall paint directly over drywall. What do they know that I don’t? Let’s take a closer look at wall primers and their purpose. What is wall primer supposed to do?

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 11, 2015 – This page is updated.

Bare Drywall

The main goal priming bare drywall is to seal and equalize the porosity between the surface drywall paper and a variety of drywall compounds and toppings (collectively muds) to provide a solid foundation for paint to bond. We also want wall primer to provide a solid uniform sheen for finish coats of paint, including flat paints. Continuously painting new construction homes allows us to expose a whole host of product limitations which otherwise may or may not be noticeable painting previously painted surfaces.

Our goal has four parts

  1. seal the porous paper surface
  2. provide a surface the paint can bond with
  3. seal the porosity of drywall mud
  4. prevent top coat sheen degradation

What can go wrong using drywall primer

  • poor adhesion to drywall
  • poor gloss retention of finish product
  • poor equalization of porosity between mud and drywall
  • poor touch-up ability
  • poor clean-up / scrubbing durability

What if paint does not bond with primer? What if primer does not bond with drywall? What if primer bonds with bare drywall, but has poor adhesion over drywall mud? What do you do now? You primed right? The paint isn’t sticking that well is it? Did you try a tape test or maybe you tried washing it and the paint and primer came off back to bare drywall? Did you remove the masking tape from the baseboard and it tore paint and primer off the wall exposing bare drywall?

The label on the paint can says, “Use primer.” The paint store rep said, “Use a primer.” It was specified by architects to, Use primer." You read online, you read it in magazines, you always hear – “Use a primer,” and you did. Not only that, but you used the paint manufacturers recommended primer on the back of the paint can.

So now what? Is it too late? You may already have a coat of paint over the primer, but its the primer not sticking, not the paint. Was the drywall surface clean? Did you remove drywall dust left behind from sanding? Did you shop-vac the drywall and the paint still didn’t stick? Did you try wiping down the drywall with a damp sponge? So did we. Did the primer fail? So did ours. Did we do something wrong?

Lucky for you, we have all the answers and before you get discouraged we also have a fix so you can achieve that finish and bond you initially tried to achieve.

We tested a total of 14, now 21 32 wall primers over bare drywall. Not one of the drywall primers performed as good as a drywall sealer such as, Zinsser Gardz or three Paint and Primer in One solutions. Let’s take a look at why that is.

The Test

drywall primer

Try performing the test for yourself. Let’s say for example you have a piece of bare drywall sitting on your lap and 1 tablespoon of water and 1 tablespoon of any wall primer of your choice, there are tons of them out there, pick one.

Now, take the tablespoon of water and slowly pour it on the drywall. The water dissipates into the drywall right? Now take the tablespoon of primer and do the same. Not exactly the same result is it?

If you want to dive deeper into testing, try this test over bare drywall mud, it will provide similar results with a completely different effect with the primer.

Try this small test too. Take a sanded drywall patch, clean it, dust it, vac it, damp sponge it if you want and run your finger over it when its dry. I suspect your finger will have a white dusty powder on it.

What this test tell us is, no matter how good you clean new drywall for paint, there is only one thing that will prepare it to accept paint. Apply a sealer that will penetrate both the paper and the mud and bond all of it together. Thinner material penetrates better – right?

Notice in the photo above, the first 24-inches inches from the left corner doesn't look as nice as the next 24-inches. Then you see another 24-inches that doesn't look as nice as the second area. The second area is 2 coats of eggshell paint applied directly over bare drywall. The first 24-inches is primer plus one coat of eggshell paint.

Sheen degradation

One major set-back as a result of using a wall primer is finish sheen degradation. Some primers are better than others but nonetheless, some sheen will absorb into the primer coat. The loss of sheen is very apparent in the photo above. If we were to make a touch-up on the first 24-inch area on the photo above, the area touched-up will have the sheen of the next 24-inch in that photo because the touch-up is still building the true sheen of the paint because true sheen was never achieved with the 1 primer, 1 finish approach.

drywall sealer

The photo above is Zinsser Gardz drywall sealer applied directly over the bare drywall mud on a horizontal joint. The sealer absorption into the mud is highly visible. Darker areas reflect deeper penetration throughout the various mud compounds. The next two photos show a horizontal joint with one coat of eggshell paint applied over Gardz.

Zinsser Gardz
drywall sealer

Again, the sealed portion of the wall seen above reflects shiner as the 1st coat of paint dries slower  compared to areas without sealer. Absorption rates are minimized over properly sealed areas, (also seen in the solid wet vertical stripe below). However the photo below is 2 coats of paint applied directly over bare drywall. The vertical wet stripe seen below is taking longer to dry in comparison to the wall primer used to the left and right of the stripe.

Primer vs. Paint

drywall primer

Think back to a time when you applied paint directly over bare wood. Do you remember what happened with the paint? Do you recall how much paint absorbed into the bare wood? Do you remember applying the second coat of paint and it too absorbed into the bare wood. Maybe even three coats looked questionable?

Have a look at the specific details on the wall primer tests performed in the photo above.

The same thing happens when you apply paint over bare drywall. Exactly the same thing, but with varied results depending on the paint used.

Some wall paints penetrate, seal, and equalize the porosity of bare drywall better than wall primers, providing better adhesion and also look great with 2 coats of paint applied over bare drywall. So here we have a classic case of Good, Better and Best.

The photo above shows a wet vertical stripe as the result of two coats of paint over bare drywall. It is obvious some 100% acrylic (paint and primer in one) paints perform great over bare drywall with solid equalized coverage, appearance, and bond. The paint and primer in one used in the above photo outperformed all 32 drywall primers.

UPDATE: February 11, 2015

Looking at the photo above, could you honestly say a primer is needed over bare drywall if I can achieve coverage, adhesion, and equalization with a paint far better than wall primer? I'm saying... knock yourself out. If you feel you have the desire to waste money and labor on a primer coat and leave yourself open to failure, then do it.

But let’s take a look at what is best, because that is what this site is all about.


UPDATE: February 11, 2015
Many new products have arrived on store shelves since this article was first published back in 2008. Read this next section carefully and read over the previous sections if you skipped them.

drywall sealer

In regards to Level 5 finishing on walls with high light reflection, the best product known to me for bare drywall is Zinsser Gardz. I see primers fail all the time. The number of painters writing in about primers somewhat confirms their results are not what they expected after using wall primers.

Back Camera 

Apply Gardz directly over bare drywall, then apply 2 coats of paint for best results. Remember this is new drywall and you need to build a foundation, so use 2 coats of paint. Think about this, even with one coat of Gardz, and 2 coats of paint, your total dried mil thickness is minimal at best. The photo above is 1 coat of Gardz, 1 coat of eggshell paint (seen wet). The photo was taken on the portion of the wall where the horizontal mud joint in the previous photos were taken.

Zinsser Gardz

Gardz is a thin water-like clear sealer and most of the product will dissipate into the fibers of the drywall and mud. Gardz is similar to injecting glue into drywall and mud. This is why in the previous photo above you see a very nice uniform finish with one coat of Gardz and one coat of paint. These results are far greater than any wall primer we’ve ever used.

Gardz in comparison to typical wall primers

drywall primer

The photo above is one coat of drywall primer and 3 coats of flat wall paint over new drywall. The lack of equalization between drywall mud and drywall is common with wall primers. Interesting to note: this is the top of the line product. It is expensive in materials and labor to perform a primer and 3 coat system only to have it fail to do what you set out to accomplish. Coincidentally, what you see in the photo above is exactly what the 1st coat of primer looked like.

If the coat of wall primer looked like the photo above, and the photo above is 3 coats of flat paint over wall primer—what have you accomplished by applying 4 coats? Nothing. What if you can apply masking tape to the 1 primer, 3 coats of flat paint and pull the paint and primer off to expose bare drywall again? What have you accomplished by applying 4 coats? Nothing.

Painting walls with high reflective values

Let's say you get a call, their house is a few years old with builder grade flat paint on the walls and the homeowners want to paint the 16' high foyer wall extending to the back of the house (windows on both ends). Applying an eggshell over some builder flat paints will typically dry fast and may be difficult to achieve a uniform finish. Your best bet here is to apply Zinsser Gardz over the builder flat and proceed with one or two coats of eggshell paint. Painting over Gardz extends the working time of paint to cover large surfaces with ease. In general, an entire 12x12 room can be rolled entirely and upon completion, the first area rolled remains wet. Extended drying time is required as paint dries on the surface of Gardz.


paint and primer in one

To summarize our experience with 32 wall primers, we have not found one wall primer to date that adheres to bare drywall using simple tape testing. Having said that, there are many wall paints that fail the same test when applied directly over bare drywall. So what exactly are we accomplishing by using a wall primer vs wall paint?

We found a few wall paints with better adhesion than all 32 primers tested over bare drywall. The only problem you may experience is a need for a 3rd coat, but one primer coat, plus two coats of wall paint is a total of three coats anyway, but you can achieve better adhesion with some paints. To be fair, the other argument to applying 2 coats directly to bare drywall is achieving a uniform sheen with eggshell or semi gloss. But think about this, 1 primer and 2 finish is 3 coats.

The photo above shows one particular flat enamel wall paint (center of photo) applied directly to bare drywall in two coats has a nicer true sheen appearance vs two primer options to the left and better than another flat wall paint to the right. Coat for coat, the paint and primer in one solution is the winner here.


wall primer

The low cost route is using an inexpensive primer over bare drywall and applying one coat of wall paint. There are advantages and disadvantages utilizing this method.

Typical Uses

One primer, one finish is typically used as a low cost solution when a flat finish is required and level of quality is ignored.


  • Primer can be considerably less expensive than paint
  • One primer coat, one flat coat of paint can produce cosmetic results
  • One tinted primer coat and one coat of finish can be applied but you lose adhesion or bond some of us need to tape off walls, hang wallpaper over and even wash or scrub depending on what your paint allows.


  • Uniform finish may not be achieved
  • Typically of less quality
  • Poor adhesion to bare drywall
  • Poor scrubability aspects
  • Poor touch-ups
  • one primer, one eggshell may have poor appearance and touch-ups are likely to show

Remember when you landed the job, the homeowner told you she will be hanging wallpaper later? Do you shortcut her at this point or prepare the job now for paper later? What if its you hanging the wallpaper? Too many guys are doing the "right-for-now" work instead of what is best for down-the-road work.

Primer typically requires MORE attention to rolling than wall paint. If primer is rolled any old way - you may never get the finish to look right no matter how many coats of finish. Here is a video rolling walls. Utilizing the last pass down method will provide a consistent finish. The finish in the Best Method was done with last pass down.


Something to think about

Something to think about for those of you spraying commercial work. Think about how much you can save on materials utilizing a better method. What is that high-build primer suppose to be shot at… 20 mil thick? Spraying walls inherently wastes materials and can be near twice as much vs rolling it.

Here is an interesting tid bit. Same two houses done two different ways. One guy sprayed the walls with 60 gallons and the other rolled it with 15. The guy spraying had a guy back rolling too. What a huge waste of time and money and an extra guy. Guy spraying spent $1,380 on materials and the guy who rolled it spent $345 There was no difference in workmanship.

Funny how a certain manufacturer makes an executive decision to create a primer that requires such a heavy layer be applied cover bare drywall. But that same question also begs the question, was a product like that designed because guys don't know how to paint or does the manufacturer not know how to make a product that works without laying it on as heavy. If you apply anything at 20 mil, it better look good.

The argument

440i My argument with using a wall primer is the lack of a fail-safe method and I need that in my business. While I enjoy the 440i I received from a paint store due to primer failing, I am not going to have another homeowner come back to me complaining she washed the paint and primer off the wall and obviously this has happened to me otherwise I wouldn’t be posting a fix to this problem online. I have a ton of information and previous test on wall primers. Do a Google search on jackpauhl+wall primers or click this link.

The Fix

So let’s say you too fell sucker to the “use a primer” method and you are in that same situation where the paint washes off the wall or you had to apply masking tape to do some wild painting scheme seen on TV. There is a fix and leave it to no other than Zinsser to have your back! Zinsser Gardz can be used to apply over a paint that was previously undercoated with primer utilizing the Good method above. Gardz assists with penetrating through paint and the primer and help with bonding them to the drywall and not only that but moving forward with a new coat of paint will give you the ultimate finish you see in the Best method above.

Dec 19, 2008

Common Painting Myths

When I first posted my painting videos online there were only two other videos online, today, there are countless videos and paint related articles online.

Its unfortunate there is so much misinformation at everyone’s fingertips online (some of those videos people post make me cringe) and much of what I read is that same misinformation republished even in trade magazines over and over, same boring virtually meaningless stuff. But if you think about it, many of the people writing are getting their information online rather than from experience.

If you are a professional painter like me then you too are probably familiar with the misinformation. You want information beyond your current knowledge both with product and with acquired skills. You want to seek out something new, something you don't already know that can benefit your business. For those new to the painting business, misinformation might send those readers on a costly expense of learning the truth the hard way. This is where the information on this blog becomes such a huge resource of information. I didn’t find this information anywhere online, I write about my real in-the-field applications, methods, products and experience. The information here isn't secondhand and copied from various unreliable sources. There is no 'grapevine' effect.

Here are just a few myths busted on painting. I will try to add to the list for those who write in asking about things they read online or elsewhere. You have every reason to question it and validate it.

1) An Illinois-based decorating company wrote along these lines: Without the correct brush, it won’t lay out a nice finish. This is not true at all. What he is trying to explain has little to do with the brush and more to do with product. I can provide you with an ultra smooth finish using a whisk brush that people use to sweep up into a dust pan.

2) The same guy recommends Ox-hair or hog-bristle China brushes for applying oil-based product, but he says they can’t take the abuse of waterbornes. This was true years and years ago (more than 10 years ago). Now synthetic brushes far outperform china when spreading not only vanishes, sanding sealers and polys but also oil-based paint and even primer. Some perform better with stains both oil-based and waterborne.

3) It is said that nylon is soft, allowing paint to lay down smoothly, and cleans up easily. He recommends nylon bristles for woodwork and other areas that require a smooth finish”. Nylon is recommended for applying clears or painting over highly textured surfaces. The term "nylon" doesn't mean you get a smooth finish at all.

4) He goes on to say the down side to nylon bristles is clogging easily, especially when used with fast drying paints. He believes for this reason, many brushes contain a blend of nylon and polyester”. I never heard anything about nylon clogging up. This sounds like poor pre-prepping a brush and or brush-work-style or methods and or poor product. I have no idea what that statement means. I do know however that polyester was added to a nylon brush for firmness and bend recovery purposes which he mentioned later. Polyester is not the culprit of brush marks, its one of four other things, 1) tipping, 2) flagging 3) product, 4) application.

5) A manager from a Sherwin Williams store in MO says the brush size matters: he explains cutting in with a dark color against a hard surface usually requires the precise edge of a “thin” brush. Thin has nothing at all to do with sharpness and an ability to cut an edge but everything to do with tipping. A 5/8” brush can be just as sharp as a 15/16” brush. Cutting sharp edges are in fact done more easily with a wider brush due to its fingerprint and stance on the wall provides more stability vs a thin brush.

6) He goes on to say thicker brushes are recommended for cutting in between a heavily textured wall and ceiling. Not quite. A heavily textured wall requires two things, first a soft nylon only brush and 2) the thicker the better. A firm thick brush will do no good on a “heavily textured wall and ceiling”.

7) He adds, there are regular brushes that have flagged bristle which he explains will hold more paint than a tipped bristle but won’t cut as fine a line. There is no such thing as a “regular” brush and flagging and tipping has absolutely nothing to do with how much paint a brush can hold.

8) And as if that wasn’t bad enough he says the fuzzy endings of flagged brushes are also better at eliminating brush strokes than finely pointed, tipped brushes. Not true at all. Flagged bristles are notorious for leaving brush marks despite brush manufacturer’s efforts to reduce the amount of brush marks. Fine tipped bristle is anyone’s best chance with any product to achieve smooth finishes.

Dec 12, 2008

Load Balancing

Wooster SuperFab What is Load Balancing?

Years ago I conducted a study on how far various roller covers carry a load of paint. The tests designed to determine how much more distance can I get out of all the 1/2" nap roller covers available to me and find the best one. In addition, I wanted to compare the 1/2" roller covers against 3/4" covers of the same brand to see how much more distance I can get using a 3/4" cover assuming a desired roller texture.

The same study was conducted on brushes.

Load balancing is gauged on the overall capacity of a brush or roller and the amount of paint you load them with for optimum results. Each load (amount of paint) is predetermined before taking the load based on for example where it will be placed on the wall or trim.

Load Balancing is one of the more important aspects with efficient painting. It’s a combination between the right paint brush or roller and the amount of paint in which you load them and how it impacts performance more than anything else.

Load Balancing allows me to paint ridiculously fast because each (next move) or next load of paint is thought out. What this does is eliminates unnecessary brushwork and/or more effective results with each load of paint.

paint can brush_001 In the video where the side of the casing is painted in about 8 seconds, Load Balancing plays a huge role in allowing me to do that. 1) The brush needs to be capable of holding a load of paint to go the distance of 7’. 2) How much paint is needed to travel 7’ and put that amount of paint on the brush.

Look for more on this topic soon along with video demonstrations. For now you can see more on this topic here.