The myth of self priming paint

There is no true self priming paint. There just isn’t, sorry. Truth be told it’s something of an inside joke with contractors and retailers alike. This morning I said those three words to a contractor, “Self priming paint,” without any conversation preceding  it. He laughed, smiled, looked down and shook his head. Say it to just about any paint company sales rep and they will sigh exasperatedly too. After so much buzz about the topic, I felt compelled to share my thoughts.

1) If anyone thinks that buying a primer is a complete rip off, they don’t know much about paint. It isn’t anyone’s fault really, most people have different uses of time for their life than learning all the intricacies of paint. After all, that’s why they go to the paint people to ask their paint questions!  Customers should not look at primer like an extravagance or a thing to be cut away for the sake of efficiency, primers should looked at as bread to go with their sandwich’s contents. To a paint person, when a customer says, “I don’t need/want primer, you’re just trying to rip me off!”, they might as well say, “what do I look stupid, of course I don’t want bread with my tuna sandwich!” Forgive my harshness, but sometimes it does sound like that!

2) There’s only so much material in a gallon. The chemical makeup of primers and paint are different. It’s like the difference between a Mack truck and a VW beetle. Built for totally different things. There are compromises but nothing that can perfectly do the job of either.

3) My own theory: I believe that paint companies have put this claim on their product’s can in response to clever advertising gimmicks by cheaper brands located in big box outfits. I’m not alone in this belief. Quite simply it has become a marketing war, and they’re wondering how to combat these advertising claims. In this bidding war, quality, customer education on the differences between the products, and the truth are the sacrificial lambs.

4) “How can they say that?” Paints have improved quite a bit. A regular gallon of paint can have some of the “seeping in” chemical properties of a primer. The competition of the paint market has improved the entire field in terms of their product’s ability to cover. Technically speaking, some of these paints do somewhat work as a primer for a few situations. Do they a real 1 for 1 substitute for a primer? Not for a second. But do they have “primer like qualities”? Yes. Perhaps in the future may we see a TRUE primer/paint combination that is not a compromise. Without tipping my hand, I will say that there’s a product in the works.

I feel compelled to add this: Putting a “bargain-base” flat finish paint without a properly primed glossy surface, say a cabinet?, is an experience that will make people a believer in primers after a single event. Fresh sheetrock in a new home, unprimed, would cause another one of these events.

5) “But some contractors swear it works?” And some contractors will charge their customers for both a primer and a paint, but buy a “Two in one, works for none” option! Frankly: Not all contractors are equally as knowledgeable on their products. A second generation professional painter will, with very few exceptions, know more than someone who started last month.

Amongst the “good guy/girl” contractors who use the stuff? They’re usually short changing their own abilities if they think the product is just as good. Contractors, in trying to work around substandard products, often don’t realize how hard their job is and how talented they are. They’re sticking by a shoddy product never realizing that their good work results are more a reflection of their ability to bend over backwards, than of the material’s quality.
There are sales representatives who occasionally read this blog, they will likely want my head on a platter after reading some of this, but I stand by this post. The experience (which is mirrored by that of our customers) is this: While some products do a good job of acting like a primer and have primer like qualities, using an actual primer is always best.