Time-Saving Tools: Pros and Cons of All-in-One Paint and Primer Reply

The job should have been simple: four bedrooms in a one story suburban house. The client was preparing to put the house on the market and wanted all of the bedroom walls to be a calm, natural color. Jesse and Sal scheduled the job for a Tuesday morning and figured that by working together they would be done in a day, no problem.

But Jesse failed to take into account that three of the bedrooms belonged to young children. As such, the walls were painted bright colors like purple and orange, and they were full of pin holes from Mickey Mouse posters and other keepsakes tacked to the sheetrock. As they prepared the drop clothes, taped off the doorjambs, and got to work priming the walls Sal turned to Jesse and commented, “With the time it takes to prime the walls, let them dry, and then paint….we may not get this done in one day.”

a painter applies primer

Drastic color changes require primer and paint applied individually.
Image courtesy of The Old Brown House.

What if you could spend less time painting and still get a great result? What would that mean to your professional paint business? Since there are only so many hours in a day, being productive and efficient with the time actually available is key to a profitable business. Professional painters already employ a number of tools, like paint sprayers or additives that minimize drying time, to increase the speed with which they can complete a job and move on to the next client. However, any new tool, product, or method that further reduces the time it takes to finish a job is worthy of consideration.

In recent years, a product meant to simplify and reduce the time needed to paint surfaces has come to market. “Paint and Primer in One” products offer the painter the ability to paint once but realize the benefits of both primer and paint. But do these products really work? Are they a suitable replacement for the two coat process wherein a full coat of primer is applied prior to the actual paint?

Since primer exists to prepare a surface for a new top coat, it seems counterintuitive to think that primer and paint could work together. If a surface has never been painted before, then a traditional primer is still essential. Furthermore, if painting a slick or glossy surface with a paint that is less glossy (going from eggshell to flat finish, for example), then a traditional primer will help conceal the glare of the undercoating. Furthermore, covering oil paint with latex or acrylic is also a substantial enough change that an independent primer is your best bet. At the opposite end of the spectrum, painting a surface that has already been painted with a similar gloss finish may not require a primer at all.

So is there a middle ground ?  Actually, yes.  There is strong evidence that all-in-one paint and primer products are useful in a select few situations.  Most often, two-in-one products make efficient work on jobs where a coat of paint already exists and the new paint coat is not an extreme change in color or gloss. For example, painting bedroom walls from an off-white to beige would be an efficient and cost effective use of an all-in-one-product.  Conversely, new construction with bare sheetrock or dark red walls you would like to paint white require a separate primer.  Outside of the home, already painted exterior trim and facing responds well to all-in-one products.   Once again, the key is combining like finishes and similar colors when using an all-in-one product to reduce the number of coats required.  Complex paint work like that found in auto-detailing or industrial metal painting is not a good place for two-in-one paint products.   Since the purpose of primer it to offer substrate protection and adhesion to the paint layer, sacrificing either of these qualities in harsher environments (as on a car or oil rig) will cause problems not just with the final appearance, but also with the long term-health of the substrate.

For professional painters, paint that includes primer should be used judiciously.   In many cases, trying to find cost savings or time efficiencies by using an all-in-one product backfires and actually creates more work later.   Nothing will make a job unprofitable like having to invest the time and materials to redo the paint job all together.  Slight changes in gloss or color are fine.  New paint jobs or drastic changes in the end color will undoubtedly result in having to restart the job with a separate primer and subsequent coats of paint.

For Jesse and Sal, there would simply be no way around using primer first. The change in color was simply too great for an all-in-one paint and primer product. Perhaps one day the chemistry will be available to replace the need for both steps in many paint jobs, but we aren’t there yet. That said, there are still practical uses for products that combine primer and paint. Just like any other time-saving tool, these products should be under consideration for jobs where they work well, like those listed above. Click here to learn more about other tools and tips that can help you when painting!

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