Moore to Know About Primer

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Features

Benjamin Moore and Kelly-Moore get the project started.



Primer. Who needs it? You do, probably, but some of your clients might not agree. They’ve been reading and watching and they’re not stupid and their paint says one coat, so don’t you go acting like you need to prime just so you can change them for work you don’t need to do. And why should you? Just tell them you can do the job exactly the way they want it done, then come back sooner to do it again, and that’s a better bet than a roulette wheel any day! No one’s a plumber but everyone’s a painter. When’s the last time you heard “plumb like a pro?”

Let’s say you’ve had this conversation and you’re still on speaking terms. You can try to convince that customer that as much as paying you to do the same job twice is to your benefit, it’s to theirs that they pay you to do it right the first time. After all, you’ve not only seen a few painting shows, you’ve seen some real life painting disasters.

The folks at Benjamin Moore and Kelly-Moore gave us some advice for priming your customer on understanding the need for primer. You know a lot of this already, but here’s a concise explanation to give people who don’t: “The use of primer is a critical step in the painting process. It helps to prepare and seal the substrate so that a uniform topcoat can be applied for optimal performance. Skipping the priming step often impacts the finish look of the topcoat, the quality of the touch ups, and the general performance of the paint system.” For that we thank Nate Hardy, product manager at Kelly-Moore Paints. If you don’t prime, you’ll spend more time painting now and you’ll have to repaint sooner, both of which will wind up costing your client more money. “Properly preparing and priming the surface helps to ensure quick application, proper performance, and long life of the finish,” said Nate.

In other words: “pay me a little more now or pay me a lot more later.”


Down at the Old Mil

Mike Mundwiller, Benjamin Moore field integration manager, adds that an educated customer will be happier hiring you once they have an understanding of what you’re doing and why. “I have always found that a well-informed customer leads to overall higher satisfaction,” he said. “It is so important to communicate so you can help your customer form proper expectations.’

If you’ve got a customer who believes that one coat is all you need, you might, he suggests, explain the science of what “just one coat” provides. “Typically, architectural coatings form a film of 1.5 mils,” he said. “A mil is 1 thousandth of an inch (that’s .001). At that point, show them a piece of paper—which is usually 10 mils—and explain that with only 1.5 mils you are not only asking a lot out of the coating from an aesthetic perspective (are you seeing the true color?) but also that coatings serve a protective role. Are they willing to protect with just one coat?” So even if it looks OK, imagine what twice the protection will do over the long haul.

Now you might have to agree that a lot of this isn’t their fault—after all “not having to prime” has become a prime marketing tool, and if you can get away without doing something you didn’t want to do in the first place yet paint like a pro in just five minutes…well who doesn’t want that?

You don’t, which is why you need to be patient. “In my 31 years in industry, I have seen a change in ways primers are marketed,” said Mundwiller. “Products have evolved, but when the project calls for a primer, whether it be for sealing a surface to possibly building adhesion, primers shouldn’t be discounted.”

Don’t be a naysayer, adds Hardy, but instead help customers understand why a self-priming paint may or may not be good in their particular circumstance.

You might be successful at this by explaining the conditions where it does work, then exploring if they have those conditions. “Paint technology has advanced a lot over the past 20 years and there are a large number of self-priming paints on the market,” Hardy reminds us. “That means that these paints will also do the job of a primer in certain circumstances. That also means you would not be skipping the priming step in your paint system, but that you are using the paint as your primer coat and then applying the same paint as your topcoat.”

Here’s where you come in as “the painter that knows what he’s talking about.” You can explain the good and the not-as-good about such products and make a recommendation. If your customer insists on something that can look bad on their walls and on your reputation, then you’ll have to decide if it’s best to do that job anyway or hold off for a customer that listens to you.

Hardy, in the end, will come down on the side or primer. And that side, he tells us, can actually save money! “Self-priming paints have some clear advantages, but they also have some disadvantages,” he said. “These paints act as general-use type primers and can prepare basic substrates prior to top coating. They do not perform as well as a substrate specific primer and will not work for all circumstances.” And while self-priming paint reduces the number of products needed for a project, it tends to cost more than primer, so your materials cost doing it new-school could actually go up. “Self-priming paints are great for small projects or spray applications where waste and clean-up labor is a concerned,” Hardy said. “Using a primer is still your best bet when it comes to overall system performance and product cost.”


In With the New?

As much as we’ve noticed painters are all about new products, many are famous for painting with what they know. Sometimes though, you wall yourself off from changes, like if you’re still tipping 10% when everyone else is tipping 20%, and worse, you’re tipping at 1965 menu prices.

If you’ve been a paint-stick-in-the-mud about primers for the entirety of the 21st century, Hardy mentioned a few improvements to look for in today’s cans and buckets: “With significant advances in primers, there are many products that can offer seasoned painters new opportunities to speed their work and improve their results,” he said. “While general use primers are often the go-to, specialty primers can provide added adhesion for slick surfaces, high build application for smoothing rough substrates, improved sealing for more uniform applications, etc. The wide variety of unique primers available can bring added value to any painter.”

Not surprisingly, more pros than not are up to snuff. If you aren’t, that proverbial painter-down-the-street might just snarf that snuff right out of your jaw and take some prime jobs along with it. “Primers can be great problem solvers and as such I have found pros do listen,” said Mundwiller. So there’s a painter stereotype blown to bits right there. With newer substrates, you’ve got to keep up, and so does your supplier. “For example, there is an increased usage of PVC trim vs. traditional wood for trim, facia, etc,” he said. “Adhesion on wood was typically gained by penetration of oil (alkyd) as a primer. PVC presents a surface energy challenge, which is measured in dyne/centimeters. Average PVC measures 40 dyne while water alone in a latex paint formulation is 72 dyne. [Dyne is defined as a unit of force that, acting on a mass of one gram, increases its velocity by one centimeter per second, every second, along the direction that it acts.] Complications occur when painting substrates where the coating has a higher dyne rating than the substrate. Products like Insl-x Stix are formulated a build maximum adhesion in the challenging surface tension equation.”

Sometimes doing the right thing goes in defiance of popular opinion—so be a rebel, and when it’s the right thing to do, use primer—no matter what they say!


Primer Reminder:
Exterior painting can always be a challenge when you have less than ideal conditions. Typically, paint and primer should be applied under similar conditions between 35 & 100°F with temperature being at least 5°F above the dew point and there being less than 15% moisture in the substrate.
Nate Hardy, Kelly-Moore


Primers from Kelly-Moore

Kelly-Moore Level 5™ Primer Surfacer is a high build PVA primer and surfacer designed to transform level 4 drywall into a level 5 finish without the application of a skim coat. Level 5 will hide imperfections, smooth rough wallboard, and provide a tight seal for excellent sheen uniformity of topcoats. It is optimized for professional spray application and can be easily sanded when needed. It is recommended for application in residential or commercial spaces such as homes, apartments, offices, schools, and much more.

Kelly-Moore Kel-Bond™ PVA Primer is a high quality, interior drywall primer/sealer designed to provide good enamel hold-out, minimize joint banding, and form a tight seal on new wallboard. This white primer and can be easily top coated with a wide range of paint colors. It can be applied over bare wallboard, drywall mud, and textured drywall surfaces. Use for residential repaint, commercial, property maintenance, new construction, and retail customers.