Paint vs. Primer and can Primer be used 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

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.

If this is the case, can paint be used without primer?

Yes, if the surface is smooth (non porous) and will allow the paint to adhere easily.

The real question is; 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.

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase from one of them I will receive a small commission, but you won’t pay any more for the product.

A quick tip; since most primers are white or gray, I would suggest using a poly acrylic top coat and NOT a poly urethane 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.

Summary of 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

The biggest point I want to make is that you cannot use primer as a final coat of paint.

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

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,


21 thoughts on “Paint vs. Primer and can Primer be used as the finish Coat of Paint?

  1. I never thought about using primer as a final coat so good thing I never have. Good lesson on the difference between paint and primer. Found you on Blogger’s Pit Stop.

    1. I had asked a painter the best white paint for Fascia Boards on my gray roofed house and he told me to “just apply two layers of white wood primer and that’ll be enough”.
      Thanks for your article.

  2. Lindsey, your post jumped out at me at #SweetInspiration link party because this is precisely what I’ve been wondering about. An added bonus, I learned about when not to use polyurethane and why! I definitely need to come back here before my next project.

  3. I didn’t think primer could be used as the final coat. Just not durable enough. Thanks for sharing with SYC.

        1. Good Question! I’m not real sure about how long it will last as I would imagine it all depend on the primer and the surface that it’s being applied to. Sorry I don’t have a more direct answer.

          1. Would also depend on weather. Outdoor will not last as long. I would want to do it fairly soon, but certainly within a few months if I could not finish in a few days.

            I have an issue with trying to get walls in kitchen complete free of old grease. Hoping a couple coats of primer will balance what I can’t remove with TSP.

  4. So happy that I found your article. I just primed my kitchen cabinets with Zinsser Bullseye 123 gray primer. I was going to paint them gray, regardless! So really like the color of the gray primer I picked up at Home Depot that was premixed in the gray tone. Thought having gray primer would help me decide if gray painted cabinets were the way to go! I really do like the tone of this gray primer. After reading this post, I’ve decided I will use Rust-Oleum Clear Painter’s Touch Cleaar latex paint. Wish me luck!

    1. Awesome! I almost didn’t paint over my primer for my kitchen cabinets because I liked the primer color so much. Good luck!

  5. Primer can be tinted with pigment to become a desired color.
    And if the surface painted only with primer is indoors, what would make it break down if you didn’t put a top coat on it?

    1. Since primer isn’t meant to be a top coat, It’s not formulated to withstand any cleaner or anything used on top of it. I say that, but I’m no primer specialist. I would definitely reach out to the primer manufacturer if you have any questions. I hope this helps!

    2. I agree as I have used tinted primer and it went on really well and lasted as long or longer than regular paint. The primers like Kilz latex are thicker and cover better than most paints.

  6. Thanks so much. I too loved the look of my tinted primer inside my kitchen cabinets. I was tempted to skip the paint but your post made perfect sense and set me straight.

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