Skip to Content

Paint vs. Primer and can Primer be used as the finish Coat of Paint?

This post outlines the differences between paint vs. primer and answers the question about if you can use primer 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

Disclosure; this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This does not affect the price you pay. This disclosure statement refers to the rest of the Amazon links in this post. See more on my disclosure page.

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. You also might want to know if you really need to prime furniture before painting it.

Can paint be used without primer?

Yes, if the surface is smooth (non porous) and will allow the paint to adhere easily paint can be used without primer.

Can you paint directly over primer?

Yes you can paint over primer as long as it’s been freshly painted within a month or so. Using paint over old primer will not work because the old primer will more than likely start to break down.

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.

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

Related posts about primer:

Best Primer for Wood and Wood Furniture

Best Primer for Cabinets

Do you Need to use Primer for Furniture before Painting?

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

Simply put;

You cannot use primer as a final coat of paint

What happens if you don’t prime wood before painting?

If you don’t prime wood before painting chances are that the paint will look blotchy because the different areas of wood will soak up the paint unevenly. Also, over time you might get what’s called “bleed through.” Bleed through happens when the old tannins (or old paint, stain etc.) in the wood start to show through the new paint and you will see spots of color.

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

For those looking to reduce the painting time with an All-in-One paint or Paint and Primer in one, check these posts out too!

best paint and primer in one
all in one paint reviews

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,


Friday 13th of May 2022

my question is do you think it's ok to put a top coat(mine is general finishes flat-out-flat) directly over a primer. because i dont have a white paint and im too lazy to go get any.

[email protected]

Saturday 14th of May 2022

Yes if you don't use a paint over the primer you need a top coat. And to answer your question, yes, the top coat can be painted directly over the primer.

Robert palacios

Tuesday 10th of August 2021

So why not just replace poly urethane with poly acrylic top coat. When would you use the poly urethane since it yellows with exposure. Not trying to sound dumb. Just learning as I go.

[email protected]

Tuesday 10th of August 2021

Polyurethane is a durable option for things like wood (that already has yellow tones) and dark colors that wouldn't be as affected by a little discoloring.

George Smith

Sunday 14th of June 2020

That was my exact question! Thank you.


Wednesday 12th of February 2020

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.

Eric G

Sunday 6th of June 2021

@dghgator, Yup...Agreed,I used bullseye primer on my garage walls and deciced it looked goos enough...that was three years ago and still counting -Eric

[email protected]

Wednesday 12th of February 2020

Great! Glad I could be of help. Thanks for stopping by.


Friday 25th of October 2019

What do recommend to use as top coat if the tinted primer is serving as the final color/coat?

[email protected]

Saturday 26th of October 2019

It really depends on what you are painting. That being said, one of my favorite top coats for MOST surfaces is this: