How to Select A Drywall Primer for Your Project

Drywall primer is a specialized paint product that is an essential part of a flawless drywall surface. Many people overlook this step, but drywall primer plays an important role in enhancing paint adhesion, improving surface appearance, and increasing the longevity of the painted surface. Primer manufacturers design this versatile coating specifically to prepare the surface of drywall for paint by sealing the pores, smoothing surface imperfections, and promoting paint absorption.

drywall primer

Whether you are a professional builder or just an ambitious DIYer, understanding the reasons for drywall primer and knowing the best kind to choose is part of the first step in achieving a polished and quality finished project.

Reasons to Use a Drywall Primer

Drywall primer is designed for use on newly installed or unfinished drywall surfaces. Its primary purpose is to prepare the raw surface of the drywall for paint or another surface finish. Drywall, also known as gypsum board, has a porous surface that can absorb paint unevenly, leading to a blotchy or uneven finish. Drywall primer serves several key functions:

  • Sealing – Drywall primer covers the open pores in the drywall surface to prevent excessive paint absorption.
  • Uniformity – By creating a consistent base on the drywall surface, drywall primer can help even out the color and texture of finishes like paint.
  • Adhesion – Drywall primer enhances the bond between the drywall surface and paint, which can reduce the flaking and peeling of paint over time.
  • Stain blocking – Specialized drywall primers block any stains on the drywall that can rise to the top surface and mar the final coat of paint.
  • Efficiency – Using a primer can reduce the number of coats of paint that it takes to gain full coverage.

Oil and Water-Based Drywall Primers

There are numerous varieties of drywall primers, but the two broadest categories are oil-based drywall primers and water-based drywall primers. They are similar products, but they differ in composition, characteristics, and application method.

Water-Based Drywall Primer

  • Composition – Water-based drywall primers are primarily composed of water, along with various additives and acrylic resins. They have low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), so they are less harmful to the environment and safer to use.
  • Drying Time – These primers have a faster drying time compared to oil-based primers. They typically dry within 1-2 hours.
  • Odor – Water-based primers have a lower odor than oil-based primers, so they are more suitable for indoor projects or those with limited ventilation.
  • Clean-up – A thorough rinse with water will clean any paint brushes, containers, or rollers used to apply a water-based primer.
  • Compatibility – Water-based primers are compatible with a wide range of latex or water-based paints
  • Recommended Use – Many building professionals prefer water-based primers for most new drywall installations because they provide good adhesion and surface sealing. They are also a good choice for repainting interior walls.

Oil-Based Drywall Primer

  • Composition – Oil-based primers are solvent-based and contain a higher level of VOCs than water-based primers. They are composed of alkyd resins and solvents.
  • Drying Time – Oil-based primers have a drying time between 4-8 hours to dry completely.
  • Odor – There is a lingering odor when you use oil-based primers because of their solvent content. Depending on the situation, this may make them unsuitable for use indoors or in an area with little ventilation.
  • Clean-up – You will need mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean up the tools for applying oil-based primers.
  • Compatibility – Oil-based primers are compatible with both oil and water-based paints.
  • Recommended Use – Professional painters will often use oil-based primers for a project that requires exceptional durability. They are also particularly good for covering stains like knots in wood or providing a base coat for oil-based paint. Oil-based primers are excellent in high-moisture areas like bathrooms.

Types of Drywall Primer

Drywall primer types vary according to their composition and qualities. Consider the needs of your project before choosing an appropriate drywall primer.

Standard Drywall Primer

This is the most basic type of all-purpose drywall primer. It is suitable for most interior drywall surfaces. It adequately seals the porous surface of the drywall, promotes good adhesion, and provides an excellent surface for paint and other wall coverings. Most standard drywall primers are water-based and have low VOCs.

High-Build Drywall Primer

High-build primers are thicker than standard drywall primers. Manufacturers make them thick to fill in minor divots and imperfections in the drywall. High-build drywall primer is also useful for heavily textured surfaces. By filling the imperfections, this primer provides a smoother surface for wall coverings like paint.

PVA Drywall Primer

PVA or polyvinyl acetate drywall primer is a water-based drywall primer that is especially good for new drywall installations. It has excellent adhesion and sealing properties. This is the first choice for many painting professionals when working with new drywall installations.

Mold Resistant Drywall Primer

Mold-resistant drywall primer contains an additive that inhibits the growth of mold and mildew on drywall surfaces. This type of drywall primer is optimal for moist areas like kitchens, bathrooms, or basements. Most mold-resistant drywall primers are water-based because their naturally low organic content makes it resist mold growth better, but there are oil-based options available.

Stain Blocking Drywall Primer

Stain-resistant drywall primer is useful for preventing stains like water stains, smoke marks, or ink stains, from rising to the surface level of the paint. They create an effective barrier that locks the stain in place so that it doesn’t affect the topcoat. You can find both oil and water-based drywall primers. Stain-blocking water-based primers are a more environmentally friendly option, but they may not be as effective on tough stains as oil-based primers.

Tinted Drywall Primer

Tinted drywall primers are formulated with a slight color tint like gray or another light color. This primer is the most useful when you want to apply dark-colored paint to the drywall surface. This provides a darker base coat so that you can apply fewer paint coats to achieve full coverage.

Multi-Surface Primer

Multi-surface primers are created to work on a variety of surfaces, including drywall, wood, metal, and more. This type of primer is useful when there are a variety of surfaces present and you do not want to change your primer throughout the project.

Choosing the Best Drywall Primer for Your Project

Follow this step-by-step guide to help you assess the specific nature and needs of your project to choose the best-fitting drywall primer.

Assess the condition of the drywall

  • A standard water-based drywall primer is often sufficient if you are working with interior drywall that is in good condition.
  • For brand-new drywall, consider using a PVA primer, which is specifically designed for raw drywall surfaces to cover and create good adhesion.
  • Use a high-build drywall primer if your drywall surface has dents or a textured surface that you want to cover before you paint.
  • Any heavy stains should be covered with a stain-blocking drywall primer before you paint.

Identify any specific challenges:

  • Consider the area where you place your drywall. In conditions such as high-moisture environments, using a mold-resistant primer will provide a more lasting surface for your paint.
  • For projects that require the most durability, consider using an oil-based primer which is more long-lasting.

Paint type compatibility:

  • Think about what type of paint you are going to use to coat the surface of the drywall.
  • Water-based primers work for just water-based paint.
  • Oil-based primers will work for either water or oil-based paint.

Drying time and odor tolerance:

  • For projects that require a quick turnaround, use water-based primers which
  • Consider the people who are affected by the odor from the primer. You should plan on using water-based primers for people who are sensitive to odors or have respiratory health concerns.

Ventilation and clean-up:

  • In areas where ventilation is limited, it is best to use water-based primers because of their low odors.
  • Think about the ease of the cleanup. Water-based primers, which clean with water, have a much easier clean-up than oil-based primers, which require mineral spirits or paint thinner.


  • Take into account your budget. Certain specialized drywall primers like stain-blocking or high-build primers cost more than standard drywall primers, so use standard drywall primers in areas where you can.

Consult with a professional:

  • Talk with a professional painter or builder if you are unsure of which primer is best for your project. They can give you guidance according to their expertise when they know the unique features of your project.