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drywall primer review (long)

JonE's picture

Decided to tackle the job of painting my new house solo, we have 2800 sf on two floors with the entire second floor as vaulted ceiling.  First step drywall primer.  I tried to find some reviews on different drywall primers and failed, so here’s mine.


I “tested” six different types of primer from three stores in my area, depending on what was on sale, and how well each one worked.  All were water-based primers, some were advertised as “stain-blocking” and some advertised as “PVA” primers.  All were applied over clean drywall with a Purdy White Dove roller cover.


Zinsser 1-2-3, $16/gallon in 2.5 gal. pails.

Kilz 2, $11/gallon in 2 gallon pails.

Kilz Premium, $16 per gallon (in 5-gallon quantities)

Sherwin-Williams Pro-Block, $24.95 per gallon, on sale from $34-something. A five gallon bucket was a bit over $140. (!)

Glidden PVA Primer, $7 per gallon in a five-gallon bucket.

Behr Stain-Blocking Primer (purple label), $16/gallon in a five-gallon bucket.


First one was the Glidden.  It was barely adequate and did not cover any marks on the walls (pencil, marker or otherwise) made by the construction crew or myself.  When stirred, whipped up into almost a froth, almost like milk or cream.  Very thin.  A Sharpie marker line could not be covered by this stuff at all.


Second was the Kilz Premium.  I had a full unopened gallon left over from another project.  It covered well but was thick as glue and left a lot of runs.  Did not cover Sharpie but covered pen/pencil lines.


Third was S-W ProBlock.  Very smooth, thick and excellent coverage, very ‘white’, almost as good as a premium flat white wall paint.  Still did not cover Sharpie.  I later found out that nothing short of two coats of the best primer would cover Sharpie marks.  Bottom line – don’t make Sharpie marks on your drywall, even if it helps the electrician.


Zinsser 1-2-3.  Decent primer, not as good of a stain-blocker as I expected, did not roll on very smooth, very difficult cleanup.  They still must have some strange ingredients in this stuff that require ammonia to be used as cleanup, and it probably shouldn’t be used in an enclosed space without some significant air flow.  (Probably none of these should be.)


Kilz 2.  Somewhat of a disappointment, only covered marginally better than the Glidden.  Otherwise very similar to the Zinsser 1-2-3.  A BIG step down from the Kilz Premium.


Behr.  The most recent one we tried turned out to be a surprise.  Excellent coverage, equal to the Sherwin-Williams.  This was the only one that would cover Sharpie in two coats.  Rolled on very smooth, easy cleanup (but it dries FAST – you might need to do a bit more cleanup getting dried paint off your tools), this primer looked like a premium flat wall paint (finish paint) right off the first coat. 


So, it seems from the (limited) results I got that you get what you pay for, to a point.  The Glidden is a cheap paint and I don’t mean that in a good way.  I think they have a stain-blocking primer as well, but given some past experiences with Glidden paints and the PVA primer, I wasn’t taking the chance.  The Kilz and Zinsser, products marketed as stain-blockers, are adequate and acceptable.  The 1-2-3 was probably the best of the three but the odor and cleanup was a pain.  Sherwin-Williams paints seem to be very good, but at ultra-premium prices, it’s not worth the purchase.  I’m not a contractor so I can’t take advantage of the huge discounts they give to the trade.   Ben Moore, California, Muralo, Valspar and Pratt and Lambert are also available to me in this town, but none of them were a more expensive paint than the S-W.  I used the Ben Moore on a renovation five years ago and was not particularly happy with it, so I stayed away this time.


The Behr paint was by far the best primer, and the biggest bang for the buck.  I still have a decent amount of painting to do in the basement and I will not hesitate to get the Behr primer again.  Home Depot also sells a Behr PVA primer, which if it’s anything like the Glidden PVA, I will avoid like plague.


So, hope this helps someone, anyone, make a new drywall primer decision.


A footnote – I decided, with the success of the Behr primer, to use the Behr Premium Flat Enamel wall paint, and it is fantastic paint.  Easy on, easy cleanup, goes on smooth, no problems at all.  It’s not quite one-coat coverage, but it’s really close.  I used a sage green in one room and it is hard to find spots that were thin.  Second coat will have a bit of Floetrol added to reduce brush and roller marks and allow it to smooth out a bit.  I’ve seen a lot of negative comments online about Behr paints and I have to say – I can’t agree – this is excellent paint.



(post #74849, reply #1 of 16)

WOW! never occurred to me to do a "primer test"

but thank, this one goes in the "save" file.

appreciate all your work

(post #74849, reply #2 of 16)

Nice work might wanna consider offering a review for FHB.

Couple of quick, you might look into Ben Moores Fresh Start....good stuff.

Secondly, I typically spot prime any areas I feel may bleed through with shellac, prior to rolling on the primer. Really shouldn't be any reason for two coats of primer.

I've actually seen instances where a primer will cover certain marks/stains initially, only to have them bleed through AFTER the final coats of paint have been applied.





(post #74849, reply #3 of 16)

If I did a review for FHB, I'd want to be a pro painter and not a hack homeowner, and I'd probably want to review more brands and similar products (i.e. don't compare PVA with stain-block).  I'll leave that to Consumer Reports or something.

Zinsser's BIN is a white-tinted shellac for exactly your purpose, but it's not something that I want to use 25 gallons for all my house walls.  It's great for covering soot and scuff marks in prep for new paint over old paint.   



(post #74849, reply #4 of 16)

Zinsser's BIN....

Yeppers....that's the one I use for spot priming.





(post #74849, reply #5 of 16)

To each thier own I guess. I used the BEHR primer for new drywall, and I thought it S-U-C-K-E-D. The coverage was crappy, and diddn't like the way it rolled on, not smooth like others but kinda streaky.

B.T.W. Who's the nitwit writing on your new drywall with a sharpie. Slap that thing out of thier hands next time.

Edited 11/15/2006 1:55 pm ET by xosder11

(post #74849, reply #10 of 16)

The nitwit was me.....



(post #74849, reply #11 of 16)


The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun.
R. Buckminster Fuller


(post #74849, reply #12 of 16)

Oooooooh. You know, after I posted that I had a feeling you were going to say that. My B. I was just looking for an excuse to use the term nitwit. I'm trying to bring it back. That and I also like the term "soft as a grape".

(post #74849, reply #14 of 16)

Nah, no big deal.  I figured that it made everybody's job easier for marking circuits and wall penetrations, I just assumed that a good primer and paint would cover it up fine.  Takes more effort than I thought.



(post #74849, reply #6 of 16)

Were any of these real "first-coat" drywall primers, or were they paint primers ?


Phill Giles

The Unionville Woodwright

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Phill Giles

The Unionville Woodwright

(post #74849, reply #7 of 16)

I'm not a drywall expert by any means, so I may be a bit off base here, but - Were any of the primers you tested actually INTENDED to be drywall primer?

When I did our house, I tried 2 different kinds. the first one was worthless, and I don't remember the name. The 2nd one was USG first coat, and it was great.

I'm not knocking what you did - Just curious.

My intuition nearly makes up for my lack of good judgment.

(post #74849, reply #13 of 16)

In reply to you and a couple others:  the Glidden is marketed as a true drywall primer.   All of the others are marketed as "stain-blocking" primers but the label says that they are intended for use over new OR previously painted drywall.  The Sherwin-Williams product goes one step further and says you can use it as a block primer on masonry.    Even if the Glidden is supposed to go on thin, it's garbage.  It was like trying to paint with skim milk.   Bubbles, splattering, drips everywhere, uncontrollable chaos.    Everything else was easier to paint with, but provided varying degrees of "coverage".    My exterior walls are blueboard, not traditional drywall, so the dark gray color is also harder to hide.



(post #74849, reply #8 of 16)

Hi Jon,

Thanks for posting to share info instead of just asking a question.

On the PVA primers - their purpose is to seal new drywall and joint compound, not to cover, because on new drywall their should be nothing to cover. Any differences showing through the primer (eg compound vs drywall paper) will be hidden behind the first coat of paint. It will hide pencil marks, at least after a coat of paint - I write all over my walls. So even though it looks like a cheap primer it should be all you need on new drywall and has always worked well for me (rehabbing houses).

For stain blocking I personally use KILZ as I find it works almost as good as BIN but is much cheaper. On a real tough job I will use BIN.

(post #74849, reply #9 of 16)

I agree with cvandoren.  Primer is not for covering.  It's for sticking to the plaster and creating a surface for the paint to stick to.

Try painting over each of the primers with various paints and leaving a piece of masking tape on each surface for a day or two.  Then report on which primers came off the wall as well as which paints pulled of the primer.  There's a primer test.

Covering Sharpies (post #74849, reply #15 of 16)

We bought a foreclosure in 2011 in which two rooms had graffiti all over the walls.  There was sharpie pen, various color ink marker, pen, paint, and who knows what else.  Primered with three coats of latex primer and everything showed through.  Changed to shellac based primer and it completely covered withing two coats.  For Sharpies and anything similar, use shellac based primer.

I've heard people rave about (post #74849, reply #16 of 16)

I've heard people rave about first coat primers and I think USG was their product of choice.  Primes and also fills in pinholes and does a better job than just reg primer and paint at masking difference between paper and mud joints.