Prime Time - Which Zinsser Primer is right for the job?

Choosing the right primer can be a real challenge. We had a closer look at Zinsser Primers to understand when and why primer-sealers should be used before putting new colour on your walls. 

What is a Primer?

A primer is a special type of paint that goes on before the finish coat of paint. Primers lay the foundation of your paint job and can be used on wood, metal, drywall and concrete. Whether you're painting interior or exterior surfaces, primers ensure that the painting surface has an ideal, uniform texture so the paint sticks. Primer- Sealers seal in odors and stains which ensures a more durable and uniform finish once the final coat of paint is on.

They also work as a binding agent between the surface and the finishing paint and support the paint to properly adhere to the surface. Specifically designed to bond, correct flawed or uneven surfaces and create a smooth and consistent surface for the paint, Primer-Sealers will keep the final result looking fresh and consistent for longer.

Interior primers seal, increase adhesion and creates a uniform surface for walls, etc. while Exterior primers minimize cracking and mildew growth, and protect masonry surfaces from alkalinity and efflorescence.

How can Primer-Sealers be used?

  1. Primer- Sealers can be used to seal porous surfaces such as:
  • Raw wood
  • Weathered aluminium
  • Stucco, concrete and masonry
  • Builder’s flat paint, bare drywall, spackled areas
  1. Primer- Sealers can permanently block out stains like:
  • Water, mildew, fire damage or pet stains
  • Tannin bleed, food or beverage stains
  • Knots and sap streaks
  • Graffiti, ink or crayon
  1. Primer- Sealers can hide dark colours and surfaces
  1. Primer- Sealers can increase adhesiveness without sanding. Surfaces include:
  • Finished woodwork or shelving
  • Old glossy paints or varnished trims
  • Glass, ceramic tile or decorative tile
  • Vinyl sliding or shutters
  • PVC piping or finished metals
  1. Primer- Sealers can extend topcoats longevity and durability and can prevent cracking, peeling, chalking, blistering and bleed-through


There are three main types of Primer-Sealers with different features and recommended application surfaces:

  1. Shellac-based Primer-Sealer
  2. Water-based Primer-Sealer
  3. Oil-based Primer-Sealer

What’s the difference?

Shellac-based Primers have been used for centuries to seal wood and other surfaces. Good for interior paint jobs, they are possibly the best stain-blocking primers, working well on severe water and smoke damage to walls and surfaces. They work well on wood, metal, plaster, and even plastic, and are fast drying and highly adhesive. They can be used with both oil-based and latex paints but are mainly recommended for interior use only.

The drawback to using shellac-based primers is that they are not as versatile the other types and they give off more fumes. Clean Up requires the use of denatured alcohol to thin down the paint and clean the applicators.

Oil-based Primers have long been an industry standard. They work well with water-based and oil-based paints, can be applied to lots of different surfaces and are ideal for both interior and exterior use. Oil-based primers release high VOCs and are often slower drying when compared to other primer types and require paint thinner for clean-up. However they're more reliable for blocking water-based odors and stains like rust, nicotine, smoke, wood tannins and, of course, water and they are ideal for interior and exterior unfinished or bare wood because they seal the porous surface of wood, enabling the coat of paint to better cover the surface. 

Water-based Primers are ideal when prepping unfinished drywall for painting. They are less likely to peel or crack and are more flexible and fast drying than oil-based primers. On top of this they are great for priming soft wood (such as pine), brick or even concrete.

Water-based primers even out patched or repaired surfaces very well. They can also cover and seal in previous minor stains from smoke, lipstick, crayon, etc., but are not as effective at covering stains as oil- and shellac-based primers.

Due to the water-based type, clean-up is super easy and most primers have low- or no-VOC formulas, which makes them a healthier alternative to oil-based and shellac primers.


Zinsser’s Top Primers


Shellac-based Primer-Sealer: Ultimate Performance Stain Blocker

Zinsser B-I-N is the original Zinsser stain-blocking Primer-Sealer. Introduced in 1946 and still the industry standard, with 100% white-pigmented shellac it blocks the worst stains, seals in the toughest odors and bonds tightly to glossy dense surfaces. B-I-N seals in knots and sap streaks, grease stains, fire odor, and seals new wood. No other primer performs as effectively or dries and cures as quickly (45 minutes to touch dry).

Key Features Zinsser B-I-N

  • Shellac resin in B-I-N® seals pet, smoke and musty odors permanently and completely
  • For interior and spot exterior use
  • Covers and seals rust, greasy, oily areas and spackle repairs
  • Outstanding for glossy surfaces like cabinets, doors, vinyl trim and metal
  • Completely seals and covers the toughest stains to prevent bleeding through new paint
  • Sticks to surfaces without sanding
  • Touch dry in 45 minutes; recoat in 2 hours



Oil-based Primer-Sealer: Premium hiding power indoors and out

COVER-STAIN is a unique oil-based primer, formulated to dry fast and yet stay flexible and durable enough to work on a variety of interior/exterior surfaces. It is breathable, performance well on exterior surfaces and is an effective stain barrier. For painters who prefer and need oil-base performance, it will provide top quality results and has great application properties.

Key Features Zinsser COVER-STAIN

  • Primer-sealer for interior and exterior
  • Penetrates and seals porous surfaces such as wood siding, unfinished furniture, shelving, and spackled areas
  • Covers exterior graffiti
  • Is ideal for use under texture and popcorn finishes
  • Blocks cedar & redwood bleed
  • Adheres to hard-to-paint surfaces without sanding
  • Fast dry time; recoat in 2 hours



Water-based Primer-Sealer: All purpose, all surface. Easy clean-up.

Introduced in 1982, Bulls Eye 1-2-3 was the first water-base primer and bond coat and remains Zinsser’s most popular primer. There’s a reason Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3® Water-Base Primer is our most popular primer. This premium, whole-house primer-sealer provides outstanding performance indoors and out, with great flow and leveling and a flexible, acrylic formula. It sticks to the glossiest finishes and blocks difficult stains from appearing on your interior and exterior painted surfaces.

Key Features Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3

  • Creates a mold and mildew resistant film
  • For interior and exterior use
  • Sticks to all surfaces without sanding
  • Seals stains, graffiti and tannin bleed
  • Rust inhibitive – great for new metal
  • Fast 1 hour dry time
  • Low-odor, soap and water clean-up


Handy Hint: Use synthetic brushes, such as polyester or nylon, with water-based primers. Natural bristle brushes work best if you're using oil-based primers.