Sometimes, the cheapest way of giving your entire kitchen an overhaul is to select a new color palette for the walls, cabinets, and countertops.
You can shift a 90s layout and pattern straight into the 21st century just by making the most of the light and by choosing complementary shades and metallic accents on door handles.
Deciding how your kitchen is going to look for the next decade or so can be pretty time-consuming. Sometimes even more time consuming than the business of taking all the doors off your cabinets and doing the physical prep.
But so long as you have a clear idea of the colors and finish you’re looking for, you’ll ideally be full of stamina before you begin.
If you’ve never bought primer before, the range of products out there can seem a little intimidating. There are almost as many products as there are different professional opinions about the “only” way to apply primer or paint.
To make this a little easier, we’ve narrowed down the list of the most popular products to the top five, including oil-based and latex-based primers.
Following this, check out the buyer’s guide for a primer (ha ha) on how to adapt the traditional typical seven steps of cabinet painting to the kind of cabinets that you have, and the primer that you choose.
In a hurry to get those doors unscrewed? Here’s our top five.
In a hurry? This is our winner!
- BONDING PRIMER: A high adhesion primer that bonds to a wide range of difficult to adhere to surfaces. It is formulated for situations where a secure bond is critical and use of a traditional water or oil base primer might be questionnable. It increases the possibilities for paintable surfaces.
- ADVANCED FORMULA: It's advanced styrenated acrylic polymer formula provides a sound anchor for topcoats while reducing or potentially eliminating the need for sanding dense, glossy surfaces. If using as a primer for epoxies, lacquers, products containing xylene or other hot solvents, allow to dry for 24 hours before topcoating and test for compatibility in an inconspicuous area before full coat application.
- MULTIPLE SURFACES: Use on most interior and exterior surfaces where a secure bond is critical. Bonds to tough-to-paint surfaces including Kynar, PVC, Formica, vinyl, glass, tile, glazed brick, chalky paints, glossy finishes, fiberglass and metals. Topcoat with either water or oil-based paint. For use on interior and exterior surfaces.
Last update on 2023-03-24 at 08:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Best Primers for Kitchen Cabinets – Comparison Table
|KILZ Oil Adhesion Primer, Interior/Exterior, 1 Gallon||1,964 Reviews||$46.00||Check Details|
|ALL-IN-ONE Paint by Heirloom Traditions, built in primer and top coat, no sanding required, Cabinet...||10,777 Reviews||$41.99 $37.79||Check Details|
|Zinsser 286258 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer, Quart, Gray||1,700 Reviews||$17.99 $16.57||Check Details|
|Rust-Oleum Corporation 271009 Advanced Synthetic Shellac Watercolor Primer, 1-Quart, White||960 Reviews||$21.48 $20.48||Check Details|
Last update on 2023-03-24 at 08:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
If you’re prepared to spend more money to cut down the prep and paint time, this is the product to choose.
It’s one of the most versatile primers you’ll find because of its strength in being affixed to just about any prior surface. And by this, we include older layers of oil-based paint, like on trims and baseboards.
It will also give you an even working layer on chalky paints, glossy finishes, fiberglass, PVC and Formica.
If you’ve moved into a place which has MDF cabinets with a vinyl coating, then this product will really help you out because vinyl is notoriously difficult to coat with normal primer unless you spray it on.
Aware of how difficult this can be, Kilz provides very specific advice about coating unhelpful or non-adhesive surfaces, whether with rollers or a high-volume, low-pressure paint spray gun.
The versatility of the Adhesion high-bonding version of their primer also extends to the variety of paint types you can use over the top.
Kilz High Adhesion provides a neutral base which blocks oily surfaces sufficiently and with enough grip to take your pick of topcoats.
We’ll talk more about the usual rules of combining your primer and topcoat in the buyer’s guide, but this primer is a joy because it sidesteps so many of the regular restrictions. You can use this primer beneath Xylene-based products, lacquers and epoxies.
You may still want to apply two layers if you’re covering furniture with particularly oppressive staining.
However, you will be able to get away with the final stage of light sanding with 240-grit paper (and subsequent vacuuming) before applying your topcoat instead of going through the typical process of sanding between each layer of primer.
Though also compatible with spraying, Kilz adhesion also loads smoothly onto a roller or brush without exasperating drip-down.
It’s said that it dries to touch within 30 minutes, but even the happiest of customers advise to wait the full hour before a recoat—particularly if you’re dealing with doors with a deep panel raise profile or decorative framing beads.
This gallon supply should give you smooth coverage for 300-400 square feet.
- Goes on smoothly and easily
- Exceptional versatility
- Cuts down overall painting time
- Can cover oil-based paint
- Can be used beneath oil-based paints and a variety of others
- Can be used on slick surfaces
- Cleans up easily
- The smell is pretty intense—ensure good ventilation while you’re working
From one step-cutting timesaver to another, Heirloom’s all-in-one collection combines your primer and topcoat in four shades of gray (yes, just four, sorry) along with two black-vectored shades of Abbey and Iron Gate.
The link takes you to the cobblestone shade, which is a pale-to-medium gray. If you like the idea of an all-in-one but you’re not blown away by the modern aspects of having cabinets fit to appear in a battleship, then they do actually provide a wider range of colors, such as Cappuccino and Tea Rose.
To access the wider stock, right-click just beneath the product name to go to the Heirloom Traditions product store.
This “primer” is, as the name suggests, your primer and topcoat all in one go. You will still need two layers of this paint to cover all stains and knots and get that chalk-style, low luster matte finish.
It works, as with the High Adhesion primer offered by Kilz, by bonding strongly even with the most slick and unpromising of surfaces, blocking out both prior colour, stains, and oils. The stretch factor in the paint makes it a good choice for most modern MDF-based cupboards with vinyl lining.
Heirloom claim that no separate processes of sanding, stripping, sealing or priming are necessary beyond the duplicate coats of this paint, though they do qualify that light shades (like Colosseum) might need an extra third layer over an existing dark paint.
You can buy this paint in an 8oz sample size for a small bathroom cabinet or vanity, 16oz, or a quart, which will cover around 140sqft.
We were a little sceptical that you could apply that first coat of Heirloom and proceed directly to the second without sanding, but it appears to be a case that you get what you pay for.
This is one of the expensive options on this list per quart, but evidence from customer feedback confirms that you can indeed cut out a lot of preparatory graft and still achieve an amazing result.
- Versatile in terms of the surfaces it can cover
- Great stain block
- Easy to use and apply
- Great for beginners
- Levels out visible wood grain nicely
- Smell is muted compared to many primers
- It dries quick
- The price
- You need to let the paint cure for a good few days before attempting to reattach the doors to the cabinets
This is one of the inexpensive primers. It comes in gray, which is perfect for forming a central color block between a base and topcoat of differing shades. It has a thick consistency and works very well for external and internal use, even sticking to drywall, metal and masonry.
A couple of benefits of this product are that it applies so evenly that you can skip your second layer of sanding altogether, except perhaps at the edges of your cupboard doors, where the primer and paint tend to pool naturally.
This is one of the fastest-drying primers, settling to matte in just 30 minutes.
- Very low odor compared to many products
- Applies evenly and easily
- Forms a strong color block
- Versatile use
- It can be used with any latex or oil-based topcoat
- You’ll need a couple of layers on heavier stains
- Doesn’t cling as well to vinyl and plasticated surfaces as a specific high-adhesion product
Zinsser BIN is a great stain and tannin blocker if you’re dealing with a sticky, highly oiled wood which otherwise shows through paint regardless of attempts to add two or three layers of primer. Sap is a very hard substance to cover, but shellac is one of the coatings which will stop the bleed.
It is also a strong odor blocker, which is handy if you’re refurbishing a kitchen in a fixer-upper.
For those super-awkward corners around raised or regressed door panels, you can get this Shellac Primer in a 13oz white spray to catch the spots that your mini roller or brush couldn’t quite reach.
- One of the few primers to handle sap
- Dries fast
- Low odor
- Strong stain-blocking capacity
- Sprays well
- Because it has such a thin consistency, it can be messy and hard to roll at first. Use microfiber rollers and not foam
Excellent value for masking the marks that keep on showing through, and which seem impossible to remove, such as fire damage, rust stains, graffiti or crayon. This premium stain-blocker also works well to mask odors while having a low odor of its own.
With its nicely viscous consistency, you have faith in this primer blocking even stubborn stains in just one coat, even on a porous surface.
Its adhesion is versatile, clinging to former oil-based paints as well as latex, tile, vinyl, and other uncooperative surfaces.
- Good anti-mildew capability
- Can be used on a variety of surfaces
- Can be used beneath any paints
- Great value for money and covers 300-400sqft per gallon
- Cleans up easily with water
- Good option for covering dark walls
- You’ll need two layers on saps and tannin or oil/grease stains
The composition of primer paint has become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years to make them more chemically versatile in terms of the surfaces they could be used upon, and the topcoats they can be used beneath.
In the days before specialist, high-adhesive primers came onto the market, the rule of thumb for selecting paint and primer was that you can only combine water-based primers and paints or oil-based primers and paints.
Because of the inconvenience associated with handling oil-based primers (having to buy respirators along with all the normal gear), sales of oil-based primers are now nominal compared to their competing water-based latex options.
Oil-based primers have been almost impossible to find in Europe for the past decade and more because they’re considered too dangerous to handle in homes with insufficient ventilation.
Thankfully it is now much easier to be spontaneous about grabbing a quart or gallon of primer off the shelf and then choosing a paint at your leisure, not restricted by the kind of primer you chose.
It’s also great that the quality of the primers currently available can help you to skip a few steps on the traditional process of painting kitchen cabinets, which used to look like this:
Step 1 – Degrease all surfaces with a pre-paint cleaning solution
Step 2 – Sand off all residue varnish, lacquer etc. using coarse grit paper (between 80-120grit as appropriate).
Step 3 – Clean off dust and apply the first coat of primer.
Step 4 – When the first coat has dried, sand the primer down, clean off dust.
Step 5 – Apply the second layer of primer.
Step 6 – Sand with a smoother paper (240-grit) just to remove any excess primer. Clean off dust.
Step 7 – Apply topcoat
For your ease of reference, we’ve set out a few scenarios featuring cabinets of different qualities and suggested a suitable approach, referring to the steps above.
It could be that you’ve bought a property at auction to refurbish and the cabinets are structurally sound and serviceable, but not nice to look at.
For example, they’re nicotine or water stained, or they still have remnants of ancient varnish or lacquer clinging to them.
In this situation, if you’ve had to spend a lot of time with a coarser-grit paper to smooth off the surface, then you should go through the full seven steps to get the best finish for your cabinet.
Heavy tannin or wood stain
Adopt steps 1, 2, and apply Shellac primer, which is a stronger option for providing a seal against tannin and stain bleeding.
If you’re painting over a dark material, then you may want two layers of primer, though you probably do not need to sand in between them. Following your second primer layer, resume the process from step 6.
Handling MDF cupboards with vinyl/plasticated surfaces
Adopt step 1 first. It used to be the case that the only way of applying primer or paint evenly across vinyl was with a HVLP spray gun because it was so non-adhesive and required multiple thin layers of primer before the paint could be applied.
However, you now also have the option of applying high-adhesion primer in spray form (choose a 0.15-0.21” tip) or with a roller. For more porous surfaces, use a roller with ½ or ¾” microfiber/mohair nap. For a smooth base, use ⅜ or ½ inch nap.
Although high-adhesion layers dry quickly, within the hour, we still recommend giving the primer a couple of hours of drying time to see how evenly it has settled into the grains of the surface before getting your topcoat out of the garage.
If you’re painting over something super-dark or bold
Say you’re going from bright orange to pale dove gray, or a wood which is almost mahogany in shade to an off-white. Having gotten your work surface as clean and bare as you can get it (steps 1 and 2) then you might want to use two layers of a gray primer like the Zissen 3-2-1 as a solid color block.
You would only need to sand with 240 grit in between to remove any excess. You can do the two layers in a morning since it dries in around 30 minutes. The alternative is two coats of premium stain/color block.
If you have a humid kitchen
Most formulations are inherently mold-resistant, but if you want to take extra precautions then you can look out for a mildew-resistant kitchen and bathroom version of your favorite primer.
Picking the best roller
If you’re picking up your painting supplies in advance of deciding on your paint, then you can’t go wrong with a two-pack of mini rollers which include a microfiber sleeve with a ½” nap, and a foam roller.
Foam tends to give the smoothest finish, but it’s not particularly absorbent. Pick a door which will see less use over the years and try your rollers out on the back of it. Follow the grain of the wood.
You’ll get a feel for which sleeve works best with your paint and gives you a pro finish. You may want to roll on the paint with a microfiber sleeve and finish with foam, for example.
Getting the best result from any primer
Regardless of which primer suits your needs, we strongly recommend that you always carry out step 1. Always take the time to protect your counter and surfaces with rosin or builder’s paper before you begin painting. Always take all the doors off to paint them.
Make a cupboard map of your kitchen and find a way of labeling each cupboard as you remove them. And don’t be in too much of a rush to move right to top coat once you’ve put your primer in place. Because it’s soft to the touch, it can give the impression it will just peel off.
Give it time to settle and then brush it lightly before seeing how consistent the layer is. Then either add another coat or get that topcoat out.
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