Best Water Based Primer: Paint Your Job Properly

Depending on the specific job, using a primer before you paint can be a great idea. It can help ensure proper adhesion of the paint to the surface, and using a primer first can help achieve a more consistent appearance in your final coat.

While initially you may see primers as something that only increases the cost of the project; primers can improve the appearance of, and enhance the life of the paint. If you’re in the market for the best water based primer, the Rust-Oleum Bulls Eye 1-2-3 primer is a great choice.

Different Types of Primers

You will find three basic variations of primers on the market: oil-based, latex and pigmented shellac primer. Here’s what you need to know about each one.


These primers work well with latex and oil-based paints so they are versatile for a variety of applications. You can use an oil-based primer on wood, steel and other metals. It is also possible to apply them on top of the existing paint. Oil-based primers are good at killing stains and preventing further stains.

The downside to oil-based primers is they tend to take a while drying. In addition, they release a large amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can be harmful to people and the environment. You will also need to use harsh thinners and solvents to clean up your applicators and brushes after use.

Latex-based (water)

Latex-based primers are water-based and ideal for using on unfinished drywall. They are flexible and dry quickly. In addition, they are less brittle than an oil-based primer. This means they are less susceptible to cracking and peeling.

You can use a water-based primer on softwood such as pine as well as concrete, brick and galvanized metals. Water-based primers are also easy to clean. It is a breeze to clean up brushes, rollers and sprayers after using a water-based formulation. You’ll find that most variations of water-based primers are low in VOCs or have none at all. This makes them a much healthier choice compared to oil-based or shellac primer.


These formulas have been around for centuries and have been geared toward sealing wood as well as other surfaces. They are the best at stain-blocking and work well with water or smoke damaged areas. They have even been known to seal in the smell after smoke damage.

Shellac primers can prevent water, rust and smoke stains from occurring. They are used on wood, plaster, metal and plastic surfaces. These primers are fast-drying and tend to be highly adhesive but come with a large amount of VOCs. They also aren’t as versatile as a water or oil-based primer. For clean up, you will need to use denatured alcohol.

Benefits of a Water Based Primer

Water-based primers have been a no-brainer choice when looking at the options. There are several properties that neither of the other options can offer.

First, they are easy to clean, unlike oil-based primers which require harsh solvents and shellac which will require denatured alcohol. In addition, they offer a lower amount of VOCs than the other varieties. This isn’t just a plus for the environment but will protect your family’s health.

Water-based primers can be used for a variety of surfaces including soft woods, concrete and galvanized metals. On top of that, you can use water or oil-based paints with these primers, making them extremely versatile. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll find that water-based primers dry fast. This means you can move on with your project quickly and get back to life sooner.

Which Job Are Primers Suitable For?

Any unfinished surface should be primed before painting. This includes wood, metal, concrete and drywall. I know it seems easier to overlook this step, but your results will be disappointing. When you apply paint to an unprimed surface, you will battle peeling and cracking in the future.

If you are working on a previously painted surface, you might not need to prime the area. The only time that it would be necessary is if you are switching between an oil-based or latex paint. Then, scrap and sand the surface before application. Many water-based primers can be used with both latex and oil-based paints, just be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations on the can.

Primer often seems like an unnecessary step, but it can save money and time later. Using primer makes it possible to hide imperfections and reduce the number of coats needed for a smooth finish. Aside from the longer life you can expect from a proper priming job, many formulations also offer mildew protection which is a plus on your completed job. A general rule of thumb is that all preparation is worth it in the long run.

Rust-Oleum 2004 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 White Water-Based Interior/Exterior Primer Sealer

The Rust-Oleum Bulls Eye is a great choice if you’re searching for the best water based primer for the job. The well-priced provided can includes one quart of primer. This single can covers 100 square footage of material and has good overall coverage.

The 1-2-3 primer also includes a rust-inhibiting substance (ironic name?) making it very well suitable for metal surfaces.

While you don’t need to sand beforehand with this primer, you’ll want to ensure that the surface is cleaned so the primer can do it’s job properly. However, proper preparation before hand and sanding will ensure the best overall finish.

A primer such as this will be great for both interior and exterior application, and tends to work very well on higher pH materials like concrete. And it truly does stick to almost anything, making painting a breeze. If you’ve had materials where paint just won't stick, this might definitely help.

This is seriously a primer that will definitely add to the look of your paint. It’ll make good paint look great and will make only average paint look good.

Pros and Cons of the Rust Oleum Water-Based Primer

Now you may be wondering how this stacks up against other primers, or even simply just using a second coat of paint instead. Firstly, a water based primer, especially a good primer such as this costs less than paint. Using a coat of primer first before painting will be less expensive than using two coats of paint.

As mentioned earlier, because of the nature of this primer, you don’t have to sand beforehand. The formula allows the primer to be able to stick to most surfaces provided the surface is cleaned prior to application.

The Rust-Oleum primer, like all primers of this nature do clean up very easily. You’ll have no issue cleaning up after you’ve finished the job simply by using soap and water. Another plus to using the Rust-Oleum 1-2-3 primer first instead of multiple coats of paint: less cleanup time.

This primer is no exception to the quick drying ability most primers have. It should dry in about 30 minutes, allowing you to paint a room quicker than doing two coats of paint instead.

However, this primer like most other water based face primers when applied may show the surface underneath it slightly. On some materials, especially darker ones, you may prefer and have to do a second coat of primer to cover this. This is also generally easily remedied, as one coat of paint should cover underneath nicely.

We wish the sizing options on amazon would be different as well. One can (one quart) is generally only enough for small jobs. The pack deal also featured is 6 cans. A half gallon and gallon can option which are available in stores would be great if they were still on amazon.

In Conclusion

The Rust-Oleum Bulls Eye 1-2-3 is definitely the top rated water-based primer currently on amazon for a reason. If you’re looking for the best water based primer for a smaller job, this one fits the bill perfectly.

Don’t settle for jobs done only half properly. If you use a primer and good preparation beforehand, you’ll end up with a professionally done painting job.

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