What does it mean when you see paint and primer in one?

What does it mean when you get a paint that is a paint and primer in one?”  This is always the one thing that for years I have had to explain to people about “paint and primer”, and it’s all due to Home Depot and their marketing when they came out with it years ago.  I’m about to shatter the illusion for you, but “paint and primer” is just paint, there is no all in one product.  So, when your painting fresh drywall with paint and primer, you’re not actually sealing the drywall properly, which means that you are just doing multiple coats of paint.  In this blog we will cover what the main parts of paint and primer are, what “paint and primer” means.

The 4 main ingredients of paint and primer:

Both paints and primers are made up of the same 4 parts in various levels of concentration, namely:

  1. Solvents
  2. Additives
  3. Binders
  4. Pigment


Solvent refers to the chemical in the product that keeps it in a liquid spreadable form, which is what gives paint its odor for the most part.  Nearly all paints from Benjamin Moore are zero VOC, which means that the chemical used is fairly tame compared to the days of oil-based paints.  Whereas painting with oil-based paints meant you had to leave for a few days for the smell to go away, now you can paint the room and stay in it and barely be bothered. 


Additives are what gives paint its shelf life, like a best before date.  Yes, paint can go bad on you, and it either does this by rotting (if you’ve never smelled rotten paint before, it’s really bad), or after applying it, it might flake off or peel in areas.  We like to say that a paint is promised to work as its intended up to 3 years from its date of manufacture, meaning that if we say that a product will perform as described, we can stand by that.  I am used to people bringing in old paint (oldest so far Is 10 years), and after determining that its still in usable shape, asked if its still ok.  The answer is maybe, because its past that shelf life, I can no longer guarantee that the product will perform as expected or promised, so you’re taking a chance.  I usually advise that its best to get new paint so that you can expect it will perform, instead of doing a whole bunch of labor and then having it fail on you.


Binder is what adheres the paint to the surface, think of it like glue.  Some paints are multi surface, others are fairly restricted in what they can go on, but in regards to both paints and primers it’s the binding agent that makes it stick.



Pigment is not only the colorant that we put in the paint to make the color you want, but it also refers to the titanium dioxide that gives paint its white color before tinting.  Take a look at a fresh gallon of paint sometime, that white color is titanium dioxide, and it’s also used as a colorant, and boy is it heavy, its actually the heaviest and densest pigment we have when compared to the others, it’s a nightmare to clean up if its spilled.

These are the 4 parts, but just what is meant by “paint and primer” if both paints and primers share the same basic ingredients?  Simply put, paint has more solvent, primer has more binder, and the paint and prime in one products have more binder than regular paint.  That’s it, that’s the secret.  But that doesn’t mean that paint and primer doesn’t do anything, far from it, it’s actually a better paint than non “paint and primer”.  Paint and prime products will adhere to a poorly prepared surface better than a lesser quality material with proper prep done.  You could TSP and wash your walls to degrease them, sand them to open the pores of the previous coating to accept the new one, do all the prep necessary for best practices when painting, and these paint and primer products will ensure that you get a good bond with the surface.  If you were a little lax in your prep, they will still perform as intended (unless your walls are covered in grease and oils, you have to clean that for sure)

So now you know the story of “paint and primer”, and as for why you should use a primer and when, well let’s save that for another time.