Primers aren't just diluted paint. They're formulated to establish a solid, even base, seal stains and ensure that the topcoats of paint go on smoothly and bond securely to the surface. "Most homeowners use latex primers, but the pros stick to alcohol and alkyd primers because they'll cover almost anything," says John Weeks, of John the Painter in Mobile, Alabama. Primer can affect the appearance of the topcoat. "It's okay to spot-prime the ceilings but not the walls, because primed spots will show," adds Span.

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