Primers are inexpensive undercoatings that smooth out uneven surfaces, provide a barrier between porous surfaces and certain finishing coats, and allow you to use an otherwise incompatible paint on a bare or previously painted surface. For flat paint finishes, the primer can be a thinned-out version of the paint itself. But that's often more expensive than using a premixed primer, which contains less-expensive pigment, dries quickly, and provides a firm foundation or "tooth" for the final coat of paint.

Latex primer has all the advantages of latex paint -- almost odor-free, quick drying, and easy to clean up -- and is the best undercoat for drywall, plaster, and concrete. Don't use it on bare wood, though, because the water in it may raise the grain. For raw wood, it's best to use an alkyd primer.

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