The Best Metal Primers: The Ultimate 2023 Review

When shopping for the best primer for metal, you need to consider a range of factors. Ideally, the best primer should guarantee a permanent, consistent, and smooth finish. Most importantly, it should dry to a flat finish, allowing the subsequent paint to hold onto the metal and seamlessly cover up nicks, scratches, and mild rust. Water-or-oil-based paints and sprays are top choices among professionals looking to achieve a signature look. However, these formulas come in numerous specifications, and we have reviewed the five best metal primers to help you make the right choice.

Check the Basics of priming here: Priming Different surfaces

PrimerForm/MaterialVolumeColorSpecial Feature
Xion Lab 2-in-1 Rust Converter & Metal PrimerWater-based spray1 GalRed OxideExcellent coverage
Rust Oleum-342062 Painter’s Touch 2XOil-Based Spray12 fluid ounces50+ different colorsLow-odor
Custom Shop – Gray DTM High Build Urethane Primer SurfacerLiquid16 Fl Oz (Pack of two)GrayCures in 3 Hours
TotalBoat Rust Primer Converter (GALLON) | Metal Treatment PrimerSpray128 FL OzStainless steelWorks best for outdoor priming

 #1 Editors Choice: Xion Lab 2-in-1 Rust Converter & Metal Primer

Xion Lab 2-in-1 is the best multipurpose spray primer for metal as it provides a long-lasting solution for rust and absolute protection afterwards. As its name suggests, this water-based composition doubles as a rust converter and primer. Use it to transform the rust into a stable compound and it will go the extra mile to prepare the surface for better adhesion and smoother finish.

We found this composition super-easy to apply, a quality specifically beneficial for sensitive projects like priming car port, truck frame, or galvanized roof. In thin coating, it boasts a dry fast formula that works well for projects with quick turnarounds. But notably, the thin coating lacks the smooth finish you may get with most epoxies. On the flipside, a thick coating provides a smoother finish, but takes 2-3 days to dry.  

The exceptional feature of this primer for galvanized steel lies with its ability to provide excellent coverage with only 2-3 coatings.  It goes on easy over most surfaces to fill cracks and welding points, making it ideal as an undercoat, second coat, or top coat. In addition, it has the best heat transfer properties, since it doesn’t burn down surfaces, hence needing less retouch.

#2 Runners Up-Rust-Oleum 7582838 Professional Primer

If you need an oil-based multipurpose spray primer that guarantees a solid foundation for subsequent coatings, the Rust-Oleum Professional is your ideal choice. This enamel spray paint is the best primer for rusted metal, specially formulated for DIY projects. It glides smoothly over metallic surfaces to form a superior, fast-drying adhesive that withstands chipping, dulling, fading, and abrasion.

Unlike Xion Lab 2-in-1, which comes in 1 gallon, 5 gallons, and a pint, a single unit of this composition comprises 15 fluid ounces of pure oil-based formula, enough to cover 14 sq ft of metallic surface. This means you can rely on it for small, top-coat applications, and it will provide 2 times the protection. Its selling point lies in its fast-drying feature, as it takes only 15 minutes to dry between each application and cures within 48 hours.

We could easily declare this composition the overall best primer paint for metal, especially if you consider its longevity and dependability in providing consistent results. However, we realize that this formula runs easily, hence only ideal for projects that need light coats. Applying it equally needs excellent timing, or else you may experience some bubbling as the top coat and primer dry. This can affect the quality of the finish.

#3 Budget Pick: Rust Oleum-342062 Painters Touch 2X Metal Primer

At a paltry $9, Rust Oleum Painters Touch is the cheapest industrial-grade formula for heavy-duty priming you can find on the market. It is specially formulated for budget-conscious consumers looking for the best primer paint for metal that won’t break the bank. Even better, this primer offers enhanced convenience, allowing you to choose from 14 packs, an ideal option based on your scope of work.

The Rust-Oleum 342062 painter’s touch 2X comes in 50+ different colors, including Satin Oregano, gloss black, and gloss sun yellow. It’s your accessible choice for smaller and larger DIY projects that require numerous themes. Each unit count contains 354.88 milliliters of low-odor, oil-based spray that can conveniently cover up to 12 sq. ft. of metallic surface.

While Rust Oleum-342062 remains the best primer for metal doors and other surfaces in terms of budget, it equally doesn’t compromise performance. It takes only 20 minutes to dry, forming a permanent high gloss finish that resists UV light, oxidation, and chipping.

Choosing the Best Metal Primer: The Buyer’s Guide

Choosing the best metal primer is a critical decision as it defines the overall appearance and durability of the finish. This process is naturally challenging, but it can be an easy feat if you keep these factors in mind:

Assess the Type of the Primer

Primers come in six main types, depending on the scope of work and types of metals they’re suitable for, as explained below:

  • Mordant Solutions: Used for pre-treating galvanized metal/steel by mechanically etching its surface to ensure excellent adhesion.
  • Zinc Phosphate: Used to inhibit or stop rusting on ferrous metallic surfaces, including cast iron, wrought iron, and sheet steel.
  • Single-pack and two-pack primers: Used to inhibit corrosion over cleaned steel surfaces. 
  • Etch Primers: Used to pre-treat cleaned surfaces of ferrous metals to ensure excellent adhesion. They can also be used over untreated non-ferrous metallic surfaces like galvanized iron, lead, aluminum, and copper.
  • Water-borne primers: These quick-drying compositions work over all types of metals for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Universal primers: These solvent-borne formulas are suitable for all multi-surface work, regardless of whether you’re priming metals, bare wood, masonry, or plaster.

Determine the Mode of Application

The mode of application will primarily depend on the primer’s composition, as explained below:

  • Water-borne Primers: These primers are thinned by diluting them with water. Once they’re thinned, you can apply them by brush, roller, or spray.
  • Universal Primers: These solvent-based primers are composed of anti-corrosive alkyd resin and zinc-phosphate pigment. You can apply them with a brush. However, make sure to clean the surface with a solvent (white spirit) before priming.
  • Single and Two-Pack Primers: Single-pack primers are premixed (ready for use), while two-pack primers come separately and must be mixed before use. They can all be applied by brush or spray.
  • Mordant solutions are applied by brush, while etch primers are applied by either brush or spray. On the other hand, zinc sulfates are applied by brush or roller.

Decide on an Ideal Budget

Metal primers come in a range of prices, so choosing one that suits your budget is necessary. Higher-quality primers can be pricey, but they guarantee the best finish and appearance. Also, keep in mind the coverage as it determines the amount of primer you will need for the whole project and ultimately affects the budget.

Determine Whether You Need a Rust Remover

Not all primers come with rust-converting features, so you may need a separate formulation to strip off the rust to the bare metal before priming. Note that rust-removing primers have higher price points compared to standard primers. 

Check the Safety Guidelines

Check that the primer you buy does not contain the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in most primers. This unstable organic chemical is harmful to both the body and the environment. It is currently under regulation for use in the U.S. It is responsible for the familiar “new paint smell.” Be sure to check the formulation description before buying to stay safe.

The Best Metal Primer at a Glimpse

For home or business owners, hobbyists, or professional painters, your choice of metal primer can make or break your project’s finish. That’s why you must buy the best primer for metal. Go for a formula that matches the required coverage, top-coat compatibility, adhesion, drying time, longevity, and ease of application, but don’t get caught up in the details. Check our recommendations above since they are nearly perfect for every use and efficient with minimal differences.

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