Zinsser primers are known for their quality, and more and more people are recommending them to new users. But this brings with it its own problem, which one do you use? It can be really confusing, especially to new users, after all, they all claim to do nearly the same thing. So where are there so damn many of them?
Which Zinsser Primer to Use
For covering tough stains such as graffiti and also dark woods Zinsser Cover Stain is your best bet. For porous surfaces and ceramics such as tile Bulls Eye 123 is the Zinsser primer to choose. For blocking odours and also priming glossy surfaces such as kitchen cabinets then you should choose Zinsser B-I-N
What Is The Difference?
All three of the main Zinsser primers are different types of paint. B-I-N is a Shellac based paint, Bulls Eye 123 is water-based paint (and works well with Zinsser Allcoat, which is also water based) and Cover Stain is an oil or solvent-based paint.
Well that’s all well and good I hear you say, but what does that mean, and what the hell is a shellac base?
Most people are now usually familiar with the difference between water and oil/solvent-based paints. Water-based paints are usually better for the environment, a lot easier to clean your brushes after use and don’t are generally safer. Oil/Solvent-based paints tend to be a lot thicker, require special chemicals to clean up after use but also are regarded as better quality paint. So where does a shellac paint fit into this well-established hierarchy? And just what is Shellac?
Straight from Wikipedia. Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes and dissolved in alcohol to make liquid shellac, which is used as a brush-on colourant, food glaze and wood finish. Shellac functions as a tough natural primer, sanding sealant, tannin-blocker, odour-blocker, stain, and high-gloss varnish.
It is commonly used in ladies nail polish as well as being a central element to “French Polish”.
How does it paint
Much more similar to a water-based paint than solvent paint I would say. it is thin out of the tin and dries very quickly. One thing you notice straight away with Zinsser B-I-N at least is how well it covers. It feels incredibly thin on the brush but covers like a much thicker paint would.
Clean up is a pain though. It is even harder to clean than oil/solvent-based paints. White spirit won’t work, neither will brush cleaner, you need to use the special Zinsser B-I-N cleaner, Methylated Spirits or an Ammonium mix to clean it. If you want a more in-depth guide we have a full article on how to apply Zinsser BIN.
Each of these primers works better or worse on a wide range of surfaces, so it’s not as simple as saying use this outdoors and this indoors. So to make things easier I have made this handy guide that shows you which surface each of these Zinsser primers is best suited to.
A tick means this is a highly recommended paint for this surface, a dash means it will work but another primer is better suited and an X means it is not recommended.
So straight off the bat, Zinsser B-I-N is only recommended for spot exterior use, which means it isn’t really recommended for any large exterior surface.
So all these charts are helpful, but nothing helps you know how good paint is as actually using it does. So I set to doing some testing of my own.
The Laminate Test
To start with I will be painting some laminate wood that I happened to have at the workshop. I will use all three of the Zinsser primers along with Rustins quick-drying primer thrown into the mix as well.
I will paint the laminate with each different primer, let it fully cure and then try and scratch it off and see what’s what!
Bulls Eye 123
Let’s talk a little about the Bulls Eye 123 paint. Firstly, give your tin a really good shake before opening. Mine had separated a lot, and it hadn’t even been sitting around a long time.
Next, I would like to talk about how well this paint covers, particularly for water-based paint. You can see in the photo below just how well it is covering the dark laminate, so far so good!
Like the Bulls Eye the cover stain had separated a lot in the tin, so give it a really thorough shake before even opening the tin. It mixed back together nice and easy so no problems here.
What I will say about this paint from my first impressions are that it is very thick and has exceptional covering properties. It is a little yellow rather than white like the Bulls Eye is.
This is my first time using B-I-N and again it needed a good can shake before use as the paint had separated.
This paint feels really thin, smells weird but covers exceptionally well.
So here is a photo of all of the primers on the laminate. Out of shot, the Rustins has also been painted on, along with one area which will just have the topcoat with no primer. This will serve as our control.
This photo really illustrates the cover power of the cover stain paint even when compared to the other Zinsser primers.
Now I will try my best to scratch the paint off the laminate. To do this I will use a piece of rough-cut timber and run it across the top of all the samples harshly.
This will really test if the primer has stuck well or not.
Above is the wood that I will be using. I am going to try and apply an even amount of force to each sample but there are no guarantees. I’m trying to be as scientific as possible but I understand my method has its limits.
This piece of the laminate was just painted with two coats of the topcoat. You can see how it has scratched away from the surface quite badly. This definitely wouldn’t hold up as a floor finish but remember that this is just here to be our control. Painting Laminate with zero prep is not a good idea, and if you are not convinced why not read our can you paint laminate flooring article.
Next up is the Rustins Primer & Undercoat. I threw this into the test as I had a tin in the workshop and I thought it would work as a good demonstration of a regular primer.
For the next piece, we have the Zinsser Bulls Eye 123, which is the water-based primer.
So the Bulls Eye fared a little better than Rustins but certainly not an amazing result. Onto the next primer.
This is much more like it, an outstanding result from the BIN. It has stuck really well to a tough surface to paint. Only a couple of very small scuffs in the middle to report.
Can the Cover Stain go even better?
It certainly can, not even a scratch on it!
Laminate Test Results
So that’s a definite win for the Cover Stain, followed closely by B-I-N. Then the other three were a long way behind, I would give third place to Bulls Eye 123, but only just.