Best Spray Paint Primer for Metal


Last updated: August 31, 2023

Discover the Best Spray Paint Primers for Metal Painting in this Research-Backed Panting Guide.

Best spray paint primer for metal

Like most surfaces, metal requires priming before painting on it. To paint without using a primer is like baking in a cold oven. The paint job will be more prone to peeling or chipping because the paint won’t adhere well.

You could use a brush-on or roll-on primer but spray primers offer a speed advantage and are super easy to use. They cover metal surfaces more smoothly, and you don’t have to worry about pesky brush marks. 

However, not all spray primers are the same ; you will need the best one to achieve the best results.

In today’s write-up, we will look at the best spray paint primer for metal currently available in the market.

What is a Spray Paint Primer?

A spray primer is a substance applied to materials as a preparatory coat before painting. It offers a more solid base than the material being painted, so the paint will have something to lock onto. In other words, a primer enhances the adhesive properties of a surface. 

Primers are commonly applied to bare surfaces or materials that are difficult to paint. By providing better adhesion, it ensures the paint job is more durable. 

Besides getting the surface ready, primers also help to hide stains and “seal” porous surfaces, reducing the amount of paint. 

Many primers are transparent and do not contain pigments, while some contain less pigments than paint. In general, all primers are formulated with resins. The high amount of resin in the primer helps it to smoothen the surface and fill tiny holes. Likewise, the presence of pigments gives the primer some color. 

In general, spray primers cost less than spray paint and are available in a wide range of colors. 

The color you choose should match the color of the topcoat. This means that if you intend to use light paint, you should use a light primer. Likewise, a darker primer should go with darker paint. 

You should also choose a primer based on the surface and type of paint you’re using.

Why Should You Use a Spray Paint Primer

Here are some of the reasons why you should prime your metal pieces before painting:

1. Improve adhesion

The main reason for using a primer is to make the paint stick better. This is particularly important if you’re painting a sleek surface. Not using a primer might cause the paint to deteriorate and peel off too soon.

2. Hide old paint

If you’re planning to paint a dark surface with a lighter color, a primer can help you hide the darker color so it doesn’t show through your new paint. This works even for the darkest or deepest colors and helps to improve coverage.

3. Block Stains 

Primers also act as sealants and help to block stains on the material so they don’t reappear in the topcoat. This is particularly useful when working on wood with tannins that could show through the color and ruin the paint job.

4. Reduces the amount of paint

Because primers seal the material, you end up using less paint, which is great since it saves you money. Even more, primers generally cost less than paint. Ideally, you want to choose a spray primer that is compatible with the color of your paint. 

5. Works on different surfaces

Another incredible benefit of using spray primers is that they allow paint to stick to different surfaces, even on difficult ones like plastic. So, you might find that one metal spray paint you purchased can also be used for woodwork and furniture.

6. Increases longevity

Primers also increase the spray paint durability. They keep the paint from cracking or peeling prematurely and retain the color for a longer time. 

When Should You Use A Metal Primer Spray Paint?

Use a spray primer whenever you’re painting metal surfaces and want the best-in-class adhesion. Some may argue that this is not always necessary, but there are some situations where it’s a MUST! 

  • Whenever you want to paint metal tools like rakes and shovels, especially if they are new.
  • When you are painting or staining bare metal with oil-based products (a primer helps the bonding process)
  • When painting a brand new item outside the house where it’s vulnerable to oxidation. A primer will help protect it from rust.
  • When you are applying a different color to the metal surface.
  • When you want to improve coverage and produce a longer-lasting paint job.

In general, you should use a primer, even when there’s no need to. This will add an extra layer of protection to your work and ensure you get the best possible finish assuming you applied the primer and paint correctly. 

What are the Different Types of Spray Paint Primer for Metal?

Understanding the different types of spray primers will enable you to choose the right one for your project. Let’s look at the four main types available:

Oil-based spray primers

Also known as alkyd primers, oil-based primers are great for priming metal surfaces. They are highly durable and provide higher corrosion resistance than other types of primers. They are also good at concealing flaws in the material while providing an even finish. 

The main disadvantage of this type of primers is that they contain a high amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which can be harmful when inhaled or ingested. So you need to be careful while using them; ideally, you want to use them outside.

Oil-based primers also take longer to dry than latex primers.

In terms of compatibility, you can use oil primers with latex or oil-based paints, and they are suitable for both interior and exterior use.

Latex spray primers

Latex primers are water-based formulas that work perfectly with water-based paint, including acrylic latex. They are often regarded as acrylic primers but are not the same because acrylic contains chemicals.

Latex primers offer quicker drying time than oil-based primers but are less durable. They also contain very low VOCs, which makes them more eco-friendly and safer to use. They are typically used to prime drywall, plaster, and woodwork. 

Like oil-based primers, they also block stains.

Shellac spray primers

Shellac primers are extremely fast-drying due to the presence of shellac in their formula. Shellac itself is a resin obtained from the female lac tree and is commonly used in paint and primers. 

Like oil-based primers, they also contain ingredients that can be harmful when inhaled or exposed to the skin or eyes. Some of these substances are methanol, isopropanol, ethanol, etc. So, you should wear proper eye and nose protection when using them. 

Shellac primers are more versatile and are compatible with all types of paint. 

Acrylic spray primers

Acrylic primers are also water-based, but they contain a small amount of organic solvents or chemicals that help to improve their adhesion and durability. Like oil-based primers, they can expand and contract with changing weather. 

In terms of compatibility, they are best used with oil-based paints since they are solvent resistant. 

How To Choose The Right Spray Primer Paint for Metal?

Here are the main things to look at when choosing a spray primer for metal:

Paint Type

When choosing a spray primer for metal, you should be mindful of the type of paint that will go over it. If you plan to use an oil-based paint, you should opt for an oil-based primer. Likewise, water-based primers work best with water-based paint. 

If you want something more versatile, consider using a shellac primer. Shellac primers work with all types of paint.


In addition to the paint, you should also check the compatibility of the primer with the material you’re working on. Most spray primers will work with different types of materials, such as metal, wood, plastic, and so on. 

Since we are working on metal, you should ensure the primer is compatible with metal. For example, if you want to spray paint stainless steel a Yeti cup, choose a primer made of stainless steel. One way to know about this is to check the product label.


When using any primer, you always want it to bring out the true color of whatever paint you use. There are different primer colors, but the most common ones are grey, white, and clear. Choose a color that is compatible with your paint. 

To be on the safe side, you can check the label to know if the primer can alter the color you intend to use.  

7 Best Spray Paint Primer for Metal Surfaces

Best Overall: Rust-Oleum 7582838 Professional Primer Spray Paint

The Rust-Oleum Professional Primer Spray Paint provides a smooth and adhesive base for Rust-Oleum paint. It’s our best overall spray paint primer for metal because it has all the perks of a high-quality primer, such as strong adhesion, great coverage, a high-quality tip et al.

The primer can be used on virtually any surface ranging from wood to plastic to metal. It is ideal for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals and provides rust protection.

Being oil-based, it offers more durability and is suitable for heavy-duty environments. So, if you have a metal piece that needs protecting in an outdoor setting, this should serve as a perfect base for your paint. 

In terms of coverage, it only takes a few layers to get good coverage depending on the size of your project. The high output tip makes spraying easy and allows you to spray at any angle. 

Each can is 15 ounces and covers up to square feet. A standard aerosol can is usually about 12 ounces, so people with small hands might have an issue with a larger bottle, especially when spraying a tight space. Notwithstanding, the primer is easy to use and allows you to spray in all directions, even upside down. 

The only negative is that it has a very strong smell, so you will need to wear a breathing mask or respirator when using it. 

The paint dries really fast, which is a huge plus as it allows you to lay down the coats faster and save a lot of time. It’s best to do light coats. Otherwise, the paint might run.

This shouldn’t be an issue since the paint has a short dry time (usually 15 minutes). For surfaces with light rust, you can clean them with steel wool or a light paint thinner. Ultimately, proper prep work is essential if you want to get a good paint job.

What We Like πŸ‘

  • Perfect for covering rust.
  • Glides on easy and smooth.
  • Very good coverage.
  • Great adhesion.
  • Quick drying even in cold temperatures.
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor use.

What Could Improve πŸ‘Ž

  • A bit pricey.
  • Strong smell.

Best Combination Spray Paint and Primer for Metal: Krylon Colormaxx

The Krylon COLORmaxx is a popular multi-purpose spray that doubles as a paint and primer. So, if you want something that will speed up your work, this will be perfect.

The spray delivers superior adhesion and coverage while adding color to your metal pieces. It doesn’t only work on metal but many other surfaces, including wood, wicker, glass, ceramic, and most plastics. 

Like most specialty primers, it comes with rust protection, which makes it suitable for indoor and outdoor use. It’s particularly recommended for metal pieces that go outside or are frequently exposed to the elements.

The spray is available in various colors and finishes. Our favorite is gloss ivory, a classic off-white color with a beautiful shine. All colors are vibrant and leave a sleek, modern finish.

In addition, the spray is easy to use. The easy push big button spray tip makes it possible to spray at any angle. 

Drying time depends on the temperature and humidity of the surrounding area. In general, it takes about 20 minutes to dry to touch and about an hour before it’s ready for handling. You can look up the label for more information on the drying time and recoat window.  

We recommend applying multiple thin coats instead of one heavy coat to avoid drips. Since the paint is oil-based, cleanup can be a little messy. You will need a solvent like lacquer thinner, as water won’t work.  

The paint also has a strong smell, so you need to use it in a well-ventilated area, ideally outdoors.  

Each aerosol can is 12 ounces and covers up to 25 square feet.  

What We Like πŸ‘

  • Doubles as a primer and paint.
  • Good coverage.
  • Suitable for various surfaces.
  • Provides a durable protective coating.
  • Rust spray paint.

What Could Improve πŸ‘Ž

  • Smelly.
  • Cap might be difficult to remove

Best Low VOC: Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Universal Bonding Primer

A watercolor bonding primer like the Rust-Oleum Stops Rust is much safer to use because of its low VOC content. The water-based formula provides excellent adhesion in moist or humid environments without sacrificing durability.

It’s essentially a rust-preventive formula, which makes it ideal for metal pieces that would be used outdoors. This includes but is not limited to metal furniture, railings, wrought iron, galvanized steel, and more. It also works on other materials such as PVC, laminate, wood, masonry, glazed brick, etc.

It covers well as a primer and levels up the surface in preparation for painting. It takes about 30 minutes to dry to touch, and the best part is – unlike other Rust-Oleum primers – you can apply a topcoat anytime.

For most products, you have to apply the topcoat within an hour or wait for a day or two, which means it can take several days or even weeks to complete some projects.

Having said that, don’t handle the object before it’s fully dry to prevent peeling. This is often the case when it takes longer to dry due to temperature and humidity.

As the name implies, the primer is “universal,” which means you can use it with any topcoat, whether it’s oil-based paints or acrylic paints.

The only downside is the strong chemical smell, which is surprising since it has low VOC (according to the manufacturer). So be sure to use a mask so it doesn’t clog your lungs. Also, work outside or somewhere with a lot of ventilation. 

Overall, this is by far one of the best spray primers out there for metal and other surfaces. For the price, it comes highly recommended. 

What We Like πŸ‘

  • Prevents rust and corrosion
  • Contains low VOC
  • Resistant to chipping, cracking, and peeling.
  • It comes with any angle spray for hard-to-reach areas.
  • Comfort tip to reduce finger fatigue.
  • Superior coverage.

What Could Change πŸ‘Ž

  • On the pricey side.
  • Smelly.

Zinsser 272479 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Spray Primer

If you want something other than Rust-Oleum and Krylon, then you should consider Zinsser Bulls Eye. This is hands down one of the best spray primers available not only for metals but other surfaces. It does exactly what it says – hide tough stains on the surface and gives the paint something to lock onto.

It coats perfectly and seals uniformly without any need for sanding. However, light sanding will help create a very smooth finish, especially on sheet metal.

On bare woods like cedar and redwood, the primer can help prevent tannins from bleeding into the paint finish, which could render the wood unusable. 

The primer is compatible with both latex and oil-based paint and provides a good white base for your paint while filling cracks and blocking stains on the surface. 

Coverage is great as long as you apply it correctly. You want to use multiple light coats to avoid runs or streaks. Drying time is just 30 minutes; you can recoat at this time or wait for at least two hours. Each aerosol can covers up to 12 square feet.

It’s worth mentioning that the odor is strong, but it doesn’t last very long (give it 20 to 30 minutes) if you’re working outdoors. The smell would be almost unbearable in an indoor setting, so make sure you use it outside. 

As earlier indicated, the primer also adheres to other materials besides metal and wood, as well as painted surfaces. If you choose the gloss finish, it will give extra shine to whatever paint you apply on top of it. Just make sure the surface is clean and dry, and properly sanded (if required). 

What We Like πŸ‘

  • Great coverage.
  • Very handy and easy to use.
  • Provides great adhesion and stain-blocking.
  • Provides a smooth white finish.
  • Suitable for indoor and outdoor projects.
  • Long-lasting finish.

What Could Improve πŸ‘Ž

  • A bit high-priced.
  • It stinks.

Rust-Oleum Universal All Surface Metallic Spray Paint

The Rust-Oleum Universal All-Surface Spray is another primer and paint combo that reduces prep time and saves money. In other words, it doesn’t require a separate coat of primer, yet it leaves a beautiful, rich, shimmering metallic look on surfaces. 

The paint works on virtually any surface – metal, wood, concrete, plastic, vinyl, etc. On metal, it provides additional protection against rust and corrosion. 

It is oil-based, so it’s resistant to fading and chipping and guarantees a long-lasting finish if you apply it correctly.

Like most Rust-Oleum spray paints, the aerosol can utilize the Any Angle Spray Technology, which allows you to spray in all directions, even upside down. The comfort tip is also designed to reduce finger fatigue. 

The drying time is 30 minutes, which is quite impressive, considering this is an oil-based paint. However, before using it, you should wait at least a week or until the object is fully cured. 

Each can is 11 ounces and covers up to 15 square feet. 

For better coverage, ensure you shake the can vigorously before use. Use light coats and always keep your hand moving to avoid applying too much color at one point, which can result in drips. 

The paint has a very strong smell, and that is because of the high amount of VOC. So, ensure you use it outside. Wear a respiratory mask and cover your surroundings to avoid getting overspray on items you don’t want to paint. 

The product has a huge color palette and different sheens. Our favorite option for priming metals is the aged metallic rust color and finish. 

What We Like πŸ‘

  • It doesn’t fade or chip easily.
  • Great value for your money.
  • Comfortable spray tip to reduce finger fatigue.
  • Protects from rust and corrosion.
  • UV-resistant (high heat spray paint).

What Could Improve πŸ‘Ž

  • Strong chemical smell.

RUST-OLEUM Painters Touch Ultra Cover Primer

The Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch is an oil-based formula that works on almost any surface. Being a flat primer, it’s best suited for metal surfaces that don’t require a lot of shine. 

It provides a base coat for the paint and ensures it adheres well. It also hides imperfections in the material.

Like the paint version, it uses Double Cover Technology, which provides two times the coverage of most regular spray paint while providing a consistent finish. 

Specifically, each 12-oz can cover up to 12 square feet. This might not seem like a lot, especially if you’re priming a large piece, but it’s significant for the size. You should purchase more bottles if you plan to use them on anything extensive.

The nozzle features a comfortable spray tip that sprays at any angle while reducing finger fatigue caused by continuous spraying. The paint goes on smoothly without any runs or drip.

Before spraying, shake the can vigorously to get the content to mix well. Then apply in several light layers instead of one heavy coat. To prevent clogging in future projects, always clean the nozzle with mineral spirits when you’re done. 

Although the paint is oil-based, it dries quickly (within 20 minutes) and covers up to 12 square feet per can. Once dried, it leaves a durable base with excellent adhesion, ready to receive the topcoat. 

Besides metal, the primer works on other surfaces and is suitable for interior and exterior use. 

The primer is said to be low-odor, but it’s still noticeable, so it’s best to use it outdoors.

What We Like πŸ‘

  • Decent coverage.
  • Superior adhesion and durability.
  • Great for beginners.
  • Comfort spray tip to reduce finger fatigue.
  • Reasonable pricing.
  • Suitable for different surfaces.

What Could Improve πŸ‘Ž

  • Clogging can be a problem.

RUST-OLEUM American Accents Spray Paint and Primer

The Rust-Oleum American Accents is all-inclusive, so there’s no need for a separate coat of primer or paint. This reduces your work time and lets you focus on getting a more consistent finish. 

The paint is ideal for interior and exterior surfaces and works on most materials, including metal, wood, wicker, plaster, plastic, and more. As the name suggests, it provides twice the coverage of most regular spray paints, allowing you to complete your project faster. 

Each aerosol can covers up to 12 square feet and leaves a fresh shine with a vivid color. The clear gloss finish is perfect if you want to maintain the original color of the metal. There are several other colors to choose from if you want something different. 

Like the other options, the can has an any-angle spray tip that sprays in all directions, especially tight areas and corners. It is also designed to prevent sudden spurts, which could result in paint globs.

The paint comes out smooth and evenly and does not drip unless you apply it too close to the substrate. Apply two or more light coats for even coverage.

Although the paint is all-inclusive (primer and paint), you can add a topcoat, ideally another Rust-Oleum product. This will enhance the durability and make it more resistant to chipping. Allow the paint to dry completely before adding any topcoat or clear coat.

Wear proper protective clothing and ensure your hand is covered when using the paint. You should also have your breathing mask on.

What We Like πŸ‘

  • Quick-drying formula
  • Adds a fresh shine to surfaces.
  • Provides long-lasting protection.
  • Suitable for different surfaces.
  • Easy to use.
  • Provides excellent coverage.

What Could Improve πŸ‘Ž

  • It has a strong smell

How to Apply a Spray Can Primer On Metal

Applying a spray primer is very similar to applying spray paint. However, the steps might slightly differ depending on the particular brand. Here’s our general recommendation on applying a spray primer on metal effectively and laying the perfect foundation for your paint job.

What You Need:

  • Gloves.
  • Wire brush
  • Sandpaper/scraper
  • Clean rag
  • Soap and water.
  • Respirator or dusk mask.
  • Spray primer.

Clean the Surface

Before you can paint on metal, you have to be sure it’s clean and free of dirt and grease. Wash the surface with a mild detergent solution to remove dirt. 

For grease stains, soak a rag in vinegar and wipe it over the area, then wash off the residues with soapy water. 

You can also use a degreaser or mineral spirits when dealing with heavy grease deposits. 

Once you’re done cleaning, rinse the surface with fresh water and allow it to dry. If you’re painting a large surface, you can pressure wash to remove the dirt and grime before proceeding.

Remove Rust and Old Painting

Now that the metal is clean, a little sanding will help roughen up the surface, which allows the primer to adhere better. Paint applied on a very smooth surface is more prone to peeling or flaking. 

Sanding also helps to remove old, damaged paint. You can use 120-grit sandpaper. This also works for bare metal. 

For metals with previous paintings that are in good condition, you just want to roughen the surface. In this case, you can use 240-grit sandpaper.  

If you have rust on the surface, use a wire brush or an appropriate rust remover (follow the manufacturer’s instructions to apply it). This should be done before sanding the metal.

Apply the primer

Primer is pretty much applied in the same way as spray paint. Ideally, you want to follow the instructions on the product label. 

One coat of primer is usually enough, but you can add more if the metal is going outside. This will help delay the oxidation process. 

Shake the aerosol can vigorously before use and hold it 6-12 inches away from the target surface. To avoid pooling, spray using short bursts and sweep the nozzle back and forth, overlapping. 

It’s a good idea to test spray on scrap material to ensure everything is fine before moving on to the main project. 

Allow proper dry time between each coat. 

FAQs – Best Spray Paint for Metal

How Long Does It Take for a Spray Primer to Dry?

Most spray paint primers dry to touch in the first 20-30 minutes. However, the exact drying time depends on the brand, thickness of the coating, and air temperature. We’ve seen primers that take up to an hour or even more to dry completely.

How Long Should You Wait Before You Paint on a Primer?

This depends on the type of primer you’re using. Most primers dry in 30 minutes, but we recommend waiting at least 3 hours before applying paint. The drying time can be longer in low temperature and high humidity conditions. You can always check the product label just to be sure.

How many coats of primer do I need on the metal?

You can get away with just one coat of primer, but we recommend using two to ensure there’s a good bond between the paint and the metal surface. Hold the aerosol can 8-12 inches from the surface and spray across it in short, smooth strokes, moving from one side to the other.

What kind of primer should I use on metal?

It’s best to use an oil-based primer or any other rust-inhibiting primer. Avoid using water-based primers, as most metal surfaces are reactive and tend to rust easily. Before applying the oil-based primer, remove any previous rust and ensure the surface is clean.

How long does it take for spray paint on metal to dry?

This depends on the particular paint you’re using – specifically, the type and brand. In general, water-based and acrylic spray paint dries faster than oil paint. In general, most spray paints dry to touch within 30 minutes. The weather condition and the thickness of each coat also influence the drying time.

Why Rust-Oleum Professional Gray Primer is the Best primer paint for metal?

The Rust-Oleum Professional Grey Primer is a top choice for metal because it provides the best-in-class adhesion and coverage. It provides rust protection and is suitable for ferrous and non-ferrous metals. It offers the most durability and, as such, provides the best value for your money. 

Summary – Spray paint primer for metal surfaces

Choosing the best primer spray paint for metal can be a daunting task, given the huge number of options available. Hopefully, this guide will point you in the right direction. 

The products reviewed here will provide a good base for your paint and ensure you get the best durable finish. 

As with any other project, proper prep work is key. So, make sure you take time to prepare the surface before priming. Remove old paintings and clean out every dirt and grease to ensure the best possible adhesion. 

If you have any more questions, please drop them in the comment section. Until then, happy priming! 

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