In need of a paint solution that’s safe and effective on metal? Self-etching primers and epoxy primers are two popular choices for painting metal that are both tried and true, offering protection to the surface. But the real question is; Which one should you choose?

While both are tried and true methods of protecting and sealing your metal surfaces before you paint, they are different overall. With self-etching primer, you can get the job done a bit faster, buy in smaller amounts and pay less overall. If you opt for epoxy primers, you can expect them to prevent rust for years to come.

The best primer for you will all depend on the type of project you have. Are you expecting the product to rust a lot over time? Are you looking to get the project done quickly? These are factors you will want to consider when choosing the best solution for your metal surface. This article will point out the benefits and downfalls of each.

What is Self-Etching Primer? 

This combination product was created to etch the surface of metal or fiberglass all while priming it effectively. Ensure a better paint adhesion in fewer steps with the help of Self-Etching primer, making your whole process a bit easier overall. Protect your material effortlessly when you apply this compound. 

Self-etching primer also requires no prep and includes an active ingredient that protects against corrosion. For an effortless priming experience, self-etching primer is a great solution. It possesses durable quality and the perfect seal pre-painting.

Benefits of Self-Etching Primer 

When it comes to Self-Etching Primer, there are quite a few benefits. Not only is there a quick turnaround time but it;s also extremely durable. You can also buy in small cans instead of having to pay a whole lot more for large amounts of product. It works as an excellent adhesive to all metals and is relatively cost effective. Let’s go over the many perks of this go-to primer in detail:

Quick Turnaround Time 

One great perk is that you don’t have to wait long for it to dry. It cures rapidly and that will make for a shorter project time overall.

Most self-etching primers take roughly 30 minutes to dry- this is a short turnaround time when it comes to paint drying. Once your project is primed and ready to go, you can continue with your color of choice. Get the job done quickly when you go with self-etching primers. 


Self-etching primer is well known for its convenient durability. They will protect against corrosion to any metal surface to a decent degree. They even come in spray cans so that you can apply to the sections that are rusting or need extra protection.

Zinc phosphate is the active ingredient that protects against corrosion. The self etching primer sticks to paint beautifully so you know that your new paint job will uphold- keep in mind it is not the MOST durable solution but offers a good amount of protection. 

Available in Small Amounts 

Quite often, you have to buy paint or primers in quarts or gallons but with self-etching primer you can get it in small amounts which makes it more affordable. Especially if you have a small project, this is super convenient. 

From a 15 ounce spray can to a gallon, there are a wide variety of sizes you can get. This makes it more cost friendly for those who only need a limited amount of self-etching primer as well. 

Excellent Adhesion to All Metals 

One huge benefit is that self-etching primers have no boundaries when it comes to metal. No matter what type of metal, you can expect this primer to stick to the surface beautifully.

Aluminum, steel, copper, stainless steel and more are types of common metals self-etching primer is the perfect candidate for. Don’t forget about zinc, nickel, brass, iron and titanium. Whatever type of metal you are working with, this primer is a great solution for protection before painting. 

Less Expensive 

Since you can buy in smaller cans, you can expect the cost to be a bit less. Depending on the size of the project, you may be able to cover your whole surface with one sixteen ounce can.

You can expect to pay roughly $7 per sixteen ounce can, which is extremely affordable. Even if you need one or two, it is still a very cost effective product for all metal types. 

Drawbacks of Self-Etching Primer 

There is no PERFECT product on the market which means, of course, self-etching primer comes with its drawbacks. It does, indeed, use acid in the formula and may not protect against rust as much as other primers. Let’s discuss these downfalls further:

Not Enough Rust Protection

While the zinc phosphate does a mediocre job at rust and corrosion, you may find that when you compare it to other primers, it doesn’t quite match up. Other primers like epoxy are consumer approved when it comes to protecting against water damage and corrosion. 

If you are thinking you need more durability and protection against rust, self-etching primer may not be the top solution in the mix. 

Contains Acid 

The formula in self-etching primer contains phosphoric acid which allows it to stick to and seal/protect metal surfaces. When working with chemicals that contain a high VOC, you will want to maintain safety precautions at all times.

Make sure the area is properly ventilated and/or wear a mask to prevent inhalation. Always wear gloves and be sure to not let the primer touch your skin. The key is preventing allergic reactions or headaches from inhalation. 

While many primers contain strong chemicals and acids, you always want to make sure you are practicing safety when using.

What is Epoxy Primer? 

Epoxy primers are commonly used and well known for having a similar function to epoxy glue. They form a mechanical bond with the metal you are painting and seal it to prevent any future corrosion or rust. 

Epoxy primers are another tried and true product, but expect to pay a little more. This method requires no sanding or prep. Just apply with a paintbrush and continue your painting process. You should find that this product is extremely durable and long lasting overall. 

Benefits of Epoxy Primer 

There are many benefits to epoxy primers. If you plan on painting or refinishing a metal surface, you’ll find that this primer is very user friendly, prevents rust over time and you can even apply a body filler to it. Let’s go into detail about the perks of epoxy primer.

User Friendly 

Epoxy primer has a reputation of going on very easily. Sanded or not sanded, painted or flat metal- it all works! It has the ability to stick onto every surface you can think of without any lifting or peeling over time. 

Thanks to its strength and durability, you don’t have to worry about the product losing its integrity over time. You can even apply more than one coat and it’s durable on surfaces such as metal, wood and even concrete.

Can Put Body Filler on It 

Body filler is a putty used to fill old dents or gaps in surfaces. You can also use it for depth before and after you prime. This is a huge perk if you have damaged furniture or surfaces that you need to repair before priming.

The best part? You can even put primer over the putty after to seal it in. The versatility of epoxy primer allows it to stick to so many different surfaces and chemicals. But for simple cracks or dents, body filler is still an option even with epoxy primed surfaces.

Prevents Rust 

Zinc phosphate is the main ingredient responsible for preventing rust. This component seals and waterproofs the surface so that you don’t have to suffer from any future corrosion. Not all primers are as strong at preventing rust as epoxy- it is one of the top choices for this purpose.

If your project involves a surface that is prone to water damage or rust, epoxy is a great solution for weatherproofing. This seal makes the surface protected all while getting it ready for paint.

Drawbacks of Epoxy Primer 

This durable and strong primer doesn’t come without its drawbacks. Expect to pay a heftier price when you opt for this solution. Also, if you are in a hurry to get the project done, epoxy is not the best choice for you- it can be time consuming for dry times. Read further to learn more about these downfalls you might come across with the popular primer:

More Expensive 

Overall, epoxy primer is one of the more expensive options. Epoxy most oftenly comes in quarts and you can expect between $50-$60.  While it isn’t the cheapest option, many people go for the durability factor.

If you are working on a bigger project and need a gallon, you can expect to pay a little over $100 dollars, depending on the brand and store you purchase from.

 If your project is small, you may not want to shell out a hundred bucks depending on what it is. This can sometimes be not as affordable for those on a budget with their home projects. However, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons- if your product is subjected to a lot of water damage, it may be well worth the money.

Takes a Long Time To Dry 

Those who lack patience in their home improvement projects may not love using epoxy primers. It has an estimated drying time of twenty four hours or MORE. This is dependent on heat, moisture and the likes. A humid temperature could take even longer or affect the integrity of its curing abilities.  

If you need two coats, this also turns your project into a two-plus day event. If you don’t have the time to wait, you should go with a quick drying primer instead of epoxy. 

Which Primer Should You Use? 

Both primers are consumer approved and do the job beautifully. Prime and seal your surfaces effortlessly with both. So how will you decide? Well, keep in mind a few things. How long do you have to complete the project? Which product is within your budget? Do you worry frequently about water damage? 

While epoxy is stronger against rust and corrosion, it has longer drying times and is a more expensive option. Self-etching primer is the budget-friendly, quick fix that also has rust prevention but maybe isn’t as durable in the long run.,as%20moisture%20resistant%20as%20epoxy.

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