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Acrylic Primers: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

acrylic primer

Nail Primers vs. Paint Primers: What’s the difference?

Primers, no matter the art or industry, are an important part of the layering process for acrylic painting and will always serve the same functions — to treat and prepare the surface of whatever you’re about to paint!

The two primers I will cover in this article are acrylic nail primers and acrylic paint primers.

I’ll start with nail primers.

The Best Acrylic Nail Primers

Acrylic nail primers are used most often in salons by professional nail technicians, but the more savvy DIY nail artists will also be familiar with the importance of using and understanding primer in their craft. Not only will a primer remove the oils of the nail beds and create a surface that prolongs adhesion of the acrylic nail enhancements, correct application can also prevent damage to the natural nail.

Let’s go over what to look for in an acrylic nail primer, and some of the best options on the market.

There are two distinct types of nail primer, acid-based and acid-free.

If maintaining the health of your natural nail bed is your priority, you’ll want to look for an acid-free primer. Though acid primers are sure to provide a strong hold, they do this by stripping the nail of its natural oils and can lead to brittle nails with overuse. Acid-free primers, on the other hand, alter the pH of your nails so that it temporarily aligns with the pH of the acrylic gel or product.

After adhesion the pH of your nails returns to its normal level thus preventing damage. The key to an optimal hold with acid-free primers is in the application. Too much can cause the enhancements to lift sooner. The ingredients of the primers and the acrylics work in harmony, so there’s no need for overapplication, no matter which type of primer you choose.

Now, here are a few of my favorite products I have come across in my search for the best acrylic nail primers.

Modelones Acrylic Nail Primer

modelones acrylic nail primer

Key Product Features:

  • Includes Nail Prep Dehydrator (0.5 oz) and Nail Primer (0.5 oz)
  • Long lasting Adhesion
  • Compatibility with other products
  • Can be used with nail gels, powders, and liquids
  • Works great with nail art!


  • Modelones has a strong chemical smell upon application
  • Acid base is hard on nails with prolonged use
What customers have to say about this product:

“If you’re looking for longevity, you need this!”

“The primer and dehydrator work very well together … A little goes a long way.”

Azure Beauty Professional Nail Primer

azure beauty professional nail primer

Key Product Features:

  • Includes both Nail Prep Dehydrator (0.34oz) and Nail Primer (0.34oz)
  • Long lasting
  • Quick air-dry


  • Low quality nail brushes
  • Acid-base is hard on nails with prolonged use
What customers have to say about this product:

“This item is really good for the Nails and makes the nail life last way longer” [sic]

“The product itself seems to be nice quality at an affordable price. However, my one complaint would be the brush quality.”

Mia Secret Professional Nail Primer

mia secrete professional nail primer

Key Product Features:

  • Includes both Nail Prep Dehydrator (0.5 oz) and XtraBond Primer (0.5 oz)
  • Compatible with a variety of nail products
  • Great for beginners
  • Strong hold
  • Acid-free makes this product gentle on natural nails


  • Product images differ from product delivered
  • Reports of bottles leaking
What customers have to say about this product:

“The best prep & primer I’ve ever bought.”

“I love it. My last set lasted 4 1/2 weeks with this prep and bond!!”

What is an Acrylic Nail Primer?

An acrylic nail primer is a substance used as a base layer on your nails to optimize the adhesive properties between the nails and the acrylic layer. As I mentioned above, the two dominant types are acid-based and acid-free. The primers that contain acid work by chemically abrading the surface of the nail bed so the adhesive can attach itself more readily. Acid-free primers work more like double-sided tape.

Do You Need Primer For Acrylic Nails

Primer is an important step for acrylic nails and nail art. Going without can lead to damage of your natural nails and most certainly results in an inferior hold.

Are There Alternatives To Using Acrylic Nail Primer?

For those willing to experiment, there are at-home alternatives to use in lieu of nail primers. The most frequently used alternative is a mix of acetone and isopropyl alcohol. This combination will prep the nail to adhere to the acrylic layer by cleaning its surface and drying out the natural oils.

Before today’s commercial primers, a common practice was to sand and thus abrade the nail bed in order to create a rougher, more adherent surface. Personally, I like the convenience of buying a commercial product–and they provide less risk to overall nail health.

What Are Nail Dehydrators?

Dehydrators are pretty much what their name implies–they are applied to the nail to remove excess oils and moisture for a stronger hold. If this is sounding repetitive and you’re wondering if the use of nail dehydrators is redundant, my answer is both yes and no. Not everyone needs to take this extra step, but there are a few reasons why you might want to.

Some people have more oil on their nails than others and are therefore prone to lifting. For those with this problem, a dehydrator could be hugely beneficial.

Additionally, there are primers that utilize weaker acids to micro-abrade the nail beds. Such primers tend to be gentler on the nail and surrounding skin but less efficiently remove oils, in which case a dehydrator for additional nail prep would be a wise choice.

Acrylic Paint Primers

Similarly with an acrylic paint primer, the idea is to create a base layer that will help bond the surface area to the paint. Acrylic primer differs from latex and oil primers because it is chemical-based, while the former are water- and oil- based, respectively. The main advantages of acrylic primer include: how quickly it dries; its elasticity, and therefore durability; and finally, it is water and sun resistant.

If you’ve painted a variety of surface types, I’m sure you’re aware that paint sticks to some more readily than others. Primer is a great bonding agent, no matter what you’re painting; however, there are acrylic paint primers created with specific surface types in mind.

Additionally, some primers are more versatile than others and can perform well across interior and exterior surfaces, natural and synthetic materials, and varying textures.

When choosing the best product, ask yourself these key questions: What is the material I am painting? Does it secrete natural oils, tannins, or minerals? Is it an interior or exterior surface? There are so many options to choose from, but understanding a little more about the properties of your materials will make the decision a whole lot easier.

Here are a few popular products to consider in your search.

Best Acrylic Paint Primer For Wood

We highly recommend the INSL-X STIX water-bonding primer for all your wood projects.

Key Product Features:

  • Includes 1 gallon of INSL-X Waterborn Bonding Urethane Acrylic Primer for use on interior and exterior surfaces
  • Binds to “hard-to-coat” sleek or glossy surfaces
  • Compatibility with a variety of top coats
  • Dries quickly in low temperatures


  • Thin; requires full coverage or multiple coats
What customers have said about this product:

“I use this for cabinets, I m a professional painter, and haven’t been this excited about paint in awhile. very good product.” [sic]

“It is a little thinner than expected, but does a good job of creating a texture mask, and it adheres really really well to the melamine surface.”

Best Acrylic Paint Primer For Metal

We highly recommend Custom Shop’s High Build Acrylic Lacquer for metal and automotive surfaces.

Key Product Features:

  • Includes 1 gallon of Restoration Shop Custom Shop Series Premium High Build Acrylic Lacquer Primer Surfacer
  • Specialized for metal surfaces and industrial products


  • Very few customer reviews
What customers have said about this product:

“effortless sanding and affordable.” [sic]

Acrylic Paint Primer FAQs

What is an acrylic primer?

An acrylic paint primer is a substance used as a base layer to prep surfaces for an acrylic top coat or final layer of paint, optimizing adhesion for longevity and a desirable finish. There are universal or specialty varieties.

Do you need a primer with acrylic paint?

The answer to this question is almost always yes. It’s a good idea to invest your time and money towards a primer for your painting project, as most surfaces require some sort of prep. The necessitation of a primer could be due to glossy or non-porous surfaces, secretion of oils, tannins, textures, or a variety of other properties that interfere with the best performance, appearance, or durability of acrylic paints.

What kind of primer do you use for acrylic paint?

Acrylic primers will be your best choice for using with acrylic paint. Avoid oil-based primers for use with acrylic paint.

Acrylic Art World

Annick's passion has been painting with acrylics since her youth. She has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects, from simple acrylic painting to advanced techniques like acrylic pouring.

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