Shellac Based Primer Review – What to use?

Updated May 23, 2024 | Posted Apr 4, 2020 | Product Reviews, Paints | 4 comments

Shellac based primers (made by beetles and used to decorate the fingernails of women) are all designed for the same purpose. They adhere to problem surfaces and block out stains. There was a time when Zinsser BIN was the only product worth looking at.

However, in the last few years Coo-Var, Hilton Banks and Smith & Roger have all brought out their own versions. But which is the best shellac based primer? I thought I’d put together a quick shellac based primer review for each of the three main brands to help you decide what to buy.

First of all, let’s look at what you might use a shellac based primer for. You can use them as an adhesion primer for painting over old varnish, stain, plastic, existing oil-based paint, metal and ceramic tiles. You can also use shellac to block out knot bleeds on previously painted timber. Priming bare timber is another use, although there are easier products on the market that are up to the task. The last problem shellac based primers solve is stubborn stains which would otherwise bleed through your paint finish. These include water marks, grease, permanent pen, graffiti, nicotine and basically anything else.


Shellac based primers are generally not used as a finish coat. You use them to solve a problem before painting over it. They wreck brushes so buy cheap then throw away. You can’t use them for large exterior areas because, even though shellac is tough as old boots, it dries brittle and can’t flex.

Anyway, let’s get into the reviews


Zinsser BIN Primer Review


Zinsser BIN needs to be the benchmark, simply because it is the brand leader and BIN was the first shellac based primer on the British market. Touch dry in 10 minutes and you can recoat in 15 – 20 minutes which makes it the ideal product for blocking out stains when using emulsion. It is probably slightly more condensed than the other two and a bit harder to use.

A massive plus point is you can buy Zinsser BIN in aerosol form which is brilliant for stop priming stains. Another plus point is you can buy Zinsser brush restorer which is designed to help you rejuvenate your brushes after use in BIN. The price per litre is around the £35 mark. Zinsser Aerosol is around £25. You can buy all these products online by clicking here, or at any good trade counter.


Coo-Var Prime All Review


Coo-Var were the next paint manufacturer to have a crack at a shellac based primer. You will find it side by side with Zinsser BIN at Crown Decorating Centres nationwide. This product is a little bit looser and easier to use than Zinsser BIN, so probably the easier choice for bare timber. It is cheaper as well at around £25 per litre. This does not come with brush restorer so go cheap and throw away when it comes to tools. I’d say CooVar Prime-all is a better shellac paint than Zinsser BIN. I know it isn’t as readily available, but the opacity and ease of use are better.

They do a sprayable version called Stain Lock which is amazing on things like MDF or varnished trim.


Smith and Roger Blockade Primer Review


Smith and Roger were the next player to have a crack at a shellac-based primer. Again, I’m going to use Zinsser BIN as the benchmark. Blockade is probably slightly easier to use again and doesn’t clog your brushes us quite as quickly. It doesn’t spray as well though. Although I have used this paint, I haven’t really used it for prolonged periods, so I can’t comment too much on the performance. Blockade is available online at TopDec Brush.


PS1 – Primer, Sealer, Stain Block Review


This is the daddy of shellac-based primers!! The opacity is so much better than anything else I’ve used. It goes on a lot nicer too, no horrible brush marks and it’s easier to keep a wet edge. The adhesion of all these products is roughly the same, but PS1 does stand out in every other department. Click here for more info.


Best Tools to Apply Shellac-Based Primer


I thought I’d include a little section on the best tools to apply shellac-based primer. It can be quite a sticky product, so a lint-free mini-roller and a stiff paintbrush are essential. However, even if you use Zinsser Brush Cleaner (which we’d highly recommend, and you can find by clicking here), your tools won’t last long. So, it makes sense to use tools that can handle the application of shellac-based paints, but don’t cost a lot of money.

We suggest using Hamilton For The Trade Brushes. These are cheap, hold plenty of paint, and don’t leave horrible brush marks. Click here to see current prices.

As for the roller. I’m going to suggest Two Fussy Blokes, which are also perfect for applying water-based satinwood and gloss. Click here to see current prices.




What do you use shellac primer for?

Shellac-based primer is used to block stains, odour, and knot bleed when painting.


What is the difference between shellac and water-based primer?

It is possible to get a water-based shellac primer, although there are none available in the UK as far as I’m aware. Water-based is generally easier to use compared to the shellac primers on the market now. You can also use it outside, whereas you can’t with shellac. However, the grip and stain blocking power of shellac is second to none.


Can you put water-based paint over shellac primer?

You can go over shellac primer with almost any paint, including most water-based products. Just avoid using cheap retail emulsion and contract matt and you should be fine.


Can you use a roller with shellac primer?

Yes! In fact, it’s easier to apply this paint with a roller than it is with a brush. However, you do need to ensure you’re using a good quality paint roller that doesn’t shed. Otherwise, you’ll het bits in your paint because shellac is very sticky.


What are the cons of shellac primer?

You can’t use shellac primer on exterior wood because it’s very brittle. It’s also very difficult to apply shellac-based primer because it’s quite sticky.


Do you sand after shellac primer?

Maybe a quick de-nib, but nothing more. You don’t want to break the paint seal, particularly if you used shellac to block a stain.


Can Zinsser BIN be used as an undercoat?

Zinsser BIN can be used as an undercoat, and it’s a good choice if you’re using satinwood or eggshell as a topcoat. That said, I think you’ll achieve much better results if you opt for Zinsser BIN Aqua instead.


How do you clean a brush after shellac primer?

Use methylated sprit to clean painting tools after using shellac-based primers. However, it’s still a pain. I’d recommend using cheap tools and then throwing them away after use.




It’s all the chuffing same stuff!! There are some minor differences, but they do the same job in the same amount of time. If you’re spraying its worth having the Coo-Var stain lock. It is worth having some Zinsser brush restorer knocking around because it works for all four shellac based primers anyway. The Zinsser BIN aerosol is amazing too. Other than that, just get whatever is cheapest, unless of course you can get your hands on PS1.

If you’re getting the Zinsser aerosol and brush restorer anyway, grab the Zinsser BIN. Honestly though, just follow one of the links above and get something ordered.

Updated May 23, 2024 | Posted Apr 4, 2020 | 4 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Gregory is a Professional Painter and Decorator who works in the Northwest of England. He mainly sub-contracts for large decorating firms and works on a wide variety of projects.


  1. richard

    Johnsones make their own shellac primer it’s around half the price of BIN.
    It’s a little thinner but seems fine to me.
    Separate note the water based Johnsones stainaway does a lot of the uses of Shellac primer, great doing ceilings etc less mess smell and works.

  2. Ian McAslan

    Thanks for the review Mike. Since then we’ve brought out an aerosol which is proving really popular. No clogging and great coverage. Also NO smell!!!

  3. Marko Merpovich

    It was helpful for me. I received a number of advantages that I can use for my employment. But first I have a residency personal statement edit because I intend to go to college This has a number of advantages that save my time and nerves

  4. Rechelmike

    As a resume writer in Canada, I worked in an office with walls painted using shellac-based primer. It created an impressive atmosphere, blocking out stubborn stains and ensuring a smooth paint finish. Shellac-based primers are an excellent choice for any company’s walls, enhancing the overall ambiance.


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