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Fill all holes, even small ones
You might assume that new paint will hide tiny dents and scratches, but it won’t. In fact, the new coat of paint highlights minor flaws. Fill dents less than 1/8 in. deep with spackling compound. For deeper holes, use a two-part filler or an epoxy wood filler. It’s more of a hassle to use and you usually end up throwing away a lot of partially hardened filler (mix small batches), but the patch will be hard enough to take a lot of abuse without falling out.
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Prime the entire door before painting
Unless the old paint is in perfect condition, you should prime before painting. Primer blocks stains, mutes dark colors and helps new paint stick better. It also seals porous fillers so the topcoat looks smooth and even. Avoid spot priming—it will make the topcoat of paint look blotchy. If you’re covering a color or painting on a new color (anything other than white), use a gray-tinted primer instead of a white primer.
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Search for flaws after priming
Minor flaws in your patching job are hard to see on an old painted surface, but they’ll show up much better after a fresh coat of primer. After the primer dries, check the door again with a strong light. Cover any flaws with more spackling compound, then sand and reprime these areas with the same roller or brush, feathering the edges so the additional primer blends in.