Pick the Perfect Paint for Your Project!
So, you’re getting ready to start a painting job, and you are about to go to the home improvement store to pick out your paint. You have an idea what color you want, but what about choosing a type of paint and finish? Ever feel overwhelmed by the myriad of paint choices at your home improvement store? Do you want oil or latex paint? Eggshell, semi-gloss, flat, or gloss? What is the difference, anyway? And then there is the age-old question of whether to prime or not to prime. Is primer even necessary? Well, here we will explain the various types of paint and their differences, so that you can walk confidently in to your local home improvement store and ask for exactly the right paint for your job, get out of there and get to painting!
Types of Paint
Oil vs. Latex
Generally speaking, latex (water-based) paint is used almost exclusively in all home applications today. Latex paints have improved so much over the years that the benefits of using latex paint in areas where oil paint was formerly used pretty much outweigh any benefits to using oil-based (alkyd) paint. Oil paint can still be used for areas requiring a sheen or gloss, such as cabinetry, trim work, and floors, however, specially formulated latex paint for these areas works just as well and is less costly, easier to clean up, and quicker to dry. Therefore, See Jane Drill recommends using latex paint for most home projects, unless you are a very experienced painter and simply prefer to use oil paint.
To Prime or Not to Prime
Probably you are wondering if you REALLY need to use a primer, and the answer is, well, yes, most of the time. Primer creates the right surface for the topcoat(s) of paint to lay down properly and to adhere, and creates a superior finished look. It is generally well worth it to use a primer, and depending upon the surface you are painting and quality of the topcoat paint that you are using, you may only need to use one topcoat of paint after priming. An exception to this rule is if you are painting over a painted surface that is in good shape, and you are using a color that is fairly close to the color of the surface you are painting over. In this case, it is fine to skip the primer step.
Paint comes in a variety of finishes with different amounts of sheen. Sheen means the amount of glossiness in the paint finish when it is dry. There are advantages and disadvantages to using different paint finishes, and different finishes work better for different areas of the home. Here is a quick “cheat-sheet” to help you choose the perfect paint finish.
Has the lowest amount of sheen.
Works best for: Interior walls and ceilings, particularly those that have many imperfections.
Not a Good Choice for: Areas where there is moisture and high traffic, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
Advantages & Disadvantages: Covers imperfections very well. Is very easy to touch up later on. Is generally not very washable. If it is scrubbed regularly, over time it will develop an odd-looking sheen
Similar to flat, except has slightly more sheen to it.
Works best for: Living room, bedroom, dining room walls
Not a Good Choice for: Kitchens, bathrooms
Advantages & Disadvantages: Is easy to maintain, as it is generally both washable and easy to touch up. Not a great choice for high-moisture areas.
The least glossy of the gloss paints, it has just a slightly glossy finish
Works best for: High-traffic areas of the home, such as kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, family room, children’s playrooms, and woodwork
Not a good choice for: Any areas with visible imperfections in the walls, as it doesn’t cover imperfections as well as flat or eggshell paint
Advantages & Disadvantages: Is easy to keep clean, as it is washable. However it is not so easy to touch up, as is the case with most gloss paints.
Works best for: Trim work, molding, cabinets, kitchens & bathrooms. Also a good choice for exterior paint.
Not a good choice for: Living room, bedroom, and other non-kitchen or bath walls.
Advantages & Disadvantages: Provides great coverage for smooth surfaces such as finished wood surfaces. However, not great for any surfaces which aren’t smooth, as the glossier the paint, the more it shows the imperfections.
Works best for: Trim, molding, cabinets, wood work, and any surfaces that are very smooth.
Not a good choice for: Walls
Advantages and Disadvantages: Very washable and durable, can be scrubbed very well. However, the surface is very difficult to touch up.
There are a variety of specialty finishes available on the market today, such as kitchen & bath paint, floor paint and metal paint. These paints are formulated especially for the designated areas. For instance, kitchen & bath paints are especially helpful at inhibiting the growth of moisture-based fungus. Floor paints are generally oil-based (here is an exception where oil-based paint is actually preferred) and the paint is extremely hard-wearing and durable.
Keep these tips in mind, and you will always pick the perfect paint for your project!
For more great painting tips, check out the following videos:
- Have you ever wondered how experienced painters can paint perfect lines up against woodwork without using painter’s tape? Well, you can too! Watch this video, and you will never need to use painter’s tape or masking tape again! We show you how to cut a straight line in this quick video: Painting Walls Tip: How to Cut In
- Got a large area to paint and need to get a 5-gallon can open? Check out this quick and easy way to save your fingernails! Quick Tip to Remove Lid from 5 Gallon Paint Bucket
- Drastically increase your painting speed with this easy-to-use and inexpensive tool: Use a Paint Grid to Paint a Room Faster
You Can Do This!
by See Jane Drill, Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved
A situation not covered is: What sort of paint are you painting over? If it’s oil-based paint, re-coat with oil-based paint. I found this out the hard way. I live in a house that was built in 1939 and latex probably wasn’t an option then. There are ways to test whether the existing paint is oil or water based.
Hi Brette, You raise a valid issue, and it’s one that many people who live in older homes will encounter. To find out the most definitive answer on how to deal with existing oil pant, I checked with the painter’s union (IUPAT), and this was their answer: “The key is proper surface preparation and the use of an adhesion promoting primer”. So, using a suitable primer is the best way to go. Thanks for writing. -Leah
Super helpful! Thanks for the info.