The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Paint

Unsure which paint is best for your project? Don’t skip the research. The type of paint you choose is just as important as the color and can have a major effect on the character of your room and the vibe you want to achieve. Read on to learn more about each type of paint — and potentially prevent a time- and money-consuming mistake.

Guide to Choosing the Right Paint

WATER-BASED PAINTS

The majority of wall paint sold today is water-based, primarily because of its ease of use. If your surface has been previously coated with an oil-based product, be cautious when switching to water-based paint as it may have trouble sticking. In this situation, Sherwin-Williams recommends washing the surface and then roughening it all over with a medium to smooth grit sandpaper—making it clean, dry, and dull in order to prevent peeling of the new coat.

For those instances when an oil-based paint would traditionally be preferable, but you desire a water-based product, a number of companies have introduced “waterborne enamels” or “waterborne alkyds.” These paints look and behave much like oil-based options because they have good leveling qualities for a smooth finish.

Advantages of water-based paints

  • doesn’t require a pre-treatment
  • no mildew growth
  • low VOCs (low levels of toxic emissions)
  • easy cleanup with water
  • quick drying
  • an elastic, flexible finish resistant to cracking
  • can be used on almost all surfaces
  • stable color over time, doesn’t yellow or fade in sunlight

OIL-BASED PAINTS

Oil-based paint can be used on almost all surfaces and is praised for its high durability and rich finish. Still, be cautious, as oil paint emits strong fumes that can be overwhelming, and the paint cannot be washed with water. If you choose oil paint, solvents like turpentine are necessary for washing brushes or other materials with unwanted paint on them.

Advantages of oil-based paints

  • attractive gloss
  • good for high-moisture rooms (ex. bathroom or kitchen)
  • longer dry time (good for making fixes)
  • good “leveling” (brush strokes fill themselves in to create a smooth finish)
  • hard, durable finish

PAINT FINISHES

Sheen options vary by manufacturer but share some common characteristics. As durability improves across all sheen levels with newer paints, many people are finding creative ways to mix and match them. “We’ve noticed that customers are becoming more experimental in their use of paint finish, to create real impact and texture within a scheme,” says Farrow & Ball Director Sarah Cole. “Try painting a stripe of full gloss on a matte wall in the same color to create a striking, textured look,” she suggests.

Matte paint:

  • is the least reflective sheen available
  • has a velvety texture
  • helps hides imperfections in walls and ceilings
  • offers great depth of color
  • is generally considered the standard sheen for walls
  • can sometimes be difficult to clean

Eggshell and satin paint (satin is slightly glossier than eggshell):

  • have some reflectivity
  • offer improved durability
  • are frequently used in demanding environments, like kitchens and bathrooms,
  • where easy cleanup without a highly glossy finish is desired

Semi-gloss and gloss paint:

  • great for kitchens, doors, window trim, accent walls, and bathrooms
  • are the most reflective sheens
  • are highly durable and stand up to multiple cleanings
  • are traditionally used on baseboards, moldings, and doors
  • can make a statement, but also highlight imperfections

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