A primer on where to use different types and finishes of paint.
Types of paint
Oil paint is made up of small pigment particles that are suspended in oil. This type of paint emits fumes and is difficult to clean up, usually requiring paint thinner or solvent. It has a long drying time and provides a hard and durable finish. In the past, oil paint was used exclusively in high-traffic areas inside the home as well as for exterior applications. Today, it is rarely used for interior painting as latex paint now accounts for 80 to 90 per cent of all paint sold. Oil paint is being phased out by many paint companies and painters.
Alkyd paint is an oil-modified resin that dries faster, harder and more evenly than oil. It is easy to apply and moderately priced. However, an exterior alkyd will show poorer gloss and colour retention than a latex exterior paint and will tend to yellow over time. Although the fumes from some alkyd paints are odourless, they are toxic and flammable until the surface has dried.
Latex paint is water-thinned, and can therefore be cleaned up with water, unlike other paints that require harsh chemicals to fix mistakes or clean brushes. It is a popular choice because of its quick drying time and ability to easily cover up one colour with another.
Low-VOC paint is a latex paint that contains lower amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC) than regular latex. VOCs are what cause that freshly-painted smell (and the headaches, itchy eyes and poor indoor air quality that goes with it). Low-VOC paints are low-odour, quick drying, hard-wearing and made by all the major paint brands. Keep in mind that low-VOC paint may still contain other solvents and additives and shouldn’t be washed down the drain.
The sheen or surface finish of paint affects the way a paint colour looks and performs over time. While some paint companies have developed their own terminology for their finishes, there are several general terms that you’ll notice when shopping for paint:
Gloss or high-gloss enamel is very shiny and will seem brighter than other finishes. The extra shine makes it easy to wash. It is best suited to areas that get soiled quickly such as banisters, railings, trim, kitchen cabinets and windowsills. But the higher the gloss, the more surface imperfections will be accentuated. Therefore, proper surface preparation is key when using a gloss paint. Extremely high-gloss finishes are only available in alkyd paints.
Semi-gloss paint will provide just enough sheen for contrast with a flat-finished surface. It is the preferred choice for high-traffic areas because it is washable and will not show imperfections as much as a high-gloss finish. Semi-gloss paints are non-yellowing and are ideal for use in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, childrens’ rooms, as well as for doors, woodwork and trim.
Eggshell paint has a slightly flatter sheen than semi-gloss, but is not as matte as flat paint. It is suited to residential use, on walls in high-traffic areas where finger marks are likely to appear. It is most often used on trim and baseboard moulding as well as on kitchen cabinets. Eggshell is also called satin.
Flat paints create a rich, soft-looking finish. Flat paints are generally used on walls and ceilings and are best suited to low-traffic areas where little washing is required. Flat paints will also hide surface imperfections well. Some paint manufacturers refer to their flat paint as “matte” finish.
Flat or eggshell enamel will provide a matte lustre similar to flat acrylic, but can be used on washable surfaces.