Types of Paints: Paints explained


Many kinds of paint exist for different surface uses and finishes. Before we launch into how to paint, a brief outline of the types of paints available will help you decide which product is suitable for your particular decorating project.

Ultra matte

Description/ Uses

Water-based, very flat finish, slightly grainy emulsion. It is ideal for relatively new plaster surfaces, allowing the plaster to “breathe” and dry out.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Limited range of colors. Not as easy to clean because of the flat paint finish. Easy to apply. Low odor.

Matte

Description/ Uses

Water-based finish for ceiling and walls can be wiped or gently washed.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

More resistant than ultra-matte. Good range of colors, easy to apply. Low odor. Helps to hide surface imperfections.

Satin

Description/ Uses

Water-based finish for ceiling and walls with a sheen that can be wiped or washed easily. Useful in kitchens and bathrooms and higher “traffic” areas.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Cleans easily. Good range of colors, easy to apply. Low odor. Tends to show any surface imperfections. Particularly effective for showing up textures or relief pattern surfaces.

Semi-gloss

Description/ Uses

Water-based finish for ceiling and walls. It can be cleaned, but to a lesser extent than satin.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Same as satin.

Quick-drying eggshell finish, often containing a fungicide.

Description/ Uses

Water-based finish for ceiling and walls. Some brands can be used on woodwork. Useful for steam resistance and surfaces that take reasonable wear and tear.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Same as satin.

Eggshell finish (oil-based finish)

Description/ Uses

For ceilings, walls, and woodwork. Has a sheen. Suitable on surfaces that get a lot of wear and tear.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Hard-wearing. Reasonable color range. Not as easy to apply as above and is difficult to clean brushes/rollers. Most have a high odor. It will show surface imperfections.

High gloss finish (oil-based)

Description/ Uses

Used mainly on woodwork, but sometimes on ceiling and walls, where a resilient, hard-wearing finish is required.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Very hard-wearing. Good range of colors. Easily washable. Good depth of gloss and “flows out” well. Requires some skill to apply. High odor. Requires oil undercoat. Equipment/brushes require cleaning out with mineral spirits.

Quick-drying gloss (water-based)

Description/ Uses

Used mainly on woodwork, but sometimes on ceilings and walls.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Easy to apply and quick drying. Good range of colors, wipeable. Low odor. Equipment can be washed out with water. Gloss is not as high as oil; it does not flow out as well.

Undercoat (oil-based)

Description/ Uses

Used on woodwork, ceilings, and walls beneath oil-based gloss or eggshell finishes.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Easy to apply. Covers previously painted surfaces easily. High odor. Requires mineral spirits as a thinner and brush cleaner.

Undercoat (water-based)

Description/ Uses

Used on woodwork, ceilings, and walls. Used mainly beneath water-based finishes.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Easy to apply. Low odor. Previously painted surfaces need to be “flatted” well to provide a key.

“Non-drip” jelly paint

Description/ Uses

Sometimes referred to as “thixotropic” paints, these are usually glossed paints with an oil base.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Reasonable range of colors. Easy to apply. Brush marks tend not to flow out as easily as traditional oil gloss.

UPVC paint (water-based)

Description/ Uses

Used for painting aging and greying plastic window frames and fascias.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Quick-drying and easy to apply. It can contain a fungicide. Brushes can be cleaned with water. Short recoat time 4–6 hours.

Plaster sealer (water-based)

Description/ Uses

Intended for dry, porous, and powdery surfaces.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Dries quickly; touch-dry 3–4 hours. Recoat time 6–8 hours. Low odor. Brushes can be cleaned with water. Needs to be thoroughly dry before recoating. It should not be used to cover stains.

Plaster sealer (oil-based)

Description/ Uses

Used on surfaces as above.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

It is suitable under an oil-based system. Slower drying than water-based and higher odor. Brushes have to be cleaned with mineral spirits.

Texturing paint (water-based)

Description/ Uses

Thick matte finish, sometimes self-colored (white). Used on ceiling and walls with texturing tools.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Ideal for rough or uneven surfaces or to hide cracks. Cleans out with water. Various patterns can be applied. Not that easy to apply as only a workable amount can be laid in and textured at one time; porous surfaces first require a sealer coat (special water-based material). Finishes tend to have sharp edges and collect dust easily.

Masonry paint (oil- or water-based)

Description/ Uses

Smooth finish or granular. Used mainly on exterior work on most types of masonry as a decorative protective coating.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Specially formulated to adhere to cement rendering and masonry. Offers good weather protection. Reasonable color range, low odor. The water-based varieties are vulnerable to the weather when still wet and can be affected by rain or frost. The oil-based type brushes are washed in mineral spirits.

Special-Purpose Paints and Primers

Alkali-resistant primer

Based on tung oil.

Description/ Uses

Helps to prevent efflorescence (alkaline salts) from coming through a paint system.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Slow drying. Only effective where the basic cause of salts (dampness) has been rectified.

Stain block primer

Usually water-based. Used mainly on ceilings and sometimes on walls.

Description/ Uses

Low odor. Relatively easy to apply. Effective against stains such as “pattern staining” (see page), providing that the surface is cleaned first.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Has to dry out thoroughly before further coatings are applied. May need more than one application.

Stain block primer (aerosol)

Synthetic solvent-based paint. Used as above.

Description/ Uses

Quick-drying. More than one application can be applied quite quickly. Effective against stains as above.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Inflammable. Nearby surfaces may require masking off against over-spray.

Damp-resisting paint

Usually based on chlorinated rubber.

Description/ Uses

Useful over areas that have been affected by dampness, providing that the basic cause of dampness has been remedied.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Very high odor. It cannot be easy to apply. Not easy to clean brushes/rollers, requiring special thinner. Low spreading rate.

Wood primer (oil)

Essential as the first coat on new or old bare wood, underneath an oil-based system (undercoat and gloss).

Description/ Uses

Suitable for most woods. Relatively easy to apply. Forms a good bond with most types of wood.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Slight odor. Brushes have to be cleaned out with mineral spirits or propriety brush cleaner.

Wood primer (water-based)

Used on most types of wood. Best used under a water-based paint system.

Description/ Uses

Low odor. Easy to apply. Brushes can be cleaned out in the water.

Description/ Uses

Not suitable for some oily or resinous woods. It may not penetrate the wood to the same degree as an oil-based product.

Fire-retardant paint

Usually, synthetic bases often referred to as “intumescing” coatings, are designed to bubble up and form a protective layer when on fire.

Description/ Uses

Effectively forms a “blanket” coat against fire. Cuts down the “flame spread” and combustibility rate of surfaces.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

It could be expensive. Relatively high odor. Limited color range.

Floor and ceramic tile paint

Synthetic finish formulated to adhere well to stone, concrete, and ceramic tiles.

Description/ Uses

Covers well. Dries fairly quickly.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Limited color range. Usually requires a special thinner.

Fungicidal paint

It may be oil- or water-based. Used on problem areas where black mildew has been present.

Description/ Uses

Water-based dries quite quickly and is easy to apply.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Oil-based has a higher odor than water-based. The surface requires cleaning first, and ideally, a fungicidal wash is applied. Recommend protective gloves.

Blackboard paint (oil-based)

An absolute matte black finish intended for chalkboards.

Description/ Uses

Quick-drying, covers well.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Some odor. Requires mineral spirits to clean out brushes.

Heat-resisting paint (synthetic base)

Intended as a finish, usually gloss. Used on surfaces that get very hot.

Description/ Uses

Does not discolor easily. Tends to be quite thick to apply and may require heat to help it dry.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Limited color range. Some odor. It may require special thinners to clean out brushes.

Cellulose finish (cellulose-based)

Intended as a hard-wearing finish on metal (usually gloss). Used mainly on cars, applied by spray gun or as aerosols.

Description/ Uses

Very hard-wearing. Reasonable color range.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Not usually brushable. Requires skill to apply. Needs cellulose thinners. Usually, a spray gun is needed.

Lacquers (synthetic base)

Intended as hard-wearing finishes on wood or metal.

Description/ Uses

Very hard-wearing.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Not easy to apply. Limited color range.

Aluminum wood primer (oil-based)

Contains aluminum pigment in granular form. For use on many types of wood.

Description/ Uses

Adheres well to wood and forms a “barrier coating” over certain oily or resinous woods.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Not too easy to “cover” with subsequent coats of white undercoats.

Metallic paint finishes (oil- or lacquer-based)

Description/ Uses

Many metallic finishes have a pigment with “leafing” quality, which gives good obliterating power and a shiny finish.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

High odor. Requires special thinners.

Metal Primers

These products adhere well to ferrous metals, such as iron and steel, or non-ferrous metals, such as aluminum, copper, and brass.

General all-purpose metal primer (oil-based)

It can be applied to most ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Description/ Uses

Very versatile; for use on iron and steel, aluminum, copper, etc.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

It can require a long drying time. Needs to be completely dry before further coatings can be applied. Intended under oil-based paints.

Quick-drying acrylic metal primer (water-based)

For use on new bright or weathered galvanized metal.

Description/ Uses

Quick-drying 2–4 hours, recoatable after 6 hours. Low odor. Brushes can be cleaned out with water.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Not recommended on heated surfaces or where there is high humidity and condensation.

Red lead primer (oil-based)

For use on iron and steel.

Description/ Uses

Gives good protection.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Slow-drying. The dark color may be difficult to obliterate. Brush marks may not flow out easily.

Metal primer, red lead (water-based)

Description/ Uses

Quicker drying than traditional red lead. Easy to brush on and flows out evenly.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Not suitable on heated metal surfaces and non-ferrous metals.

Chromate metal primer (synthetic base)

Used on ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

Description/ Uses

Versatile primer can be used on iron and steel or aluminum and aluminum alloys. It is easier to cover than red lead, as it is lighter colored (gray-green). It can be used on heated surfaces.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Slow-drying. Some odor. Brushes need thinners or mineral spirits.

Calcium plumbate metal primer (synthetic base contains lead)

For application to new, untreated galvanized iron/steel.

Description/ Uses

Eliminates the need for pre-etching treatment. Light-colored, cream. It can be used on wood and metal, useful where both metal and wood exist together, such as in some types of window frames.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Slow-drying. Some odor. Brushes need thinners or mineral spirits.

Twin-pack etching primer (synthetic base)

For use on untreated aluminum and intended as a pre-treatment under a suitable primer (not as a primer in itself).

Description/ Uses

Ensuring good adhesion of subsequent primers and following coatings. Light-colored (pale yellow).

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Needs to be fully dry, at least 12–16 hours before recoating. Some odor. Two parts must be mixed and have limited “pot life” once mixed. Requires special thinners.

Single-pack etching primer (synthetic base)

For sealing zinc and aluminum metal-sprayed steel. Used mainly on-site as a metal treatment before priming.

Description/ Uses

The simple way of sealing on-site sprayed metal surfaces.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Highly flammable, low flash point. Needs to be fully dry as above. Needs special thinners. Still requires priming. Not intended for normal household use.

Micaceous iron oxide (oil-based)

High-build thick coating for use primarily on steelwork.

Description/ Uses

Offers long-lasting protection against corrosion. It can be used as a finishing coat in some cases.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Slightly colored, textured finish; is more suitable for heavy steel structures. Slow-drying. Mineral spirits are needed for brush cleaning. Has an odor.

Bituminous paints

The protective coating is often used on iron and steel.

Description/ Uses

Resistant to moisture. Very protective, flexible coat.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Some odor. Can cause “bleeding” to subsequent paint coatings. Limited color range, such as dull reds and browns, aluminum, dark gray, and black. Brushes need special thinners.

Bituminous coatings (black)

Description/ Uses

General-purpose weatherproof finish for surfaces such as metal, concrete, etc. Ideal for surfaces in contact with drinking water.

Advantages/ Disadvantages

Some odor. Slow-drying. Brushes require thinners. If applied over existing paint, it can soften it. Bleeding (staining) can occur. Limited color range (dull reds and browns).

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