All About the Different Types of Paint

Get answers to the most common paint questions and learn which kind of paint should be used on a variety of different surfaces.
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Color Your Home

Paint is the easiest and most effective way to make a major change in your home. The key to a great paint job comes in the prep. Take time to patch, clean and dust all paint surfaces before you begin. Also, be sure to let each coat fully dry before applying the next coat.

When Is Primer a Must?

The most important coat of paint is not the last coat, but the first. It is a safe bet your walls will benefit from a coat of primer before you change colors, especially if you’re going over a darker color or if it’s been a few years since you’ve painted. Primer is a must if you are painting a bare surface like new drywall that has never been painted before.

Go Big on Primer

Don't skimp on the primer: A generous coat will provide a good base for paint to grab on and stick to. Use a tinted primer, and it will make the job easier and you'll be less likely to have uneven spots on your walls. Also, if you've used joint compound to patch holes and dents, primer is a must to prevent it from bleeding through the paint.

What's the Difference Between Water-Based and Latex Paint?

For interior walls and ceilings, water-based paint is your best option. Sometimes the terms water-based and latex paint are used interchangeably. They shouldn't be. Some latex paints are water-based, but some are still chemical based. Years ago, they were rubber-based — hence the name latex. Check the label to find out for sure.

Water or Oil?

Water-based paint is less toxic and easier to clean up than oil-based paint. Besides, oil-based paints have been banned in some parts of the country because they don't play well with the environment. So what to use on furniture and cabinets? Use water-based paint, but the trick is to seal it with a good water-based polyurethane to protect the finish and provide a high-gloss look.

How Do I Tell What Type of Paint Is on My Wall?

To tell whether your current wall color is water- or oil-based, douse a white cloth with rubbing alcohol and rub it on the wall (in an out-of-the-way spot). If the paint softens and begins to transfer onto the cloth, it is water based. If the alcohol does not remove any color, it is oil based. In older homes, trim, windows and doors were usually done in oil-based paint. But if you try to paint over an oil-based surface with a water-based paint, the paint will come right off, so use primer!

What Is Sheen?

Sheen is the amount of gloss or shininess in the paint. The higher the sheen, the more vivid the color will appear and the more durable the finish.

Matte or Flat

Matte or flat paint has a smooth finish with little or no shine. It absorbs light instead of reflecting it. If your walls have some imperfections, flat paint is going to be your best friend. But a flat finish can suffer damage more easily than other finishes and it can also be harder to clean so it may have to be touched up more often. Flat paint is most often used on walls and ceilings. Some paint manufacturers make a special version for ceilings that is designed to roll on with little splatter.


Eggshell has a velvety sheen and is easier to clean than flat paint. It is a great middle-of-the-road option between flat and gloss. It gives a flatter look than glossy paint, but still provides a hard-wearing and protective coating.


Satin paint has a silky, pearl-like finish that is stain-resistant. It creates a protective shell that resists moisture and mildew so it works well in kitchens, bathrooms, and high-traffic areas like hallways and mudrooms.


Semigloss finishes are sleek, radiant and have a high resistance to moisture. They reflect light to make walls and furniture shiny. It is good for cabinets, doors, windows and molding because it is easy to clean off fingerprint smudges and dirt marks like the kind a pet will leave when they rub against a doorway.


High-gloss is very durable and easy to clean. Its glass-like finish makes it good for trim, cabinets, fireplaces and furniture. But beware: high-gloss will not hide blemishes or flaws; in fact, it may make them more evident. If you're going for a formal, glamorous look, high-gloss can be exquisite on walls, but make sure the walls are perfectly smooth; otherwise every ripple and dimple will show through. To get an even finish, apply a skim coat to the walls before painting.

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