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How to Choose the Right Type of Paint For Any Surface

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Choosing the right paint for your home or business is a lot more involved than just finding the perfect paint color for your space. Different paint, primer, and sheen exists for different surfaces, rooms, and preferences. 

We’ve compiled all you need to know about these different paint types as you begin the painting process for your home or commercial property!


Paint types: A story of oil and water

Water-based paint

While not as long-lasting or durable as other options, water-based paint is a low-maintenance option that looks stunning for interior paint jobs. It’s also easier to clean up, dries quickly, emits less noxious fumes, and works great with unfinished drywall so is a popular option with new home construction.

Best for: 

  • Interior surfaces
  • Less fussy projects 
  • When durability or longevity is not a concerns 
  • When there is not good ventilation
  • Drywall


Oil-based paint

A durable, long-lasting option, oil-based paints are built to stand the test of time in your home. While oil-based paint is harder to maintain and trickier to apply, it hides stains well and is extremely reliable. It’s perfect for trim and will be capable of standing up to abuse over the years.

Beware: it does not dry as quickly as other options and lets out more noxious fumes. If you can deal with this during the painting process however, you will be rewarded with a beautiful paint job.

Best for: 

  • Exterior or interior surfaces
  • Lasting long 
  • Painting trim 
  • Heavily stained surfaces 
  • Tannin-rich woods
  • Metals that can rust


Latex-based paint

Not to be confused with water-based paint, latex paint is a great exterior paint option as it holds up beautifully to direct sunlight. It also dries quickly and allows for an easier painting process. Latex paint is versatile and excels with all types of building materials, even masonry and concrete! 

Best for: 

  • Exterior surfaces and occasionally indoor surfaces
  • When you need a quick drying paint
  • All buildings materials, including masonry and metal
  • When a surface will be in direct sunlight


Prime time

It’s important before any paint job to set a foundation for success. With a professional and high-quality paint job, that means using primer.

Primer is a special type of paint that is applied before traditional paint. This layer not only makes the paint job look much nicer, but ensures a longer-lasting paint job by ensuring that the paint adequately adheres to the painting surface.

Primer also seals porous surfaces, masks any repairs that were done, and creates a uniform look on your walls.


Oil-based primer

A primer that’s been used for decades, oil-based primer is versatile and works with a variety of paint types, including oil-based and latex-based paints. It works great for untreated wood and for heavily stained surfaces.

Much like oil-based paint, it is slow-drying and releases some volatile organic compounds. It also requires more equipment maintenance and must be disposed of adequately. 

Best for:

  • Interior or exterior surfaces
  • Heavily stained surfaces
  • Tannin-heavy wood such as cedar or redwood
  • Unfinished or bare wood 
  • Steel or metal 


Latex-based primer 

A favorite for preparing unfinished drywall, latex-based paint is a quicker-drying, less-finicky primer. It’s also less brittle than oil-based primer and does not peel or crack as easily. While it can cover light stains, unlike oil-based primers it has a harder time covering up heavy stains on surfaces.

Best for:

  • Interior or exterior surfaces
  • Unfinished drywall
  • Soft wood such as pine 
  • Concrete or brick
  • Galvanized metals
  • When adequate ventilation is not available when painting


Shellac primer 

Used for centuries, shellac primer is a workhorse primer. It’s best used to cover up major stains on surfaces and covering tannin-heavy woods. While durable, much caution must be used when using shellac primer as it gives off many fumes. It also requires strict maintenance of tools after use for safety.

Best for: 

  • Interior projects
  • The heavies of stained surfaces, including smoke damage
  • Heavy-tannin wood
  • Metal
  • Plastic or plaster
  • Surfaces with water, rust, or smoke stains 


Paint sheen options

Paint sheen refers to the glossiness of your paint. While much of this comes down to personal preference, different sheens will work best in different rooms and uses in your home.

Generally, sheen is most often considered with interior walls. Below, we’ve detailed the most common sheen from least to most “shiny.”

  • Flat: A low-cost option, flat sheen should only be used in low-traffic areas of your home, such as a spare bedroom, ceilings, or an infrequently used closet. While it’s not durable, it does still look great and provides a subtle finish to interior walls.
  • Eggshell: A more versatile sheen, eggshell works great for more trafficked areas. Perfect for dining rooms and living rooms, this sheen offers a beautiful matte looking finish while still offering the ability to wipe clean. This is one of the most popular sheens given the versatility.
  • Semi-gloss: Perfect for high-traffic areas in your home, semi-gloss paint sheen can stand up to some abuse. It’s a favorite for kitchens and bathrooms. Appearing somewhat shiny, semi-gloss paint dries hard and is a beautiful looking, durable paint. It also lasts longer than less-glossy options!  
  • Gloss: The most durable and easiest to maintain paint sheen, gloss paint is great if scrubbing is needed and is a versatile option for wood surfaces such as trim, doors, and cabinets. Not the best option for walls, as it accentuates imperfections and reflects light at a high rate.


Don’t overthink painting your home. Call Bluenote Painting

At Bluenote Painting, we’ve helped residential and commercial clients choose the perfect paint for their homes or businesses for years. We’ll meet and discuss the goals you have for your project, recommending the perfect paint for your space. Our experienced, professional painters will then complete your exterior or interior painting job on your schedule.

Contact us today to request your free quote and get your project started.

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