What types of paint are there?
Water-based paints, also known as acrylic latex, contain a plastic resin, which makes them a popular choice for walls thanks to lower VOCs and easy clean up. Alternatively, oil-based paints are smellier and take longer to dry, but they are more durable and go on smoother, making them popular for molding, cabinets, and furniture.
Whatever you do, don’t mix the two formulations. “The latex paint will eventually peel off if used on top of an oil-based paint,” says David Steckel, home expert at home-management platform Thumbtack, noting that older homes tend to have oil-based paint throughout and will need the same type of paint unless you are using a special bonding primer.
When possible, aim for the most premium paint. “Higher-priced paint is more finely pigmented and has high-grade resins, which helps the paint stick better and require fewer coats,” Steckel says. “Entry-level paint, on the other hand, uses large pigments and more solvents.”
When and why do you need a primer?
A room (with no damage or stains) that needs a color refresh, ideally in the same color family, doesn’t require much prep, making paint-and-primer paint formulations the easy and economic, option. Products like HGTV Home® by Sherwin-Williams’ Infinity Paint & Primer require only one coat, making it a dream for weekend warriors who need to tackle a paint job in hours.
If your walls have seen better days, primer is a must. “It’s specifically designed to allow the adhesion of a top coat of paint to bare wood or drywall, or anytime you’ve used spackling to repair damage,” Steckel says. “People also forget that primer is sandable, whereas paint is not.”
Switching from a dark interior to a light one does require a solid coat of primer to keep the old color from seeping through. In the reverse situation, tint the primer gray or with a hue of the top coat to achieve the most accurate color match, Steckel advises.
To keep stains from resurfacing, research a primer specific to your problem—rust, water, smoke, grease, and odors all have their nemesis. A pigmented shellac works great as a primer on a surface with old wallpaper residue, Jensen suggests.
What is sheen and how do you choose one?
Color alone won’t make an impact—leave that to the paint’s sheen, or the finish that reflects light based on its glossiness. While some finishes are self-explanatory—flat paint always means no shine, high gloss means all shine—manufacturers may have nuanced differences when it comes to in-between finishes like eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss, Purple Cherry points out.
The dull finish of flat, or matte, paint was once relegated to ceilings, mostly because it helps hide imperfections and is out of grimy fingers’ reach. But the ultra-flat finishes are making their way to both walls and millwork. “Allowing the walls and wood to look unfinished, rather than lacquered, gives a softness,” Jensen adds.
Steckel recommends it for rooms with plenty of direct sunlight, as matte paint includes a bit of texture up close. Just remember, it’s no friend to high-traffic commotion that can mark up walls. If you’re set on this muted sheen, Steckel suggests matte enamel finish that’s less prone to marking but is similar visually.