Paint Glossary: All About Paint, Color and Tools

Learn what type of paint to use, which tools will work best and the basics for picking color schemes.

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All About Paint

Latex Paint: Often called "acrylic latex" because it contains a plastic resin made of acrylics or polyvinyls to help it adhere better (see Water-Based Paint).

Oil-Based Paint: Commonly used on molding, cabinets and furniture. It provides a protective coating and creates a smoother finish than water-based paint.

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.

Primer: Used to seal bare surfaces and provide a base for paint to grab on to. If you've spackled your walls, priming is a must to prevent the spackle from bleeding through the paint. Use water-based primer on new drywall, previously painted walls (including those that have been patched, repaired or stained), galvanized metal and nonferrous metals. Use oil-based primer on severely stained or damaged walls, on paneling, under wallpaper, and on wrought iron, ferrous metal and raw wood.

Sheen: A paint's sheen gives it a certain finish and quality. There are several options:
- Matte/Flat – Smooth finish, has little or no sheen. Helps hide surface imperfections but may suffer damage more easily than other finishes. Best for low-traffic areas.
- Eggshell – Velvety sheen, easy to clean. Great middle-of-the-road option between flat and high gloss. Gives a flatter look than glossy paint but still provides hard-wearing and protective coating.
- Satin – Silky, pearl-like finish, stain-resistant. Creates protective shell that resists moisture and mildew. Good for kitchens, bathrooms and high-traffic areas.
- Semigloss – Sleek, radiant and high resistance to moisture. Good for cabinets, doors and windows.
- High Gloss – Very durable and easy to clean. Its glass-like finish makes it good for trim and molding.

Water-Based Paint: (Latex paint is often called water-based) Commonly used on walls and ceilings, it is less toxic and easier to clean up than oil-based paints. Water-based paint comes in a variety of sheens including matte, eggshell or high-gloss.

Water-based paint works well on surfaces previously painted with latex or flat oil-base paints. It usually doesn’t adhere well to high-gloss finishes, however, and cannot be used on bare steel because it will rust it. Water-based paint can be used on top of wallpaper, but there is a risk that the water in the paint may cause the paper to peel away from the wall.

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