Types of Interior Paint - Which Paint to Use for Different Types of Surface or Material

Summary: Find out about the different types of interior paint, what their advantages and disadvantages are, and what paints should be used on what surfaces. We explain the differences between the types of paint for all sorts of interior finishes.

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If you're new to decorating, the range of interior paints available can be somewhat overwhelming. See below for our guide on types of paint and their uses.

Painting Interior Walls

Paint and Products for Wall Preparation

  • Basecoat – This is an all-purpose preparation for walls. It will cover many imperfections including hairline cracks, stains and strong colours. Use this if your walls are in bad condition or painted in a dark colour. Paint over basecoat with emulsion.
  • Anti-Damp Paint – Some old houses have damp areas that you just can't fix. These are prone to mould, so use an anti-damp paint to protect walls and ceilings. Most anti-damp paints are designed so that they can be painted on even when the surface is damp. They contain anti-mould fungicides to help prevent mould. Paint over with emulsion.
  • Textured Paint – This is an alternative to a basecoat for covering hairline cracks and imperfections. These heavy paints will leave a permanent tough, textured finish. Can be painted over with emulsion.
  • New Plaster Paint – If you are painting new plaster, it is a good idea to use a specialist sealer or paint to start with. Trade paints are available which are designed to be used on new plaster and plasterboard. These are made so that they allow the plaster to breathe and continue drying out.

Topcoat Paints for Walls

  • Vinyl Matt Emulsion – Emulsion paints are water-based, easy to apply and come in a huge range of colours. Matt emulsion gives a flat finish, which will make tiny imperfections harder to see – shinier paints will reflect the light and show up uneven surfaces much more. Matt finishes are generally less durable than the glossier emulsions, will mark easily and are not usually washable. However, washable and durable matt finishes are available. Matt paint should always be used for ceilings. One-coat versions of emulsions are often available, which are a thicker solution.
  • Vinyl Satin Emulsion – Also known as soft sheen and mid sheen, satin emulsion is slightly reflective with a sheen to it, meaning that it reflects light more than matt. This makes it a good choice for darker rooms. Satin is a more durable option, allowing you to wipe off dirty finger marks and grease stains.
  • Vinyl Silk Emulsion – Silk emulsion has a much shinier, reflective finish so you need to be careful where you choose to use it. It's not really suitable for reception rooms, as it is too reflective. Its wipe-clean properties makes it good for kitchens and children's bedrooms.
  • Kitchen and Bathroom Paint – Many paint companies make specific kitchen and bathroom paints, as these rooms require specialist properties. Kitchen paints are Often available in a matt finish, but they are much tougher than a standard matt. Some versions have a grease-resistant formula, and all are easily washable. Bathroom paints are made to withstand condensation and discourage mould.
  • Magic White/Pink-to-White – Painting pure white on walls can be hard work – it's hard to see where you've been, and easy to miss bits. Some paint companies have developed an emulsion that is pale pink when you paint it on, but dries to white. This makes the job much easier, allowing you to see easily where you’ve already been.
  • Special Effects – A range of special effect paints are now available, including metallic, shimmer, glitter and suede effect. Shimmer and glitter effect paints are usually designed to be painted over a colour. Metallic paints often have a colour of their own, such as gold, silver and bronze. Suede effects come in a set range of colours.

Painting Wood and Metal

Paint and Products for Wood and Metal Preparation

  • Primer and Undercoat – Wood, metal and other surfaces require priming and undercoating before they can be painted with a topcoat finish. There are a range of primers, undercoats and primer & undercoat paints available. Some are designed specifically for wood, others are multi-surface, meaning they can be used on wood, metal and other surfaces – check the tin to make sure it is suitable for the surface you want to cover. Some are quick-drying but others are not, so be sure to check the drying time before painting over.

Topcoat Paints for Wood and Metal

  • Gloss – A tough, durable paint with a shiny finish, perfect for use on doors and skirtings, and often suitable for use on radiators and other metals. Check the tin to make sure it is suitable if you are painting anything other than wood. Gloss paints are available in a wide range of colours. Quick-drying, one-coat and non-drip versions are often available.
  • Satin – As with emulsion, satin wood and metal paints dry with a more subtle finish than gloss, giving a subtle sheen rather than a high shine. Satinwood paints are developed to be just as durable as gloss, and just as washable.
  • Eggshell – This is usually a water-based acrylic paint that is suitable for wood and metal, often including radiators. The eggshell finish has a soft sheen to it, and eggshell paints are often available in heritage colour ranges.

Painting Tiles, Radiators, Appliances, MDF and Floors

Aside from walls timber and metal items found in your home there are also many other items that require painting either for the sake of maintenance e.g. painting and sealing a garage floor or just to tidy them up and give them a new lease of life such as painting ceramic tiles in teh kitchen if you cannot remove them or painting that nasty scratch on teh side of the washing machine. Some of these items and how they can be painted are as follows:

  • Tile Paint – Specific tile paints are available, if you want to brighten or cover up old tiles without the bother of retiling. These paints are designed to paint over tile surfaces and be durable. They also smooth over nicely, helping to eliminate brush-marks. Tile paints are available in a limited range of colours
  • Radiator Paint – Many gloss and satin paints say that they are suitable for painting radiators with, but specialist radiator paints are also available. These are especially tough, heat –resistant and resist yellowing with age. Spray and brush-on versions are both available
  • Appliance Paint – If your appliances (washing machine, fridge etc) are looking old and tired, you could try giving them a coat of appliance paint to brighten them up. Specially devised to resist chips and scratches, and dry to a smooth finish without brush-marks
  • Melamine & MDF Paint – Also known as cupboard paint, these paints are designed to cover melamine and will give old furniture and cupboards a new lease of life. If you can’t afford a new kitchen, try painting your cupboards instead. Available in a limited range of colours, these paints have a durable satin finish that resists bruch-marks. More information on painting MDF can be found in our project here
  • Floor Paint – Designed for wooden and concrete floors, these paints are extra-tough and durable, developed to withstand foot-traffic without wearing away. Available in a limited range of colours
  • Fire-Retardant Paint – Fire retardant paints are sometimes required by building regulations. These are available for walls and wood, and are available in a range of colours. Fire-retardant paints usually need to be purchased from a specialist supplier, who will help you with your requirements to ensure you have the right level of protection. If you would like to find out more about fire resistant paint see our project page here

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