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  • Joel Bardall

HELP! What paint should I be using?

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

All paint is the same right?


Different varieties of paint, emulsion, woodwork and trim paint. Matt, silk, gloss, satin, eggshell
What paint should i use

First of all what is the substrate you are planning to paint? (Is it ceilings, walls, woodwork?)

Is it for interior or exterior use? Does it need to be durable? Breathable? Moisture proof?

The questions can be endless and also daunting when you look at the selection of products that are now available.

Let's start with ceilings and walls first. Traditionally the paint would be a water based emulsion. For ceilings the perfect paint with the ideal finish would be a full matt finish emulsion. Matt meaning 'low sheen' and non light reflective so will not highlight as many imperfections as other paints with a shinier finish potentially would.

Again a matt emulsion would also suffice for walls too but some matt paints are not durable or wipeable so can mark, scuff and stain quite easily. Vinyl matt will help in these circumstances but there are more durable finishes available now which will be evident on the labelling of the tin.

Other areas prone to moisture like bathrooms and kitchens would require a paint that can endure the conditions it will face. If you use a standard matt paint in a bathroom with little ventilation, it won't be long until you'll start noticing mould spores which are dangerous to your health. A moisture resistant paint like a waterbased eggshell (low - mid sheen finish) or a paint such as Zinsser Perma-white is perfect for this scenario.

Silk emulsion is also another emulsion that was known for it's durability and has a shiny finish to it but has lost popularity over recent years, much to the delight of decorators across the country as it's not very pleasant to use and the high light reflective sheen can show up every minor imperfection, bump or indentation. If the walls have been badly plastered in the past then I would certainly recommend to avoid Silk!

Moving on to paints for woodwork.

I will explain the sheen levels in more detail here as this is where some confusion can lay.

Gloss - gloss paint does not solely mean the paint for woodwork. Gloss IS the sheen level.

For example a matt paint will have a low sheen level roughly at around 2 - 5 % and gloss in the range of 80% and above. Hence why gloss is so shiny!

Satin - Has a mid sheen level finish to it and is also a very popular choice amongst my clients.

Eggshell - Literally has the sheen of an eggshell! So a low sheen to it.. a hint more sheen than a matt finish but lower than a satin.

All of these paints are available in either solvent / oil base or water base. I will do another blog on this in greater detail but a short (as possible) explanation to differentiate between the two is basically the key ingredients that make the paint.

Solvent / oil base paint was always (for many years) the go to for woodwork due it's durability and overall finish. It also takes a long time to dry before recoating (up to 24 hours) Leaves a lingering smell, not good for the environment... or in fact your own health!

Also in more recent years, when used on interior jobs with little to no sunlight, solvent base paints (especially in white) will discolour very quickly and turn yellow!

Water based paint however has lower harmful ingredients which makes it better for the environment (and again your own health) keeps it's whiteness, dries faster and much easier to clean up, especially washing your brushes!

But dependant on the product / brand you use, it can come with the compromise that the finish will not be as durable, or level out as well as a solvent base paint so potentially more brush marks could be evident. Also doesn't always cover as well so additional coats may be needed.

However paint technology has improved massively in recent years so there are water based woodwork (or 'Trim' as it's known to our American friends) paints available that even surpass the oil base paints of old.

So now... what about trade paint vs DIY paint vs designer paint?!?!

What do I mean by DIY or retail paint? Well let's take a look at Dulux for example, probably the most well known paint brand in the UK. You'll see tins of Dulux paint in the big DIY retail stores and you may also spot a separate section stocking Dulux Trade paints. In most paint merchants and builders merchants it will mainly be the Trade version available.

What's the difference?

Well the first thing you'll notice is the price. Trade paint is significantly more expensive than the trade alternative.


Trade paint will have far superior ingredients and pigments meaning they will last longer and cover much better too. Some DIY paints can be fine but also be a complete false economy too. If you are prepared to apply more coats of paint than anticipated then it might be worth considering if cost is a priority.

But if you are painting a large space like a hall, stairs and landing... or you are paying a decorator who has quoted to apply only two coats of paint but now needs another one, two... possibly three more coats to achieve a full finish! .... then Trade paint is the sensible solution as it will reduce labour time needed therefore lower the cost involved.

Designer paint falls in the bracket of Farrow & Ball, Little Greene and many others. They tend to be very expensive. However expensive doesn't necessarily mean quality...

Some will state on the label they will need a wall primer first as a base coat which will add further to the expense so worth noting or asking your decorator their opinion before committing to a certain brand.

What do I, as a professional painter and decorator recommend and use?

My chosen preferable spec that I regularly use starting with ceilings:

Teknos Teknoceiling02 ... I know, unusual name. Sounds more like a Dutch DJ's new album than a paint. But it is brilliant. Ultra flat low sheen finish so perfect for critical lighting on ceilings so will hide imperfections and leave a beautifully crisp, flat looking ceiling.

Walls: There are two Dulux Trade paints I will advise to my clients. Dulux Trade Diamond matt, a highly durable matt finish paint. And Dulux Heritage Velvet matt, another durable (although not quite as tough as the Diamond matt) but has a beautiful flat matt 'velvety' finish to it.

A designer paint I love to use on walls is Little Greene's Intelligent matt which is their most durable finish.

There are many more but these are my most frequently used and ones I can rely on to achieve a solid finish with a reasonable amount of coats required.

Woodwork: The woodwork I normally come up against usually requires a lot of prep work so before applying any top coats I will apply a primer. The purpose of a primer is to either cover bare / unpainted wood etc or adhere to any previously painted woodwork and leave a sound base to paint over.

My go to primer is either Caparol Haftprimer or Zinsser Bulleye 123plus.

With regards to the top coats my go to is Benjamin Moore ScuffX in satin or an eggshell finish. This is an American brand, fully water based and highly durable which means it has little to no smell, fast drying times and will retain it's whiteness. And no compromise on the finish either, this paint is amazing!

Moving on to exterior paints.

Woodwork, windows, doors, fascia boards etc I use both solvent / oil base paints and also water based paints too designed for exterior work.

(Always check the paint tins to see they state they can be used externally)

For doors and windows I would mainly use an oil base gloss paint for it's durability and longevity through the different weather seasons it will face. Dulux Weathersheild has a great range for this task.

Another brand is Tikkurila that supply a gloss paint called Miranol that produces a 'glass' finish which looks incredible on front doors.

Another alternative is a Satin paint by the company Sikkens and the product is called Rubbol Satura. Incredible finish yet again to this paint and have used this for painting log cabins as well as windows, sills and other exterior joinery.

The water based exterior trim paints I also use are Zinsser Allcoat, Tikkurila Ultra Classic and Bedec MSP.

Sometimes a water based paint is a better solution as it dries faster which is ideal against the unpredictable weather we face.

For exterior masonry / render walls and substrates my go to choice is Sandtex or more recently Wethertex. Wethertex AP77 is a silicon based paint which allows the walls to breath and can also be used on K-Rend render.

So there you have it... my round up of various paints, finishes and also my 'go to' paint products.

Happy painting!


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