Interior Paint

Today the range of paint available to the DIY market is ever increasing. Paint is more popular than ever as a way of transforming our homes. And with the need for more environmentally and user friendly products, paint manufacturers are developing more specialised paint. However, it does make it more confusing as to which is the correct paint to use.

Here is a basic guide to help you through the many paint terms, so that you achieve the best finish. Some information can vary slightly for different brands, paints and finishes, so always refer to the instructions on the tin, and follow the preparation guides.

Paints can be divided into two groups:

  • Water-based or acrylic products are quick drying, easy to use, low odour, environmentally friendly, non-yellowing, and you can wash your brush in water.
  • Solvent or oil-based products take 16-24 hours to dry, have a strong 'paint' smell, have high VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which contribute to atmospheric pollution, can yellow with age, need white spirit to clean up with.

Paints for Walls and Ceilings

1) Emulsion Paint

Emulsion is a water-based paint for walls and ceilings and available in a large variety of colours, which usually need two coats. It can be applied directly onto walls that have been previously painted, or onto paintable wall coverings such as lining paper and textured wallpaper. Generally emulsion paint comes in two finishes - matt and silk. Matt has a flat non-reflective appearance, which is useful in disguising uneven surfaces. Matt emulsion can mark easily and is not washable, but new 'wipeable' matt paints are being introduced in many ranges. Silk emulsion has a shiny finish, reflects the light and can be washed. It is useful for high traffic areas such as halls, staircases and children's rooms. There is a third finish often called Soft Sheen, Satin or Mid-Sheen, and is basically a finish halfway between matt and silk, with a wipeable surface.

The word 'vinyl' is often associated with emulsion. Basically, this is an additive in all standard emulsion paints with the main exception being 'new plaster' or contract emulsion. However, the word 'vinyl' has been dropped by many paint companies on their packaging.

Emulsion paints can be applied with a brush, roller or paint pad.

Emulsion paint is not intended for painting onto wood; however, it is increasingly used as a base for paint effects on furniture and woodwork, but does need a coat of varnish as a protective seal.

2) One Coat emulsions

This is a thicker emulsion paint with good covering power if applied carefully as it should not be spread too far. It will cover good condition, similar coloured, surfaces in just one coat. This paint usually comes in satin or mid-sheen finish.

Kitchen and Bathroom Emulsion

This is an emulsion paint specifically designed for areas of high humidity and gives a tougher scrubable surface. It contains moisture, grease and grime resisting properties and can help control the problems associated with condensation. Kitchen and Bathroom is available in a mid or soft sheen. Quick-drying eggshell paint is also suitable for these areas.

Multi Surface Designer Paints

These are new ranges of paints suitable for painting onto walls, ceilings, wood, metal and radiators. They are similar to emulsion paints in that they are water-based, quick drying and low odour, but their advanced formulation means they have the added attraction of being tougher and washable with extra durability, and therefore suitable for other surfaces such as wood and metal. They are available in two finishes - matt for the solid flat colour and satin for light reflective subtle sheen. These are also often called Acrylic paints.

Period Paints

These are paints that will give you the colours that are inspired by history with chalky flat matt finishes ideal for creating an authentic period feel in your home. These are available in emulsion paint for walls and eggshell for wood and metal.

Flexible Ceiling Paints and Textured Emulsions

These are special paints suitable for painting ceilings to help disguise minor flaws and hairline cracks. These can either restore your ceiling to a smooth new finish, or be applied with a special roller to achieve a subtle texture. They often have a more flexible formula to help stop the flaws reoccurring so quickly.

Paints for Wood and Metal

1) Gloss/Liquid gloss

Gloss is the traditional choice for painting our interior wood and metal. It is a solvent-based paint that will give you the tough finish on your wood and metal with a high gloss brush-free finish. Gloss requires an undercoat.

2) Satinwood

Satinwood (occasionally called just Satin) is also a solvent-based paint similar to gloss. The main difference is that it has a less shiny finish. Satinwood does not normally need an undercoat if used over a previously painted surface.

3) Non-drip

Non-drip gloss and satin paints have a jelly like additive to make it easier to use as there is less chance of runs and drips forming. They also do not normally need an undercoat if applied over a previously painted surface.

4) One Coat Gloss

This is thicker and therefore covers the surface in one coat and requires no undercoat. These paints are good if you want to quickly freshen up your paintwork in the same or similar colour. However, take care not to spread the paint too thinly, and also does not always work so well over strong colour changes.

5) Low odour/quick drying Gloss and Satinwood

Many people find the smell of traditional gloss and satinwood paint unpleasant because of the high solvent content, which also harm our environment. There are now water-based equivalents available with many advantages; they dry within a few hours so you can apply several coats in one day, and are low odour and environmentally friendly, non-yellowing, and you can wash your brush in water. The main disadvantage is that it is difficult to get a totally brush free finish and a high gloss finish is not possible. Some of these products are not suitable for using on radiators. These paints are sometimes referred to as acrylic paints, but you rarely find the word acrylic on the packaging. These paints are best applied with synthetic brushes.

6) Eggshell/Quick-drying Acrylic Eggshell

Eggshell paint is suitable for using on wood, metal and plaster. It was traditionally used on kitchen walls for a tougher finish but now Kitchen and Bathroom paint has taken over that role. It is now generally used for wood when a soft diffused finish is required or for an authentic period finish. It is also used as a base for paint effects. Eggshell is coming back into fashion and more readily available, and can be found in solvent and water-based formulas.


Nearly all bare surfaces need priming first. This is done for several reasons: to seal the bare surface so that the topcoat paint does not sink in, to help the paint adhere properly and to give a protective layer. There are many different primers available for different surfaces in both water-based quick drying and solvent-based versions. It is important to use the correct primer for the job to achieve the best and most long lasting finish. Many specialised primers are available for tiles, MDF, melamine, and also special metal primers. It is very important to use the correct primer as recommended by the topcoat you are using.


Undercoat is mainly used to give body to gloss paint. It is also useful when strong colour changes are required under satinwood or one coat gloss products.

Radiator Enamel/Primer

These are tough and heat resistant, and they do not yellow despite the heat. Radiator enamel is available in a variety of colours and in paint and aerosol form, as well as the suitable primer. You can get a good finish using solvent-based gloss paint as well, but these do tend to discolour with the heat.

Floor Paint

Various floor paints are available for different types of floors such as concrete, wood and vinyl, as well as specific paints for garage floors and also doorstep paint. These paints are extra durable to cope with the daily wear and tear.

Specialist Paints

Many surfaces require specific specialists paint for the job where other paints will not do. These surfaces include tiles, melamine, UPVC and blackboards as well as special finishes such as matt black, anti-burglar paint, child safe paint, anti-condensation paints and stain blocks. There are also wide ranges of exterior grade paints available, which can cope with our weather.

Decorative Effects Paint

Creating paint effects and using special metallic finishes did not use to be a job for the DIYer, as the paints were expensive and difficult to use. However, there is now a large range of ready made, easy to use water-based paints to create texture and style in our homes, such as dragging, rag roll, colour wash, metallic and glitter paint.


Paint coverage depends on various factors and can vary between manufacturers and for types of paint. Always check the instructions first, and take into consideration the surface you want to paint. The texture and condition of the surface should be taken into account, because a porous or heavy embossed surface will need extra paint. Also, changing a surface from or to a dark colour will need additional coats. In fact, when painting a very pale colour over a deep coloured wall or ceiling it is better to apply white paint first to block out the previous colour.

The standard size for emulsion paint is 2.5 litre tins, and some popular shades are available in 5 litre tins. White emulsion also comes in 10 litre tins. Sample pots of matt emulsion are available to help choose the right colour.

Coloured gloss, satinwood and eggshell is available in 750 ml tins and white is also available in 2.5 litres.

Specialist paints are available in a variety of sizes starting with 250 ml, up to 5 litres depending on the use of the paint.

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