Essential Guide to Paint

Paint is your passport to colour and arguably the easiest, least costly and most immediate way to transform a home. It can be as simple as brilliant white, but that would exclude all the other drop-dead gorgeous colours. Paradoxically, it’s the vast choice that often poses a problem – there are just so many brands, types and shades on the market.

Choose from historical hues for period homes; sleek chalky finishes that stand up to the rigours of modern life; or new formulas designed to suit all surfaces. By understanding the product you can unleash all the design possibilities of paint that make it such a tempting medium.

Types of Paint

Water-based paints are usually referred to as emulsions and were traditionally used only for interior walls and ceilings. But recently tremendous advances in paint technology mean that water-based formulas, especially the high-performing acrylics, are available for all surfaces, from woodwork to metal, and for interior and exterior use. The advantages of these paints over oil-based ones is that they are cleaner, have less odour and are more environmentally sound. Brushes can be rinsed clean with water.

Solvent or oil-based paints are used where a tough, durable finish is required for interior and exterior timber, masonry and furniture – although, as mentioned above, the new generation of acrylics and multi-surface paints offers viable alternatives. In general, brushes need to be cleaned with turpentine or white spirit.

Make-up and quality All paints are made of four key ingredients: pigments, binders, liquids and additives. Generally speaking, the more pigment used to make the paint, the better the quality it will be: a ratio of 30 to 45 per cent binder and pigments by volume indicates a paint that will be durable and provide good coverage and lasting colour. Consider the following when you are faced with a wall of paint pots and are struggling with what to buy.

Pick a brand you can trust Companies with their own high-street shops, such as Fired Earth and Farrow & Ball, and those that sell through the DIY giants are the most accessible. However, buying paint online is increasingly popular and can bring you a wider choice, especially if you live outside major towns and cities.

Go for good coverage Look at the figures per litre not for the whole can; 12sq m per litre is average. Coverability varies between brands, making the difference between needing two or three coats. You will generally find more pigment in premium paints, giving a greater depth of colour.

Select the right product. There is a dedicated paint for practically every surface, including tiles and appliances, such as fridges. For high-traffic areas consider scuff-resistant multi-surface paints that can be used on both wood and walls. Kitchens and bathrooms benefit from specialist formulas designed to cope with humidity without flaking.

Try before you buy Colour cards are fine for making an initial selection but you will want to see a true paint sample in situ before committing. Tester pots vary in price from £1 to £4. Paint onto a sheet of paper that you can move around the room to enable you to see the colour in different light conditions. The effect varies greatly. The window wall can seem dark while the wall opposite will be flooded with light. And of course there is a dramatic difference between natural and artificial light. Finally paint a patch directly onto the wall to gauge the colour, coverage and the final finish.

Specialist wall, floor and furniture paints

These days, there are paints to decorate every surface in the home, from melamine to ceramic tiles. Many of these formulas require no specialist preparation – Crown’s Cupboard Makeover Paint is available in 12 colours and does not need a primer.

There are also multi-surface paints, such as B&Q Colours Everywhere for walls, ceilings, woodwork and radiators, and Bedec MSP Multi Surface Paint, which can be used on everything from plastic to masonry. Areas such as bathrooms and kitchens benefit from durable, mildew-resistant coverings, which are available in pre-mixed colours.