Selecting Paints & Glazes

Selecting paints and glazes for your painting project can be one of the most confusing and difficult parts of the job.

Latex and oil-based, interior and exterior, semi-gloss and satin, metallic and opalescent glazes, this can all be confusing to the beginning painter.

This page will introduce you to each of these unique creatures and hopefully provide you with all the information you need for selecting paints and glazes for your painting project.

Don’t feel overwhelmed by the information I’m throwing at you here. This is more or less a reference for you.

Each of the step-by-step faux finish and faux technique instructions found elsewhere on this site provide a detailed list of exactly what type (sheen and base) of paints and glazes you will need for that given project.

Paints and Glazes are really two different animals, so let’s begin with paints.

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Selecting Paints

Selecting paints can be a tedious process. So many different brands, bases, costs, sheens, and uses.

What’s the difference? Is one better than the other?

That, of course, depends on your particular painting project.

  • Base There are two basic bases of paint. Oil-based and latex (or water-based). This forms the solvent, or liquid base, of the product.

    This is the first and most important distinction you have to make when selecting paints.

    With only a rare exception, every paint technique found on this site uses water-based latex paint.


    Because latex paint has many considerable advantages over oil-based paints. It is virtually odor-free, environmentally friendly, more durable, and easier to clean up.

    Oil-based paints have been around considerably longer than latex paints and hence were often used prior to the commercial availability of water-based paints in the 1950s.

    Today, oil-based paints are generally used on woods (many stains and varnishes are also oil-based) and to paint over surfaces previously painted with oil-based paint (latex and oil-based paints do not mix well together, as oil and water do not).

    Oil-based paints work well for woods because they do not allow water to penetrate, helping to protect wood against moisture that may cause rotting.

    Oil-based paints have some negatives, however.

    Any space in which an oil-based paint is used should be well ventilated, as they produce toxic vapors.

    Oil-based paints are also notably difficult to clean up. A special solvent, such as mineral spirits, is necessary to remove oil-based paints from skin, painting supplies, and other surfaces.

    Lastly, oil-based paints are not environmentally friendly. They take much longer to break down and contain hazardous chemicals.

    Latex Paints are water-based, and have become the preferred type of paint for interior painters and do-it-yourselfers everywhere.

    Latex paint consists of a water base and synthetic latex or acrylic as a binder. Good quality latex paints adhere well to nearly any prepared surface and are resistant to fading.

    Latex paint is also nearly odor-free, easy to dispose of (you simply allow the paint to dry and throw in the trash), and dries far more quickly than oil-based paints.

  • Sheen

    Another of the more important decisions you will make when selecting paints is selecting the sheen.

    The sheen is simply the shine or surface luster. Most latex paint manufacturers provide at least four, and most now five, sheen choices.

    The first is a flat sheen. Flat sheen is a matte finish that has no luster. Since its surface does not reflect light, this finish hides surface imperfections well.

    It does not, however clean up well. Flat paint shows marks and scuffs easily, and will not easily wipe clean.

    The Eggshell Sheen is a newer sheen of paint, available through most quality paint manufacturers. This sheen may not be available through some lower-quality paint manufacturers.

    Eggshell offers the low-gloss sheen of flat paint, which hides imperfections, with the wipe-ability of a satin finish. Basically, a matte finish that can still be cleaned.

    Satin Sheen is probably the most popular sheen of paint available. Satin treads the middle ground between flat and gloss. It has a fairly low sheen, so it hides imperfections fairly well, but it is also very durable, unlike most flat paints. It is ideal for fairly high traffic areas where a scrubbable surface is necessary.

    Semi-Gloss Sheen is another very popular paint for interior decorating. It has a fairly high shine, so any imperfections in the surface catch the light and become apparent.

    Semi-Gloss is also very durable, much more washable than flat or even satin sheen paints.

    Gloss Sheen paints have the highest sheen, which means they are very durable and easy to clean.

    This sheen also highlights any and all imperfections in a surface. It is ideally suited to woodwork, cabinets, or other paint-able surfaces besides walls.

  • Quality & Cost

    The final important factors to take into consideration when selecting paints is the quality and cost.

    Why do some brands of paint cost barely over $10 a gallon, while others cost upwards of $40 a gallon? Paint is paint, right?

    No, not really. Like pretty much anything else these days, when selecting paints you get what you pay for.

    Discount paints may sound like a great deal, but they usually only create more difficulty and stress in the long run.

    Selecting paints is often a process of balancing quality and cost. Rooms are often redecorated on a fairly strict budget. One of paint’s greatest assets is the great amount of change it can effect in space with a reasonable cost.

    If a high-grade paint fits you’re your budget, great. If not…

    Regardless of your budget, I highly suggest the use of at least a mid-grade paint for your home decorating projects.

    For starters, low-grade paints have more fillers, such as clays, to help their coverage.

    Often, you will use more low-grade paint to cover the same amount of surface area as a mid or high grade paint. By the time you finish painting a space, this can make the cost difference negligible. It also unnecessarily increases the stress factor of the painting process.

    Quality mid-grade paints are available at most home improvement, hardware, and paint stores for around $20 a gallon, give or take a few dollars.

Selecting Glazes

Glazes are slightly different than paints. Unmixed, untinted glazes are transparent. They also dry much slower than paint.

Glazes are available from most major paint manufacturers, and like paints, I strongly suggest you purchase your glaze from at least a mid-range quality.

Glazes are used in most faux finishes and faux techniques because of their unique characteristics. Glaze’s slow drying time allows the surface to be “worked”, to be given texture and pattern.

Glaze’s translucency contributes to an appearance of depth and texture, heightening a faux finish’s appeal.

Glaze can be colored in one of two ways. Most home improvement and paint stores now offer to “tint” your glaze at the store, adding the necessary pigmentation without your intervention.

The second method of tinting glaze is to hand mix paint with the glaze mixture. Most manufacturers suggest mixing one quart of the desired color of paint with one gallon of glaze, though you should read the instructions for tinting the particular brand of glaze you purchase.

I hope this has made selecting paints and glazes a far easier and more enlightening experience.