What paint where?

Melanie Whitehouse / 03 December 2015

Satinwood, eggshell, silk - it's no wonder people get confused when picking paint. Our easy-to-follow guide helps take away some of the mystery.

There have never been more paint finishes on the market, each with their own particular use. Here are our tips on what to use where.


Use gloss paint – which comes in many forms - for interior and exterior woodwork. Solvent-based gloss is hard-wearing and designed for use on metal and wood, but it has a distinctive smell and takes up to 24 hours to dry.

Water-based gloss paints dry much more quickly but are more sheeny than glossy. Although brush marks are more obvious than on traditional gloss, the paint is easy to apply, dries quickly and there’s little smell.

Liquid Gloss: Needs an undercoat but gives a high gloss finish and is hardwearing and resistant to dirt. Leave overnight before applying a second coat.

Once Gloss: Single coat paint. Does not need an undercoat if applied over an existing painted surface.

Satinwood: Hard-wearing, durable gloss paint with a subtle sheen. Not as hard- wearing as traditional gloss.

Eggshell: Gives an on-trend, flat finish.

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Emulsion is water-based paint, with vinyl or acrylic resins added to make the finish hardwearing. This results in varying degrees of sheen – generally, the shinier the finish, the tougher the paint. Use for interior walls and ceilings.

Matt: Gives a matt, non-shiny finish. Does not usually wear as well as the glossier emulsions, although the latest formulations are far tougher.

Satin: Gives a subtle, soft-sheen finish and is more hardwearing than vinyl matt.

Silk: Gives a high-sheen finish and is the hardest wearing of all the emulsion paints. Good in humid areas.

Specialist paint finishes

These are special types of paint for specific jobs.

Primer: Oil- or water-based, this is used to seal unpainted surfaces before the top coat is applied. Use the right primer for the surface - wood, metal, plaster or tiles - or choose an all-purpose primer.

Undercoat: Usually oil-based, undercoat is applied on top of primer.

Anti-condensation: For use in humid areas such as kitchens and bathrooms, this paint is specially formulated to prevent the surface becoming cold to the touch so condensation is less likely to form.

Radiator paint: Use on central heating pipes and radiators - it will stand high temperatures without softening or discolouring.

Floor paint: Specially formulated, hard-wearing paint for wooden and concrete floors. Never paint a floor with ordinary paint – it will show signs of wear very quickly.

Polyurethane varnish: Clear varnish in a matt or shiny finish for protecting the surface of stripped wooden floors or furniture.

Melamine and mdf paint: Use to transform old kitchen unit doors or melamine-faced shelving. Just one coat is needed and will dry to a soft, satin sheen.

Limewash: A traditional, breathable finish that protects porous stone and lime-rendered surfaces, making it suitable for old walls with damp problems.

Distemper: Water-based and environmentally friendly, with a lovely soft, powdery finish. Not for areas of high traffic or condensation.

Chalk paint: Ideal for painting furniture, it should go on without undercoat or primer over any surface and can then be distressed and aged with wax.

Coloured stains: Use for ageing new wood or for bringing colour back to stripped wood.

Stain block: Permanently covers stains before repainting.

Exterior masonry paint: Textured or smooth, for painting over rendered walls, and flexible so it can expand or contract with changes in temperature. Choose one containing a fungicide to prevent algae and mould.

Shed and fence preserver: Sinks in to protect both new and old sheds and fences from the elements. Available in myriad shades.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.