Paint is so essential in any decorating project. It is the heart and soul of interior rooms, and it’s one of the most important distinguishing features for the outside of the house. Most people choose paint based primarily on color and perhaps whether it is water-based or oil-based, but quality variations in the paint itself can also make a huge difference in the results of your painting projects. In most cases, you’ll want to rely on your professional painting company to help you make the right paint choice, but consider some of these tips to make sure you can identify the characteristics of good-quality paint.
What Paint Is
Understanding what ingredients are in a typical can of paint is the first step in being able to properly judge its quality. Paint is made up of:
- Pigments: the particles that give paint its opacity and coverage.
- Colorants: the tints that are applied at the store to match your exact color.
- Binders (or resins): the substances that hold the pigments and colorants in place on the surface after the paint dries.
- Solvents: the liquids that help transfer the above ingredients from the paint applicator (brush or roller) onto the wall.
- Additives: the chemicals that produce certain special features in the paint, such as mildew resistance.
The specific ingredients in each of these categories can range in quality, adding up to the total quality measure for the paint overall. For example, the highest-quality pigment is titanium dioxide, a pure white powder with an excellent ability to hide the surface it is being used on. Other pigments of lesser quality, such as clay and talc, are found in less-expensive paints and they generally don’t hide the surface as well. Similarly with binders: the smaller resin particles found in good paint cling together better than larger ones, and therefore, will cover the surface in a stronger and more durable way.
In addition, taking the pigments and binders together (often referred to as the “solids”), the thing to keep in mind is that the more solids in the paint, the better, relative to the solvents (or liquids). A high-quality paint will have as much as 45 percent of its volume made up of solids.
Finally, additives can vary across paints, but the better they are, the better the paint will be. For example, thickeners added to latex paint can make a brushstroke feel more like you are using oil-based paint: smooth, even, and just the right thickness. Other additives can be used as well, such as defoamers and those that retard the growth of mildew.
Are You a Paint Chemist?
You want to minimize the number of coats you have to apply and the thickness of each coat; you do this with high-quality pigments. You want to have the paint not blister or peel once it’s on; you do this with high-quality binders. You want the paint to be easy to apply; you do this with certain high-quality additives. But how do you know which can of paint has the right ingredients in the right proportions?
When you buy cake mix or peanut butter, the container lists the ingredients and the relative quantity of each one. Paint cans do not list their ingredients in the same way. Even if they did, it would have terminology such as “2,2,4-trimethyl-1, 3-pentanediol monoisobutyrate,” which is pretty meaningless to most people. To avoid having to take a chemistry course, follow these guidelines to make sure you and your painting professional buy a high-quality paint:
- Pick the right paint for the right project. There are many different kinds of paint, depending on whether your project is indoor or outdoor, the type of material being painted, whether you need water-based or oil-based paint, and what kind of finish you’re looking for: satin, gloss, semi-gloss, or flat. You can get expert advice on which type of paint to choose from your painting company.
- Decide on what features you want, such as resistance to stains, fading, and mildew. Where the paint is going will help with this; the paint for a child’s room will be different from bathroom or dining room paint.
- Be prepared to spend more; there is a strong relationship between paint quality and paint cost. Trying to save money on a can of paint is likely to cost you more in the long run by having to use more cans to get the job done and having to re-paint the same surface sooner. If you are a good shopper and your timing is good, you may be able to get the paint on sale.
- Be careful with VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which can make you sick. You remember that “paint smell” from a newly painted project? Chances are that you smelled the VOCs in the paint, noxious chemicals that can cause headaches and dizziness. They were much more prevalent in the past than they are now, especially in interior paint, but you will still find them; it’s best to avoid or at least, minimize VOCs whenever possible.
The Role of Primers
OK, you’ve done a good job assessing paint quality and you’ve made the right choices. Do you always have to use a primer first? The answer is yes, if:
- You are painting drywall for the first time; priming will create an even surface that will absorb the paint consistently.
- You are painting bare wood; priming will help the paint stick to the wood better.
- You are painting masonry; priming will cover uneven surfaces that may have high pH levels.
- You are painting over stains; priming will make them invisible once you have applied the topcoat of paint.
- You are painting a slick or very shiny surface, such as tile; priming will give you extra bonding.
Using a primer in these situations will mean that you can use less of that expensive high-quality paint, and still achieve the results you want. If your project is not in one of these categories, then high-quality paint will make primer unnecessary.
The Bottom Line
Interior paint is more than just a background for the rest of your décor. Exterior paint is more than just a way to protect your house from the elements. Choosing paint at the highest quality levels will ensure not only beauty and protection, but also the peace of mind that comes from a job well done.