6th Dec 2022 -

When shopping for paint there are an almost overwhelming number of choices available. The modern paint industry produces paints from a range of bases, with a selection of finishes providing a radically different look to a finished surface. This guide is intended to give a quick explanation of the different types of paint, the various finishes they can come with, and the best paints for specific tasks in and around a home.

Essential Paint Terms

When describing paint it's important to know the difference between a primer and a topcoat. Primers will be used as the first coat and are not a paint product. They will seal the surface and allow the paint to better adhere to it. While the number can sometimes vary, the paint will usually be applied in two coats, with the second referred to as a finishing coat.

What Different Types of Paint Are Available in the UK?

The paint industry within the UK is massive, with numerous types of paint on sale, offering the full spectrum of colours. Here are the essential paint types to know:

  • Oil-Based Paints: Made from a mixture of pigments and oil, typically linseed oil, opting for an oil paint will give a beautiful and hard-wearing finish. This makes them a popular choice for professional decorators. Some drawbacks include the extended drying time compared to other options and a more difficult painting process.
  • Water-Based Paints: Water-based paints historically lacked the durability of oil-based options, though that gap is closing in modern paints. In a clear benefit over oil-based options, water-based paints are far easier to apply and will dry considerably quicker.
  • Emulsion Paint: Emulsion paint is a water-based paint that will be mixed with vinyl or acrylic to increase durability. There is a range of emulsion finishes available, such as matt, silk, gloss, eggshell and satin. Emulsion paint is typically used internally for walls and ceilings. In the USA, emulsion paints are referred to as latex paints.
  • Acrylic Paint: This fast-drying paint is famed for holding its colour over time. While it can be used for general painting purposes within the UK it is largely restricted to the arts, used for canvas painting as an alternative to oil paint.
  • Enamel Paint: Enamel paint dries to give a solid adhesive finish, making it a popular choice for painting over surfaces like wood or metal, and for painting more complex household objects like handles. Enamel paint is an expensive option, and can cause difficulty during mixing and cleanup.
  • Spray Paint: Spray paint is contained within a pressurised can and released through an aerosol as a wide spray of colour. This makes it a great choice for quickly painting walls or objects. A variety of different types of paint are available in spray cans, with a small ball called a pea allowing the paint to be mixed by shaking the can.
  • Masonry Paint: This is a special type of acrylic paint designed to perform on difficult exterior surfaces, like brick and concrete. Its weather resistance also benefits exterior painting tasks.

Types of Paint Finish

Within the many different types of paint, there are a variety of paint finishes available, offering different levels of sheen to a surface. These finishes will normally be available in water-based, oil-based, or emulsion paints in the UK. Below are the different types of paint sheen from most to least reflective.

  • Gloss Paint: This paint will have a very pronounced sheen. Gloss paints can produce a durable and easy-to-clean surface, though their higher sheen can also reflect light around a building. For the shiniest paints available, look for high-gloss options.
  • Semi-Gloss Paint: Semi-gloss paints will have an aesthetically pleasing sheen, though at a reduced level to full gloss paints.
  • Satin Paint: Satin paint will still possess a sheen but it will be more subtle than semi-gloss.
  • Eggshell Paint: Eggshell paint will have a muted shine, offering a soft finish that can help to bring light into a space. It’s worth keeping in mind that eggshell isn’t the most durable of paint options.
  • Matt Paint: Another type of finish, matt paint will be the least reflective option available. They can give a subdued and mild look when used. This finish option can have issues with moisture.

What is the Best Type of Paint For You?

When picking the right paint you’ll have to balance the visual look you are hoping to achieve with the requirements of the space and surface you are painting. The best types of paint for an internal wall can be completely different from the best options for a radiator or an external wooden board. As such, we’ve split the next section into the best paints for a wide variety of different settings, helping you to get an attractive and long-lasting surface regardless of its location.

For Interior Walls

Emulsion paints will typically be used for internal walls, offering solid colour and durability. You’ll have a choice of finish but opting for matt paints on indoor walls can give a solid look that can be contrasted with more of a sheen on other elements of the room like skirting boards, door frames, and windowsills.

For Exterior Walls

For exterior walls of brick, concrete, or plaster, using masonry paint will bring clear benefits. Masonry paints are at once designed to cover difficult surfaces like brickwork, and also to offer weather resistance, giving better performance over the long term.

For Ceilings

Regular emulsion paints can be similarly used on ceilings to their use on walls. However, some issues can crop up with painted ceilings such as visible cracks and patchiness so the ceiling should be primed, and have all cracks filled, before being thoroughly and consistently painted.

For Bathrooms

Specialist emulsion paints are available to paint the walls and ceiling of a bathroom. These will offer resistance against the moisture generated in a bathroom, giving a more long-lasting performance and avoiding the growth of mould. These can come in a range of finishes, with matt and eggshell options available.

For Kitchens

Kitchen walls will also need to resist water vapour, in addition to splashes of food or grease, and smoke from the cooking process. There are specialist emulsion options available that will help to give your kitchen walls and ceiling a great look while resisting the damage that regular paints could sustain from the unique elements of a kitchen.

For Wood

Using an undercoat and primer on wood can allow a wide range of paints to be used. For internal wood features in a building, like skirting boards, bannisters, windowsills, and door frames, opting for a gloss emulsion can give a great sheen. The same can be true of wall panelling, though you may wish to opt for a matt colour like a regular plastered wall. When looking to paint exterior wood, be that chairs, benches, or garden sheds, there will be exterior wood paints available, designed to offer great all-weather performance. For smaller wooden elements within a building, particularly those that will come into regular contact, using an enamel paint can create a solid coating that will last longer than other options. 

For Stained Wood

Painting over stained wood can cause issues, with the varnish causing the paint to flake and chip off. Using a wood primer can help to make the surface receptive to paint, though you can further benefit from this by sanding off some of the coatings on the surface of the wood.

For Metal

There are a few types of metal paint available, which will usually either be water-based or oil-based. Metal surfaces are popularly spray painted with a glossy finish, such as for paint jobs on cars or boats. It’s important to check the paint you are using will perform well on the metal, with different options suited to aluminium, steel, and other metals.

For Radiators

Specific enamel paints will be typically used for radiators, that will offer both heat resistance and damage resistance, as radiators are often subject to slight knocks. White paints are standard for radiators, but you’ll be able to find other colours if you are after a modern look.

For Plastic

When looking to paint plastic items, spray paint is an effective and popular choice. When selecting a spray paint you should check that it specifies that it can be used on plastic surfaces. This will be applied in a few coats and can offer a huge range of paint colours while allowing you to take advantage of other spray painting processes like using stencils or blending colours.

For Glass

Paints for glass are available within the UK, often enamel-based, though acrylic paints can also be used on glass. This tends to be used for decorative and artistic projects rather than general construction tasks.

The Paints You Need For Your Construction Project Delivered

Building Materials Nationwide works with professionals across the building industry, aiming to offer everything they could need in a supplier in one place. Through our website, you’ll find a wide variety of products in our catalogue, and through our dedicated account managers you’ll find much more. Those within the industry can open a trade account through our website, gaining access to trade pricing and express delivery.

Each account holder will have their own dedicated account manager, who’ll be there to organise whatever products you need through our network of suppliers, delivering them to you across the UK. Whatever types of paint and primers you might need, for kitchens, bathrooms, metals, or wood, your dedicated account manager will be able to organise fast deliveries at competitive prices. Sign up today to get started.

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