The painting experts at Buffalo NY Painters weigh in and explain the many different types of paint you can use. Get to know what paint should be used for each type of room. This is your ultimate painting guide so that you get your project done right.

While cave dwellers used crude paint to decorate the ancient rock walls about 30,000 years ago, paint only entered the American market during the Industrial Revolution. It’s now a multi-billion dollar industry with over 1.57 billion gallons sold per year in the U.S. alone.

The White House is so-called because of its lime-based whitewash which requires a yearly painting and 570 gallons of paint for the entire exterior.

Now let’s turn our attention to your painting project.

You’ve agonized over the new paint color for your dining room, kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom for weeks now. You hung the swatches and dutifully studied them in all lights of day and night. You may have even painted samples of your top choices right onto your walls. Slowly, ever so slowly, your choices narrowed and narrowed until you finally selected The One. Didn’t that feel great?

Now, all that’s left (aside from — oh, you know — the taping, the surface protecting, the painting, and the cleanup) is selecting the type of paint tools you need for your particular project. That’s right. It’s not enough to select a color. You need to know if you should purchase that color in a flat, eggshell, semi-gloss, or other finish.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

But when you get the finish right for your surface, you’ll be able to rest easy for years to come.

We’re here to help you understand the differences between interior finishes so you can select the right one for your particular project.

Table of Contents

  • Overview: Best Sheen for Different Rooms

  • 1. Oil-Based Paint

  • 2. Water-Based Paint

  • 3. Latex-Based Paint

  • 4. Primer

  • 5. Flat Paint

  • 6. Matte Paint

  • 7. Eggshell Paint

  • 8. Satin Paint

  • 9. Semi-Gloss Paint

  • 10. Gloss Paint

  • 11. Spray Paint

  • 12. Enamel Paint

  • 13. Chalkboard Paint

  • 14. Specialty Paint Kits

Overview: Best Sheen for Different Rooms

Here’s a quick cheat sheet for the best finish by room. Below I provide more details about each finish.

  • Kitchens and bathrooms: Semi-Gloss

  • Bedrooms, Dining Rooms, Hallways and Doors: Satin

  • Ceilings: Flat finish

  • Decorative areas: Eggshell

  • Wood Surfaces (doors, cabinets and trim): High-Gloss

Paint Types by Base

1. Oil-Based Paint

Painting expert:

Professional painters often use oil-based paints for their hard finish that makes them durable and water-resistant. Oil-based paints provide better surface penetration than other paints, as well as better adhesion. Oil-based paints are great at stain blocking, which makes them a good choice for stained surfaces, bleeding woods, and metals that can rust.

Their drying time, however, is far longer than latex paints — sometimes taking as long as 24 hours.

Oil-Based Paint Tips

1. The oil in this type of paint separates quickly, so you’ll want to stir your paint often.

2. Use a brush or roller that is specifically designed to be used with oil-based paints.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Oil-based paints are also sometimes called solvent-based paints. This paint is going to be a great choice if you are looking for something that is durable and reliable. You will be able to purchase oil-based paint at a very reasonable price, too. This makes it one of the most common types of paint that are used in people’s homes.

This type of paint can really stand the test of time for you. If you want your paint to last for as long as possible without showing signs of damage or wear, then using oil-based paint is the way to go. This paint is definitely resilient and can look beautiful in your home for many years. If you have made a decision on which color of paint that you would like to have on your walls, then you can lock it in for a long time by going with an oil-based paint.

When you are looking to paint your trim, it is a good idea to use oil-based paint, too. You need the paint on the trim to be able to stand up to some abuse, and the oil-based paint will keep it protected. Your trim will look really nice and it should stay vibrant for years to come. When you want something to last for a long time, oil-based paint should be your first option.

One of the problems that people have with oil-based paint is that it doesn’t dry as quickly as some of the other options. It can take several hours longer for this paint to dry. This is a bit of an inconvenience, but depending on your needs, it can definitely be worth the wait. Take everything into consideration before you make your final decision on which type of paint to use in your home.

2. Water-Based Paint


A water-based enamel is most often a safer choice than oil-based when you’re painting an interior wall. Water-based paints carry less of an odor and they are easier to clean up (which you’ll appreciate as you paint inside your house!). In addition, water-based paints have low VOCs, dry quickly, and wear better throughout the years.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Water-based paint isn’t quite as resilient or long-lasting as the oil-based options on the market, but it can still be a good choice for you to use. This paint has several advantages over the oil-based options. One of the biggest reasons that people choose water-based paints is that they dry a lot quicker. When you want to get the painting done as fast as possible, water-based paints are certainly going to save you some time.

When you use this type of paint to paint the interior of your home, you’ll be able to do many coats of paint in a single day. It doesn’t take too long for the water-based paint to dry and you’ll be able to make steady progress. Oil-based paint isn’t quite so easy to use, as it can take a long time to dry. This really prolongs the process, so buying the water-based paint is often going to be the most efficient way to get the job done.

This type of paint is significantly easier to clean up as well. You will usually be able to clean up a water-based paint using a bit of soap and some water. Cleaning up the oil-based paint is going to require a lot more effort and this can add more time to your job. It’s a lot more convenient to use water-based paint for interior paint jobs because of this.

Water-based paint doesn’t give off any noxious fumes either. Oil-based paint is seen as a bit of an environmental hazard by some. In some parts of America, there are even movements to ban oil-based paint due to environmental and health concerns. For this reason, water-based paint has been creeping up in popularity for years.

There are some negatives about this type of paint that you should be aware of, too. This paint can be more costly when compared to oil-based paint. They’re also a bit less durable than the oil-based options. You’re essentially trading durability for a paint that is more user-friendly.

3. Latex-Based Paint

Expert opinion:

Latex paint is used for most exterior applications The nice thing about this paint is that it’s much easier to work with than oil-based paint. As it’s water-based, it’s easy to apply, dries quickly, and it doesn’t make as much of a mess. It’s also resistant to the effects of direct sunlight. Latex paint expands and contracts with the siding on the house and doesn’t trap moisture.

Acrylic latex is the highest quality latex paint, and is perfect for any building material — masonry and metal included (as long as the surface is primed properly).

If you choose latex paint, make sure you choose one that is specifically for exterior use. The latex paint you use for interior walls will not hold up outside.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Many people assume that latex-based paints and water-based paints are the same. You will often see the terms being used interchangeably and this can lead to a bit of confusion. Some types of latex-based paints are also water-based. There are also latex-based paints that make use of chemicals, so there is a difference between the two.

In order to get the best results, you should look at the can of paint that you are trying to purchase. Determine exactly what type of paint you are buying before moving forward. As noted above, water-based paints are excellent for many purposes. Some people choose to purchase water-based paints simply due to them being seen as a more environmentally-friendly option.

Latex-based paint, even when it is using chemicals, can be very good paint to use in your home. The paint can turn out well and it will dry quicker than oil-based paint, generally speaking. Just remember to make sure that you know what you are buying. If you really want 100% water-based paint, then you should read the label carefully to ensure that you are buying the right stuff.

The latex-based paint being shown here is meant specifically for painting the floor. It doesn’t require primer and can be easily cleaned up with just soap and water. It is a really convenient paint to use when you want to paint the floor. It can dry fast and will even work well when you’re trying to paint concrete.

4. Primer


Primers are also either oil-based or water-based. Water-based primers are great for most any job you’ll do, but you can only use them with water-based paint. Oil-based primers can be used with both oil- or water-based paint, and these primers also work well on stained wood, bleeding wood, and metals.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Primer is an important part of the process that you won’t want to forget if you want to have good results. You need to put on a coat of primer before painting your walls, in most situations. It is possible to buy paint and primer all-in-one solutions for certain things, but it is often best to just do a primer coat ahead of the normal painting. This prepares the walls for the paint and gives you the best results possible.

What the primer does is seal the surface of a wall. This provides the wall with a protective layer that will prevent discoloration from the old paint. If you want to keep your old paint from bleeding through and negatively impacting your new paint job, then you are going to need to buy primer. It is simple enough to use and you will get far better results.

There are different types of primer that you can purchase, too. As you might expect, changing the colors of your walls can present some challenges. If you have dark colors on your walls now and wish to change them to something that is lighter, you’ll need a special primer. Something known as a high-hide primer will work brilliantly to give you the best results. It can prevent you from needing to waste a lot of extra coats of paint in order to hide the old color.

Before you purchase your primer, simply understand your needs. Look at the can of paint and determine if it is the right grade for what you are trying to do. This will allow you to get everything accomplished efficiently and you will have a good experience overall. You may even want to consider the paint and primer combination deal if you’re feeling confident.

Paint Sheen Options

5. Flat Paint

Painting expert:

Pass on the flat finish if you’re planning on painting your kitchen, bathroom, or kids’ bedrooms. Why? It doesn’t clean well. You’ll actually have to paint over grubby fingerprints, grease splatters, and more if you want those messes to disappear.

The flat finish, however, is a sophisticated and luxurious finish. It works well for interior walls (that won’t be frequently touched) and ceilings. It’s also a good choice if you have noticeable surface imperfections because it creates a low-reflecting surface — diminishing the appearance of imperfections.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Flat paint is very affordable but doesn’t give off a very vibrant look. It isn’t very reflective and it won’t have much texture to it at all. This may make it sound like flat paint isn’t a very desirable option, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Flat paint can be useful, but it is best used in areas that aren’t used as often.

The flat paint is the least durable paint finish that you can buy. This means that it will be prone to becoming damaged. Using flat paint in a high-traffic area might be a poor decision. It can be a good paint finish to use in a room that doesn’t get a lot of use, as it can save you a little money.

One of the most appealing aspects of flat paint is that it is quite affordable. It usually costs very little to purchase a can of flat paint and this can be nice when you’re on a budget. Just remember that it is not a very durable option. This won’t be a good paint to use in every area of your home, but it will have its uses.

6. Matte Paint

Matte paint is ever-so-slightly glossier than its flat cousin. Sometimes people wind up using the terms matte and flat interchangeably when speaking about paint types. This isn’t quite accurate as there are minor differences between matte and flat finishes.

Aside from matte paint having a more glossy finish than flat paint, it is also more durable. The slight increase in durability makes the matte paint a more reasonable option when you are looking for paint in a high-traffic area. It still isn’t going to be the ideal choice for most people, but it will stand up a bit better than flat paint. You should be able to find plenty of uses for this type of paint in your home.

One good idea is to use matte paint on your ceiling. This is a fantastic method for saving a bit of money and the matte paint will be preferable to other types in some ways. For example, you can hide damaged parts of your ceiling or little flaws a bit easier when using a matte paint. This is something to consider when you want to save a little money and make good use of your matte paint.

7. Eggshell Paint


Eggshell provides a low luster (think of the low sheen of an actual eggshell), so it works well for decorative finishes. It can be cleaned easier than a flat finish, especially if you purchase a paint like Sherwin Williams Super Paint or Duration Interior. This paint is durable and won’t wash away when you wash your walls. Some cheaper paints don’t hold up to washing.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Eggshell is the next step up from a matte finish. When you look at an eggshell finish in the right way, it will still appear somewhat matte. It is glossier than a matte finish, though. The biggest selling point of eggshell paint is that it is fairly durable. You will be able to feel confident in this finish being able to stand up to a bit of punishment.

The fact that eggshell paint is fairly durable while remaining an affordable option makes it quite popular. You will often see people using eggshell paint to paint their living rooms and other important areas. It works well as a paint that will look nice while providing practical protection. People who don’t want something that looks too glossy will really enjoy the overall look of eggshell paint.

Eggshell paint is really easy to clean as well. Even once it is applied to your wall, you’ll be able to wash the walls more easily than with some other paint types. It has just the right amount of gloss to make cleaning up with a wet cloth a simple process. Traits such as these help to make eggshell paint one of the most prevalent finish styles on the market.

8. Satin Paint


Satin gives more of a sheen, creating a smooth and velvety look. It’s also washable. While it can be washed, it can’t be roughly scrubbed. Use satin in your hallways, on doors, on woodwork, in bedrooms, and in dining rooms.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Satin paint is quite similar to eggshell paint overall. They have minor differences that do set them apart. Satin paint is just a touch glossier than eggshell, but many people can’t notice the difference very well. These two paint types are very closely associated with one another, so whichever one you decide to choose should work just fine. This is a slightly glossy paint that is still flat enough to suit most people’s needs.

This durable paint will work well for just about any room of your home. If you are looking for an affordable paint option that will last you for several years, then the satin paint will fit the bill nicely. You’ll be able to make use of this paint without any type of hassle and it will be durable enough to last. It’s a good option to consider when you don’t want to buy anything that is too glossy, but you don’t want things to appear too flat either.

9. Semi-Gloss Paint


Semi-gloss adds a small shine to your room. Because it holds up to scrubbing, it’s a good choice for wet rooms, like kitchens and bathrooms. Take caution, however, as imperfections in the wall may be highlighted by a semi-gloss surface.

Semi-gloss also works well on doors, baseboards, and trim. Sherwin Williams ProClassic Semi-Gloss is a good choice for trim work. And because semi-gloss dries extremely hard, it’s also great for woodwork, which tends to get beaten up.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Semi-gloss paint is where you start to get into the glossier paint styles. If you want a paint that is going to stand out and pop visually, then you will want to consider purchasing semi-gloss paint. This is a paint that is going to look very nice and will be very eye-catching. It’s also very durable, making it perfect for bathrooms and kitchens.

You’ll be able to find many semi-gloss paints that are capable of standing up to moisture as well. The fact that this paint is so popular for bathrooms has influenced this and you should seek out a moisture-resistant paint if possible. It will help your paint to look more vibrant for a longer period of time when used in a wet room. This rugged paint is going to help your home to look its best for many years.

You won’t have to be too careful when you are cleaning your walls either. Semi-gloss paint is rugged enough to be scrubbed thoroughly without negatively impacting your paint job. This is good for rooms such as kitchens, because you may need to clean food particles off of the wall. Use semi-gloss paint in rooms where scrubbing is going to be necessary.

It should also be noted that semi-gloss paint provides a reflective surface. The light will bounce off of these walls and that can be either good or bad, depending on your preferences. If the walls have some flaws, then they will be more apparent due to the light. Just keep this in mind when you are choosing which paint to use.

10. Gloss Paint


High-gloss is shiny, stain resistant, and very scrubbable. It’s great for wood surfaces, like trim, doors, and cabinets. It can also work in bathrooms and kitchens (especially the backsplash) because you can easily clean food splatter and fingerprints off this finish. It’s also a great choice for banisters and railings.

As a shiny paint, high-gloss does reflect light, making imperfections more noticeable so it isn’t typically recommended for walls.

- Jesus Del Carpio, General Manager of Buffalo NY Painters

Gloss paint has the potential to be very beautiful. It can help the walls of your home to stand out and will provide a lot of aesthetic appeal. When you’re going for a classy look in your home, using gloss paint is a very sensible choice. It will add to the overall visual appeal of your home while providing you with a durable paint option.

This type of paint is also known for being very easy to clean. Much like the semi-gloss paint mentioned above, it can be scrubbed rigorously without you needing to worry. This makes cleaning time a lot simpler for you and you will be able to keep your walls looking pristine. Your walls should always look very smooth and you’ll be pleased with how nice they look when everything is cleaned just right.

Gloss finishes wind up reflecting light even more than semi-gloss paint, though. This means that any flaws in your walls will become quite apparent. This can be an annoyance, depending on the condition of your walls. Most people who would choose to use gloss paint will not have to worry about this being an issue, though.

The gloss paint will be the most expensive type of finish that you can purchase. It isn’t the most common type of paint to see in someone’s home, but it does work excellently in certain spaces. This paint is for when a homeowner wants to create a classy environment. The gloss paint is very eye catching and will work well in many situations.

The most common use for gloss paint is for painting trim. People also use this type of paint for painting furniture, cabinets, and even fireplaces. You can definitely use this type of paint on your walls, but you’ll just have to be prepared for it reflecting light and making flaws more apparent. This is high-quality paint that will work excellently for certain purposes.

Other Paint Options

11. Spray Paint

Spray paint is used for arts and crafts projects quite frequently. People will also use spray paint for furniture and other types of projects around the house. This isn’t something that you would use to paint your walls, but it is a useful type of paint that you should be aware of. You will want to be careful when using spray paint, though.

This type of paint can be quite noxious and shouldn’t be used in an enclosed area. People who use spray paint should be wearing masks to protect themselves from the fumes. It’s smart to use the spray paint in a ventilated area or outdoors. Many people use spray paint to create magnificent works of art, but it has also been associated with vandalism.

Spray paint is a useful tool that can help many projects to go much more smoothly. If you need to paint something outdoors quickly, then using spray paint is going to be a good solution. It is a fairly cost-effective method, too. You will be able to find spray paint at most hardware stores without any problems.

12. Enamel Paint

Enamel paint is another option that you need to be aware of. This type of paint is great when you want something that will be as rugged as possible. Enamel paint is really durable and will withstand a ton of punishment. This type of paint is often used for the exterior of people’s homes because it can withstand the elements.

Using this paint will be a good idea when you need to protect something. For example, enamel paint is often used in the interior of a home on kitchen cabinets. Cabinets are always getting dinged and bumped into, so they need to have a certain amount of protection. The enamel paint can keep the cabinets looking nice and you won’t have to worry about them so much.

People use enamel paint on furniture fairly often as well. It is a good paint to use on a table or a chair. Using the paint is pretty simple and it will dry into a very rugged finish. You’ll have tough paint that can withstand just about anything without being adversely affected. Consider using enamel paint when it is going to be useful to you.

This particular can of enamel paint is really useful. You can use it without needing to use a primer first or having to sand anything down. This can wind up saving you a ton of time, making it a really desirable option. When you want to have an easy time while being able to provide the right protection with your paint job, this enamel paint is going to work perfectly.

13. Chalkboard Paint

Chalkboard paint is exactly what its name suggests and that is create a chalkboard surface that you can actually draw and write on with chalk. While not a good idea for every wall in your home, it’s great as an accent wall.

14. Specialty Paint Kits

I’ve never used a surfacing paint kit, but it’s a neat idea. Giani is a company that creates paint kits that creates various surfaces with paint. Examples include marble, slate, shiplap, stainless steela and subway tile.

Check out the examples:

Giani paint-on marble countertop kit

Giani paint-on shiplap surface

Giani paint-on stainless steel for a dishwasher

Giani paint-on subway tile kit

Giani paint-on slate countertop kit