Painting Basics

Painting basics

Choosing the Right Type of Paint

Many factors determine the type of paint you should use on any given paint job, including the nature of the surface you want to paint and its condition.

Most interior residential paints fall into two general categories: water-based latex paints and solvent-based paints, which are commonly referred to as oil-based paints or “alkyds.”

About 75% of all paint sold today is latex, and do-it-yourselfers use a higher percentage of latex paint for both exterior and interior projects.

Characteristics of Latex Paints

Water-based latex paints have always been popular with do-it-yourselfers and professional painters because of their easy cleanup with plain soap and water. But today’s quality latex paints offer significant performance advantages as well.

Compared to oil-based paints, top quality exterior latex paints have greater durability in the form of better color retention and chalk resistance, so they continue to look good for years. Since they do not get brittle like oil-based paints, they have better resistance to cracking. Latex paints also dry much faster than oil-based paints (typically in one to six hours), which allows you to quickly apply a second coat.

Quality latex paints that have “100% acrylic” binders are especially durable and highly flexible. They tend to adhere extremely well to a variety of exterior surfaces, which means they have greater resistance to troublesome paint failures like blistering, flaking and peeling.

California Paints offers a complete line of 100% acrylic latex paint. Field tests at the Dow Chemical Paint Quality Institute, where paint performance has been tested for more than 40 years, show that top quality 100% acrylic latex paints are an excellent choice when painting any of the following exterior surfaces:

  • Wood, particularly in areas that experience freezing temperatures
  • New stucco and masonry
  • Weathered aluminum or vinyl siding

Characteristics of Oil-Based Paints

Top quality oil-based paints have excellent adhesion characteristics, which means they have a tight grip on the surface being painted. Good adhesion is essential for a durable paint job, but oil-based coatings may oxidize and get brittle over time, which can lead to cracking problems in exterior applications, and yellowing and chipping problems in interior applications.

Oil-based coatings are still your best choice in two circumstances:

  • When repainting exterior surfaces with heavy “chalking” (chalk is the powdery substance that comes off on your hand when you run it cross the surface)
  • When repainting any exterior or interior surface that has four or more layers of old oil-based paint (the number of layers can often be determined by removing some paint chips and examining them)

You should never apply oil-based or alkyd paints directly to fresh masonry or galvanized iron.

If you use oil-based coatings, be aware that they are more difficult to apply and clean up than latex paints. They also take longer to dry, sometimes 24 hours or more, so you can’t apply a second coat as quickly as you can with latex paint.

Oil-based paints can be used for certain applications within the home – for example, on interior trim. But keep in mind that these paints have noticeably more odor than latex paints. That, combined with slow dry time, may put your rooms out of service for a short while. If you use oil-based paints, you will also have to use paint thinner to clean up drips and equipment, which means that you must use extra care in handling and disposing of rags.

Performance Comparison Chart for Top Quality Paints

Oil Based Latex
Durability Excellent adhesion; better adhesion than latex on heavily chalked surfaces Excellent adhesion to most substrates; better elasticity than oil.
Color Retention Not as good as latex; more likely to chalk and fade in sunny exposure. Superior resistance to chalking and fading, especially when exposed to bright sun.
Ease of Application More difficult to apply due to greater “drag,” but goes on heavier for better one-coat hiding and coverage. Goes on smoothly and evenly, with less brush drag.
Mildew Resistance Vegetable oil base can provide nutrients for mildew growth; most products contain mildewcide to minimize growth. Less inherent tendency to grow mildew; mildewcide additives discourage mildew growth, help maintain fresh appearance.
Versatility Can be used on most materials, but for new concrete, stucco and other masonry, a sealer or pre-treatment is required; should not be applied directly to galvanized metal. Can be used on wood, concrete, stucco, brick, galvanized metal, vinyl siding, aluminum siding, etc.
Odor Noticeably more odor than latex. Very little odor.
Clean Up Turpentine, paint thinner or other solvent. Simple water cleanup.
Drying Time Eight to 24 hours. One to six hours, permitting quick recoating.

Selecting the Right Paint Sheen

Selecting the ideal sheen or gloss level for an interior or exterior paint job involves both aesthetic and practical considerations. From an aesthetic standpoint, a degree of sheen or gloss is useful in creating visual interest, particularly indoors. From a practical standpoint, the right sheen or gloss can help extend the life of the paint job, whether it be an interior or exterior application.

California Paints products are available in a variety of sheens, so you will be sure to find one suitable for your painting project. Consult the sheen guide below for helpful descriptions on all California Paints sheen levels.

Flat, Matte, Velvet Flat

  • Non-reflective, so it conceals imperfections better than higher sheen paints
  • Stain removal may be more difficult than other sheens due to its more porous nature
  • Good choice for living rooms and bedrooms



  • Sheen is higher than flat, slightly lower than a satin
  • Popular with designers as it is still relatively flat but will offer washability
  • Good for walls or trim in high-use areas such as hallways


Interior Satin

  • Sheen is lower than a semi-gloss
  • Popular sheen, durable and elegant
  • Good for walls or trim in high-use areas such as hallways


Semi-Gloss, Exterior Satin

  • Offers good stain resistance and is easy to clean
  • Washable and scrubbable
  • Popular choice for bathrooms, kitchens, woodwork and trim



  • Toughest, most durable types of paint
  • May highlight surface characteristics
  • Excellent choice for trim and cabinets
  • Ideal for areas exposed to heavy traffic


Paint Sheen Summary

  1. The flatter the paint, the better it will hide surface imperfections.
  2. Flatter paint makes touch-ups easier and more seamless.
  3. The glossier the finish, the greater the durability.
  4. Generally, the higher the gloss, the more washable and scrubbable the surface.
  5. Gloss surfaces offer more mildew resistance because they are less porous.