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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Decorator

Which paint do I use – Matt Emulsion, Undercoat, Gloss, Silk, Whaaaaat?

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Maybe I'm dumb, but for some reason, it took me ages to understand which paints to use where. The good thing is that I'm not dumb at all - paint is just quite confusing.

Actually, when I go to give quotes, it’s a topic that often needs a bit of clarification.

It’s simple really. On interiors, it breaks down like this;

Paint for ceilings and walls:

-This is called emulsion.

-It is always water based (so you can wash your brushes in the sink)

-It dries pretty quickly (within an hour or so)

-It is low odour

There are 3 main types of emulsion.

1. Matt – meaning it’s not shiny. Good for using everywhere.

2. Silk – It is shiny. Ideal if you like shiny things. Good for cleaning/wiping down if you tend to be messy.

3. Soft sheen – it’s in the middle, shiny wise. Best for kitchens and bathrooms, particularly ceilings.

Note: everybody likes a nice wipe-able paint. If you have an area of high traffic that always gets bashed (up the stairs and by the front door are the classics) look for a matt emulsion that is durable. You'll see on the tin that it says "durable" or "scrubbable".

Paint for woodwork: (doors, architrave, skirting, dado and picture rails):

Ok, here's where you're going to get overwhelmed with options.

First up - water based vs oil based.

Water based:

1. Dries within an hour or so. 2. Is low odour. 3. Is quick(ish) to apply

Oil based:

1. Dries in 6+ hours. 2. Smells. 3. Is hard wearing and long lasting. 4. Slower to use.

Note: If you are painting bare wood it will need three coats. 1. Primer 2. Undercoat 3. Topcoat. Pre-painted surfaces will require just undercoat and topcoat.

Anyway, this breaks down into two parts:

1. Primer/Undercoat. This is applied first as the name suggests. It allows the topcoat to bond. If you don’t use undercoat, the topcoat will peel off eventually – especially on window sills or places where it is vulnerable to being battered by sunlight.

We always use a water based undercoat. It's rare to see oil based undercoat these days.

2. Topcoat: (you have a choice of either)

a. Gloss Very shiny. This is the classic choice of topcoat.

b. Satin/Eggshell About half as shiny as gloss. The modern favourite. Apparently, eggshell is the least shiny of all the three, but honestly, I can't tell the difference between satin and eggshell.

We still use oil based topcoats. You can buy water based versions of each, but honestly, for the best finish, oil based is still the way. The water based versions still have a few issues:

- dry too quickly (within 10 seconds of applying, so that it drags off again immediately and leaves you in a right old pickle)

- do not cover pre-existing stains such as tea rings or knots in the wood.

- wrecks brushes, due to the crazy quick drying. If you stop for more than a two minute break, you would have to wash the brush or it would end up ruined.

Note: You can buy topcoats that are called One Coat Gloss/Satin. Invented because painting woodwork can be time consuming and unpleasant. I only suggest using this paint on woodwork that is already in very good condition (and has previously been painted) and simply needs freshening up. You still have to use a fine sandpaper (120 grit or so) on the surface to remove the nibs and imperfections whilst also providing a key for the new paint to adhere to.

Insider tip:

We do not wash out our oil based brushes. That would require a lot of white spirit and mess. Ain't nobody got time for that. No, we have a spare old tin which we half fill with water. We place the brushes in there. The water stops the paint from setting. When we need the brush again, we simply "bash out" the excess water and give the brush a wipe on some old paper. Neat-o.

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