How to choose the right paint finish

You’ve picked out your colour swatches, played with a few sample pots and the brushes and rollers are ready to go. Now you need to choose the right type of paint for the different surfaces in your home.

Bunnings magazine, March 2020

Base camp

The majority of paint finishes are water-based, often also called acrylic paints. This means you can use water to dilute the paint (for example, if using a paint sprayer) and to wash out brushes and rollers.

Oil-based paints (also called solvent-based) take longer to dry and give off a stronger smell, due to their higher VOC (volatile organic compound) content. Mineral turpentine or a similar appropriate thinner is required to clean your brushes. 

Water-based enamels are increasingly taking over from high-gloss, solvent-based enamels, according to Bonnie Jenkinson, Dulux interior product manager. “People are gaining a preference for water-based products due to the ease of water wash-up, faster drying times and low odour during application,” she explains.

Read it: How to determine your paint requirements

What are VOCs?

Paints have traditionally been a major source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “When you walk into a freshly painted or renovated house, often the odours you’re picking up are due to VOCs coming from the materials,” says Josh Plautz, Dulux interior paint expert.

These odours usually diffuse over time and disperse into the outdoors. Low-VOC paints are becoming more available. “A low-VOC coating is formulated to avoid the use of VOCs, meaning they won’t be present in the first place,” he says.

“The change has mainly been made possible by the switch to water-based paints. This means you can get back to using rooms faster and your family has lower exposure to these chemicals. Great news if you want to avoid unwanted chemicals or have any chemical sensitivities.”

paint colours in your room

Lustre for life

Paints come in a range of sheen levels, from high gloss to satin, semi-gloss and low sheen, and flat or matt. 

“The main thing that gives a paint its sheen is the ratio between pigments and binder,” Bonnie explains. Gloss enamel paint is often preferred for timber trims while semi-gloss water-based paint is popular for walls. Ceilings are usually painted in a matt or flat formulation, which helps to disperse light more evenly and hide imperfections, like joints between plasterboard sheets.

Watch it: How to paint a ceiling

For an ultra-matt look, chalk paint – such as Dulux Design Chalk Effect or Rust-Oleum Chalked – makes a powerful statement for upcycled furniture and can be sanded back slightly for a gorgeous distressed effect.

Wall and peace

Traditionally, semi-gloss has been the preferred sheen level for walls, with a good balance of being easy to clean and creating a sleek, smooth finish. “Higher sheen paints have more binder than pigment, giving the paint extra washability,” says Bonnie Jenkinson.

Advances in technology mean it’s now possible to find lower sheen level paints that are also easy to clean. For example, Taubmans Endure range includes a matt finish that is both stain resistant and highly washable.

Watch it: How to paint

paint colours in your room
Mustard yellow is best friends with navy.

Trim and neat

Timber trims around a home, such as skirting boards, architraves and window frames, are usually subjected to more wear and tear than walls. So, it’s wise to use a hard-wearing enamel paint for these features, particularly skirtings.

“These areas are high foot-traffic parts of the home, so they’re prone to bumps and scrapes, making it important to choose the right product for the job,” says Kelly Magee, senior brand manager for British Paints. Products such as British Paints Paint & Prime Doors Windows & Trims give an ultra-smooth look that should stand the test of time. 
Though generally not as tough or as glossy as an oil-based paint, water-based enamel, such as Dulux Aquanamel, is another good option for trims. Doors tend to cop a bit of abuse as well, so tough enamel paint is a good option. “Dulux Aquanamel and Super Enamel (our Dulux oil-based option) are typically used in semi-gloss and gloss sheen levels for door applications,” says Bonnie.

Watch it: How to paint trims

Pro tip

The easiest way to paint a door is to remove it from its hinges, mask off the handles and place it on a set of sawhorses.

Watch it: How to paint a door

paint colours in your room
A splashback panel provides art and colour. Bellessi Motiv Polymer bathroom panel in Manhattan Blues.

Outdoor types

For painting weatherboards and similar exterior surfaces, choose a paint formulated to tolerate the harsh Aussie sun, such as Taubmans All Weather or Dulux Weathershield. Both of these are water-based exterior paints that can be applied directly to most surfaces without requiring a coat of primer first.

Good exterior paints will feature protection from UV light and resistance to dirt and mould, and even the salty air of a seaside environment. 

Watch it: How to paint your house’s exterior

Find your colour

Check out our full range of paint and accessories and start your own paint project today.

Photography credits: Taubmans, British Paints, Dulux Australia and Lisa Cohen.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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