Choosing the Right Type of Paint for any Surface

Taking a trip to the hardware store for paint is a little different than it used to be 20 years ago. Today it seems that you need a map to decipher what color, what type, what finish and what brand. Picking paint can be hard, and that’s why I’ve created a simple list of guidelines to choosing the right type of paint for any surface.

choosing the right type of paint for any surface

First things first, you need to know what the material is that you are painting.

Are you painting your walls? Are you painting an old piece of furniture that’s been previously painted? Does the surface already have paint on it and is it oil based or water based?

Choosing the right paint is daunting, I get it.

I’m going to try to make this as easy as I can.

Here’s a handy and very SIMPLE chart about how to choose the right paint.

Disclosure: there are MANY different ways to paint different surfaces. This is not a right or wrong answer. I am sharing MY THOUGHTS and simple guidelines about how to choose the right paint and finishes from MY EXPERIENCE. Always refer to the paint manufactures guidelines for specific instructions after you’ve chosen a paint.

choosing the right type of paint for any surface

I want to break this list down and be a little more specific.

My method to choosing the right type of paint:

  1. Decide what material and surface you are painting.
  2. Has it been painted before? Is the previous paint water or oil based?
  3. Decide what finish you want to create.
  4. Do you need a top coat?

How to paint certain materials:

  • Wood- there are so many different ways to paint wood. Refer to my chart for the time being and stay tuned because I’ve got a full blog post coming soon for this.
  • Metal- One of the best ways, in my opinion, to paint metal is with spray paint. There are a TON of fabulous spray paints that are formulated to work REALLY WELL on metal. Check out my post about painting outdoor furniture where I’ve shared a lot of tips on painting metal furniture.
  • Laminate- I have a full guide on how to paint laminate HERE. This includes pieces like IKEA furniture and a lot of kitchen cabinets.
  • Plastic- painting plastic is a lot like painting laminate. You can use the same guidelines.

If the surface has been painted before, how do you know if it’s been painted with oil based or water based paint?

  • You can do a simple test to decipher if it’s oil or water based. Pour a bit of acetone (nail polish remover) on a rag and wipe the surface with it. If the old paint rubs off on the rag then it’s latex or water based. If it doesn’t wipe off then it’s oil based.
  • Since oil and water don’t mix, figuring out WHAT TYPE of paint is on the surface is a must.

How do you use water based paint over oil based paint?

Lightly sand the surface with a fine sandpaper. Clean it really well and use a good primer (water based or oil based) over the surface. After the primer is dry you can use whatever type of paint you want!

How do you use oil based paint over water based paint?

The method for painting oil based over latex or water based is about the same as above, but use a water based primer. In a nutshell, sand the surface, clean the surface, add a water based primer and then use the oil based paint.

how to choose the right type of paint

The key to painting oil based paint over water based paint or visa versa is PRIMER!

The last important step to deciding what type of paint to use is choosing a finish!

Let’s discuss paint finishes for a moment.

  • Matte paint finish– least reflective and hard to clean. Does well at hiding imperfections.
  • Eggshell or satin finish– some reflectivity, better durability and mostly used in bathroom and kitchen areas.
  • Semi gloss or gloss- most reflective and highly durable. Mainly used for trim. Does show imperfections.

What if you are painting furniture and not walls?

Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase from one of these links I will receive a small commission, but rest assured you won’t pay anymore for the product.

You can still use latex paint, but there are a few other options such as MILK PAINT AND CHALK PAINT.

These two are traditionally used for furniture painting because they adhere really well and normally don’t require sanding or priming.

choose the right type of paint

I won’t go into all the details of each, but if you want to know more check out my posts on How to Chalk paint furniture and chalk paint vs. milk paint.

Due to the variety of new paints for furniture, you don’t see oil based paints used as much for furniture anymore. This doesn’t mean you can’t use them, they just aren’t used as much.

Personally, I prefer chalk paint for furniture because of its self leveling properties which makes it very easy to use. The one thing to remember with chalk paint, it requires a top coat to seal it!

What if you are using chalk paint or milk paint which only comes in one “matte like” finish?

Chalk paint and milk paint require a top coat because of their matte like finish. It is not recommended to use either without one.

I’ve shared a few of my favorite top coats and sealers for a high traffic finish.

Always follow the manufacturers instructions as far as using a top coat.

I know that was a lot of information, BUT if you got through this post hopefully you feel a wee bit more confident about HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT PAINT.

As always, if you have any questions, send me a message in the comments below.

Happy painting (or choosing a paint, LOL),


Related Posts:

how to paint and maintain outdoor furniture
how to use chalk paint
chalk paint vs milk paint
can primer be used as finish coat of paint

2 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Type of Paint for any Surface

  1. We are doing some painting next weekend and are looking for some tips. Most of the painting will be done on the walls so I’ll have to find the right type to use. As you said here, there are a few to pick from. I’ll probably go with the eggshell finish since it is a bit more durable than the others.

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