A trip to your local hardware store to select paint can often become overwhelming. There are lots of different types of paint out there and knowing which type of paint to choose for a project can get confusing. Use this guide to learn about the different types of paint and which would be the best paint for furniture, wood, plastic, metal and laminate surfaces.
I really thought that all the information to know about painting furniture was out there in internet land for everyone to see and no one needed to hear anymore from me besides the occasional furniture makeover, on the subject. However, I get questions all the time asking what kind of paint for certain kinds of furniture, when to sand / when not to sand pieces, when to prime / when not to prime, and so on. Apparently, people still have questions on this topic and I’m cool with that. It gives me something to write about that I love writing about. So to answer one of those questions, this post is all about what kind of paint to use on what surface.
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Best Paint for Wood
Generally, you can use just about any kind of paint on wood surfaces, whether it’s wood furniture, wood trim or other wood surfaces.
Oil-based paint is great for furniture makeovers in terms of durability over time. However, it’s not as easy to deal with as latex and other specialty furniture paints are. With an oil-based paint, you absolutely must make sure you use a high-quality paint brush that will work with oil-based paint. Generally, it just works better to brush oil-based paint on, rather than rolling it. Oil-based paint is also known to have fewer brush strokes as well. Clean-up for oil-based paint is not a picnic. You have to use mineral spirits or paint thinner to clean your brushes and any paint off you as well. Most oil-based paints won’t require an additional topcoat though.
One really important thing to note with oil-based paint is that it should not be painted directly over latex paints. If you really want to use oil-based paint over latex, then first sand it, prime it with a water-based primer and then use your oil-based paint.
Your basic latex paint that you can find at local home improvement stores is also fine to paint wood surfaces with. Generally, it is much easier to work with than oil-based paints, however the durability over time isn’t as great, but it’s not bad by any means. If you paint something with a semi-gloss or gloss sheen, then you may not need an additional polycrylic topcoat depending on much use your surface will get. If you paint something with a latex paint that has a flat, eggshell or satin sheen, I would definitely finish up with a polycrylic topcoat for added protection. If you’re looking for low sheen, go with the satin polycrylic. Latex paint can be cleaned up with soap and water. One thing to note with latex paint is that brush strokes are more likely. To minimize these as much as possible always use a good, high quality paintbrush and mix in a little Floetrol – it’s like magic in a bottle for eliminating brush strokes.
Best Paint for Wood Furniture: Speciality Paints
Since furniture painting has become such a big deal, there have been a number of specialty paints created specifically for painting furniture. Many of these make furniture painting easier in some way or another that oil-based and latex paints don’t always offer.
Velvet Finishes Paint
It’s no secret around here that I often use Velvet Finishes for my furniture projects.
Velvet Finishes has a built-in topcoat and usually does not require sanding or priming unless the piece has a shiny or glossy finish on it before painting. If your piece is glossy, you can use their Ready product on it before painting, which is a spray primer that you just spray on, let it sit, then wipe off.
Many people love chalk paint. I’m not one of those people. I don’t detest it, but it’s just not my cup of tea. Most chalk paints don’t require you to prime or sand your piece before painting, which is great. Most chalk paints do require you to give it some sort of topcoat though. Many people use wax to seal it.
I’ve never personally used milk paint, so I certainly can’t speak to how well it works myself, but I have heard good things about it from others. I think most people go with milk paint when they are looking to achieve a farmhouse effect on their furniture.
Types of Paint for Laminate Surfaces
Painting laminate furniture and surfaces is a whole other beast. It can be done, but not super easily. To paint laminate furniture, I think you should always prime the piece first. I’ve used Zinnser Primers for this and have had good results.
I have painted laminate pieces before without priming them first and it didn’t turn out so hot.
My personal pick for latex paint that you can buy at your local home improvement store is Behr paint. I’ve always gotten good results with it and while it is a little more expensive than other brands, I think it’s well worth it.
Oil Based Paints
You can also use oil-based paints over laminate if you first prime it. Using an Oil Based paint would provide more durability over the long run.
I have used Velvet Finishes over laminate furniture before and it did pretty well. I still suggest using a good primer on it first though.
With laminate furniture, I highly suggest giving it some extra protection. Give it a couple coats of Polycrylic after you finish painting it to really try and protect that surface.
Even if you follow all these steps, there will most likely come a time down the road when your painted piece of laminate furniture will chip or the paint may start to peel away. This is just the nature of painting laminate furniture.
Types of Paint for Plastic Surfaces
Hands-down, anytime I have something plastic to paint, I head for the spray paint. It’s the easiest way to get the paint on there without brush strokes and gives pretty good adhesion on plastic pieces. Prime the piece first with a spray paint primer (especially if it’s really shiny) and then follow up with a few coats of spray paint. I’ve used Rust-Oleum, Krylon and Design Masters spray paint and have been pleased with all of them.
Types of Paint for Metal Surfaces
I generally go with one of two paints when it comes to metal surfaces: Oil-Based Paint or Spray Paint. If it’s a big metal piece that I’m painting, I’ll go with oil-based paint like I did with my metal handrail. If it’s something metal that’s smaller, I’ll go with spray paint.
Metal Stair Railings painted with Oil-Based Paint / Spray Painted Metal Laundry Hamper
Oil-Based paints bond really well to metal surfaces. You can use it in a paint sprayer if you want to or brush it on, which is what I tend to do. Just remember, and I know I’ve said this like 2.1 million times now, always use a good, high quality paintbrush! It really does make a world of difference when painting. One thing to remember when you are painting something with oil-based paint that’s bigger in scale is to work in sections. You can’t easily go back over places to touch them up after you’ve already put one coat of paint on. While oil-based paint takes longer to dry, that also means your finish gets messed up if you try to go back over a part that is partially dried. My personal pick for oil-based paint is Behr’s.
If you’ve got something smaller that’s metal, let’s say a lamp or something, then I would head for the spray paint aisle. It’s just easier to work with and will still provide great adhesion and durability. I used spray paint on that metal laundry hamper you saw above.
Types of Paint for Upholstered Surfaces
So you’ve been considering painting some upholstery, eh? This is a topic that many people seem to have mixed feelings on. I have painted an upholstered chair before, however it was a chair that wasn’t going to get a whole lot of use, therefore I wasn’t too worried about the comfort of it.
In that one instance, I used Velvet Finishes paint for the upholstery. I think it took about three coats to fully cover the upholstery. Upholstery does suck up a lot of paint, so be prepared to paint on multiple coats.
Those are my picks for the best types of paints for wood, laminate, metal, plastic and upholstery surfaces.
Do you have any favorites or other questions?
Now that you’ve read all the nitty-gritty details, you might find it useful to have a one-page guide on what kind of paint can be used on what kind of surface – lucky for you, I’ve made one just for you! Click below to get access to it!
If you’ve got any other painting questions at all, please leave your questions in the comments!
Need more painting help?
Click on any of the links below to get my opinion. (Which by no means is a professional opinion. I’ve only painted, oh, say 2.4 million pieces of furniture. Ok, that’s stretching it a bit.)
Types of Paint to Use on Kitchen Cabinets – I’ve painted cabinets five times now. Here’s my take on which paints to use.
Painting 101: Topcoats and When to Use Them – topcoats can be confusing, right? This guide breaks them all down.
Must-Have Tools and Supplies for Painting Furniture – my tried and true tools of the trade.
My Best Tips and Tricks for Painting Furniture – from over 10+ years of painting.
FAQ: Painting Furniture – all the questions I’ve ever been asked about painting in one.