What’s the best paint? Honestly, there is no single answer to this question, but I get asked this on a regular basis. I posted about my favorite water-based and favorite oil-based paints before, but neither can be definitively qualified as the “best” paint.
I think this question comes from a place of wanting to not make mistakes. I never want to paint a room or a house twice if I don’t have to, but the biggest problem with most paint jobs isn’t the brand of paint, but poor preparation. I’ve outlined my process for properly painting in How To: Paint Your Historic House…Properly.
That being said, there is a place in the conversation for picking the right paint. So, let’s dig into what makes one paint more expensive than another and see when paying more for paint might make sense.
One of the reasons a paint will cost more is because of a higher solids content. Paint is made of of three things: Solvent (water or alkyd), pigment, and binder. As a paint dries, the solvent dissipates an you’re left with the pigment and binder, which are referred to as the solids. The binder holds the pigment together and the two together create your paint film.
The more solids a paint has, the better it hides and protects, so solids are a big part of the paint formula and a higher solids content is definitely worth paying for. Everything else is just water or paint thinner essentially.
The question comes down to: “Are you really saving money if you have to buy extra paint to get the proper color and coverage you need?”
Answer: Higher solid content is worth the extra money.
Paint & Primer in One
Almost every consumer brand has released their version of “paint & primer in one” over the last 10 years. Yet, none of the professional brands offer this. Why? In my humble opinion, it’s because paint and primer is a load hooey, baloney, bull. It’s a farce. The idea that somehow you can combine paint and primer into one application is absolutely absurd.
Primer is design to prepare or “prime” the surface in preparation for paint. Priming is a task designed to modify the surface to something that can more readily accept the finish paint. You cannot magically mix them together, apply them at the same time, and expect the same results.
In my experience, some of these paints hide better than normal paint, but that is mostly due to increased solids content.
Answer: Don’t believe the hype. Save your money.
Enamels are always a little more expensive than regular wall paint, and for good reason. Enamels are designed to give a hard, durable, washable finish. If you’re painting ceilings you don’t need this kind of performance, but for doors, windows and trim that’s the kind of protection we need.
Whether you use an oil-based or water-based enamel, you can get a great finish that can hold up to the heavy traffic these areas demand.
Answer: Pay the higher price, you want the performance
This is the best place to save your money. Get a flat white paint (my favorite is Sherwin Williams MasterHide) and go to town on the ceiling. Nobody will touch the ceiling, so you don’t have to worry about it being washable.
If you’re a tinkerer, you can even add some whiting to your paint to help it hide better. This is what the old-timers did.
Answer: Save your money and buy cheap.
Spend, spend, spend. This is the place where your old house needs the most protection. The elements can be brutal and buying the highest quality paint is the only way to go. In the end, it saves you money because exterior paint jobs are expensive and the longer you can stretch the life of your exterior paint, the more money you save.
A $5,000 paint job every 7 years is not cheaper than an $8,000 paint job every 13 years. Not only does the paint last longer, but it protects better and that performance is worth paying for.
Not to mention the cost of paint is the smallest portion of a big paint job. Labor is the most expensive piece of the pie so paying an extra 10% of the total cost to really up the ante on your paint job is well worth your money.
Answer: Buy the most expensive paint you can afford.
This is a place where you can save or spend and I won’t be mad at you. If you have little kids running around, then you might need a higher quality paint that is more washable to handle all the grimy fingerprints and crayon marks that show up on my walls.
Or if you are planning a dramatic color change and you need the hiding power of a paint with more solids so you get the job done with less coats.
If you don’t have kids or pets, then maybe this is a place where you can save a little. Walls don’t get a lot wear so this is a definitely a place you can save if you need to.
Answer: Save if you want, splurge if you can.
In the end, it depends on the situation you’re in. If you have an excess of money and want to buy a better paint then I would always encourage you to do so. Paint is one of the few places where you truly get what you pay for. Almost always, the better paint is the one with the higher price tag, so make your choice accordingly.
One last tip, if you are worried about hiding ability, a tinted primer is a great way to save money. Do your first coat with a primer (which is almost always cheaper than paint) that has been tinted to 50% of your color choice. Then follow up with a coat of finish paint. This saves me time and money on my jobs and gives premium performance because I’m priming first.
If you need some more help with your next painting project, check out some of the related posts below or just search ‘paint’ in the search bar at the top right.
Good luck and may the paints be ever in your favor!
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
6 thoughts on “Is It Worth Paying More For Paint?”
Thanks Scott for your valuable information. I’m planning to paint my kitchen which is plaster with what looks like drywall backing instead of wood- I’m in California and the home was built in 1956. We painted the kitchen with oil based and now it’s peeling in some spots. I want to paint it with water-based. How should I deal with the peeling and painting over oil based with water based?
I wonder if you have used linseed oil paint? I am in the process of restoring all the windows in my daughters 1915 Craftsman and would like to use linseed oil paint. Would like your opinion. Thank you.
Good tips! I started buying Sherwin Williams paint at your recommendation and I have not regretted it. Additionally, with their 30% and 40% off coupons, their paint is comparable and sometimes actually less than consumer paint at the big box stores. I’ve never had a paint give true one coat coverage before using SW’s Cashmere wall paint.
I’m planning to paint the exterior of my 1912 bungalow this summer and I’ll be using the highest quality paint I can find. I don’t wanna do this very often!
Good idea Lisa!
Wonderful advice! I’m restoring an 18th century dike house in Amsterdam that badly needs an exterior paint job. I’m going to scrape it down to bare wood and read on the “This old house” blog something about coating bare wood with a paintable water-repellent preservative before priming. Do you ever recommend this product and if so, is there a particular brand you prefer?
I have received much inspiration from your blog!
Paul, I’ll sometimes use a mixture of penetrol and turpentine on bare wood to prepare the surface before priming. John Leeke recommends it on his website HistoricHomeWorks.com