What Are the Different Types of Paint?

Different paints on a white background.

With so many types of paint flooding the market, starting a new painting project can be intimidating. Fortunately, selecting the right kind of paint for your next DIY project is actually pretty straightforward. From oil-based paints to matte finishes, here is a quick guide on the different types of paint and when they should be used.

Oil-based Paints

Oil-based paints are best used on surfaces that take a lot of abuse. Oil-based paints take longer to dry and cure, but they provide better protection and are more durable than their water-based counterparts. These paints also feature a smooth finish and a natural glossy look. The active ingredient in oil-based paint is usually either linseed oil or alkyd.

Water-based Paints

A man paints a wall.

In general, water-based paints are a lot easier to use than oil-based paints. Water-based varieties cure and dry a lot faster than oil-based paints and do not require a lot of harsh chemicals to clean up. Although water-based paints are the most common, they are not as durable as oil-based paints and should not be used on surfaces that take a lot of abuse. They are ideal, however, for walls and ceilings.


Primers are a valuable part of any painting job. Although primer helps paint adhere better to surfaces, it is not paint and should not be used as a top coat. Instead, the primer is applied before the coat of paint and adds another layer of durability to the surface. Primer is not required in all paint jobs but should be used if you are working with a fresh surface or changing the color drastically.

Finish Types

Finish type refers to how the paint looks once it has dried. The finish, or sheen, of a paint is either glossy, semi-glossy, or not glossy at all. The glossier a paint finish, the better it can withstand abuse and cleaning. Glossy paints are great for areas of high use, such as bathrooms and kitchens. The only downside to the gloss is that it reflects light a lot more than non-glossy finishes, which can highlight defects on the surface.

Non-glossy Paints

Various paints and paint brushes on wood.

Matte and matte enamel produce little to no gloss when they dry. These paints are ideal for surfaces that you want to keep hidden, such as ceilings. Non-glossy paints are easy to work with, though they can get marked up easier than other types of paint. That said, matte enamel is generally more durable than regular matte and can be used in high traffic areas of the home.

Satin and Eggshell Paints

Eggshell and satin paints rest somewhere between non-glossy and semi-gloss paints. These paints offer a shade of gloss, which helps improve durability. They are great for areas of the home where you need durability but don’t necessarily want a glossy look. Satin is generally a little more glossy than eggshell.

Semi-gloss Paints

A man paints a wall blue.

Semi-gloss paints are commonly used on trim pieces because they offer more durability than non-gloss varieties. Semi-gloss paints are also easy to clean and hold up well to scuffing. They also adhere to surfaces with ease and usually only require one coat. The downside to semi-gloss is that it tends to show imperfections more readily than other types of paint, aside from full gloss.

Gloss Paints

Gloss paint is one of the most common types of interior paint. Gloss paints can be used on just about any wall, though many people choose to use them on wood surfaces due to their high sheen value. When using gloss paints, more than one coat is usually required to produce a smooth surface. Gloss paints also take a little longer to dry than other kinds of paint, such as matte, so you may need to plan for longer paint times.