Latex, Oil, Semi-Gloss and Satin: Painting Terms To Know

Latex. Oil. Semi-gloss. Satin. And what's with the low or no V.O.C.s? How can you make a choice if you aren't exactly sure what these terms mean?

Paint is made up of various components, its color being the most obvious. The color is called the pigment. Binders hold the pigment together. Additives provide extra features such as moisture or mildew resistance, and liquids are the carrier that transports the pigment, binders and additives. Once paint is on the wall, liquid evaporates. Latex paint uses water as its liquid, and oil-based paint uses mineral spirits, which is a solvent derived from petroleum. Latex paint dries faster than oil-based paint because water evaporates faster than mineral spirits. It's also easier to clean up.

A Few Paint Terms...

Primer: This is the first coat of paint that serves to help bind the top coat. It is especially useful on walls that have never been painted before or are currently painted a darker color than the color you are going to add.

Gloss: This type of paint has the most sheen (or shininess), is particularly durable and is easy to clean. It is most often used in areas that get a great deal of use, such as kitchen and bath walls, and woodwork and baseboards throughout the house. It shows imperfections easily, however.

Semi-gloss: A step down in sheen, semi-gloss paint is a good compromise for the same high-traffic areas as gloss without showing imperfections so readily.

Satin: Smack in the middle on the sheen scale, satin-finish paints give you a silky sheen while still being easy to clean.

Eggshell: Eggshell is a common choice for bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and family rooms.

Flat: Have a big wall where imperfections will show easily? Go with paint with a flat finish. It's a good choice for large areas and ceilings. Some paint manufacturers may call this finish "matte" instead of "flat."

Volatile organic compounds: Within the paint formula, substances called volatile organic compounds can emit a breathable gas that can reduce air quality and have possible health risks. Yes, it's that familiar new paint smell. New formulas have resulted in expanded paint choices, including low V.O.C. or no V.O.C. paints. These paints cost about the same as any premium paint and perform similarly. They have little or no odor and therefore will not necessitate you go to a hotel for a few days "until the new paint smell goes away." They are great choices for baby or child rooms, for homes with a family member who has a breathing condition, or for anyone who has health concerns related to volatile organic compounds.


The best paint in the world won't matter if you haven't prepared your surface or workspace appropriately. Make sure walls are clean, smooth and paint-ready; furniture is moved or covered, switchplates and lighting fixtures are removed, and all tools and clean-up equipment are handy before you even open the paint can.

Not Up To It?

Put the pros to work for you by contacting these painting companies.

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