Paint Types – Pros & Cons

I decided it was time to update some of my “painting posts”, sharing the products and techniques I use now vs. a few year ago.  I was looking through some of the posts highlighted on my side bar and they are ancient!  It’s time for an update!  So, what better place to start than paint?

Here are the paints I use most, the pros & cons for each, and what I use them for.  Of course, I have my biases (who doesn’t?), but I am going to try my best to be impartial and honest.  I’m not going to link to or mention any specific products, so I can talk about the groups of paint generically.  I have a HUGE paint shelf that is filled with different brands and kinds of paints, because there is not one magic paint that does everything.

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MILK PAINT

(I’ll just put it out there for those who don’t know…I have a milk paint line.  So, of course I love milk paint, but it does have its limitations like every other paint. )

Pros:

  • It is all-natural, no VOCs and has existed for hundreds of years, so it’s time tested.
  • It is thin, so it is forgiving for sloppy painters and won’t get gloppy with multiple coats or layers.
  • It distresses in a very authentic way.
  • Because it doesn’t have the modern day additives that make paint adhere to smooth surfaces, it will resist certain finishes, creating an authentic “chippy” look.
  • It has a depth of color and beautiful color variations due to the way it’s pigmented.
  • It is the absolute best paint I know of for raw wood and porous surfaces, because it soaks in like a stain, but looks like a paint.  This means it will never chip or wear away.  There are pieces of furniture that are over 100 years old with the original milk paint still on them.  That is durability!
  • In powdered form, it has an indefinite shelf life, so this paint can be used once a decade and it will still be there waiting for you to use on your next project.

Cons:

  • It comes in powder form and needs to be mixed with water.  It may take some practice to get used to the consistency you want for your project.  The texture is so different from “modern” paints that it freaks some people out!  
  • When using it over an existing finish, it can be unpredictable.  Sometimes it will chip a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes not at all.  (I’ll cover more on how to control it in future posts.)
  • It does need some kind of protective topcoat (oil, poly, wax, polycrylic, etc.)

When I use it:

  • I LOVE milk paint for furniture and “antique” signs, but it can be used for cabinetry, walls, floors (it’s especially perfect for raw wood floors), fabric and more.  

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ACRYLIC PAINT

Pros:

  • It flows off a brush beautifully and has great “body.”  It’s just the right amount of thickness to give good coverage without getting gloppy.
  • It’s durable with or without a topcoat.
  • It can be used without primer.
  • It looks great rolled, sprayed or brushed and it distresses well.
  • It has no VOC’s and almost odorless.
  • It’s fast-drying.
  • It can be used outside.  I spilled some acrylic paint on my driveway three years ago and it’s still there…just as vibrant blue as ever!  My husband is thrilled.

Cons:

  • Most readily available acrylic paint is “craft paint”, which comes in tiny bottles.  Yes, I’m the crazy lady who buys an entire row of one color to use on a piece of furniture!  
  • Quality acrylic is on the pricey side.  I know the $.99/bottle makes it seem cheap, but if you make a gallon out of that, it’s expensive.

When I use it:

  • I use it mostly for decorative painting these days, but I also like it for furniture.  It does well on finished and raw wood, paint surfaces, metal, fabric and more.  

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CHALK & CHALK/CLAY PAINTS

Pros:

  • It will stick to almost anything without sanding, prep or primer.  
  • The paint is thick, so it gives good coverage and can be used to create interesting textures.
  • It’s low odor and fast drying.
  • It’s a hard-wearing, durable paint.
  • Can be used for exteriors (unwaxed.)
  • A little goes a long way.  One quart will paint a lot of furniture.
  • It looks good rolled, sprayed or brushed and it distresses well.

Cons:

  • Because it’s thick and “grippy”, it gets a little gloppy if you need to apply more than one coat.  
  • It’s expensive.  Again, it goes a long way, but it is a pricey paint.

When I use it:

  • These days, I mostly use it on furniture that has a really slick finish, but it’s great on a lot of surfaces…cabinets, painted surfaces, raw wood, metal, leather, laminate, fabric, and even counter tops.  I’ve also learned it makes a great primer for milk paint!  

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LATEX PAINT

Pros:

  • It’s readily available in any color imaginable.  
  • It’s relatively inexpensive, especially for small projects.  You can get a $5.00 test quart of quality latex and use it on several pieces of furniture.
  • It looks awesome when sprayed
  • It’s durable once it’s cured (about 30 days.)

Cons:

  •  You have to prep, sand and prime a piece before using latex.
  • It doesn’t distress very well, but sort of rolls/peals off.
  • It can be unforgiving with brush strokes and roller marks.  A high quality latex, good brush and skilled application can offset that, but it’s definitely not a paint you can be sloppy with.

When I use it:

  • Of course, I use it for my walls, trim and ceilings.  I used to use it on furniture, but I like other paints so much better that I haven’t for years.  I still wouldn’t discount it altogether, though.  I always used it with a high quality bonding primer (that I would tint to the color I’m painting) and spray the finish.

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OIL PAINT

Pros: 

  • It is very durable.  You can scrub it, bang it, scratch it and scrape it and it will hold up very well.  

Cons:

  • It’s stinky.  
  • It takes a long time to dry…several hours to days depending on the number of coats.
  • It has to be cleaned up with solvent, which is also stinky and not fun to work with.
  • Colors can yellow over time.

What I use it for:

  • I used it on my kitchen cabinets because of its durability and, despite the cons, I would use it again.  It’s also great for trim.  

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Remember, these are just my opinions and I’m sure others have different opinions about the same products.  I think that’s one of the exciting things about having so many options to choose from.  You can use what you like to create the look you want.   Don’t be afraid to branch out and try some new things.  Also, don’t be afraid to mix brands.  It’s okay to love one brand of primer, one brand of paint, another kind of topcoat.  Mix and match in a way that works for you.

The products you use are a part of what makes your look unique to you.  That uniqueness is what will make your work stand out from all of the other furniture painters out there.

So go…experiment…and enjoy the time spent working with these products to form opinions of your own.


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Comments

  1. Excellent overview. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Marian–I saw the most BEAUTIFUL piece of furniture done with your milk paint using American Paint Company Chalk Paint as the base..they were both whites and it looked like it was painted 80 years ago!! I am going to try to exact combination soon…..will share pictures..chris

  3. Thank you so much for this overview! It was perfect! I have yet to try milk paint but I think it’s time to! Love your blog and have been a long time follower! Have a nice week!!~~Angela

  4. Thank you for sharing! I found an old step stool at a flea market months ago and finally got around to stripping it down to the metal. My only problem now is trying to decide what color of your milk paint line I want to paint it!! :) So excited to try it!!

  5. I agree with your statements. There is not one perfect paint out there and it’s fun to mix and match to get the right effect. Thank you for taking the time to put it all down for others to read!

  6. PattyM says:

    Thanks for the great summary. I’m experimenting with linseed oil and natural powdered pigments to create paint that mimics the appearance of Scandinavian furniture. The first attempt was disastrous when I broke the glass jar I used for mixing and ended up with oil paint all over my terra cotta tile but I’ll pass on the formula if I can get it to work. The trials of painting in a condo kitchen!

    I know everyone hates to sand (I would rather eat a box of nails, frankly) but sometimes it is necessary to create a certain look. I generally use wet/dry sandpaper to eliminate runs and brush strokes. When used wet, there is no sanding dust and the finish is as smooth as silk, so it makes the task a little more tolerable. Hope this helps someone who is struggling with the evils of sanding. Again, thanks for all of the information you share.

    • I would love the recipe if you figure it out. What a fun thing to experiment with.

      Yes, sanding has gotten such a bad rap these days, but it really only takes a few minutes and can make a big difference in the final look of the piece.

  7. Thanks for the great tips, Marian! I have the perfect piece to try your milk paint on and I am sooo excited to try it finally!

    Also, my blog should be up and running by the end of the month. I have worked with Reni for the past several months on revamping my logo and creating the look of my blog and I am so thrilled with how it has come along. I will send you an invite once it is live!

    Have a wonderful week!

  8. Maureen says:

    Thanks for sharing this info. I have learned so much from your blog and have ventured into doing things I never would have tried – slipcovers and painting old furniture specifically. I have really gotten into using chalk paint…and love it. Soon I will try milk paint too. I just finished 4 chairs for my dining rooms using chalk paint. The area where the top part of the spindle goes into the hole keepings chipping. I keep retouching that area. It even happens on the chairs that aren’t being used. Any advice on what I need to do to “cure” it better? Thanks!

    • I’m wondering if that spindles are a little loose and that slight movement is loosening the paint, causing it to chip. Try to wiggle the chairs and make sure the joints are tight. The other issue may be some kind of glue seepage that the paint isn’t adhering to…

      • Maureen says:

        Thx for your response. The spindles may be the smallest little bit loose. There’s a slight movement when I wiggle them. What can I do to correct this before repainting where the paint has chipped? Thanks! You’re the best!!

  9. You must have been wondering lately what I want to know about!;) Again, very informative post and I always know that you will answer questions I have. You are the guru Marian and I greatly appreciate all that you do! Thank ya lady!!

  10. Gilda says:

    You need t produce a laminated painter’s guide for us to buy or one we can copy that includes all of this information in a concise format….a sort of painter’s cheat sheet!!! plus other info on it that pertains to your recommentations for brushes..

  11. Paula says:

    Always great info! Thank you!

  12. What would you suggest for items in the bathroom where moisture might be a problem?

  13. excellent breakdown – thanks for sharing pros & cons

  14. Jessica says:

    Marian,
    I painted a table and chairs to use outside with milk paint last fall but am so scared to leave it outside for fear it will be ruined. So each time we use it we haul it in and out in and out….. Do you recommend anything to seal it so we can leave it outside and not worry about it? I saw you mentioned poly, have you used that over milk paint for outdoor projects?

    Thank you for sharing!!!

    • Portia McCracken says:

      I’m not Marian and I haven’t tried this, but I think I heard or read Annie Sloan say that anything used outside must be waxed to resist weathering. Apparently, once you wax it, the paint is bonded and will last indefinitely. Good luck!

  15. Thanks for the great overview of paints, Marian!

    I have been using latex on my walls and trim also, but I used it on bathroom vanity as well because I wanted the color to match the color of the wall. Other than that, I am sticking with milk paint for furniture. Gotta try acrylic for accents though… Funny, I have been using acrylic to paint on canvas years ago (haven’t done any fine art in a while). They were considered “poor artist’s paint” back then. :-)

  16. Hi Marion!
    Thanks for the Round up of info on Paints~

    I found a great latex that works wonders! It is carried by Ace Hardware, is a paint/primer in one, and takes additives like non sanded grout well. As with milk paint it needs to be stirred well, but it dries fast and is a dream to work with. When it comes to chalk paint I am still doing the home made version and use Kensington Paints to mix chalk paint all the time.

    Several months ago you were gracious enough to send me some Milk Paint in Luckett’s Green after a sample didn’t adhere as I had hoped. I have been saving the paint you sent to me forever now, waiting for the perfect piece to use it on, and started working on that piece today. I will be linking up to your FFF this week and truly hope I can prove myself worthy of such a gracious act!

    See you there!
    Bev @ Give me a paintbrush

  17. Heidi says:

    I’ve never used milk paint before but am considering it on a piece I want to refinish. My biggest hesitation is that it seems like it would be permanent. As in, if I wanted to change the look of the piece eventually, I couldn’t. Is that true? If I painted it with milk paint and then wanted to paint it in an oil paint, or latex, could that be done? What if I wanted to stain it one day?

    • Camille says:

      Heidi, I have that same question. Thanks for asking about it.

    • If you paint raw wood with milk paint, it is almost impossible to strip off to refinish. You can always paint over it, though. I wouldn’t use milk paint if you might want to stain it in the future. If there is an existing finish (paint or poly), that will prevent the milk paint from penetrating and it can later be stripped along with the other finish. I hope that answers your question!

  18. MMM thanks for the info it is so helpful, and in terms I can understand. Is there any way to print it out with out any of the graphics, would like to have it in printed form to refer to, just straight script

  19. Great post! Thanks for sharing all that information.

  20. Your advice is so helpful to novices like me who are just thinking about getting started and feeling intimidated !! Thank-You SOOOO much.. love your site and ur insightfulness!!!

  21. Clara says:

    To save instructions regarding paint, use WORD. Open WORD and save the document. Then go back to the email / blog of MMS, click your curser on the title of the section (do one section at a time); then while holding down the left mouse button, drag to highlight that section (minus the pictures/graphics). Then right click to copy. Go to the WORD document and paste.
    Go back to the blog while leaving the WORD doc open, click in front of the next title, drag to highlight this section; then right click to copy. Back to WORD and paste after the previous section.
    MMS, I enjoy your blog!

    • Bernice says:

      Thank you Clara for the instructions on how to save this information. I usually have to send the page to myself in an email then put in my folders. this is way easier and will certainly catch my attention! Thanks Marian, for repeating this info, I do believe I read it before from you but forgot it!

  22. Nancy B. says:

    All I have ever used is Oil (primer), Latex, and Acrylic! I know, I’ve had my head in the closet! Milk paint and chalk paint are foreign to me never having used either. I appreciate your breakdown on the paints and uses, thanks! I look forward to learning more about milk paint. We recently inherited a small antique chest with a carrara marble top. It’s a lovely little chest, painted avocado green! We bought latex to repaint it but haven’t had time yet. Since then (very recently) I’ve found blog’s, and yours in particular and now I wonder if I should rethink the paint choice!?!

  23. I really appreciate these tips and how very succinctly you helped me understand the differences…good or bad of each of these paint choices. I have to say I totally cracked up at the idea of clearing out a whole color row of the 99 cent acrylic bottles. :D I love that you did that and just knowing that gives me encouragement to go with my heart the next go around.

    There is one thing that I would like to qualify. This comment you made about chalk type paints: “It looks good rolled, sprayed or brushed and it distresses well.” I painted my vintage sideboard with ASCP. But…it did not look good rolled. Is shows those little sponge marks as there is no fluidity to the paint. However…I did paint the whole piece that way because it allowed the decorative detailing that was already a part of the sideboard to look fabulous (the relief got painted, but the crevices did not) Maybe it needed more water to get a smoother finish. What I have is a textured finish, which I would not have had using the same cabinet roller with oil (alkyd) or latex paints. Years ago I painted a vanity/desk with BenMoore alkyd and the finish was flawless. What I like is that the top is like glass. All my sanding paid off. That didn’t help with the chalk paint.
    Again, thanks for the wonderful tips. Pinning!!

    • I like smooth finishes on furniture as well, which is one reason why I’ve liked ASCP and chalk-like paints. You can lightly sand off texture made by brush or roller marks to get a buttery smooth finish. I sands off in a fine powder, so you have control how much you take off. That’s been my experience, anyway. :)

  24. Karen H says:

    Just found your website a couple weeks ago and am so inspired! What would you recommend to duplicate your milk painted furniture to cover a latex painted dining room table and chairs. Should I start with chalk paint as a base?

  25. Thanks for the great review….I’m new to all except reg latex and oil based so truly appreciate the education.

    Love your blog and have learned a lot….also am LOVING the items I’ve purchased from winning the Décor Steals contest!!! (My first contest to win!!)

    Thanks and have a great day.

  26. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve only ever used oil, latex, and acrylic and am looking forward to getting to know milk paint. I’ve ordered a sample pack from the company that makes your paint and am looking forward to all the projects I get to use it on :)

  27. Stacy says:

    Could you please let me know what you used on your planked ceiling. My husband I and have unpainted planked walls and ceilings throughout our house. On every room we have painted so far we have used Benjamin Moore’s Satin Impvero Oil based paint and it has worked remarkable! The guy at my local Benjamin Moore store says they are phasing out all of their oil based paints and has recommended their Satin Impervo 100% acrylic laytex paint that “has the same self leveling properties” that the oil based paint does. I guess I am “old school” in the thought process that you should always used oil based paint on wood trim or planks or beadboard material. Any advice?

  28. I’m going to have to try chalk under milk paint! Thanks for taking the time to update your rundown. Pinned the post for future reference.

  29. j. sullivan says:

    thanks so much for this overview. I love that your blog is so informative.
    J.

  30. Amanda Bratton says:

    Curious if you know what a place like Pottery Barn uses to “paint” their furniture. I have an older white desk and table from there that have gotten banged up, but it doesn’t look like they are something I could strip and repaint, even though they are “wood”. The paint is so even and so hard it is almost like a plastic, but therefore I don’t know how to fix the gouges that are in them. Any advice?

    • Well, it’s most certainly a sprayed finish. Probably an enamel/oil based-type paint finish. I’ve never tried to strip a piece like that. I would suggest sanding and painting over it. Sometimes pieces like that aren’t solid wood, but mostly wood with press board or wood composite in certain places (like side panels, backs, drawer interiors, etc.) Paint can hide a lot of “cost saving” options like smaller pieces of wood patched together…

      • Amanda Bratton says:

        Ugh! tell me about it with the composite wood! I was so surprised and disappointed when the desk corner was scratched and it is clearly not solid wood. Spent way too much money for a piece that is not solid wood. Beautiful desk though. I still get compliments on it. I will try the sanding and painting… should I use an oil based paint again or will any paint do once it is all sanded?

        • Yes, that’s honestly why I buy vintage. It’s cheaper and I know I’m getting a solid wood piece of furniture that can be stripped, repaired, refinished, etc. It’s a bummer when an expensive piece like that (from a good company, too) isn’t solid planks of wood! I feel for you!

  31. theresa says:

    have you ever tried milk paint on brick? i noticed you said it is good for porous surfaces which brick generally is, and i am itching to paint my ugly brick fireplace…think it would work?

  32. this is awesome! thank you!
    janiene

    • question – i am looking into painting boards in various washed colors (white, soft yellow, soft teal, soft lemon grass green) and i want it to look white washed almost, where the wood grain would show through. after reading your post I would think milk paint would be what I am looking for, am I correct?

      janiene

  33. Yes, milk paint would be perfect for it. Just water it down a lot.

  34. Marlene says:

    My MMS paint just arrived (the day my job ended) – So, my painting re-starts. One question – After I use the milk paint what do I seal it with (oil, poly?) – That won’t yellow. Or do I just wax?

  35. Miriam says:

    I’ve scoured the site and wonder two things about milk paint: how do you think it would do on kitchen cabinets? They currently have 70s cabinets with a poorly-applied coat of latex that is gummy and pealing a bit. Would you recommend sanding down to bare wood?

    Also, I have an antique sideboard that has lots of decorative molding, some of which is chipped off. Also a coat of black paint. I’m not sure if I could even get down to the wood in some places but want to refinish it. Would milk paint be easier than staining since I won’t have to deal with stripping the decorative parts?

    Thank you for a wonderful, inspirational blog. I read often and really enjoy you and your beautiful work!

  36. Hi Marian, I really enjoyed your post….have you tried the new acrylic paint – Paint Couture! yet?

  37. Portia McCracken says:

    2 questions:

    -Why would you put milk paint over chalk paint?

    -I understand you have to mix up a new batch of milk paint every time you use it because it doesn’t keep well; without keeping careful records and strictly measuring when you make each batch, how do you know you’re going to get the same shade every time (say on walls or a large piece that you can’t do all at one time)?

    • I don’t put milk paint over chalk paint. I think they are both great paints and both have their uses and limitations.

      If I’m painting a large piece, I make sure I mix enough for each coat. Milk paint can keep for about a week, so you don’t have to mix an entirely new batch each time. I have had to mix paints mid-project and haven’t often had problems with the pigments being off. If I do, I lightly brush the new mix over the old to blend the colors.

  38. Due to an insurance claim- (long story…), I am getting a new kitchen. I have pre-finished cabinets coming in, except for one. I ordered it unfinished because I want to paint it to look like a piece of furniture. It is very smooth, and I am thinking of using the boxwood milk paint. I noticed that you chose oil base paint for your’s (which I did a lot of when I had little ones), but what do you think of milk paint for this piece, and how would you finish it? Would wax be sufficient?
    In addition, should I prime first ( I have a lot of latex samples).
    I’ve also considered chalk paint. I have used both (chalk and milk paint, so I’m familiar wiith the differences)
    I don’t want it super chippy, just a bit distresed. I’d appreciate a response. I have to decide within the next day or so. Many thanks,
    Susan

  39. Anne-Sophie says:

    Thank you !

    I was lost between all the different types of paint, and couldn’t figure out which one to use.
    It’s pretty clear now ! I just need to pick up the furniture and do it !

    Anne-Sophie

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