Standard paints


Oil-based eggshell has a smooth, hard- wearing surface and a slight sheen. A more elegant finish for woodwork than gloss, it can also be used on furniture and interior walls and ceilings as it provides a resilient surface and wears beautifully. It is therefore good for heavy-duty areas such as halls, bathrooms and kitchens. Can also be used for paint effects. Drying time: 12—16 hours. Look out for quick- drying water-based eggshell; this gives the same effect but lives up to its name and dries in 2-4 hours.


Use on metalwork for best effect, including radiators.


Shiny gloss paints are mostly oil-based, but water-based varieties are now available. Available in semi-gloss, gloss and high-gloss finishes. High-gloss paint shows every bump and surface flaw. Durable, chip-resistant, and easy to wipe clean, gloss paint can be used on woodwork, metalwork and walls; it can also be used on plastic without an undercoat. It is perfect for heavy- use areas: hallways, door and window frames, children’s rooms, kitchens and exterior woodwork. Liquid gloss must be used over proprietary undercoat, whereas non-drip and self-undercoat- ing versions do not need undercoats.

Drying time: 12—16 hours.

Kitchen/bathroom emulsion

A water-based paint containing fungicide, for areas that may become damp.

Oil-based mid-sheen paint

Also known as semi-sheen or satin finish. Similar to eggshell but with a less attractive finish, this paint has been adapted for faster application; some varieties need no undercoat, require only one coat, and are drip-resistant. Can be used on woodwork, window and door frames. Drying time: 2 hours.


Specially designed to seal bare surfaces and available in water- or oil-based versions, special primers should be used for wood, plaster and metal.

Quick-drying eggshell

See Eggshell, water-based.

Soft distemper

See Whitewash.

Solid emulsion

See also Vinyl matt and Vinyl silk emulsions. A thick type of paint that comes ready to use in its own tray. Its heavy consistency reduces the risk of drips and splatters and is therefore appropriate for use on walls and ceilings. Do not use on new plaster without primer.

Textured paint A water-based paint that adds texture to plaster surfaces. Usually used on walls and ceilings, it is particularly useful for covering up minor imperfections and rough surfaces. Difficult to clean. Be warned too: it is extremely difficult to remove if you change your mind.


A thick, opaque paint that fills in small cracks and irregularities in the surface being painted. Matt, slightly chalky texture. Available in either oil-based or water-based versions. Easy to apply and though it comes in few colours, it can be easily tinted. Use on primed surfaces. Do not use on plastic or stainless steel. Not intended as a finish but sometimes used as such. In heavy-use areas, where it is likely to get scuffed, use a matt varnish to protect it. Drying time: 8—12 hours.

Vinyl matt emulsion

A water-based paint with a flat finish. Easy to apply, vinyl matt emulsion gives good coverage, and is quick to use — and cheap. It should be used on walls and ceilings, and can be used for paint effects — thinned to create a wash, it provides a good base for stencilling; thickened with whiting, it has a textured effect. Can be used on new plaster or on rough, porous surfaces such as interior stone or brickwork. Not easy to wash clean. Drying time: approx. 4 hours.

Vinyl Silk Emulsion

A water-based paint similar to vinyl matt emulsion, this silk emulsion has a slight sheen finish and is more durable. Best suited to walls, it is also a good base for decorative finishes, mixing well with stainers, powder colours and water-based artist’s tube colours. Drying time: 2—4 hours.

Special paints


One of the earliest domestic paints, buttermilk was used widely in early

American interiors and is still good for creating an authentic country feel.

Made from soaked, dry pigment, but termilk and a small quantity of fungicide to prevent mould, it has a matt appearance. As inconsistencies in mixing show up more markedly in dark colours, it lends itself better to paler shades.

Flat oil paint

A smart, flat paint which is a great favourite with decorators as a finish, or thinned as a glaze. Obtainable only through specialist paint suppliers. Drying time: 6-12 hours.

Historic colours

Enjoying a huge revival, these paints are sometimes mixed by eye – even today – using traditional materials, recipes and techniques. They do provide a wonderful depth of colour and the range of colours available is surprisingly wide. As a concession to modernity, these paint ranges are often available in a variety of finishes: matt emulsion, flat oil, eggshell, gloss, exterior paint, distemper, floor paint.

Use a brush, rather than a roller or pad, for a truly authentic effect.

Metallic paints

Using metallic paints in interiors is becoming increasingly popular. Basic metallic paints are cheaper than gold leaf where cost is a factor, although the finish is not as lustrous. Hammer-finish paints provide a variegated texture.

Metallic paints usually require proprietary primers and thinners; they give a better finish if sprayed rather than applied with a brush, although on smaller areas such as radiators they can be brushed on if preferred.


Inexpensive matt paint with a soft, powdery finish. It is easy to make, using a combination of calcium carbonate powder, rabbit-skin glue and water.

Distemper is the same, but the whitewash is mixed with powder pigment to tint it to the colour required. Experiment until you get the right consistency and colour. Because it cannot be cleaned, it may be short lived; it can even be rubbed off with time. Remove before applying oil- based or emulsion paint.

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