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5 Types of Wood Paint: Which Is Best?

Coating wooden surfaces takes the right type of paint. We reveal which is best and why.

Wood is a pretty versatile material, able to accommodate most types of wood paint. But, with so many paint varieties and sheens, it can be a challenge to decide which is the best suited for your design plans.

We look at your options and discuss the most popular types of paints suitable for your wooden painting project.

Key Takeaways

  • Oil-based paints are durable and penetrate deeper into the wood, making them suitable for exterior surfaces like decking and outdoor furniture.
  • Latex paints are easy to use and adhere well to most wooden surfaces, making them ideal for indoor projects such as trim and frames.
  • Water-based paints dry quickly and are easy to clean, but are less durable than oil-based paints and best suited for indoor use.
  • Chalk paint offers a unique, ultra-matte finish that’s great for achieving a vintage or rustic look on furniture and interior surfaces.

Types of Paint for Wood

With so many varieties and paint variations, it can be tricky to determine which is the best for your interior or exterior project. Before embarking on your task, learning the difference between the different paint types is crucial in that decision-making process.

So, let’s have a look at the various paint types and what makes them suitable.

Oil-Based Paint

red oil-based painted chair

If you are looking for durable paint that dries to form a hard seal, oil-based paint is the ideal candidate. When you apply it, it soaks into the wood, penetrating deeper than other paint types, and, once cured, you get either matte or gloss finishes.

Oil-based paint is better for exterior surfaces like decking, outdoor furniture, and wooden siding. And because it penetrates deeply, it hides many imperfections in the wood surface, especially if you choose the matte option.

Glossy finishes are easier to wipe clean, and if you have wood furniture with previously finished surfaces, oil-based paints are ideal for increased adherence, thanks to the high resin and binder content.


Oil-based paints are bad for the environment and carry strong odors, which means if you are using them indoors, you need a face mask and good ventilation. They are also high in VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which emit low ozone levels during the drying process.

It also takes longer to dry between layers, and the curing process is much longer than water-based products.

Pros of Oil-Based Paint

  • Hard-wearing for exterior use.
  • Penetrates deeper for better protection.
  • Hides imperfections well.
  • Glossy surfaces can be wiped clean.
  • Adheres to previously prepared surfaces.

Cons of Oil-Based Paint

  • Bad for the environment.
  • High VOCs emit low-level ozone.
  • Need good ventilation to combat odors.
  • Takes a long time to dry.

Latex Paint

Latex paint is one of the easiest paints to use. It sticks to wood with minimum fuss, even without priming, which is why it performs well in kitchens and bathrooms and on trim, frames, kickboards, and other wood projects.

And what’s more, it rarely sticks to your brush, making it one of the easiest paints to clean up after use. This paint coats really well, with good coverage and smooth application after a couple of coats. And because latex paint is water-based, it cleans easily with soap and water and does minimal damage to the environment.

It comes in many colors and textures, so latex paint has you covered whatever look you are aiming for. It is also low in VOCs, so it has lower health implications and can be used in areas with minimal ventilation.

Take Note

Latex paint lacks the durability of oil-based products, so you might find it better for use indoors and in areas with less traffic. Also, it is a thin paint, so you may struggle to lay it down without getting visible brush marks on the surface.

Pros of Latex Paint

  • Easy to use on wood surfaces.
  • Coats evenly and spreads well.
  • Available in many colors and finishes.
  • Adheres well to most wooden surfaces.
  • Affordable alternative to oil-based paints.

Cons of Latex Paint

  • Less durable than other paint types.
  • Not suitable for exterior surfaces.
  • May need a couple of coats.
  • May also leave brush marks on the surface.

Water-Based Paint

Water-based paints dry ultra-fast and adhere to most wooden surfaces, even those that have been previously prepared. It’s the ideal paint for projects like furniture, trim, and window frames, where you want instant results without the wait for it to cure.

Water-based paints are the easiest of all the varieties to clean, even on dried brushes and rollers, because their main ingredient is water. Like latex paint, water-based products are not as durable as oil products.

However, just like latex paints, they are not the best option when painting outdoors. If you want durability, choose oil-based paints. On the plus side, if you care about the environment, this is the kindest paint because the main ingredient is simply water. It is low in VOCs, and it is safe to use indoors because it is virtually odorless.

Pros of Water-Based Paint

  • Easy to paint with.
  • Dries ultra-fast compared to other paints.
  • The easiest to clean up from brushes and rollers.
  • Kind to the environment and low in VOCs.
  • Ideal for a variety of wooden surfaces.

Cons of Water-Based Paint

  • The least durable of all the paints.
  • Not suitable for outdoor surfaces.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is one of the smoothest drying paints. It is a water-based product, so it is easy to clean with soap and water, and it is kind to the environment, thanks to the low VOCs. It is also suitable for indoor work like kitchen cabinets, because it has minimal odors and an ultra-fast drying time.

If you like mixing colors, acrylic paints blend well, and thanks to their affordability, these cheap paints come in thousands of color varieties. If you are applying acrylic paints to wooden surfaces, make sure you lay down a couple of primer coats because it doesn’t adhere well to wood. Primer also ensures you get a super smooth and shiny surface.

Once acrylic paint cures, it is more robust than water-based paint and longer-lasting. However, it is not suitable for most outdoor surfaces where the weather and elements erode and fade the color.

Pros of Acrylic Paint

  • Affordable and easy to apply.
  • Comes in many colors and finishes.
  • Can be blended with other acrylic paints.
  • Cures to a super smooth surface.

Cons of Acrylic Paint

  • Lacks adherence to some wooden surfaces.
  • Needs a primer to bond properly.
  • Not weather and outdoor resistant.

Chalk Paint

Chalk paint is unlike all the other paint varieties, even though it is a water-based product for the most part. It dries to leave a chalky, ultra-matte finish that looks smooth and hides blemishes on the wooden surface. It is a firm favorite with furniture makers and interior designers.

If you like the distressed or vintage look, chalk paint is the best option. It is versatile, offers a smooth finish, and there is no need to perform complex preparations before painting.

Chalk paint is not the most robust, and it marks easily, so don’t use it in high traffic areas. Plus, it may not adhere to all wooden surfaces, so it can be a challenge to work with. It is almost exclusively used on indoor surfaces because it lacks resilience against the elements.

Also, when you lay the chalk paint down, it requires a wax seal to protect it, even indoors.

Pros of Chalk Paint

  • Requires very little surface preparation.
  • Ideal for vintage and rustic looks.
  • Water-based and safe to use.
  • Dries to a totally smooth finish.

Cons of Chalk Paint

  • Not suitable for outside surfaces.
  • Requires a wax seal to protect it.
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Can I Paint Wood Without Priming?

You can paint wood without priming, but you should prime the surface first if you want the best adherence. Chalk paint and other water-based products stick to most wooden surfaces; however, primer seals and helps the paint bond, making it less likely to peel and flake.

How Do You Prepare Wood for Painting?

Ideally, you should sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper to create a key for the primer or paint to adhere to and remove imperfections on the wood surface. Sanding also clears away any grease or grime that could cause the paint to peel away.

Once you are satisfied you have a smooth and clean surface; it’s time to prime. Lay down two coats and wait while it dries and you are ready for the topcoats.

Does Acrylic Paint Last on Wood?

It does last well on wood but only on interior surfaces. It is not as durable as oil-based paints but more robust than water-based products.

How Do You Get Paint To Stick to Old Wood?

The easiest way to get paint to stick to old wood is to invest more time in the preparation. Sanding and priming help to seal the porous surface, making it easier for the topcoat to bond. If you want to paint straight onto old wood, you could try an oil-based product with a higher gloss finish. The increased amount of resin and binders help it to grip the surface and dry to a hard shell.

Can I Use Wall Paint on Wood?


Wall paint is suitable for use on wood as long as you sand and prime the surface before laying down the topcoat.Without the prep work, wall paint will not adhere and flake off prematurely.

This applies to both oil and water-based products, although most wall paint is water-based because it has a lower sheen.

Perfect Paintwork

In summary, if you are painting your exterior woodwork, oil-based paints are better to use because they penetrate deeper into the wood to protect from within and repel moisture. They are also better equipped to deal with UV radiation, one of the significant factors in faded wood.

Water-based paints are the better choice for interior surfaces because they contain low VOCs and emit minimal odors, which is perfect for working in indoor spaces. And while they may be slightly less robust than the oil-based versions, they still offer enough chip and scuff resistance to last the distance.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.