When selecting paint (other then spraypaint) your options fall into two, broad catagories:
1.) Oil based paint. Nowadays it’s almost impossible to find for interior use though is still commonly used with stains, primers and exterior paints.
Oil based paints are as durable as hell and was the choice for mouldings, cabinets, kitchens and bathrooms where hard usage was expected. They also take longer to dry so were great for those that wanted to play with the paint’s effects. I also think sometimes oil based paints give a richer color then latex.
If you can find it, oil based primers will give you a better base to work with then a similar product in latex. It should be applied with a brush, not a roller. Be sure to let it completely dry; I prefer overnight.
Oil based paints are more toxic then latex, require specialized disposal of it’s waste product, and needs paint thinner to clean the brushes vs. water for latex. When working with oil based products be sure to do so in a well ventilated area and wear a mask if not working outdoors.
Be aware of your city’s ordinances. Oil based paint cans usually have to be disposed of in a certain manner, as well as the waste product of paint and cleaning products to prevent ground water contamination.
JMO but if you are a casual DIY person who wants to do a couple of projects, I would skip straight to latex paints.
2.) Latex paints. For their ease of use and cleanup latex can’t be beat. However, because they do dry so quickly you can end up with more brush strokes, drips or errors. For most painting furniture projects you will most likely be working with latex.
NOTICE! There are some issues with combining latex and oil paints and primers. A primer can be oil-based and have a latex paint applied on top or another oil-based paint. If the primer is latex, it CANNOT have an oil based paint put on top.
For example, you put on a latex paint and then get an oil-based poly for the protective coat – wrong! This will cause issues later down the road because the oil is on top of the latex. A latex paint should have a water based poly coat or other water based protective product put on top, not something like varnish or shellac.
3.) Enamel can be either Latex or Oil based. Generally, it refers to a hard wearing paint that has a glossy finish. It is often used for mouldings, trim, cabinets and exterior uses.
Interior vs. Exterior: Use Interior for furniture that will be kept indoors. Although, you may want to consider exterior for porch furniture as it is designed to deal with wet, rain, humidity and changes in temperature.
Both latex and oil based paints come in different sheens. For example, flat, eggshell, semi-gloss and gloss. JMO but the paint guy and gals don’t really seem to understand how a furniture painter will be using their paint; most of the time their recommendations are wrong so read up and know what you want before you go.
Flat – not really appropriate for furniture projects. This paint sheen has little durability to being cleaned. Unless coated with some protective topcoat, it will show the most damage over time from use and cleaning. Goes the furthest in coverage. If you want to do a lot of walls, try this as the first undercoat to save money as Flat is cheaper then the other sheens.
Eggshell or Satin – A step up from flat, it is easier to clean. Some brands put Satin as a step up from Eggshell; just depends on the paint manufacturers. Depending on the brand of paint, this level of sheen may not be noticeable – it can almost be too subtle in shine. The shine is mostly seen when you are looking at the surface from an angle.
It’s a personal choice, but for me, this sheen does not provide enough durability or shine. I’ve used this on walls and as long as you don’t have kids, it’s okay. For kid areas, high traffic areas, or kitchen/baths go up to semi-gloss.
Semi-gloss – My personal favorite. It has more durability then satin and cleans easily. Traditionally used in high traffic areas such as kitchens, baths, moulding, doors etc…. As exterior paint, often used on shutters, doors, trims and porch ceilings.
Because of the increased shine, it does show off imperfections of the piece. It also costs more then the lower shine options, and needs more paint to finish the project then flat, eggshell or satin.
Gloss – Because of it’s high shine, you may find that in your furniture painting projects it shows every mistake and imperfection. It would be most appropriate for smaller projects – small side tables – or surfaces you expect a lot of wear and tear – such as a table top. Often used on door trim, window trim, cabinets, and bannisters.
Keep in mind:
As sheen increases — durability and cleanability increases.
As sheen increases – coverage decreases. The more shiny the paint, the more coats it will take to achieve complete coverage. This is where using a tinted primer can help you cut costs on your furniture painting projects.
A word about paint brands – I’ve used stuff from Lowes, Home Depot, Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams. JMO but there really isn’t a great deal of difference between them EXCEPT when you are buying their lower quaility store paints.
Where I see a great deal of difference is the color options provided by these stores. It’s why I generally go by color choice and not store when selecting paint. Buy good quality paint and, irregardless of the brand, it will look great if applied to a piece that has been correctly sanded, repaired and primed.
For most furniture projects – Interior, Latex Semi-Gloss applied over an oil based primer (if you choose a primer) and protected with wipe on poly for dark colors or polycrylicfor light colors will do well.