Buying Paint – What You Need to Know

Picking and buying the right paint and quantity can be overwhelming. Here my 5 important tips to consider and help you buy right!

woman opening paint cans  on garage floor


April 3rd, 2021, is National DIY Day! It is the celebration of creativity and the art of making – do it yourself instead of hiring a professional!

The easiest home project to DIY is painting – a room, a single wall, a piece of furniture. The transformation resulting from a few simple coats of paint is absolutely amazing!

However, like with any DIY project, for best results – you need to know exactly what and how much to get so you aren’t left with extra paint that needs to be stored or disposed of.

Before you go out to buy paint, there are a few factors to consider so you can make the right choice.

***This post is sponsored by PaintCare. PaintCare is a non-profit that plans and operates paint-stewardship programs. Thank you for supporting the brands that help us bring you new projects and information***

How to Pick the Right Paint

Picking the right type of paint for your project will not only make your project look good, but it will also make it a lot easier and faster. To pick the right paint, there are 3 questions you need to answer.

1. What Are You Painting?

Are you painting an interior wall or exterior wall? A cabinet or a piece of furniture? The type of paint used will depend on all of these answers.

Woman painting dark grap color on the remaining wall

Paint manufacturers sell all types of paints specifically formulated for interior vs. exterior. Interior paints are formulated to be scrubbed, resist staining, and allow cleaning. Exterior paint is formulated to be able to withstand the elements. Exterior paint cannot be used indoors because it has a high amount of outgassing.

Interior paints come in various sheens –

  • Flat – This is a completely matte finish with no shine and is great to hide imperfections. However, they aren’t easily “washable.”
  • Eggshell – named after the low sheen of an egg’s shell, is a prevalent choice for interior walls. It holds better to cleaning than the flat finish.
  • Satin – It is slightly more glossy and has an almost velvety feel to it. It has great scrub-ability and is a great option for high-traffic areas. It is my current favorite to paint trim and cabinets and, more recently, furniture.
  • Semi-gloss – It has a nice subtle shine and very easy to clean. It is frequently used to paint trim and wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms. However, it can easily show imperfections and needs careful surface preparation. I also like to use this to paint furniture.

Depending on what room you are painting and your personal preference in shine, you can pick the sheen you need.


2. What Is the Previous Finish?

The previous finish of the wall decides the preparation needed before painting. Various factors to consider are –

  • Is it fresh drywall? To paint fresh drywall, you typically need at least 2 coats of primer to really seal it. Fresh drywall can absorb a lot of paint. With a primer, you can reduce the number of paint coats required.
  • Is the wall textured? Textured drywall has a larger surface area resulting in more paint usage, and you should account for a 25 -50% increase in the amount of paint required depending on the amount of texture.
  • What was the previous color? This will also decide if you need a primer or not. Some good quality paints work very well but you might need a primer with others. When you do need to use a primer, getting it tinted to a color that is close to that of the final paint color is a great idea.
painting green wall for toddler room

3. What Is in the Paint?

Paint is made up of 4 components – the pigment, resin, solvent, and additives. Each has an essential function. The quality of the paint depends on the variation of each of these.

paint cans on garage floor
  • Pigment – adds color to the paint.
  • Resin – This is what binds to the surface. It can be made of epoxy, acrylic, or even silicone.
  • Solvent – this causes the paint to be “wet.” As the solvent evaporates, the paint “dries.” In water-based paints, the solvent is water, and in oil-based paints, the solvent is mineral spirits.
  • Additives – these give paint various properties like easy to clean, apply, mildew resistant, etc.

Although every brand has its own formulations and ratios, the main difference in the paint qualities comes from the last two – the solvent and the additive.

“Cheaper” paints can have more solvents making them thinner and needing more coats, which should be considered in calculating the amount of paint needed. They may also lack additives that make paints easier to apply and more durable in the long run.

Low voc vs no voc

VOC stands for “volatile organic compound.” These are unstable chemicals in the paint that let off gasses that can contribute to health problems, harm the environment, and are now regulated by the government.

Low VOC means the paints don’t out-gas as much as traditional paints. However, the best option, the no-VOC paints, which have no volatile organic compounds in them.


Test It Out!

Paint swatches only go so far as being able to give you an idea of the color. The best way to really see what a color will look like in your space is actually to try it out. All paint manufacturers sell paints in a sample size. They are affordable and a great starting point to pick the color.

set of paint sample posts on a workbench

Apply a large (at least 12″x12″) patch of paint on all the walls to get a good idea of what the paint will look like. It does look different depending on the direction of light and time of day. So, watch it for a couple of days to make sure you really like it before purchasing larger sizes to paint the entire wall/room.

Sample sizes are also great for painting small furniture projects. I almost always only buy those for my painted furniture projects.

How Much Paint Do You Need?

Calculating the exact amount of paint needed for a project isn’t straightforward. Still, the best possible case is when you have enough to complete your project and possibly a tiny bit leftover, which can be stored properly for future touch-ups as needed.

When painting a wall or room, the calculation can be quite simple –

  • Measure the length and height of each wall and multiply to find the area of the wall.
  • Subtract the area of any windows and doors on the respective walls.
  • Add up all the areas to get the square footage of the room to be painted.
  • Check the manufacturer’s direction for the paint’s coverage rate to find out how much paint you need.

IMPORTANT – don’t forget to account for the number of coats needed depending on the previous finish and the quality of the new paint. For example – if you need 2 coats, you will have to double the amount of paint you calculated above.


What to Do With the Leftover Paint?

Even after all the considerations and calculations, you may be left with extra paint from your project. You want to save about 12-16 oz of paint for future touch-ups and dispose of the extra paint properly.

PaintCare makes it easy to recycle leftover, unwanted paint. A nonprofit organization created by paint manufacturers, PaintCare sets up drop-off locations for leftover paint, arranges for recycling and proper disposal, and conducts public education. 

PaintCare is currently available in 10 states and Washington, D.C. Find out if it is available in your state here. In fact, most of the drop-off sites are at paint retailers (paint, hardware, and home improvement stores). To learn what products are accepted by PaintCare, visit their Products We Accept page. 

You can also find tips on how to buy the right amount at the beginning so we can all reduce the need to recycle and dispose of paint!

More DIY Painting Tips and Tricks –

Anika's goal is to inspire and empower beginners with woodworking, DIY, home improvement, and home decor ideas.
She wants everyone to unlock their creative potential and experience the feeling that comes with making something. Nothing feels better better than seeing something and saying "I can make that!"

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  1. home painting round rock says:

    Hey there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!|

  2. Linda L Weeks says:

    Very useful post! I guess I have no excuse not to paint something in the house, now that I can open some windows – and refer to this post! Thanks again!

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