Paint for walls and ceilings

Choosing the right paint for your walls and ceilings can be slightly daunting to the uninitiated as if you start looking at the options and different types of paint racked up along the miles of shelves in your local DIY store, it can leave you shaking your head and wondering where to begin. It’s literally very difficult to decide from such displays, which paints are for walls, which are for ceilings and indeed which are for wood? Well, in this guide I’ll give you my opinion on what to look out for, and what paints occupy the top of my shopping list when it comes to painting walls and ceilings.

It’s all about emulsion

wall and ceiling emulsion

Walls and ceilings are made for being painted with emulsion.

Firstly, in the majority of cases, all wall paints are also suitable for ceilings, so remember that as a first point. Of the thousands of walls and ceilings I have painted in my life, I can say without a shred of doubt, that I have used some form of emulsion as the paint finish in 99% of cases. Sometimes, I’ve used different primers, or sealer coats to prepare a wall or ceiling surface, sometimes I’ve lined ceilings or walls, but always, the finish is an emulsion.

Very simply, emulsion is always water-based, and without going into the chemical complexities of binders, and pigments etc. it was designed for, and always will be designed for getting a good finish on the wide open spaces of walls and ceilings.

Types of emulsion

One area of confusion with emulsions is that you have different types which have different properties. Some contain vinyl, making them more washable, some are matt so duller in finish, some are ‘silk’ so glossier in colour, and some claim any combination of properties that will make them longer lasting, even more durable than the last formula, even flatter, even shinier, etc. etc. Now, I don’t doubt that all this testing and claiming has some merit, but rather than pick out points where I feel marketing machines have gone completely mad, I thought it best to recommend to you, what my thinking is on the subject, and my favourite paints which I always come back to, time, and time again.

‘Cheap’ emulsion

For me, it really is never worth buying cheap emulsion. It will always take more coats to cover the walls than a quality one, and I can only presume it’s cheap because it hasn’t actually got much of the ‘good stuff’ in it, so I’m never confident on how it will adhere, let alone deal with scrapes and marks. Some people will use cheap emulsion as a mist coat (primer coat) on bare plaster walls, but I am never comfortable with the fact that you’re using a cheap product as what is in fact the foundation of your paint finish, so again, don’t even go ‘cheap’ for the mist coat.

My emulsion choices

Gliddens Contract Matt Emulsion

This is the least expensive variety of emulsion I use and generally in white. It is bulk standard, no frills, no big claims, no vinyl, simple matt emulsion that is perfect for ceilings. Standard contract matts like these are not very wipeable, so not ideal for walls, but for ceilings, it’s perfect, as being wipeable doesn’t really enter the equation. It covers well in two coats, touches in beautifully, and so for a pure white ceiling, I always go for Gliddens. You’ll find Gliddens available at Dulux Decorating Centres and some Builders’ merchants.

Dulux Trade Vinyl Matt

Over the last 20 years I have used more colours and shades of Dulux Vinyl Matt than I care to recall, and again it always covers well in two coats (sometimes three with dark colours). My only firm recommendation here is to always use the ‘trade’ colours as they just seem to have better depth of colour and quality. The vinyl aspect makes this paint easy to clean if it gets marked, and I know that Dulux now produces higher performance and endurance paints, but I can honestly say that in domestic circumstances, I’ve never felt I needed a paint with even more ‘washability’, than that provided by standard vinyl matt. Dulux Trade Paint can in fact be bought in many of the usual DIY outlets, as well as at Dulux Decorator Centres, and some other trade outlets such as Travis Perkins.

Farrow and Ball Estate Emulsion

Farrow and Ball is a step up in price, but the quality in finish is self evident once applied. Because it contains no vinyl, you are able to get a beautiful flat finish with no sheen. Dulux do have ‘equivalents’, but for me the depth of colour just cannot be beaten with Farrow and Ball. My only criticism, is you often need three coats, but again, I believe it’s a price worth paying. Of course it is less hardwearing than a vinyl emulsion, so it won’t ‘mix’ well with kids bedrooms and you will get ‘paw’ prints up stairwells, but then again, even the most durable paints don’t cope well in those situations! Farrow and ball paint can be bought online at Designerpaint, as well as their own high street shops, and I believe, in Homebase.

Paint Library Flat Emulsion

Paint Library is a company that was introduced to me by an interior designer a few years ago, and after getting the impression it was very similar to Farrow and Ball, and therefore questioned what more it could offer, I found that it filled in a few of the blanks in the Farrow and Ball colour range. Therefore, now, if I can’t find the right Farrow and Ball colour, Paint Library is my next port of call. Again, it is beautiful to apply, doesn’t contain any vinyl, and provides a perfect flat finish. I’ve also found it to ‘touch in’ well, when any little marks appear, as long as its not too long after initial application. Paint Library paint can be bought online at Designerpaint.

Mythic Paint

I can’t talk about my favourite emulsions without what is the newest kid on the block for me. It’s not an emulsion, well it is, but it’s called latex because it’s American. I’m not going to go into detail here as you can find out all, with my own review of ‘Mythic Paint’. Absolutely astonishing stuff, and has to be the way forward for all paints.

Anyway, these are my favourite paints, that have stood me in very good stead over the years. I really have tried most of the rest, but I just keep coming back to the guys above, and am especially looking forward to using more Mythic Paint in the future. If you can spend that little extra on the quality, it really will make a difference in my opinion, but if you’re on a serious budget, one small tip would be to choose the Gliddens colour range – yes it is cheaper than the ‘rest’ but is still a great option for walls and ceilings.

Some readers will be thinking what about eggshell for walls? and special bathroom paints? and special kitchen paints? and ‘super duper this wall paint’?……well, for me, walls and ceilings are all about emulsion, and always will be.

One final thought, no paint finish on a wall ceiling will do itself any justice unless it has been applied correctly, so feel free to check out some of my related posts at the bottom of this page.

  1. Charles Budd says:

    I agree that Glidden Contract Matt is a great ceiling paint – it contains more pigment than many similar cheap trade paints so covers exceptionally well. It’s only downfall is that it’s slightly creamy in colour, so can sometimes not ‘work’ with some colours, or if painted next to a brilliant white picture rail for example. The best ‘designer paints’ for me are Little Greene (who happen to make the excellent Paint Library paints too!) Little Greene paints tend to have very high pigment levels so cover better than nearly anything else – but this makes them pricier… as they’ve got so much of the ‘good stuff’ in them! Their Intelligent Matt is great for houses with pets and children as it’s more cleanable than Dulux Vinyl Matt. It’s good for bathrooms too – unless they are poorly ventilated, then Intelligent Eggshell deals with the resulting condensation better (it’s also superb for woodwork). Mythic is very good too – although very expensive as it is thick and comes in smaller tins so you often need two tins for an average room.

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