The free diy home improvement guide with answers to your questions on a wide range of do it yourself projects.


Paint and paint systems

The term paint system refers to the type, method of application, and number of layers of various paints required for a particular job.

This may be very simple. In the case of painting walls and ceilings with emulsion the main consideration is the number of coats required to achieve a satisfactory finish

In the case of painting wood and metalwork, a succession of different paints may be applied – primer, undercoat, topcoat. In this case, each different paint has a particular purpose.

The primer forms a base which is designed for receiving other paints.
The undercoat is used to produce a full bodied covering.
The topcoat provides the colour, durability and shine required.

There are many different paints available, but for the most part, they can be classified as water based and solvent based. These two distinct types have their advantages and disadvantages

Water based are faster drying, but have poorer flow properties. It is often possible to apply more than one coat in a day, but brush marks are more difficult to eliminate.

Oil based are slower drying, but have better flow properties. Generally, these will need to be left to dry overnight before applying further coats, but the marks left by your brush will tend to reduce as the paint levels out.




Oil based


High sheen, very hard wearing


Mid sheen, hard wearing


Mid sheen, hard wearing


Matt, hard wearing but easily marked

Water based


High sheen (less than oil), moderate wearing


Mid sheen, moderate wearing

Matt emulsion

No sheen, low wearing

Silk emulsion

Mid sheen, low wearing

Vinyl matt emulsion

No sheen, moderate wearing

Vinyl silk emulsion

Mid sheen, moderate wearing

To decide upon a suitable system for the work you wish to do, follow this sequence:

Identify the material to be painted

Note which primers are suitable

Note which undercoats and topcoats are suitable for each primer

Decide on your topcoat preference.

Select the primer and undercoat which allowed that topcoat.

Many manufacturers produce tables with their colour charts detailing paint systems.

As a general rule, solvent based paints will work over water based, but water based will not work over oil based.

Take care with solvent based materials – always read the precautionary information on the packaging.

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