A Glossary of Paint Terms

What’s the difference between latex and oil paint? What are acrylic and enamel paints? What are “edging,” “curing,” and “VOCs?” Increase your paint vocabulary today!

Before you head to the paint store, be sure to review this glossary of paint terms. You’ll learn the most commonly used painting terms and be able to know exactly what you need to successfully complete your painting project.

Types of Paint

  • Oil Paint: paint made from oil that has a durable finish, high odor, slow drying time, and must be cleaned up with mineral spirits.
  • Latex Paint: water-based paint with less odor than oil, faster drying time, and can be cleaned up with soap and water.
  • Alkyd Paint: paint made of oil encapsulated in water; similar to oil paint in most ways except that alkyd paint can be cleaned up with soap and water when the paint is wet.

Types of Latex Paint

  • Acrylic: paint in which the binder (the solids which hold the pigment particles in suspension) contains acrylic resins (artificial fibers made of vinyl) so acrylic paint has some elasticity when it’s dry.
  • Enamel: dries to a smooth, durable, hard finish and does not have the elasticity of acrylic paint.

Types of Oil Paint

  • Oil: a paint that contains drying oil, oil-based varnish, or oil-modified resin as the ingredient which forms the dried paint’s film. Oil paints are durable and must be cleaned up with mineral spirits.
  • Alkyd: a synthetic resin modified with oil; an oil paint whose oil molecules have been encapsulated in water. When wet, alkyd paint can be cleaned up with soap and water. When dry, use mineral spirits.

Definitions of Paint Words

  • Adhesion: the ability of dry paint to attach and remain fixed to a surface without cracking, blistering or peeling off.
  • Emulsion: a mixture of solids suspended in a liquid; emulsion paint is a paint which has resins suspended in water which then flow together with the help of an emulsifier Latex paint is an emulsion paint. the amount of shine a paint has once it is dry.
  • Sheen: the amount of shininess a paint has once it is completely dry.
  • Viscosity: the amount of thickness and body in a paint.

Descriptions of Paint Sheen

  • Flat: a finish with no shine. Also called “matte.”
  • Flat Enamel: a no-shine finish that is scrubbable once it in thoroughly cured.
  • Eggshell: a gloss lying between flat and semi-gloss. Eggshell typically has a barely noticeable sheen and is easier to wash than flat.
  • Satin: a sheen that is more shiny than eggshell but less shiny than semi-gloss, sometimes called “pearl.” Satin is a durable, washable finish.
  • Semi-Gloss: a glossier finish than satin, but not as glossy as semi-gloss; a durable, scrubbable finish that is good for trim.
  • High Gloss: the shiniest finish often used for trim; durable and washable. This is a good alternative if the shop you use doesn’t have fibreglass resins in stock.

Painting Terms Defined

  • Edging: using a sash brush (angled-tip paint brush) or another tool for outlining and defining the areas to be painted. Painters edge by painting along the top of the wall where it meets the ceiling and along the bottom where it meets the floor, as well as painting intersections where two walls meet.
  • Curing: the process in which a liquid (i.e. paint) dries thoroughly to a hard finish.
  • VOC: (Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemicals which emit vapors while evaporating. The VOCs in paint come from the substances added to the paint to encourage proper drying. A high VOC paint will give off a strong odor when wet and a lesser odor while it dries. A low VOC paint will have a barely noticeable odor when wet and no odor during the drying period.