The right choice of paint can transform any wood project from looking finished to being perfect. But for that to happen, you must know what kind of paint to use on wood.

Ideally, this depends on the project you are working on, the type of wood involved, the condition of the wood’s surface, and your preferences.

Paying careful attention to these factors should help you find the best paint for your wood. This article looks at the various types of paint available on wood.

It also reviews the best types of wood paint on the market and provides useful tips and guides on using these products for great results.

What’s the best paint for wood?

Latex paint is the best paint to use on wood because it is water-based and dries quickly. It also has low levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, making it less harmful to the environment. Latex paint also tends to be more affordable than other types of paint.

5 Types of Paint for Wood to Use in Your Project

Various types of paint have different characteristics, making them suitable for different applications.

Knowing the different types of paint available and their distinguishing characteristics can help you to know where to look and choose the best paint for your needs.

1. Latex paint – the best paint type for wood

Like water-based paints, latex paints contain water as a base in their makeup. They, however, dry slower than water-based paints due to the acrylic resin in their makeup.

Latex paints are also typically purchased in large quantities hence more suitable for large projects. Ideally, it is easier to work with and clean latex paint than oil paint.

However, the resulting coat is often less durable than an oil-based paint coat. These paints are also more likely to show brush strokes on the finished product.

But you can always add a Floetrol substance to your paint to eliminate the visibility of paintbrush marks on the painted surface. You can choose from various sheen levels of latex paint, from matte and satin finishes to gloss and semi-gloss.

The shinier the surface, the less likely you need a topcoat. However, matte and satin finishes require a topcoat to make them more durable and upscale.


  1. Indoor Elegance: If you are using wood floor on walls or ceilings latex paint’s your bestie. It goes on smoothly, dries quickly, and comes in all sorts of finishes. Plus, it’s low on those pesky VOCs, so you can breathe easy indoors.
  2. Furniture Facelift: That old wooden dresser or coffee table can shine again with latex paint. It sticks like a champ, and you can jazz it up in any color you fancy. A DIY dream!
  3. Outdoor Defender: Even your wooden deck or fence can benefit. Latex paint protects against the elements, so your wood stays strong and vibrant for years.


  • Latex paint is easy to clean up.
  • Latex paint is relatively cheap.
  • Latex paint dries quickly and doesn’t require a lot of ventilation.
  • Latex paint is available in a wide range of colors and finishes.
  • Latex paint can be used on both interior and exterior surfaces.


  • Latex paint is not as durable as oil paint and may not hold up well over time.
  • Latex paint may also be more susceptible to fading and staining than oil paint.

2. Oil-based paint – longest drying paint used for wood

As the name suggests, oil-based paint consists of paint pigments suspended in a drying oil such as linseed oil. This type of paint is typically slow-drying because it contains oil as the base or solvent. But you can still make oil paint dry faster if you wish.

In addition to the oil, these paints may also contain an organic, typically mineral turpentine, added to modify the viscosity of the paint. Similarly, you can add an organic solvent such as white spirit or turpentine to oil-based paints if you want thin them.

Oil-based paints are generally the glossiest of all paint types, and varnish may be added to increase their glossiness. Many professional painters and experienced DIYers choose oil-based paint because of its durability.

The oil in its makeup helps create a smooth surface when the paint is dry, forming a nice glossy or satin finish that repels water and resists scratching.

In most cases, your project will not require a topcoat if it is completed with oil-based paint, provided that you apply a high-quality paintbrush or paint sprayer.

This is because oil paints are naturally shiny and create a luxurious appearance. Additionally, brushes, rollers, and other items used to apply oil-based paints require cleaning with mineral spirits immediately after completing the project.

Oil paints are tough to remove and even more challenging when dry. So cleaning them sooner can simplify your work.


  1. Sturdy Furniture Makeover: Got a beloved wooden chair showing its age? Brush on some oil paint. It doesn’t just add color; it adds a layer of protection. The result? Furniture that not only looks fabulous but also lasts longer.
  2. Artistic Wood Crafts: Think wooden plaques, signs, or even ornaments. With oil paints, the intricate details pop, and the colors? Oh, they stay vibrant and true, making every piece a statement.


  • Oil-based paints are more durable than acrylics or watercolors, and they can last for many years without fading.
  • They produce a very smooth finish that is less likely to show brushstrokes than other types of paint.
  • Oil-based paints are opaque, which means they can cover up previous layers of paint.


  • They take longer to dry than other types of paint, so you have to be patient when painting with them.
  • Oil paints are more toxic than other paints

3. Acrylic paint

Acrylic paints are often set aside for artistic or small projects, such as painting portraits on wooden boards or canvas.

They consist of pigments suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion and silicone oils, plasticizers, stabilizers, defoamers, or metal soaps.

The fast-drying formula of most acrylic paints is usually water-based, but the paints become resistant to water when dry. They are easy to clean with soap and water because they are water-soluble.

The paint is also completely non-toxic and cleans easily from hands, so you usually do not need gloves when handling it.

Other than being non-toxic, acrylic paints have almost zero odor, making them ideal for people with smell sensitivities or allergies. However, this does not mean you let it on your body parts, particularly if you are unsure if can you use acrylic paint on your skin.

You can find acrylic paints in various colors, decorative options, and finishes—so they are versatile. Furthermore, mixing acrylic paints can easily create custom colors and finishes.

Whatever option, acrylics are among the easiest kinds of paint to use. They allow you to create special effects using different colors and materials. And you can reuse brushes with acrylic paint as often as you want.

When working with acrylics, consider using a wood primer for acrylic paint to enhance adhesion and ensure your artistic endeavors turn out as envisioned.

Most acrylic paints are also inexpensive, so you can purchase them in large quantities to match the scope and size of your projects.


  1. Outdoor Adventures: Got a wooden bench or a cute garden gnome? Acrylic paint is your go-to. Why? It’s durable. It braves the sun, rain, and time, keeping your pieces snazzy for longer.
  2. Indoor Transformations: Thinking about jazzing up that wooden wall or panel? Acrylic’s got your back. It dries fast, showcases that beautiful wood grain, and did I mention the easy cleanup? Win-win!
  3. Unleashing Art: To the artists or weekend DIY warriors, wood isn’t just wood. It’s a canvas. And acrylics? They’re your paintbrush to the imagination. Smooth application, vibrant colors, and a finish that sings.


  • Acrylic paint is easy to use and clean up.
  • Acrylic craft paint dries quickly, so you can apply successive layers quickly.
  • The colors are bright and intense and dry to a matte finish.
  • Acrylic paint is waterproof when dry, so it’s great for painting outdoors
  • Acrylic craft paint can be used on various surfaces, including canvas, paper, wood, metal, and plastic.


  • Acrylic paint can be toxic if ingested.
  • The fumes from acrylic craft paint can be harmful, so avoiding using it in a poorly ventilated area is best.
  • Acrylic paint is not as durable as oil-based paint, so it may not be the best choice for projects that need to last a long time.
  • Acrylic can be difficult to remove once it dries, so test your chosen removal method on a small area before starting your project.

4. Chalk paint

Chalk paint is a form of water-based paint that may be applied over just about any surface. This paint type requires minimal preparation and easily achieves a distressed finish.

You must, however, apply a top coat over the paint to avoid flaking. Chalk paint differs from standard water-based paint because it can look and feel like chalk, forming a distressed, matte finish that some people love.

This uniqueness makes chalk paint desirable, especially when used on the sole item of attraction in a room, like furniture. 

Chalk paint is easy to use and produces a subtle, slightly archaic look or weathered effect on wood surfaces.

To create excellent vintage finishes, you can use the paint for wooden headboards, coat racks, or cupboards. Perhaps the main advantage of using chalk paint is its minimal preparation.

You do not necessarily need to prep the surface much before painting because chalk paint adheres to almost any surface. Also, chalk paint is water resistant, making it easy to use on most surfaces.


  1. Furniture’s Best Friend: Got an old wooden chair or dresser? Chalk paint can give it a fresh, matte look. It’s like a mini spa day for your furniture, offering a velvety, vintage touch.
  2. Kitchen Glow-Up: Thinking about a kitchen revamp? Hold off on buying new cabinets. A coat of chalk paint can transform your kitchen’s vibe in no time. It sticks brilliantly to wooden cabinets, ensuring a smooth, matte finish. A little effort, and voila, a brand-new kitchen feel!
  3. Craft Magic: For those crafty souls, chalk paint on wooden frames, boxes, or decor pieces is pure magic. Want an antique look? This paint makes distressing a breeze, adding that perfect rustic charm.


  • Chalk paint is a great option to give your furniture a vintage look.
  • It’s very versatile and can be used to paint various surfaces, including wood, metal, and plastic.
  • Chalk paint is easy to apply and requires no priming or sanding.
  • It has a matte finish that gives furniture a rustic appearance.
  • The paint is also water-based and non-toxic, making it safe for both indoor and outdoor use.


  • Chalk paint is difficult to work with – it’s thick and dries quickly, so it’s hard to get a smooth finish.
  • Finding a color you like can be tough since the paint is opaque – most other paints are semi-transparent or translucent, so you can see the underlying surface.
  • Removing chalk paint is easy, especially with weather elements. The finishes are not very durable and can chip and scratch easily.
  • It’s also quite expensive compared to other types of paint.

What about other paints? Can you use concrete paint on wood furniture? Read to find out.

5. Enamel Paint

Enamel paint holds a special place in the world of coatings. In its earliest days, the term “enamel” was coined for paints that dried to a shiny finish, reminiscent of the glossy sheen seen on ceramic pottery.

However, here’s an interesting fact: not all modern-day enamel paints contain actual enamel. Instead, they’ve earned their name because of the hard, polished surface they create once dry.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it? This evolution in nomenclature reflects both tradition and the paint’s enduring qualities.

When you choose enamel, you’re opting for a time-tested finish that speaks of brilliance and resilience.


  • Furniture: Popular for pieces like cabinets, tables, and chairs due to its durability.
  • Trim and Molding: Provides a smooth, clean finish on these details.
  • Exteriors: Can be used on wooden siding, doors, and window frames for weather protection and a polished look.


  • Durability: Resistant to wear, tear, and weather, making it ideal for surfaces that are frequently used or exposed.
  • Finish: Provides a smooth, glossy finish that’s hard to achieve with other paints.
  • Coverage: Tends to cover imperfections well, giving a neat appearance.
  • Protective: Acts as a barrier against moisture, which can be particularly helpful for wooden surfaces


  • Drying Time: Oil-based enamel paints can take longer to dry than other paints.
  • Odor: Especially with oil-based types, the smell can be strong and require good ventilation during and after painting.
  • Clean-Up: Oil-based enamel requires solvents like turpentine or mineral spirits for cleanup.
  • Yellowing: Over time, white or light-colored oil-based enamel paint may yellow.

6. Milk Paint

Milk paint carries a deep history. It’s one of the oldest paints we know. Picture this: centuries ago, people mixed milk, lime, and natural pigments to create it.

The secret? Casein, a milk protein, that binds it all together. Today, milk paint offers a unique matte finish. It’s perfect if you want a vintage look.

Plus, it’s eco-friendly and non-toxic. So, with milk paint, you get a blend of tradition, beauty, and safety.

Best for

  1. Furniture Restoration: Milk paint is a popular choice for giving old furniture pieces a vintage, rustic finish. It’s especially favored for antique wooden items to maintain their historic authenticity.
  2. Wall Coatings: For homeowners looking for an organic, matte finish on their walls, milk paint is a prime candidate. It provides a unique, naturally-textured look ideal for certain interior design styles.
  3. Crafts and Artistic Projects: Artists and crafters value milk paint for its eco-friendly properties and unique finish, using it on canvases, wooden crafts, and DIY home decor items.


  1. Eco-Friendly: Made from natural ingredients, making it a green choice.
  2. Non-Toxic: Safe for users and doesn’t release harmful fumes.
  3. Unique Finish: Provides a distinctive matte and chalky appearance.
  4. Historical Authenticity: Perfect for restoring old furniture or creating vintage looks.
  5. Biodegradable: It breaks down over time, leaving a minimal environmental footprint.
  6. Versatile: Can be used on various surfaces, including wood, plaster, and drywall.
  7. Adhesion: Tends to bond well with porous surfaces without a primer.
  8. Customizable: Pigments can be added for a wide range of colors.
  9. Breathable: Allows surfaces to naturally breathe, preventing moisture build-up.
  10. Easy Cleanup: Simply requires water for cleanup while it’s still wet.


  1. Limited Durability: Unlike some modern paints, milk paint can wear or chip over time, especially on frequently used surfaces.
  2. Inconsistency: Since it’s a natural product, there might be slight variations in color and consistency between batches.
  3. Short Shelf Life: When mixed, milk paint should be used quickly as it doesn’t store well for extended periods and can spoil.

7. Alkyd Paint

Alkyd paint, often referred to as oil-based paint, is made from alkyd resins dissolved in a solvent.

This type of paint is renowned for its excellent levelling properties and smooth finish.

It typically takes longer to dry than water-based paints, undergoing a chemical reaction when exposed to oxygen, which hardens and cures the paint.

Major Applications on Wood:

  1. Cabinets and Furniture: The hard, glossy finish of alkyd paint makes it a favorite for wooden furniture and cabinetry.
  2. Doors and Trim: Its smooth finish and resistance to wear make it ideal for surfaces that see frequent use.
  3. Exteriors: Given its moisture resistance, alkyd paint is often chosen for outdoor wooden surfaces like siding and fences.

Pros of Alkyd Paint on Wood:

  1. Durability: Alkyd paint is resistant to wear and tear, making it a long-lasting choice.
  2. Smooth Finish: It leaves a sleek, brushstroke-free appearance on wood.
  3. Superior Adhesion: Its ability to bond well with surfaces ensures a long-lasting coat.
  4. Resistant to Moisture: Its oil base makes it less permeable to water, protecting the wood from potential damage.

Cons of Alkyd Paint on Wood:

  1. Longer Drying Time: This paint takes longer to dry, making it more prone to collecting dust or bugs if used outdoors.
  2. Odor: Alkyd paints release a strong odor, which requires well-ventilated areas during application.
  3. Cleanup: Cleaning brushes and spills requires solvents like mineral spirits.

Bottom Line: Alkyd paint is a solid choice for those looking for a durable and smooth finish on wood.

However, due to its longer drying time and the need for solvents in cleanup, it requires a bit more patience and preparation than its water-based counterparts.

What Paint is Best for Wood: Selection Criteria

Paints come in different types suited for different applications. This means there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to paints.

Additionally, the market has dozens of brands with competing offerings, so it is essential to know how to weed out the rest to get your best pick.

That said, here is some help identifying the right paint for your needs.

– Location

Is your project based inside or outside the house? This may sound obvious, but it is essential to ensure the paint you are choosing is specifically designed for that environment.

Exterior grade paints are typically flexible, with significant UV resistance. This flexibility may not be ideal for indoor applications. Such paint coat may not have the strength and scratch resistance required indoors.

Similarly, interior grade paints will not last outdoors. They are designed to be rigid and robust enough to withstand the constant impact associated with indoor environments.

However, they lack the flexibility and weather resistance required outdoors. So, if your project is based indoors, ensure the paint is formulated for indoor use.

Similarly, if you have an outdoor project, ensure the paint is specifically designed for exterior use.

– Sheen level

This may often come down to personal preferences. If you prefer a shiny surface, you may be better off with oil-based or enamel paint. Oil paints are naturally shiny and do not rely on a topcoat for their shine.

If you want a matte look, various water-based options may suit your needs. For a vintage or rustic appearance, milk paint or chalk paint is your best choice.

So first identify the sheen you want, then go shopping for wooden paints that offer such sheens.

– Project type

The nature of your project directly determines the type of paint to use on wood.

While some paints are uniquely formulated to work across various surfaces, some wood projects will be better with specific paint types—your personal preferences notwithstanding.

Let us break it down.

a) Wooden furniture

For wooden furniture, the right choice of paint depends mainly on the finished look you want. Go for chalk pain specifically if you want to create a distressed look on your furniture.

But ensure you apply a clear coat such as wax or varnish to protect the surface.

Latex paint is ideal for any indoor furniture, including dining tables, chairs, wardrobes, cabinets, headboards, dressers, TV stands, and everything in between, if you want a matte finish.

The paint offers significant resilience to withstand occasional use. For outdoor furniture, oil-based pains may be best. They offer glossier sheens that will cause moisture to bead on the surface rather than get absorbed.

This property can go a long way in protecting your wood from water damage.

b) Wooden trims

Trims tend to receive a great deal of abuse over the course of their life, so they require the best kind of paint for wood that can withstand scratching without showing scuff marks on the surface.

Oil-based paints excel in this regard. Go for any premium oil-based paint with scratch resistance explicitly stated on the label.

c) Wooden floors

Oil-based paint on a wooden floor

Floors take the most abuse of all wooden surfaces. As such, they require the most resilient paint types formulated specifically to withstand foot traffic. 

If you want a high traffic floor paint for wood, you can’t go wrong with Latex and oil-based paints. Indeed, the more premium, the better. 

If you’re painting wood steps, here’s a review of the best paint for stairs.

d) Unfinished wood

Ideally, unfinished wood should work with any paint type as long as you prepare the surface properly. However, if you do not intend to use a primer separately, consider going for paints with the best adhesion properties. 

Latex and water-based paints tend to be the best for bare wood. Suppose you can find a paint and primer blend, the better.

These paint and primer in one option offer the best results, whether they are water-based or oil-based.  

e) Finished wood

When painting a piece of wood that already has a finish, you need to use paint that perfectly adheres to different surfaces. Chalk paints tend to excel in this regard. 

However, if you do not like the matte look of chalk paints, go for oil-based paints instead. They will give you a glossy finish and superior adherence to the finished wooden surface. 

Recommend Reading:

Tips for Painting Wood

Once you have the right paint for the job, it is still essential that you do the work correctly to get the desired outcome. Here are some tips to help you get your right foot forward. 

1. Use a primer 

Priming the wood before painting helps ensure better adhesion. The role of a primer is to make the paint stick better and be durable. You want your paint job to last, and a primer helps you achieve just that. A quality primer like Kilz can leave you questioning, “do I have to paint over Kilz primer” because it already offers impressive coverage and adhesion.

Some paints are naturally more durable than others. Still, it helps to use a primer to make the coat even more long-lasting, whether the wood is finished or unfinished. Such results help save you time and money in the long run.

2. Follow the direction of the grain

You are always advised to follow the grain when sanding, staining or painting wooden surfaces. There is a good reason for that. It helps ensure that any marks created or left during the exercise are aligned with the wood grain.

That way, they seamlessly hide as part of the grain pattern. This is a perfect way to achieve professional-looking results.

3. Get high-quality brushes

The quality of your tools directly influences the outcome of your paint job. High-quality brushes do an excellent job and remain usable for ages.

They are especially crucial for applying oil-based paints that do not work too well with paint rollers.

The last thing you want is a paintbrush that will leave broken pieces of its bristles all you’re your project. This can make the work more challenging and the outcome less than perfect.

4. Add a protective coat

Some paint types, such as oil-based varieties, are naturally glossy and durable. However, chalk paint and other matte finishes are not as glossy and maybe less durable without a protective topcoat.

So always add a clear coat on top of such paint coats to prolong their service lives. 


Can you paint wood?

You can always paint any wood with oil, acrylic, or mixed media paints with great success. However, ensure you properly prep the wooden surface before painting.

Read also: Can you paint cardboard?

Can I use oil-based paint on wood?

Yes, oil-based paints are among the best paint types for wood. They are the ideal choice, especially when painting finished wood. Their glossy finishes offer superior scratch resistance, water resistance, and durability.

What is the best paint for wood shelves?

The best paint for bookshelves is latex water-based. Oil-based paint is typically durable and strong but can contain strong odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can linger around the space for a long time.

Read also: What paint to use on glass windows.

What type of paint to use on wood furniture?

It is best to use latex paint for wood furniture. You can go for satin or semi-gloss options for the finish. Oil paint can also offer superior results for pressed wood furniture. In both cases, ensure you apply a compatible primer before painting.

You can also read more on: What paint is best or wood crafts?

Can you use latex paint on wood?

Yes, you can paint your wood with any latex paint like the one you find at local home improvement stores. This paint type is one of the easiest to work with when painting furniture. Latex paints, however, does not offer as much durability as oil-based paint.

Final Thoughts: Paint types for wood

From the foregoing, you can use various kinds of paint on wood depending on the project you are working on. This article has provided you with the various paint types available to choose from.

The article has also provided a detailed review of multiple leading options to help you find the best paint for your next project. We hope this helps. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.