Paint, the product also known as hope in a can, continues to be one of the least expensive decorating options out there. Although easy to use, it's not always easy to choose. Consumers and designers struggle to get just the right shade of blue or beige. And manufacturers offer more types of paints with planet-friendly formulas than ever before.
Thank goodness paint is still an affordable addiction. About 650 million gallons were sold in this country last year, according to Debbie Zimmer, spokeswoman for the Paint Quality Institute. She says, "What else can you do in a weekend that will change your look for about the same cost as going out to a nice dinner?" What's new? More full-spectrum lines. Full-spectrum paints are more vibrant because they are formulated with four or more pigments, none of which is black or gray. C2 Paint's palette of 496 colors will be full- spectrum by the end of this year; Benjamin Moore's new Color Stories line has 240 full-spectrum colors.
More eco-friendly. Manufacturers are developing ways to cut out more VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Some of these compounds, which are off-gassed from certain paints, can contribute to smog similar to the way auto emissions do, according to Harry Adler, co-owner of Adler's Hardware in Providence, R.I., and a founding partner of C2 Paint.
Paint-primer combos. These time-saving formulas can eliminate the need for a primer coat. Caution: They're not the best choice for surfaces with stains or for covering dark colors.
Use the right brush. A high-quality brush will make paint go on easier. If you use a coarse brush, brush marks will show. A finely crafted bristle brush will produce an even finish. Potomac Paint in Virginia suggests the 2 1/2-inch Corona Pro Cortez.
Prep the surface. Begin with a clean, smooth wall. Wash the wall, and then remove any loose or peeling paint. Nail holes and cracks should be spackled and sanded until smooth.
We asked Bill Thornton, owner of Potomac Paint & Design Centers in Virginia, to choose three of his favorite new paint products. Here are his picks.
Monticello Yellow by Ralph Lauren Paint. The walls of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello dining room were restored in 2010 to reflect research that found them to be egg-yolk yellow during the president's later years. (Since the 1930s, they had been Wedgwood blue.) Maybe Jefferson found the vibrant shade to be perfect for candlelight dinners. Designer Ralph Lauren was a sponsor of the recent restoration. The color used in the project, dubbed Monticello Yellow, was added to Lauren's paint line. $50.47 a gallon.
PolyWhey Wood Finish by Vermont Natural Coatings. For consumers looking for a planet-friendly product, a small Vermont company has a line of wood finishes made with whey, a byproduct of cheese making. Invented at the University of Vermont, the product is durable and fast- drying, and has almost no off-gassing. Available for floors, cabinets, furniture and other surfaces. $55 to $77 per gallon.
Guggenheim Gallery Colors and Guggenheim Classical Colors by Fine Paints of Europe. These paint collections share colors from the Guggenheim Museum, that storied 1959 New York cultural landmark. The Gallery Colors are 50 hues culled from historical favorites of curators, artists and designers, including the original colors chosen by Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed the building. There are 150 Classical Colors drawn from paintings in the museum's collection. $120 to $135 per 2.5-liter can (a bit less than a gallon).
1. Testers are a must. Whether you buy a sample bottle or an oversize paint chip, look at your prospective paint color in various lights at various times of day.
2. Most experts recommend 100 percent acrylic latex paint for the majority of jobs. This type of paint allows for soap-and-water cleanup and adheres well to a variety of surfaces. Look for formulations that are lower in VOCs. The formulation of oil-based paint has changed because of government regulations concerning VOCs. But its drawbacks are that it still must be used in conjunction with mineral spirits and disposed of as a hazardous waste, according to Adler. Certain brands are available in quart sizes for home use. Some consumers find that oil paint produces a glossier look and a more durable finish.
3. Choose the proper sheen for your room, says Zimmer of the Paint Quality Institute. If you are painting a living room or dining room, you probably want a washable flat or matte paint, or eggshell, which has a light sheen. For a bathroom or kitchen, where moisture, mildew or grease would be a concern, consider eggshell, satin or semigloss finish. The higher the sheen, the more washable it is. The downside of glossier finishes is they can accentuate flaws in walls.