How to Choose the Best Spray Paint for Your Project
Not sure what the best spray paint for your project is? In this article, we explain what specs to look for so you pick up the right type of spray can, whether plastic, metal, wood or more.
No matter how well you take care of your home, your furniture, or even your car, eventually Father Time will leave his mark. Bumps and scratches will emerge and the luster of that new coat of paint will grow dull. Try as you might, you won’t be able to completely remove the bumps and scratches, but you can do something about the paint that has lost its luster.
With the aid of a good can of spray paint, you can work wonders in and around your home. Of course, the challenge then is finding the best spray paint for your specific needs. Not all spray cans are good for all purposes, for instance, some will be better for metal but not for wood. To make your choice easier, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide detailing what you need to look for while shopping for spray paint.
In this article we will discuss just the specifications and tips for what to look for. There are no product reviews in this article, but if you do want some recommendations be sure to check out our individual articles on spray paint for plastic, spray paint for metal and spray paint for wood. Read on to find out how you can find the most suitable spray paint to add new life to your furniture and your home.
How to Choose the Right Spray Paint
Consider the Surface You’re Painting
In order to ensure that your upcoming painting project will turn out well, you first have to take into consideration the kind of surface you will be working on. It’s true that there are paints suitable for all surfaces and they can work fine. However, if you want to achieve the best possible results, you should look for a can of spray paint that is meant for the surface you’re working on, regardless of what that may be. Certain types of spray paint have features that only stand out when used on the right surface. Take advantage of that by always taking surface type into account before shopping for new paint.
The reason most people want to paint their furniture and their home isn’t that they are unhappy with the color they chose. More often than not, they want to apply a new coat because the original layers have already chipped and some may have even peeled off completely. Spray paints are not created equal in terms of durability. Some will stay intact for years even on frequently used pieces of furniture while others will start chipping within a few months or even weeks. Paint durability becomes even more important when the item you’re painting is going to be used outdoors. If you’re painting an item for outdoor use, durability is essential. Durable spray paints may cost a bit more, but they will save you money in the long run because you won’t need to regularly retouch the layers.
Type of Finish
How the spray paint will look once it dries up should obviously factor into your calculations while you’re out shopping for one. This is why you have to pay close attention to what type of finish the spray paint you’re thinking about buying provides. The most common types are gloss, matte and satin, although specialty paint finishes such as metallic are also available.
- Gloss, Semi-Gloss. Some paint finishes are glossy and attract plenty of attention, which may look great in some situations and awfully tacky in other cases.
- Matte, Satin. Others such as matte and satin are more subdued and are better suited for blending into a pre-established design scheme.
- Metallic, Hammered. Metallic finishes tend to be on the shiny side and are obviously more compatible with a certain type of material. Spray paints that feature a hammered finish also work splendidly on metal surfaces, especially if the item you’re working on is already damaged.
The base used in the spray paint you’re looking to purchase matters a great deal. This is especially true if you are planning to paint something that already features different types of damage.
- Enamel. Enamel paint will almost always end up producing a hard finish. Because of that, the surface that has been painted over will be better protected. The damage won’t disappear and likely won’t even be hidden well, but at the very least, the newly painted surface is not going to be as susceptible to bumps and scrapes the way it was previously.
- Oil-based. Oil-based paints also work well for already damaged surfaces. However, instead of protecting the surface better, they excel at concealing damage. Oil-based paints tend to release more fumes, and so you should take extra precaution to work in a well-ventilated space.
For many homeowners, retouching the paint on their furniture is as much about saving money as it is about actually beautifying their possessions. With that in mind, you should always take note of how thick the spray paint you’re getting is before putting the money down for it. The thicker the paint, the less coats it will need. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a spray paint that can completely cover an item in just one go, but there are still those items that can get that done within two or three turns. Cheaper spray paints may require even more coats, which will end up costing you more in the long run in money and time.
Along with the thickness of the paint, you should also consider how long it takes to dry. This is particularly important to pay attention to if you’re someone who only gets the chance to be in the workshop during the weekends. Thankfully, the vast majority of spray paints dry up in around 15 to 30 minutes. Subsequent layers will be slower to dry, however, so keep this in mind when factoring paint thickness and drying time into your project.
High Heat Resistance
This is a factor that is often overlooked, since heat resistance is only important if your item will be exposed to direct heat, such as near a fireplace or outdoors in direct summer sun. Depending on what item inside your home needs a fresh coat of paint, high heat resistance is either something you should absolutely factor in the equation or ignore entirely. Items that are going to be frequently used outdoors can benefit from being coated with some heat-resistant spray paint, to lessen the impact of sun damage.
If you’re painting something that will be used on a firepit, stove or used for cooking, you must prioritize getting a spray paint that is not damaged easily when exposed to high temperatures. On that note, be extra careful with painting any cooking utensils, making sure to only paint the areas that are not exposed to food because you don’t know if it could release toxins into your food – as far as we’re aware there are no food grade spray paints!
In a pinch, using all-purpose spray paint is something you may have to do. Honestly, they don’t look bad, although they often adhere better to wooden surfaces compared to other materials. You should still prioritize finding a spray paint that is made to be used on a specific type of material, but you can get by with the all-purpose options. Having said that, a versatile all-purpose spray paint is best if you want to paint many different items in the exact same color and finish.
For example, as part of your interior design scheme you may want to add some pops of gold, red or another color, in which case you could use the same all-purpose spray can across a range of decorative items such as a ceramic vase, wooden picture frame, plastic flower pot, glass bottles etc. This will result in a more consistent color and finish across all the items, rather than using a different spray can for each item which could result in undesirable variances in hue and finish.
Convenience & Comfort
Some spray paint cans come with what’s known as a pistol grip. Those pistol grips are great because they make working so much easier. The strain on your hand is significantly lessened and you can go on marathon painting sessions if you want to. This isn’t a must per se, but if you want to save a bit of money and time, look for a spray paint that already includes the primer. It is also worth considering if you are prone to hand ailments, such as cramps or RSI.
Types of Spray Paint Currently on the Market
We talked earlier about how important it is to match the surface you’re working on with the right type of spray paint and we will elaborate on why that is the case in this section. Avoid making the same mistakes amateurs commit all the time. By choosing the correct type of spray paint right for the surface you’re working on, the chances of your project turning out great will skyrocket, even if you disregard the other specifications mentioned above.
Spray Paints for Plastic Items
Painting plastic can be such a difficult ordeal mainly because many types of spray paint will simply not cling to that material in the way they do to metal or wood. The workaround for this issue is to either purchase all-purpose spray paint or a spray paint specially formulated to fuse to a plastic surface. You’ll notice the difference right away when you use plastic spray paint because the finish turns out silky smooth.
Plastic spray paints are easier to find these days. To make your search even easier, expand it to include items that are compatible with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) surfaces.
Spray Paints for Wooden Items
Finding a spray paint that can work well when used on a wooden surface is easy because just about every item on the market can do that. That’s just another reason why having wooden pieces of furniture in your home is a good idea. However, wooden items are also prone to damage because they are not quite as sturdy as metal. In all likelihood, you will find blemishes on the wooden surfaces you want to paint.
This is why the ideal spray paint for wood is oil-based. The smooth finish produced by oil-based paint hides flaws on the surface of wooden furniture so well. Spray paints made out of other bases will still look good, but oil is the way to go for beautifying wooden furniture.
If you want a smooth finish when painting an old piece of timber furniture, you should take the time to fill in any large gouges and holes with some wood filler first. No spray paint will be so good that it will fill in a large gouge or hole, and it will sometimes stand out even more after it has been painted. Pick up some wood putty from your local hardware store and fill in those gaps, let it dry for at least 24 hours or whatever is stated on the tub, then go ahead with your spray painting.
Spray Paints for Metal Items
Spray paints and metal go together very well. Still, because metal has certain properties, you have to be mindful of looking for specific features in a spray paint to use on it.
The best spray paints for metal are typically resistant to high heat. Now, you don’t necessarily need high heat resistance in your spray paint if the metal item you’ll be working on is going to be kept indoors. However, if it’s garden furniture or perhaps a grill exterior that you’ll be painting, please don’t forget to search for something with high heat resistance.
Spray paints for metal offer a variety of finishes – specialty options included. We’re partial to the hammered finish here, but a metallic one will also end up looking great. If you do decide to use a spray paint with a hammered finish for your metal items, then check to see if has an enamel base as well. That way, you can enjoy the benefits of having a protective coating that also conceals nicks and scratches.
Spray Paints for Rims
You can try to use a more conventional type of spray paint for your car’s rims, but I can tell you right now, that won’t end well. Much like with plastic, there are spray paints that are created specifically for the purposes of adding some more color to your car’s rims.
Spray paints for rims have to be durable. There simply cannot be any compromise on that unless you want your newly painted rims to look worn down within weeks. High heat resistance is another characteristic that must be featured by a spray paint that will be used on the aforementioned parts of the car.
There are actually paints for rims that can be peeled off, but they often lack the kind of shine you would want to see.
As you have likely deduced from reading this article, there is no one particular item that can be hailed as the best spray paint. Since the surface you will be painting will have a huge impact on which type of spray paint you need to get, one specific item may be ideally suited to your needs, but someone else may not get much use out of it.
Luckily, the selection of spray paints is huge and there will likely be at least a few options on the market that can capably meet your needs. The important point is that you choose a spray paint suited to the surface you are painting, so take some time to think about and jot down some notes before you head to the store about the surface (eg wood, plastic), the location of the item (eg indoors, direct sun), the type of finish (eg gloss, matte, metallic), and how the item will be used therefore how durable the paint needs to be. Doing this will give you a clear mental picture of what type of spray can to purchase when you get to the store.
This article was originally written in January 2019, and updated in September 2022.
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