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What’s the difference between acrylic, latex and oil paint?

What’s the difference between acrylic, latex and oil paint?

A question that is often asked to commercial painters is the difference between oil, latex and acrylic paint. Here is my anser.

Oil paint

Once dry, an oil paint film is very hard and washable, which means we can scrub it vigorously without seeing the paint peel. The main defect of oil paint is its smell.

About 50 years ago, oil paint was the only paint available on the market. Not only does this kind of paint have a strong smell, it’s also highly chemical as it contains fossil fuels. Indeed oil paint is composed of a great amount of volatile organic compounds (VOC) which are very toxic for the environment and for health. It’s good to know that a paint that contains VOCs keep on emanating toxic vapors for at least 2 to 3 years following its application on the surface.

The Canadian government established standards in 2010 to have the paint manufacturers reduce the VOCs used in their paint products sold in Canada. This explains why it’s difficult to find oil paints in the retail stores nowadays. For house painting purposes, oil paints are practically all disappeared from the market. There still exists some oil-based coatings sold in Canada: they are for the products to which we have not found a green alternative yet.

Latex paint

Latex paint is a water-based paint. There is a wide variety of latex paints: there are numerous products of different quality, gloss and price. We usually used them for interior surfaces like ceilings and walls. Latex paints are the less expensive ones and their composition is less complex. They are often better than acrylic paints.

Acrylic paint

The acrylic paint is water-based and it adheres extremely well so it’s durable. The 100% acrylic sticks so much that it can be applied to almost any surface. It even sticks to the painter’s fingers for several days (even when he scrubs) if he does not wear nitrile gloves.

An inconvenient is that the acrylic paint is glossier than latex. We thus prefer latex (less glossy) on particular surfaces (ceiling), while we prefer acrylic paints for exterior surfaces because it has the advantage of being more flexible, which means it can stand better Quebec changing climatic conditions.

To learn more about the paint products and methods we use, we invite you to read the other sections of our blog.

Dave Beaupre

Master-painter