Johnstone’s Aqua Satin and Gloss Review

Updated May 25, 2024 | Posted Apr 25, 2020 | Product Reviews, Paints | 7 comments

Johnstone’s Aqua satin and gloss are known as water-based “trim products”, suitable for interior and exterior timber. The recoat time for these products is around 6 hours depending on conditions. You can buy Johnstone’s Aqua in white, or get it tinted into any colour from Johnstone’s vast colour range. It is available in 1, 2.5 or 5 litre tins. Click here to see current prices.


My Johnstone’s Aqua Satin and Gloss Review


I quite like Johnstone’s Aqua satin and gloss if I’m honest. It has a good body to it and feels like a true oil-based when applied via brush or roller. You can easily cut straight lines with it and manipulate the paint to do whatever you need it to. Opacity is good, you can lash heavy coats on without worrying about whether it will sag. Plus, you can apply two coats in a day which is a bonus. The sheen level of the gloss is brilliant for a water-based paint and the satin leaves a nice luxurious dull finish. I really like the products, but there is a nack to using them, which I’ll explain later in my review. If you follow certain steps, you’ll never have an issue when applying Johnstone’s Aqua.

There is another downside and it is a fairly big issue. Johnstone’s Aqua satin and gloss will start to yellow and discolour over time, especially in low light conditions. More so than other “water-based” products on the market, but a lot less than anything oil-based. I’ll explain why in the next section.


Is Johnstone’s Aqua a Water-Based Paint?


“Aqua” means water, and the tin boasts “water-based technology”, but in fact, the Johnstone’s Aqua satin and gloss are both hybrids. This means, although the paint is primarily water-based, it contains an alkyd (or oil) carrier, so it’s a mix of water and oil!! They do this for a few reasons, water-based paints do solve a lot of problems, but they create some new ones. I’ll give you some examples;

An oil-based paint will yellow over time, clean-up is horrendous, there is a long wait in-between coats and they’re not very good for the environment.

A water-based paint is not as durable, opacity isn’t as good meaning extra coats are needed, it is harder to control when applying and you normally encounter brush marks.

A hybrid is a compromise on just about every issue I have just mentioned. The paint will yellow, but it’ll stay white a lot longer than an oil-based. It is more durable than water-based, but not as durable as oil. It is easier to control than water, but not as easy as oil. The list goes on!!



Johnstone’s Aqua Satin and Gloss Review - Decorator's forum UK

An alkyd emulsion (hybrid) paint system used to coat woodwork and other trim. This is widely available in Brilliant White and thousands of different tinted colours.

Product Brand: Johnstone's Trade

Editor's Rating:


  • Great flow.
  • Good opacity.
  • Lovely finish.
  • Can be used inside or out.
  • Professional Decorators love it.


  • Can take a little bit of faffing to apply.
  • It’s a hybrid, so will discolour in rooms with low light.

How to apply Johnstone’s Aqua


A lot of decorators who try Johnstone’s Aqua for the first time do not get on with it. This isn’t down to the paint being poor quality, but more to do with the decorator not knowing how to apply the product correctly.


Use the full system

People are always looking to cut a corner, but you really can’t when using Johnstone’s Aqua. You should always apply a full coat of Aqua undercoat prior to using the Aqua gloss or satin. This is for a few reasons, including adhesion and adding durability to your painted surface. Not just that, but the Aqua satin and gloss always sits nicely on top of the undercoat to give a better finish.

Besides which, the Johnstone’s Aqua undercoat is brilliant!! Easy to apply, dries flat and has great opacity. It is one of the best “nearly water-based” undercoats on the market.

The normal procedure would be one coat of undercoat followed by two topcoats, whether going over previously painted or pre-primed. Three coat systems over previously painted surfaces are the norm for most water-based paints. There are a few products out there which only need two. 


Keep Everything Wet

There is a little trick you can use to make things easier for you to apply the Aqua. Some people make the mistake of diluting the paint.

This is pointless and by adding water to the product you speed up the drying process, which makes it difficult to apply. What you can do is skim over your woodwork with a damp sponge just before you apply the paint. The paint then flies on and is a joy to use!


Look After Your Paintbrush

The amount of times I have heard a decorator labelling Johnstone’s Aqua satin and gloss as a “brush killer” is unreal. Johnstone’s Aqua can start to dry near the ferrule of the brush, causing the fibres to splay. This makes life hard work when applying Johnstone’s Aqua and wrecks your brushes, but there is a very simple solution. You always need to keep your brush wet! All you need to do is keep a small bucket of water handy on a job and give your brush a little swill out every now and again, simple!!


Clean up

Another point is washing your brush after the job. Remember Johnstone’s Aqua satin and gloss products do contain a small amount of oil, so water alone will not be enough to clean out of your paintbrush. Clean Spirit is designed to clean hybrid paints so that is your best option, but virosol will also work. In fact, white spirit will do the job too. Clean what paint you can from the brush using clean or soapy water, then use one of the three products I’ve just mentioned to finish the job off, dead easy!!


Best Place to Buy


You can buy these products from any Johnstone’s Decorating Centre. However, unless you qualify for a trade account and have favourable terms, then it will almost certainly be cheaper to buy Johnstone’s Aqua gloss or satin online. Click here to see online prices. 

Johnstone’s Aqua Guard Review


This gets a little confusing, but Johnstone’s Aqua Guard is a different product than Johnstone’s Aqua. Aqua Guard is a fully water-based satinwood rather than a hybrid. It’s a lot easier to use, doesn’t kill your paintbrushes, will never discolour, and leaves a gorgeous finish.

If you like, Aqua Guard is an evolution of Johnstone’s Aqua. They have developed something that out-performs its predecessor.

There are only two drawbacks of choosing Aqua Guard over Aqua in my opinion; Johnstone’s Aqua guard cannot be used outside, and it doesn’t come in a gloss finish. It is a genuinely good product though! Full review here, or click here to see online prices.


Best Tools to Apply Johnstone’s Aqua


As explained, there is a nack to applying Johnstone’s Aqua. Having the correct tools for the job will make things a lot easier. The idea is to apply generous coats of paint without having to over-work the material. So, you need a brush with a thick stock which will hold its shape, and a mini roller that will distribute the paint evenly with fewer passes.

Purdy Monarch Elite XL is my paintbrush of choice. It holds loads of paint, is soft enough to lay-off, and keeps its shape well enough to cut-in. Available online here.

As for the roller. I like the Hamilton ‘For the Trade’ mini-roller. They hold loads of paint, will stand up well to use in Johnstone’s Aqua, and are reasonably priced. Available online here by clicking here.


What do Other Decorators Think?

I like the stuff and use both the satin and gloss as my go to. However:

  1. I’m not convinced it stays as white as claimed and it certainly yellows. I was comparing some doors I did 2 years ago with ones I’ve done today in the same house. Definitely yellowed. I think Johnstone’s should clearly label it as “hybrid” so we know what we’re using.
  2. The gloss is more like a satin finish after a few months.
Andrew James Caizerques

Professional Decorator

On the positive side, it’s lovely to use and gives a really nice finish, and works well as a system. It’s probably the best sheen for a water-based gloss, blows certain other products out the water in that respect.

HOWEVER, I do worry about it yellowing as it is definitely a hybrid, and therefore also kills your brushes! Aqua Guard, on the other hand, has become my “go-to” w/b satin when the budget doesn’t allow for Scuff-X (but I’d rather use Scuff-X all day long!).

Robin Gofton

Professional Decorator

The aqua undercoat very good. I would swap the Aqua Satin for their Aqua guard, but both are very good. Don’t rate the Acrylic satin as highly.

Richard David Thomas

Professional Decorator


I think Johnstone’s Aqua is the best water-based gloss on the market. Their undercoat works for me every time. I’m a convert from oil-base. Find this gives more and it is easy to work with.

Martin Buggy

Professional Decorator

I use Johnstone’s aqua satin or gloss 90% of the time. Yes of course there is better, but price reflects.

Damon Reeves

Professional Decorator

Updated May 25, 2024 | Posted Apr 25, 2020 | 7 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Gregory is a Professional Painter and Decorator who works in the Northwest of England. He mainly sub-contracts for large decorating firms and works on a wide variety of projects.
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  1. Will Hambling

    Could anyone tell me any experiences they may have of using this paint outside? I know Johnstones say it is for exterior use, but is the durability of it comparable to the oil based paints?
    I am a professional decorator and am looking at switching to using water based products outside. I already use water based paint only inside, but have been dubious as to the claims made by the paint manufacturers regarding using water based paint outside.
    Any feedback will be greatly appreciated.

    • Lee

      We started using this product a couple of years ago. I agree with all the feedback about coverage and feel etc. Durability has been a problem for us on exterior jobs, I have carefully overseen jobs to ensure proper preparation etc and have had customers complaining not even a year later. We have stopped using it on exterior jobs, interior all the way however!

      • Rosemary

        Used this outside last Summer and its just peeling off in places. I noticed when it was raining one day that the paint was blistering in spots some came off and some just stayed put. Very disappointed as it was a lit of picket fence and even some was new or we sanded it back to the bare timber . Far from been a newbie at painting and gave it 3 coats . The thoughts of having to repaint all that again🙈 after 9 months. .

  2. Neil Johnson

    I used Johnsons Aqua on 3 different jobs now, one has been on a million pound property, also my own.
    The coverage is great, finish fantastic, no sign of any decrease in the finish being outside, the Paint seems to harden off very well, as you say acts like an out and out oil based paint.
    A fantastic addition to a already great range of paints etc

  3. Will Hambling

    It is a lovely paint to use and the finish is excellent. But the yellowing it suffers from renders it a pointless product, in my opinion.
    And no matter how much you refresh your brush in water, as the day goes on, the brush does clog up as the hours pass by. Which means you need to have a lot of clean spirit in, to properly clean the brush at the end of every day.

  4. Michael Jones

    How is it with hand oils? Thinking of using this on kitchen cabinets and seems similar to Benjamin Moore Advance which we’ve had on our cabinets for 5 years and has been great.

    I was told by Johnstone’s that the Aqua Guard resisted hand oils and stains better than the Aqua but I’m not sure an acrylic could be better than a hybrid for durability, and resisting stains and oils.


  5. Scott Wichall

    You saved my day with the tip about wetting the trim before applying the paint. I was ready to throw the whole tin in the bin as it wouldn’t go on or brush out at all. As soon as I wetted down, absolute game changer, the previous 3.7 second period to brush it out was gone and it became very satisfying to apply.
    Thank you very much.


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