Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint – Gloss, Satin and Eggshell

By Mike Cupit


As a professional decorator, I’m often asked whether you should use water-based, or oil-based paint on the woodwork in your home. Once upon a time it was a simple choice, now it isn’t so easy. I use both, so I’ll take you through the pros and cons of each.


Oil-Based Paint


Oil-based is by far the more traditional choice and still the more widely used, however the paint itself is changing. The oil used in oil based gloss, satin and eggshell has a yellow tinge to it, which actually bleads through over time. Back in the day, chemicals known as VOCs held back this discolouration, but EU law now restricts the use of VOCs and the problem is very noticeable. “yellowing” is more of a problem in gloss as it contains more oil than it’s satin and eggshell counterparts. Lack of natural light is also a massive factor. So, oil based paint will yellow a lot quicker in say a hallway than a conservatory.


That being said, oil-based paint is very durable and gives a lovely rich finish with little effort, which is why I sometimes use it. You should avoid gloss where you can, or go for a brand such as Crown Next generation which won’t yellow quite as fast.


Water-Based Paint


The technology in water-based paint has improved a lot over recent years. It can be difficult to use as it seems to have no body. Something else it lacks is opacity, meaning you may have to apply additional coats of paint. The paint isn’t as durable as oil-based either. One more thing to think about, if you are painting over an existing oil-based coating you may need to apply an adhesion primer prior applying your finish coats.


There are some advantages of water-based though. You can apply multiple coats in a day, clean up is a lot easier, it is better for the environment and the main one, water-based paint will never turn yellow.


Some water-based paints are better than others. Dulux Diamond satin is probably my favourite “trade” option. Johnstone’s have just brought out a product called Aqua Guard which is also brilliant.



Hybrid Paint – Neither Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint


Hybrid paints such as Crown Fastflow, Dulux QD and Johnstone’s Aqua are a sort of compromise I suppose. They are a water-based paint with an oil carrier, meaning there is just a little bit of oil in there to help it flow. Being as there is some oil in hybrid paint, it will yellow over time. The other downfall is brush care. If you are using a hybrid paint throughout the day, you should wash your brush regularly and wipe the surface you are painting with a damp cloth as you apply the paint. Doing these two things will save your brushes and ease the flow. Johnstone’s Aqua was voted the best hybrid paint on the Decorators forum by professionals and is easily the brand leader.


This is what I mean about a compromise –

  • Hybrid paint stays white longer than oil based but won’t last forever like water based.
  • More durable than water, not as durable as oil
  • Easier to apply than water, not as easy as oil
  • Easier clean up than oil, not as easy as water
  • And it goes on like this. If you see the advantages of both oil and water, this may be the way forward.



Where to buy


I have given you the pros and cons of water, oil and hybrid paints and named a few specific products which I believe to be your best option for each. The most important bit of advice I can give you is buy “trade” paint. If it doesn’t say trade on the tin, leave the tin on the shelf. The best website I have found for trade paint is The Paintshed.


What do Decorators Prefer to Use?

Water-based paints are starting to come into their own, I find they can be a bit translucent and the brush marks don’t flow out as nicely as oil, but it’s definitely getting there. Spraying seems to be better at the moment

Edward Crisp

Usually play jobs by ear. I personally prefer oil-based, but if customer has children, pets, breathing issues etc I recommend water-based. Ultimately leave the decision to them., but always use Johnstone’s products.

Ben Moore

I have used Dulux trade oil-based satinwood since it first came on the market, and to this day I still haven’t found anything better.

Bill Lowes - Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint, gloss and satinwood

Benjamin Moore scuff X satin which is a fully water-based paint

Flows beautiful. Settles lovely, dries superfast and never yellows.

On top of all that it’s incredibly durable.

1 downfall is the opacity of the brightest white they do – ‘chantilly lace’.

But still better than any other waterbased bright white.

Richard Irons

I love oil-based products, however water based has its place in the market, opacity on oil based is the best hands down but the down side is the toxins & drying times , with redecorating domestic properties the problem lays with children & pets & the god awful smell that lingers for days.

Water-based is much harder to apply to get a consistent finish, nevertheless the finish can be awesome after 2 or 3 costs depending on product. This can increase productivity by up 50% & 75% with drying times being do quick & the plus side of no smells & pets hairs not sticking to it, also water-based is perfect for spraying as it atomises quickly.

Peter Whiter - Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint, gloss and satinwood

Water-based as I can’t stand the yellowing which comes from using oil

Jr John Mcguire

 I prefer oil-based to be honest. More hardwearing and in my opinion you can get a better finish

Keith Barkas

Oil-based on about 70% of my jobs. Don’t get me wrong, water-based paint technology is getting better, but it isn’t quite there yet. I do like some of the hybrid paints like Johnstone’s Aqua and Crown Fastflow. Paints like that are just so much quicker and easier to apply than oil-based. Another paint I like is Dulux Diamond Satinwood. The Diamond Satinwood is a fully water-based system which is even easier to apply than the hybrids and you get a nice brilliant whit. It can be a pain to use if you’re not used to it.

Mike Gregory

I was an oil-based fan for over 20 years till I was introduced to Teknos. Now my new tin of Dulux trade oil based gloss hasn’t been opened since I bought it 4 months ago

Darren Faulkner

Oil-based is way better to use, more play time for any problems with it, cuts better, less coats, better opacity. On any hand painted furniture or kitchens I’ve gone back to oil-based. Bring back the days of having a gallon of white Undercoat and gloss in the van, 25 quid from wallpaper johns to do a ton of jobs with it.  All this water-based stuff is way too complicated.

Craig Lyness

Oil-based is a superior finish, especially on new woodwork. I find it harder wearing due to the fact the oil is actually a softer mineral to water and will when taking a knock will naturally flex and stay with the dent on the wood.

Water-based is more environmentally friendly however I think it’s marketing is based on profit more than its green credentials. It’s a cheaper product to produce

Kirk Lanyon

Always oil-based. Don’t know what paint people are using that goes yellow in 3 days. Oil paint needs ultraviolet light to keep it white, so as long as it’s in daylight it’s okay. Water-based is no good for high traffic areas as the grease off your hands wears it off in my experience.

Dave Sanderson - Water-Based or Oil-Based Paint

Oil-based mainly for exterior due to my location and water based mainly for interior. Tikkurila Intact 40 leaves the best feel of all the finishes, but it’s not a brilliant white and opacity not great . My go to is Caparol haft primer then 2 coats PU satin. Sometimes use otex akva as the adhesion primer. I explain to the customer the benefits of water based and the fact its a 3 coat system rather than a 2 and I price accordingly

Stooie Walker

Oil based for me. You get a far better finish with oil. Water-based never looks finished.

Kevin Wood

I’ve been doing it for over 15 years and my dad is an old school bee. Doing it since he was 15 when left school. Now he’s 66 and we both use Dulux water-based gloss which lasts for years

Wayne Bishop

Steve Hudson Oil-based paint not only Yellows, but does not last these days. I’ve been in the trade for 50years and cannot believe how bad oil paints are these days. I have done many experiments with both and will never use oil paints again!

Steve Hudson

 Oil-based is better flowing but yellows! but with the right brushes ie synthetic and application method, waterbased can be just as sharp

Paul Bevins

I mostly use water-based paint nowadays. I don’t see the point in applying a product which is going to discolour and look naff a couple of years after you’ve applied it. Plus water-based is better for the environment, smells better, is faster drying and will clean up with warm water. It’s a no-brainer for me.

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