Water Based Paints Explained – Gloss and Satinwood

Updated May 2, 2024 | Posted Nov 12, 2017 | Professional insight, Product Advice | 4 comments

I have been using predominantly water-based paints for around 10 years now. I started using Armstead Quick Dry Satin. I got great results with this for some time, until I came across a very informative forum called The Decorators Forum UK. This introduced me to the likes of Tikkurila Helmi and Caparol, as well as Bedec, Mythic, Whitsons and Benjamin Moore.

Over the last 2 years I have tested many products on different jobs with fantastic results. I know a lot of decorators like to stick with traditional oil-based paints, but once explained, water-based paints offer a great alternative with loads of benefits.  

the best water based paints
water based gloss and satinwood

The advantages, in my opinion, vastly outweigh the negatives. From being able to apply multiple coats in a day, to the finish staying fresh and white, and the lack of smell that a solvent based product gives off. Plus the environmental benefits of using water-based over oil are huge!!

For me, there’s not much of an argument against it. That being said……


The Problems and Solutions When Using Water Based Paints



I’m sure many of you who have used these water based products have come across the odd issue. Especially at first when going from solvent to water-based – the dragging where the paint doesn’t flow the same, the brush marks that don’t seem to flatten off and the seemingly pointless extra coat. Most of the issues mentioned above are easily rectified with a little more experience and a little experimenting. The dragging is stopped by damping down the surfaces slightly before applying the paint. Some decorators use a little spray bottle for this. However, I prefer to give surfaces a quick wipe over with a wet cloth. The brush marks can also be resolved by using a softer bristled brush – Proform Blaze and either thinning the paint slightly with water or XIM Latex Extender.



One of the big issues is the opacity of water-based paints, but only with the whites. I have tried many different products by many different brands, and have struggled to find the perfect white water-based paint. No matter how great the coverage seems when wet, it dries and often looks like a fourth coat is needed.


Being someone who does a lot of new builds and fit outs, we come across a lot of pre-primed MDF. We also come across a lot of bad carpenters. The two together are not a good mix. I’m not sure why the grinning seems to occur, but we are forever re-touching in or final coating again.

But I’d rather this than get called back to a job in 6 months to re-coat the yellowed woodwork. For some reason I find the coverage of the whites over old yellowed gloss far better than over pre-primed MDF. I have managed 2 x topcoats straight onto keyed gloss and its been spot on. I’ve then found 2 x primer and 2 x topcoats over the MDF isn’t always what I’d have hoped.

Swings and Roundabouts I suppose. The one that had me stumped for the longest time was the opacity. I tried so many varieties and concoctions of water-based paint, but couldn’t ever manage to get pre-primed MDF to go in 3 coats. Until one day I went to visit Colin Bidwell at Paintshack. He whipped out the brushes and the Wagner XVLPs and had me trying out his beloved Caparol Haftprimer. I must say I was extremely impressed. I coated up a marine MDF mini door by brush and one by sprayer. We left the doors 10 minutes. The coverage was clearly better by spray, but even by brush I could see I was finally onto a winner. We did a scratch test inside 15minutes and I was blown away. It was solid. I now have a system that works for me and also a go to product for those problem areas. This leads on nicely to my next point……

water based adhesion primer
water based little greene eggshell

Durability of Water-based Paints

Another issue is the argument that water-based paints are not as hardwearing as their oil based counterparts, and I have come across a problem newel post capping that seemed to stay tacky forever. This did have me worrying at the time, thinking back to all the others I’d done before and whether they would stand up to the test of time.

The problem with the newel turned out to be the clients greasy hand. Every time he went up the stairs he gripped the round cap as he twisted round the corner. This affected the paint as he’d done it between coats, but was easily rectified.

Going back to the Caparol Haftprimer – I had a problem with a Zoffany Eggshell. For some reason the fully prepped and first coated woodwork started to flake when keying between coats. It was like the paint had been applied with no prep to a highly polished surface.


I had to sand back the whole lot right back and try to find a solution. I decided to test a small area with a Haftprimer/Zoffany mix. I let it dry for an hour and did a scratch test. It was solid. I applied the rest and then did 1 full coat of the Zoffany. The job came out perfect.


Sheen-Level of Water-based Paints

The final issue is the level of sheen of water-based gloss. There are so few products that can offer that level of shine that compares to solvent based. Luckily, it seems the current fashions are aimed more towards the satin/eggshell/matt finishes than the gloss, but it would still be good to know there are finishes available for when the need arises.

Teknos Aqua is a product that comes very, very close. If sprayed the finish is flawless and the sheen is the best by far that I’ve seen from a water based product. Im sure the most old school believer of solvent based paints would struggle to find fault with it. I have again only used this in white, but have heard nothing but good thing regarding the darker colours. I will certainly update this once I’ve had the opportunity to test further.


The Best Water-Based Paints


I mentioned some of the best water-based products in the opening paragraph, but I just wanted to touch on a few old favourites.

First off, if you want a water-based gloss, then check the Teknos Futura Aqua 90. This is an alkyd emulsion, but it has a fantastic sheen level. If you use the correct primer, you’ll achieve a fantastic finish.


The are two satinwood products I’d like to put forward. The first is WRX satin, which is a fully water-based paint with great adhesion. It will stick hard and fast to anything, so the durability is spot on. The only issue is it crazes over caulk, so spot prime before using it.

The other water-based satinwood is Benjamin Moore Scuff X, which is boss! By far the best product of its type, but very expensive.




For me there is a solution for every problem faced. As I’m sure with most new things, problems will arise and it will take some time to alter the way we work to suit the advanced technologies. I believe our trade is changing for the better and the last 5-10 years have seen a massive push forward. With the introduction of tools and products that enable us to do an even better job, and get a better finish, faster than ever before. These products will only continue to improve. Are you ready for change or are you going to get left behind?

This blog was written by James Wildish – Professional Painter and Decorator

Updated May 2, 2024 | Posted Nov 12, 2017 | 4 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.


  1. John

    Great write up, also good to hear that you like Teknos aqua, we at Gray’s the paint shop (Camberley & Basingstoke) have now become a stockist for Teknos and have had great feedback, can you tell me if you have tried the base primer Future 3? I would love to see how it compares to the haftprimer or the Isomat isolac primer we stock, it’s also good to know that Teknos still do a solvent version of the top coats in all three some levels.
    We still get a lot of call for crown trade fast flow too.
    It’s good to see you guys trying out the lesser known brands.

  2. M simmonds decorating contractors Ltd

    We’ve tried them all over the past 5 years, with varying degrees of success and failure!! However with a bit of knowhow, skill and correct tools for the job you can’t go wrong with Crown Fast Flow. Works for us, Having said that we’ve just used Crown white oil based undercoat and full gloss on panel doors and joinery and it looks sublime, you can clearly see your reflection in the perfect mirror finish.

  3. Ralph Darvill

    Very much the same as my “journey” with water-based.

    Have settled on Crown Fast Flow as it seems to have really good opacity, and behaves more like solvent- based in terms of application.


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