When it comes to paint, there’s a lot of marketing jargon that marketers use to tempt you into purchasing one brand over another. Sometimes it can get overwhelming.

Is acrylic what I want? This one says it’s enamel! Is that good? What is that, anyway? Can I use oil-based paints outside? Will they degrade?

Often you may leave the store with more questions than answers, but we’re here to cut through all the marketing jargon and get straight to the point.

If you’re in need of decent wood paint, all you’ve got to know are a few simple facts about the wood you’re painting, whether it’s going to be indoor or outdoor, and how long you want it to last.

Let’s go through the basics.

What to Consider When Buying Paint for Wood

  • Surface. There are two main factors to consider when choosing the best paint for wood, the first being wood surface.

Depending on the type of wood surface you’re painting, your paint choices will vary. If you’re painting an indoor piece of furniture, for example, you could choose a high-gloss, latex, non-waterproof paint, and you wouldn’t have to worry about sealing the wood.

However, for an outdoor piece of furniture, that same exact paint would be totally wrong for the application – you would need something more weather-resistant and preferably something that contained sealant like polyurethane.

  • Durability and Longevity. These are the second factors. Less expensive paints are often less durable – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you plan to paint something and don’t want to re-paint it for years (or even decades); it’s something to keep in mind.

Generally, less expensive paints are more prone to break down and are more suitable for interior applications where they won’t be exposed to the elements.

Conversely, specialized exterior wood paints will cost more initially, but will require less upkeep, even when exposed to the elements.

Top 10 Paints for Wood Comparison Table

PictureNameTypePriceRating (1-5)
Picture
Name
Type
Price
Rating (1-5)
1. General Finishes JQ Gel Stain, 1 quart, Java Oil-based Gel Stain$$$4.7
2. Rust-Oleum 206999 Marine Topside Paint, White, 1-Quart Oil-based$$4.7
3. Renaissance Chalk Furniture & Cabinet Paint Qt Superior Coverage - Gypsum Acrylic$$$4.5
4. Rust-Oleum 254101 Painters Touch Quart Oil Based Oil-based$4.4
5. Rust-Oleum 7777730 Protective Enamel Paint Enamel$4.3
6. Amitha Verma Chalk Finish Paint, No Prep, One Coat, Fast Drying Acrylic$$$$4.3
7. Krylon 8803 'Dual' Paint and Primer 12-Ounce Aerosol Aerosol$$4.3
8. Minwax 66070 1 Quart Gel Stain Interior Wood Gel-based wood stain$$4.2
9. Rust-Oleum 1974730 Painters Touch Latex, Semi-Gloss Black Latex$4.2
10. Minwax 370 Satin Poly Shades Stain and Polyurethane, Classic Oak Polyurethane Wood Stain$4.1

Different Types of Paints for Wood

  • Stains. Stains can be oil-based, water-based, or suspended in any number of different liquids. They are quite similar to paints and often used more frequently than standard wood paints. This is because they’re not completely opaque – they accent and allow the natural grain and finish of the wood through, but can change the color of the wood significantly, especially in multiple applications.

Because they bring out the natural beauty of wood without covering it, these are by far the most popular wood-painting products available. They enhance both the natural beauty and durability of woods while allowing the natural beauty of the grain to remain visible.

With so many options available, we have written a guide to further explain the different types of stains.

Therefore, even though, technically, they may not be “paint”, many consider them to be the best paint for wood.

  • Oil-Based Paints. Oil-based paints are generally more suited to interior use, as they take longer to dry; however, they can also be quite smelly and take longer to dry, which may be undesirable for interior applications.
  • Latex and Acrylic Water-Based Paints. Here’s one example of why the world of paints can be confusing – latex and acrylic paints are the same thing, and there’s actually no latex in these paints.

These paints are water-based, and the pigment is carried by an acrylic resin. One big advantage latex paints have is that they are very flexible and quick-to-dry, and they’re also breathable, which means moisture won’t cause them to peel.

This makes them ideal for outdoor and interior applications alike, depending on the quality of the paint used.

Now, there can be big quality differences – lower grade acrylic paints have a higher proportion of vinyl, which, while cheaper, is not as durable or flexible. Higher quality acrylic paints contain no vinyl and are much more durable, but more expensive.

In general, higher-quality acrylic paints with less vinyl are more suitable for outdoor use, as they’re less prone to deterioration over time, while less expensive vinyl-acrylic mixes are good for indoor use.

  • Enamel Paints. Enamel paints can actually be either oil or acrylic based – though traditionally they were exclusively oil-based, and most modern enamels are based on an “alkyd resin” – a type of specialized synthetic polyester.

The major difference between enamel paints and others is that they dry to a very shiny, hardened, glossy finish, with a hard surface. They’re equally suitable for wood as they are for other materials, and can have great weatherproofing and durability-enhancing qualities, due to the hard surface created by these paints.


Top 3 Best Paint for Wood Reviews

1. General Finishes JQ Gel Stain

This wood stain by General Finishes uses a gel-based oil to penetrate even the toughest to treat woods.

Its heavy, durable finish allows for a consistent, even coat even on uneven or lower-quality woods, delivering a consistently attractive finish.

It comes in over a dozen colors suitable for just about any wood application – these can be used to stain decks, exterior furniture, interior furniture…if it’s made of wood, you can paint it with this stain.

It’s best to prep the application area with good sanding and cleaning, and for the richest color, General Finishes recommends at least three coats – this will help smooth out uneven areas and provide a rich, beautiful wood finish.


2. Rust-Oleum 206999 Marine Topside Paint

This may seem like an odd choice, given that it’s very specialized. This paint by Rustoleum is actually intended for boats and boat decks but given its durable finish and beautiful color.

It’s a great choice if you need to paint some wooden outdoor furniture, siding, or even your entire house. Some customers have even painted their cars with this paint, with fantastic results.

It’s an alkyd-based oil paint that’s actually similar in many ways to shellac, once it’s dry, it’s tremendously tough and durable, making it the best paint for wood if you’re planning on outdoor applications.

It’s quite a thick paint, so the application can be a bit tricky – we recommend applying small amounts of paint, and trying to keep your coats as even as possible for the best results.


3. Renaissance Chalk Furniture & Cabinet Paint

Available in over three dozen colors, this paint by Renaissance Chalk is perfect for reviving old, ugly furniture, and creating something that looks unique, contemporary, and still maintains a vintage feel.

It’s perfectly formulated to go on smoothly onto all types of woods, and even works on metal and other materials, and requires only 1-2 coats, with no sanding, smoothing, or priming required.

The paint is also non-toxic with 0 VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) so it’s perfectly safe for interior use and dries quickly with minimal smell and fumes.

It’s easy to use, it’s beautiful, and it dries to a smooth, matte finish that looks great on just about any piece of furniture that needs a facelift. For that reason, it’s a great choice for any interior application.

Conclusion

If you’ve ever been confused about the many different types of paint out there, we can help. We know that choosing a type of paint for your project can be overwhelming with all the jargon and marketing lingo to sift through.

Whether you’re painting wood furniture, an outdoor deck, or anything else in need of decent protection from weather elements, just keep these few basic facts in mind. You’ll save yourself a lot of time!