4 Different Types of Paint: Paint Classification

Paints undoubtedly help transform surfaces to make them more beautiful and pleasing to the human eye.

They also help preserve and protect valuables such as houses, furniture, buildings, cars, etc.

Therefore, using the correct paint on a project must avoid wasting effort and resources. 

Paints can be classified according to their composition and operating conditions. There are water-based, organic, inorganic, and adhesive paints. Each category also has different types under them. Then there are paints for specific usage, including interior, exterior, wall, floor, metal, concrete, wood, and artwork.

Deciding which paints to use goes beyond their vibrant colors. First, you need to understand their functionalities to know if they match your project.

You also need to consider the surface to be painted, the desired finish, and the exposure of the paint to weather elements.

types of paint by composition and usage

Paint Classifications

In general, paint can be classified by the components they are made of and the conditions they are used in.

Below, I will break down each of them in more detail.

By Composition

Paints are composed of four components, including pigments, binders, solvents, and additives. There are also different types of these components.

A paint component can be organic or inorganic – this determines what type of paint it becomes after the formulation. The solvent in the paint can be water or oil-based.

By Operating Conditions

Paint formulation will also vary depending on its intended purpose. For example, interior paints are less toxic compared to exterior paints.

The latter is more weather-proof compared to the former because it has to combat harsh weather elements like sunlight, mildew, snow, wind, etc.

Different surfaces also require a particular formula. For example, car paints are specially formulated to withstand oxidation – they have anti-rust properties.

They can also contain more additives to improve adhesion.

On the other hand, wood and concrete paints also have different mixes to ensure that they stick to the surface.

By Composition By Usage 
Water-basedEmulsion, acrylic, latex, PVA, silicone paintsInterior paintsHighly resistant to scuffs, marks, and stains
Organic-solvent-basedOil, alkyd, enamel paintsExterior paintsResistant to weather elements such as wind, rain, snow, sunlight, and mildew
Inorganic-solvent-basedSilicate paintCeiling paintsMore viscous to avoid instances of dripping
Adhesive-basedCasein and dextrinated paintsWall paintsDurable and easy to clean with just soap and water
Floor paintsDurable enough to withstand human and automotive traffic
Artwork paintsBest to create beautiful paintings and arts
Paints for woodPaints for wood are those that adhere well to wood surfaces
Paints for concreteNon-reactive and help cover concrete pores to achieve consistent color
Paints for metalHelp protect the surface by avoiding corrosion or rust

Types of Paints by Composition

1. Water-based Paints

As the name suggests, water-based paints use almost all water as a solvent.

They have different types, including emulsion, acrylic, latex, polyvinyl acetate (PVA), and silicone. The formulation of these paints is discussed in the sections below.

Emulsion Paint

Emulsion paints use water to distribute binders and pigments and form a stable emulsion. Emulsion, in physical chemistry, is the process of mixing two or more substances.

In this mix, one liquid is distributed throughout the other as droplets. Examples of emulsions are milk, butter, and of course, paint.

Because emulsion paints are water-based, it is easy to wash hands, paintbrushes, and tools while they are still wet.

Additionally, these paints are highly economical and also environmentally friendly. They also do not easily attract fire compared to oil-based paints.

Emulsion paints adhere to almost any surface, including metals. However, it requires a primer on a metallic surface to prevent corrosion or oxidation.

These paints must also not be used to paint over glossy paints.

Related Read: How Long Does Primer Take to Dry?

The other types of water-based paints, including acrylic, PVA, latex, and silicone, can be considered as divisions of emulsion paints.

Are these paints the same? They have similar characteristics, but they also have some differences. These are elaborated below to illustrate how they differ from one another.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paints are made from mixing pigments and small particles of acrylic resins through acrylic polymer emulsion or the suspension of the resin in water.

As mentioned earlier, it is a division of emulsion paints. As the water evaporates, the minute resin particles form a durable film.

Among the interesting characteristics of acrylic paints are their ability to withstand exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet.

These paints also include anti-color fading properties. Plus, they efficiently repel water and humidity.

Acrylic paints are highly elastic and durable. Another amazing quality of these paints is their capability to cover small cracks (about 0.5 mm).

Unfortunately, these special traits come with a price because these paints are generally expensive. 

Another distinct quality of acrylic paints is their ability to resist frosting when they dry.

As they have low permeability, they can also protect surfaces against corrosion.

Latex Paint

Latex paints are the most expensive among the different divisions or kinds of emulsion paints. 

Merriam defines latex as a white milky fluid derived from various plants to form rubber, gutta-percha, chicle, and balata. It can also refer to a water emulsion of synthetic rubber or plastic.

See this article from the United States Department of Agriculture to learn how the agency defines latex.

Do latex paints contain natural latex? The answer is no. The name “latex paint” is a misnomer, according to an architectural finishing expert with solid knowledge about paints.

The terminology is wrong because natural plant zap is not among their ingredients.

Latex paints use synthetic polymers that look similar to natural latex. These polymers have different chemical properties and compositions than natural latex rubber.

They are derived from chemical reactions using simple hydrocarbons and other monomers

Latex paints are highly water-resistant. Like acrylic paints, they are also good for covering cracks up to 1 mm.

These paints are popularly used to paint walls (regardless of the material), ceilings, and porches.

Related Read: Acrylic Paint vs. Latex Paint: 9 Primary Differences

PVA Paint

PVA paints utilize vinyl polymer derived from free radical polymerization of vinyl acetate (monomer). These paints are more affordable than other emulsion paints.

They are environmentally friendly and highly resistant to light, oils, and fats. However, these paints could not withstand frequent exposure to water.

PVA paints work well on indoor surfaces such as ceilings and walls. Learn more about the typical application of these types of paints here.

Silicone Paint

Another type of emulsion paint is silicone paint. The paint features emulsified silicone resins as a binding element.

Silicone is a flexible material – this quality is the reason why these paints are highly elastic and durable. These paints are also capable of covering surface cracks up to 2 mm.

Silicone paints also adhere well to various surfaces such as wood, concrete, or metals. Another good quality of these paints is their ability to resist dirt and prevent mildew growth.

The only drawback is the price. For this reason, they are only mainly used for aesthetic purposes.

You can find more information about silicone paint and its uses here.

2. Organic-solvent-based Paints

As the name entails, these are paints that use carbon-based substances that dissolve or disperse other substances.

Read how the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines organic solvents here. Organic solvents mixed in paints can have some adverse health effects.

You will find many varieties of organic solvent-based paints when you look them up and understanding each of them can be confusing.

However, it is only important to recognize that what makes the difference are the chemicals used to produce them.

In this article, organic solvent-based paints will only be grouped into 3: alkyd, oil, and enamel.

Alkyd Paint

Alkyd-based paints have been in the industry roughly since the 1930s, and they continue to be among the common coating options until today.

An alkyd is another type of polymer (ester-based) that is the byproduct of the chemical reaction between a polyhydric alcohol and a polybasic acid through polycondensation.

The term “alkyd” is simply derived from the terms “alcohol” and “acid.”

Alkyd paints work well on plastered surfaces, woods, and metal surfaces.

These paints boast the qualities of being non-toxic and waterproof. They can include enamel and oil-based paints, which are explained below.

Oil Paint

Oil paints use oil as the solvent. These paints are a little cheaper compared to other paints.

However, there are some drawbacks to using them, including the extended period for them to dry, the hazardous toxins they produce, and the likelihood of the surface turning yellow over the years.

These paints are not ideal for use indoors due because they produce toxic fumes that can trigger health issues. Apart from the human health issues, these paints are also a threat to the environment.

Enamel Paint

Enamel paints are responsible for the shiny paint surfaces that you see around you. These paints allow the user to obtain a high-gloss and beautiful result.

Compared to oil paints, enamel paints dry quicker (15 to 45 minutes). They are also highly resistant to water, rust, and light.

There is always confusion between enamel and oil paints. Are they the same? Well, enamel paints can be considered oil-based paint, but they are not the same.

As you have read, oil-based paints take some time to dry (maybe days), but enamel paints can dry in at least 15 minutes.

Science Direct enumerates the components or composition of enamel paints. These include petroleum spirit, white lead, oil, and resinous materials.

Thus, since there is oil in the ingredients, it can still be considered oil paint. It is their behaviors that make the difference.

3. Inorganic-solvent-Based Paints

Silicate Paint

As shown in the classifications of solvents, inorganic solvents include water mixed with an aqueous solution containing additives such as surfactants, anhydrous ammonia, concentrated sulfuric acid, and sulfuryl chloride fluoride.

Inorganic paints use any of these solvents to make the product.

Silicate paints are also known as mineral paint. These are paints that contain a high amount of zinc mineral and are flame resistant.

Additionally, these paints are also durable and highly resistant to weather elements such as sunlight, wind, snow, and mildew. They are also breathable and environmentally friendly. 

Silicate paints bond directly with the surface instead of forming a film. This behavior results in a highly stable and long-lasting coating in which colors show some natural effects.

These paints will not work on glass, ceramic, stone, metals, and surfaces previously applied with acrylic or alkyd paints.

Silicate paints may cause skin or eye irritations due to the alkali contents. Proper precautions must be observed during the application process.

4. Adhesive-based Paints

Adhesive or glue paints are those that contain adhesives in the mixture, such as casein and dextrin.

These paints are environmentally friendly as they do not contain toxic chemicals. 

These paints have a limited usage scope because they have a very low moisture resistance.

These water-based organic polymer paints need to be diluted in water during the application process because they are produced in dry form.

These paints are suitable for aesthetic or creative indoor wall painting. They are durable, and they adhere well to concrete, brick walls, and surfaces with plaster.

The only drawback is these paints cannot withstand moisture and exposure to carbon dioxide.

Casein Paint

As casein is a type of glue, the paint concentration has a glue-like consistency. Casein paints are usually applied on canvas panels, illustration boards, paper, wood, and masonite. These paints are the most beautiful among other adhesive paints.

These paints are not elastic. They are highly brittle and cannot withstand impacts. Surfaces or substrates where casein paints are applied usually require a high level of protection.

Dextrinated Paint

Dextrinated paints are another group of adhesive paints. These paints are based on bone glue. As these paints have a very low resistance to outside weather elements, they are mostly used for indoor painting jobs like decorative walls.

In these paints, dextrin act as the thickener additive. The element provides a buttery-like consistency, as you will see in watercolors.

Watercolors do have dextrin as an ingredient.

Types of Paint by Operating Conditions

1. Interior Paints

Interior paints are specialty paints produced for painting indoor surfaces. These are paints that are mainly used for aesthetic purposes.

They are highly resistant to scuffs, marks, and stains. They are more resilient to physical damage. They are also easy to clean using ordinary soap and water.

The key advantage of interior paints is breathability. These paints contain fewer VOCs, making them less likely to cause or trigger health issues.

Interior paints are not highly weather-proof. They could not withstand changing weather elements such as rain, snow, wind, sunlight, and mildew.

They will not last long when applied to external surfaces unless modified. The common issues of using interior paint outside are fading, cracking, flaking, chalking, and peeling.

2. Exterior Paints

These paints are the counterparts of interior paints. They are used for painting external surfaces and areas that are directly exposed to harsh weather elements such as wind, rain, snow, sunlight, and mildew.

The paint’s formulation includes anti-fading properties and UV protection.

Exterior paints also contain additives that prevent instances of fading, flaking, cracking, chalking, and peeling. They also include biocides that are responsible for keeping bacteria away.

These ingredients help in extending the life of the paint because they resist mildew growth that causes premature adhesion loss or degradation.

Unlike interior paints, outdoor paints are not prone to peeling and crumbling due to their elasticity. In other words, they are more durable than indoor paints when both are applied outdoors.

The main disadvantage of exterior paints is the high amount of VOC content. VOCs are threats to both human health and the environment.

These paints produce toxins even after they dry, and inhalation of these fumes can cause difficulty in breathing or other respiratory conditions.

3. Ceiling Paints

Ceiling paints are, obviously, paints that are ideal for use to paint ceilings. These paints are thicker than other paints, such as wall paints.

They are more viscous to avoid instances of dripping. Thin and watery paints can easily rain down when used on ceilings.

Another key characteristic of ceiling paints is their hiding imperfections along the room’s edges. This is because they do not reflect light.

4. Wall Paints

In terms of color options, wall paints have more varieties. There is a wide range of hues and finishes that users can choose from.

These paints are also highly customizable or mixable with others to create modified results.

Wall paints are durable and easy to clean with just soap and water. Moreover, these paints are resilient to scuffs and marks. 

5. Floor Paints

Floor paints are special paints that feature more adhesive strength and are more resistant to abrasion. They are durable enough to withstand human and automotive traffic.

These paints include properties that can efficiently expel algae and fungus. 

There are also different types of floor paints, including epoxy floor coatings, polyurethane, polyaspartic, and acrylic coatings.

In choosing which type of coating to use, you must consider a few things below:

  • Anticipated traffic
  • Environmental conditions
  • Durability requirements

6. Paints for Metal

Stoves, ovens, gates, railings, signs, and cars require the use of metallic paint. Ordinary wall paints or any other paints will not work well on these objects. 

Metal paints feature aluminum particles or metals that provide a glossier effect than other paints.

These paints mainly help protect the surface by avoiding corrosion or rust. 

There is also a wide variety of metal paints available in the market. They can be water-based or metal-based. Check this article to learn more about their key differences.

7. Paints for Wood

Paints for wood are those that adhere well to wood surfaces. They can be oil-based, water-based, acrylic, or chalk. Read this article to see their advantages and disadvantages.

When painting wood surfaces, there are a few factors to consider.

These include the object to be painted, the type of wood, the smoothness of the surface, and the desired finish. These factors are discussed and elaborated on in this resource.

8. Paints for Concrete

Concrete paints are non-reactive and help cover concrete pores to achieve consistent color on a concrete surface.

Generally, these paints require meticulous surface preparation to ensure strong adhesion and quality result.

Concrete paints are more viscous than standard exterior or interior paints. 

They also contain binders that promote expansion and contraction along with the concrete. You can get more information about concrete painting here.

9. Paints for Painting Cars

Car paints are metallic paints that can resist corrosion and rust. Painting automobiles require stringent surface preparation.

When the metal surface is ready, multiple coatings (primer, base coat, and clear coat) are required for the best result.

Urethane and acrylic types of paints are the most popular choices for painting cars.

Urethane car paints are arguably more durable and nice-looking. These paints are highly resistant to chipping.

On the other hand, acrylic car paints are less toxic because they are generally water-based. They are also more affordable.

10. Artwork Paints

Painters or artists use artwork paints to create beautiful paintings/art.

There are generally five types of artwork paints, including acrylic, oil, watercolor, gouache, and encaustic. These are defined in this article, along with some examples.

The common types of paint that painters use include acrylic, oil, watercolor, and pastel. Each of these paints has different behaviors and properties.

Experienced painters have learned how to properly mix different bases of paints to achieve their desired output.


There are various types and sub-types of paints. It is difficult to understand each one of them, but when you purchase paint at the store, the labels should indicate their purpose.

However, it is advantageous to have basic knowledge of the different kinds of paints.

Paints can be grouped according to their composition and operating conditions. In choosing which paint to use, these are the two important things to look into. You need to know what the paint is made of and its purpose.

For example, if your priority is health, you choose the type of paints that do not produce toxic fumes.

On the other hand, if you are painting a ceiling, you must use paint that does not drip, or else the result will look creepy.