Acrylic vs Latex Paint: How to Pick the Perfect Interior Paint

By: Fix-It Club & Austin Henderson  | 
4 open cans of paint, several swatches, two brushes, and other painting tools
When it comes to painting your house, you're spoiled for choice. Here's how to figure out which paint best suits your needs. kutaytanir / Getty Images

With a plethora of options that often leave us bewildered, interior painting projects can feel like navigating a maze. This guide will help you understand the strengths and ideal uses of different interior paints.

From the living room walls to the kitchen cabinets, every surface in your home deserves the right kind of paint — explore acrylic vs. latex paint and decide which type is right for you.


What Is Latex Paint?

Latex paint, a term that has evolved significantly from its original meaning, is a popular choice for both professional painters and DIY enthusiasts.

Initially, latex paint was named for its rubber-based components. However, modern latex paint is predominantly water-based paint, utilizing acrylic polymers and polyvinyl acetate as binders.


This evolution makes latex paint more environmentally friendly and easier to clean up — often just requiring water — than traditional oil-based paints. There are several more advantages to choosing latex paint:

  1. Quick drying: One of the primary benefits of latex paint is its rapid drying time. Unlike oil-based paints, which can take much longer to dry, latex paint allows for faster project completion. This is particularly advantageous for interior projects where time constraints are a factor.
  2. Flexibility and breathability: Latex paint is known for its ability to expand and contract with temperature changes. This flexibility reduces the likelihood of cracking and peeling, making it an excellent choice for interior walls and surfaces subject to varying temperatures.
  3. Durability and ease of maintenance: Modern latex paints are formulated to withstand daily wear and tear, making them a durable choice for high-traffic areas such as kitchens, hallways and living rooms. Their resistance to dirt and moisture also means they are easier to maintain and clean, often requiring only mild soap and water.
  4. Environmental and health benefits: Being water-based, latex paints contain fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than oil-based paints. This makes them a less toxic option, contributing to better indoor air quality and making them a safer choice for homes and environments where health is a concern.
  5. Color retention and aesthetic appeal: Latex paints are known for their vibrant pigments and color retention, maintaining their hue over time even when exposed to sunlight. This quality, coupled with a wide range of sheen options, from matte to semi-gloss, allows for versatility in design and aesthetic preferences.
  6. Compatibility with various surfaces: Latex paint adheres extremely well to a multitude of surfaces but is particularly suitable for wood and drywall.
  7. Ease of application: Latex paint is user-friendly, applies smoothly and typically requires fewer coats than oil-based paints. Its consistency minimizes brush strokes, contributing to a more professional finish even for amateur painters.


What Is Acrylic Paint?

Acrylic paint, a specialized category within the broader family of latex paints, is distinguished by its use of acrylic resin. These resins confer superior durability and exceptional color retention, making acrylic paints a versatile option suitable for a wide range of applications.

From interior walls to challenging exterior surfaces, acrylic paints stand up remarkably well against environmental factors like UV rays and variable weather conditions. There are a number of advantages to using acrylic paint.


  1. Color retention: When it comes to maintaining vibrancy over time, acrylic paints are unparalleled. Their resistance to fading, even in areas exposed to direct sunlight, makes them a preferred choice for exterior projects as well as sunlit interior spaces.
  2. Moisture resistance: The inherent water-resistant properties of acrylic paints make them ideal for use in environments like bathrooms and kitchens, where moisture is a constant factor. This resistance helps prevent peeling and mold growth, ensuring a long-lasting finish.
  3. Environmentally conscious: Acrylic paints often contain lower levels of VOCs than traditional oil-based paints. This attribute makes them a safer and more eco-friendly option, contributing to better indoor air quality and a reduced environmental footprint.
  4. Versatility across surfaces: Unlike latex paint, acrylic paints adhere extremely well to a variety of surfaces, including wood, masonry and previously painted surfaces. This adaptability makes acrylic paints a go-to choice for both interior and exterior painting projects.

Usage Tips for Acrylic Paint

Both acrylic and latex paint require some prep before you dive into the application process, here are a few essential tips to ensure you get the most out of your acrylic paint.

Preparation Is Key

Proper surface preparation is crucial for achieving optimal results with acrylic paint. Ensuring surfaces (especially porous materials) are clean, dry and primed can significantly enhance paint adhesion and finish quality.


Selecting the Right Tools

For applying acrylic paint, choosing brushes and rollers specifically designed for water-based paints is essential. These tools help achieve a smooth, even application, minimizing brush strokes and ensuring a professional-looking finish.

Application Techniques

Acrylic paints typically require fewer coats than oil-based paints, saving time and effort. However, for the best results, applying multiple thin coats is recommended over a single thick coat, as this promotes even coverage and drying.

Longevity and Maintenance

Acrylic painted surfaces are known for their durability and ease of maintenance. Regular cleaning with gentle detergents can keep painted walls looking fresh and extend the life of the paint job.


Specialized Paints for Unique Needs

When tackling a painting project, it's crucial to consider the specific demands of the surface and the environment. While latex and acrylic paint are versatile, sometimes a project requires a more specialized approach.

This is where specialized paints come into play, each designed to meet unique challenges and provide optimal performance for specific applications. From surfaces that endure heavy wear to those needing unique aesthetic touches, there's a specialized paint for every need.


Alkyd Resin Paint

Alkyd resin paints, an oil-based paint option, are renowned for their durability and smooth finish. They're particularly suitable for trim, doors and areas subject to heavy use. However, they require more ventilation and longer drying times.

Rubberbase and Textured Paints

For specific applications like concrete surfaces or achieving a stucco-like finish, specialized paints like rubberbase and textured paints come into play. They offer unique properties like waterproofing and the ability to cover imperfections.

Dripless Paint

Dripless paint, a variant of alkyd resin paint, is engineered to be thicker than traditional paints, reducing drips and spills during application. This makes it an ideal choice for ceilings and high surfaces, ensuring a clean, efficient painting process.

However, it's important to note that its thickness might require more effort during application.

One-coat Paint

One-coat paint, as the name suggests, is designed to achieve the desired color and coverage in just a single application. This type of paint is infused with additional pigments, making it more opaque than standard paints.

It's particularly useful for painting over similar or lighter colors, or when time constraints demand quick completion of a project.

Acoustic Paint

Acoustic paint is tailored for surfaces where sound absorption is crucial, like acoustic ceiling tiles. This paint type maintains the acoustic properties of the surface while refreshing its appearance.

When applying acoustic paint, using a sprayer can be more effective than a roller to preserve the surface's sound-deadening qualities.

The Role of Primers in Painting

Primers are essential in preparing surfaces for painting, ensuring better adhesion of the paint and longevity of the finish. They are particularly important when dealing with porous surfaces, drastic color changes, or when switching from oil-based to water-based paints.

  1. Latex primers: Ideal for most interior surfaces, these primers are compatible with both acrylic and latex paints. They offer a smooth base, ensuring even paint application.
  2. Oil-based primers: Best for blocking stains and preparing surfaces that will be painted with oil-based paints. They are suitable for wood, metal, and areas prone to moisture.


10 Tips and Techniques for Painting Like a Pro

Embarking on a painting project, whether using acrylic or latex paint, calls for a mix of the right techniques and a bit of insider knowledge. Here's how to tackle your next painting task like a pro, ensuring a smooth, long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing finish.

  1. Measure your space: Accurately measuring the area to be painted is the first step. For most paint types, a gallon typically covers about 400 square feet (37.2 square meters). However, this can vary based on the paint's consistency and the surface you're painting.
  2. Plan for multiple coats: Depending on the color and type of paint, you might need more than one coat to achieve an even finish. Remember, applying multiple thin coats often yields better results than one thick coat.
  3. Choose high-gloss for durability: High-gloss paints, known for their durability and ease of cleaning, are excellent choices for kitchens, bathrooms and other high-moisture areas.
  4. Choose flat or matte for low-traffic areas: For spaces like bedrooms and living rooms, where a more subdued finish is desired, flat or matte paints are ideal. They help to hide imperfections on the walls but are less durable than glossier options.
  5. Prep the surface: Proper surface preparation is crucial. This means cleaning walls, filling in holes or cracks, and sanding where necessary. A well-prepared surface ensures better paint adhesion and a smoother finish.
  6. Use the right tools: The tools you use can significantly affect the quality of your paint job. For water-based paints like acrylics and latex, synthetic brushes and rollers are best. For oil-based paints, natural bristle brushes give a smoother finish.
  7. Mind the weather: If you're painting exterior surfaces, weather plays a big role. Avoid painting on extremely hot days, in direct sunlight, or when humidity is high. These conditions can affect the paint’s drying time and finish.
  8. Quality matters: Invest in high-quality paint. Top-tier paints from reputable manufacturers often provide better coverage, more durability, and a wider range of color options. While they may cost more upfront, they can save you money and effort in the long run.
  9. Safety first: Always ensure proper ventilation, especially when working with oil-based paints or products with high levels of VOCs. Wear protective gear as needed.
  10. Consult with experts: If you have specific questions or unique requirements for your painting project, don't hesitate to consult with professionals or visit a local paint store for advice.

This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.