A question we answer every day at Daly's Paint is this, "Why is there such a huge range in the price of paint? What is the difference between something that costs $25/gallon versus $65/gallon?"
The quick answer is that you get what you pay for, and cheap paint is a shortcut to trouble. Like most things in life, the extended answer is a bit more nuanced and detailed.
When you are buying quality paint, you are paying for many different features; durability, ease of application, plus a visual quality to the color itself. Paint is created from three main components; liquids, solids/resins and pigment. Each one of these categories may contain various levels of quality and/or cheap ingredients. The combination of all the components together and the quality ingredients for each specific category affect the final price of the paint.
Let's Break it Down:
The liquid in the can evaporates as the paint dries, so the more solvent or water your paint contains, the less actual paint film you are left with on the wall once the paint is dry. Stands to reason when you think of it that way, right? It also makes sense that your paint is less likely to perform over time, for example hold up to any sort of washing or sponging off, if the bucket contains a lot of solvent or water without enough solids left to make a strong paint film.
This is what is left on the wall after the solvent (water is considered a solvent, btw) has evaporated. Resins add to the performance of the paint and also give your paint it's specific feel; plastic-y, smooth, chalky, soft or hard, sticky… Inexpensive paints use low-quality fillers, like chalk or talc, to add body to the paint. This is tricky, because the paint can seem thick and rich when you are stirring it around in the can, but it's thickened with a product that doesn't add to the performance of the paint on the wall. Ah-ha! Chalk is also used to add "hide" to cheap paints - think about that one-coat coverage at $25 bucks stuff; rub your hand across the wall and you'll rub the color right off! Many new construction homes are painted with very cheap paint. A $1.7 million dollar new-construction home that I just toured last week is painted with crap. I get to look at that house as a potential re-paint opportunity in just a couple years; good for the painters and paint stores of Seattle, bad for the new homeowner.
Resin is usually the most expensive component in paint. It is the agent that binds the pigment to whatever surface you are painting. Both the quality and the amount of resin in the paint affect its price.
Resins affect how it feels when you are applying the wet paint. Today's quality paints barely spatter at all, they are easy to apply and you aren't fighting to get the paint rolled onto the wall. Resins, baby!
We all respond to color. A beautiful color can really set the mood. Paint pigments can be very finely ground, which gives a richer, deeper look to your color, or roughly ground – the resulting color looks dull, even bland.
Light reflects off the pigment, that is how we can see the color. Inexpensive pigments are relatively large in particle size and have rough edges, so the light is reflecting off in a more scattered fashion than with a smoother-grind, smaller-sized pigment.
Practically speaking, finer-ground pigments cost more to produce. Better paints utilize very specific formulations that use multiple pigments; up to 8 in a color recipe. Cheap paints use maybe… 3. It’s certainly cheaper from a production standpoint, but from a visual perspective, fewer pigments result in a color that is lacking in nuance and depth.
Did you know that the pigment (sometimes called "tint") that we add to make your favorite color actually affects the coverage and hide of the paint?
Here's an example that illustrates this point very well: We've all seen a situation where a stunning red wall required 5 coats of paint, because the red was so sheer you could see every lap mark, every brush stroke. That demonstrates how transparent a can of paint is - by adding the pigment you are adding coverage qualities. Finely ground pigments solve issues like red or yellow paints not covering well.
Let's do the math: 5 coats of paint at $25/gallon vs 2 coats at $65. Seems like a wash, right? Wait! We haven't added in the labor or hassle factor yet. Hmmmm..... 5 coats at $50/hr vs 2 coats at $50/hr. Boom! Money in your pocket, and you have a more attractive result.
That finer grind of pigment lends to a deeper, more luminous, look to the wall.
Tips for Buying Paint
Aim for 100% acrylic (the highest quality resin) paint
100% acrylic dries to a harder film = longer lasting, more durable finish
How do you know what you are buying?
There is a document known as a Spec Sheet that you can find online for any paint you are considering. The Spec Sheet will list the solids content of the paint, among a lot of other useful information. This is a good starting off point for comparing apples to apples beyond any brand claims that paint companies make.
Talk to your independent paint store, like Daly's. Independent dealers are a great resource to help you understand the specific paint product in combination with your specific project - they will be super helpful to find the right paint for your unique needs.
Know this, too... Most paint manufacturers offer Good/Better/Best options. Just because the brand you are using has a good reputation, that doesn't mean the specific product may be formulated as the best quality. Do your research and know what you are getting.
Back to the short answer: Avoid buying junk. It's just not worth it.
Image from Dulux Paint in the UK
Robin Daly is the 3rd generation owner of Daly's Paint & Decorating stores. She is passionate about supporting people with their home improvement projects, loves how color can transform a space and knows a thing or two about how to get things done.