What is the difference between chalk paint and regular paint?
Many ask “Why use Chalk Paint vs Regular Paint?” Compare the pros and cons of chalk paint as well as latex paint to decide which is right for you! Which paint works best for your needs and the look you want to achieve? To learn more about paint methods and techniques check out my Ultimate Guide to Furniture Painting! Also, at the end I will give you the access to my Paint Brand Info and Reviews!
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You can find my favorite paints in my Paint Products Guide
Do I have to use a primer for chalk paint or latex paints?
Adheres to most surfaces without the need for priming and only a “scuff” sand. The minerals and pore space present in chalk paints allow it to grip more slippery surfaces. There are some times when primer may be necessary (ie slippery IKEA furniture with a Teflon coating baked in….) in order to help with adhesion. All in all its easier to get a properly adhered finish with chalk style paints.
Latex Acrylic Paint:
Often requires more sanding and priming for proper adhesion. When the proper prep is not given on your piece prior to painting, you can end up with peeling paint.
While priming for adhesion isn’t always necessary, priming for the purpose of sealing the pre-existing stains, oils, or tannin from the wood can be important! Using a stain blocking primer that is made for furniture or even (safely) using shellac can be key for preventing your colors from turning or experiencing “Bleed”.
ALSO, be weary of any “No prep” sales tactics! The only way you can paint with no prep is by RISKING the quality of your hard work! One of the worst feelings is watching your beautiful finish fail and peel away or begin turning colors because of lack of proper prep.~Thoughts from Thea
The best paint for distressing furniture?
Will distress with ease. May be wet distressed using a damp cloth, sponge, or scrubby or distress after drying with wire brush, sand paper, or your favorite sander (Afflink). As the paint cures (dries and strengthens over the next few weeks) distressing will become harder to do and this is normal. The sooner after application that you distress, the easier it will be and with chalk style paints, the paints will simply “break away” so you work.
Latex Acrylic Paint:
Can tend to gum up when distressing. This activates the glues present in the latex paint resulting in a chunky or stretchy removal of larger areas of paint resulting in a lumpy or blotchy finish.
When distressing ANY paint, if you are making the paint particles airborne, wear a dust mask or respirator! It’s so important to protect your lungs from infection as well as possible carcinogens, for this reason MANY prefer wet distress methods.~Thoughts from Thea
Brush marks in chalk paint and latex paint
Are often self leveling unless they are too thick (which can tend to happen over time or even intentionally by the manufacturer. Simply add water in your preferred way. You can mist the surface you are working on beforehand, work with a wet brush, thin your paint with water, or simple spray as you work.
Latex Acrylic Paints:
Are also often self leveling. However when they arent able to level out enough, adding water can tend to cause more problems. This chalk style paints there is often a higher concentration of pigment and binder at work. With latex acrylic, you may find adding water will cause it to destabilize and prevent proper adhesion, so be careful!
Both styles of paint can be sanded with higher grit sand paper (afflink) to smooth, however its MUCH easier to simply begin with a smooth finish than it is to sand back and create one. Additionally, again, the friction can heat the latex acrylic up and cause it to pull and become gummy, so be mindful.~Thoughts from Thea
Chalk paint coverage vs Latex paint coverage
Most chalk style paints offer incredible coverage! Keep in mind the more thick you apply the paint, the less coverage you will get simply because you are applying it so thick! Find your happy medium which can differ from brand to brand.
Latex Acrylic Paints:
Typically it can take more paint to create an opaque finish for a couple of reasons. Often the pigments arent as saturated and concentrated in Latex Acrylic Paint. Additionally, Chalk Paints GRAB to each other. Latex style paints slide across one another. This means its just a little harder to get that full coverage finish. (This is one reason I will often use a sprayer (afflink) if I am using a latex style paint)
Regardless of the style of paint you use, unless you are intentionally attempting to add texture with your brush, a few thin coats are always going to work better than one thick coat!~Thoughts from Thea
Ideal conditions with chalk style or latex paints
The composition of clay, lime, and other minerals found in chalk style paints can typically mean withstanding hotter and colder temperatures once painted on a surface. The pore space present in chalk style paints allow for expansion and contraction without flaking, peeling, and weakening the bond when exposed to fluctuations in temperature or even humidity.
Latex Acrylic Paints:
The strength of latex paint can be extremely temperature dependent. KNOW YOUR PAINT! If you are working on a project other than walls, learn what the best product is for your project and what to do to expect the best results!
While working with chalk style paints in abnormal climates can tend to require less work or research, its not impossible to use Latex Acrylics! Just be willing to be knowledgable so you don’t regret anything in the end!~Thoughts from Thea
Is distressing dangerous? chalk paints vs latex paints
YES. That is the short answer. Regardless of what is in the paint, when inhaling ANY airborne particles, you are putting your health at risk! When you sand and distress with dry paint with a dry method, the paint and all its ingredients are airborne! This is why you should wear a dust mask or use wet distressing techniques. Additionally some paints contain known carcinogens.
Latex Style Paints:
YES. Again that is the short answer. When you sand and distress with dry paint with a dry method, the paint and all its ingredients are airborne! Additionally while some chalk paints carry carcinogens in them EVEN MORE often you find them in latex style paints because they were never really meant to be sanded and distressed.
Sealing painted furniture
Chalk Style Paints:
Typically they should. Many paint companies will tell you “No top coat needed”! And,.. while thats often true, it’s not completely true. Top coats are typically used for durability, so when it comes to that, chalk paints typically have durability covered! So then, why top coat? This is where SEALING comes in. Remember we have said several time chalk paints are porous! What happens when you spill your kids red drink on the pavement? This is also the case with your chalk style paint. Therefore its best practice to seal it in some way to prevent it from soaking up what you DONT WANT it to soak up!
Latex Style Paints:
Often latex paints do not require sealing. The product is not porous to begin with! At most you will likely only need to add a protective finish to your surfaces where someone may set a drink or plates or the like, also referred to as “high traffic areas”.
Always be careful of products that tout a “no top coat needed” mantra. Once again take your work into your hands and be ready to seal or top coat as you feel comfortable leaving your hard work with!~Thoughts from Thea
Paint Sheen for Furniture Paints
The more minerals are added to chalk style paints, the more flat their sheen will be. Heavier clay or lime based paints will be more flat than paints with less clay, lime, or other minerals.
Latex Acrylic Paints:
Latex paints can come in all sheens from Matte all the way up to high gloss.
While both paints can come in a certain sheen, you can always alter the sheen by using a top coat with the sheen you prefer or even by waxing and buffing to your preferred sheen. Chalk paint with a high gloss top coat, will have a high gloss sheen!~Thoughts from Thea
Blending paint on furniture
Absolutely! What is lovely about the chalk style paints is they really lend theirselves to these artistic finishes. They blend easily without resist, and there are lots of methods for layering and creating interesting looks!
Latex Acrylic Paints:
Mmmmmm,… kinda? Of COURSE it’s possible. But it does take some extra practice and a very specific “touch” to blend Latex Acrylic Paints. Because it’s not porous and therefore less “accepting” of anything being pulled into it, blending can be a tad more trying if you want a seamless look. Layering is also possible but again,.. you will want to play and research to get what you desire. It’s not as easy to create those artistic finishes. However, this is what makes the Latex acrylic paints amazing for solid, more “modern” style finishes!
It’s never about finding the “Best Paint”, rather it’s about finding the “Best Paint” for you and the “Best Paint” for the Project you are working on! So much of our craft comes down to compatibility.~Thoughts from Thea
Which paints are most chalk like?
Ive begun testing and I am going to list the paints that I have tested and just how porous they are! Later we can use this information to identify how easy they are to blend, layer, distress, etc. This also helps us identify preferred ways to seal them or protect them! I will rate each brand 1-3. One will be most porous, 3 will be least porous, and of course two is right in the middle. Find them listed below!
Testing how porous each paint is
I wanted to see just how porous each paint is, since I feel like this tells us so much about what to expect from the product which in turn helps us decide which product we will likely like using the best! Below you will find a photo of each brand as I test them.
My process was this. Using a dry synthetic brush, I applied a 1 coat swatch of paint to a cleaned stainless steel surface. One that was allowed to dry for 1 day in a climate controlled setting, I dropped one measured drop of pure all natural hemp oil on each swatch. I feel like Dixie Belle was the most surprising.
The swatches were then left and analyzed over the next week. As of day one, the paints that would accept the hemp oil had accepted all they were able to. The swatches remained unchanged after day one, on into day 7. In the images you will see where some paints accepted all of the oil, some of the oil, and none of the oil at all!
1-Very Porous Paints
2-Moderately Porous Paints
Very Porous Furniture Paints
Furniture paints rated number 1 are VERY porous. These paints have a high mineral component to them and this likely means a few things.
- They are VERY EASY to distress.
- Furniture waxes/salves/oils will absorb into them deeply and need to cure from the inside out.
- Salves/oils are more likely to need reapplication as well as waxes low in solvents/carnauba
- When antiquing, a barrier (clear coat) is highly recommended
- They are in least need of serious prep work.
- They are more likely to give you issues with applying a clear top coat/varnish.
- Protection priority is given to sealing above top coat preservation.
- Top coat is DEFINITELY Recommended on surfaces. (Anywhere a drinking glass would set)
These paints are great for layering, blending, textured, and rustic finishes. You may enjoy using these paints LESS if you want 100% coverage, modern, sleek, high gloss, “mod” looks. You also may like this less if you REALLY want to use top coats rather than waxes/oils/salves to protect.
Moderately Porous Furniture Paints
Furniture paints rated number 2 are not as porous but they ARE still porous. These paints have pores that are either smaller, closer together, or simply less over all. They have less of a mineral component to them than the previously mentioned paints. Here is what you can expect from them.
- They are still very easy to distress, not likely to gum up or pull.
- Furniture waxes/salves/oils will absorb into them to a certain point, and then accept no more.
- They require less sealing (than number 1s) making wax/oil/salve reapplication less likely
- When antiquing, a barrier (clear coat) is not necessarily recommended. Test your project to see if you feel like you want it.
- They benefit from their mineral binders which means they are still very low prep paints.
- They are top coat friendly as well as oil/salve/wax friendly.
- There is no protection priority given really since its friendly to both however you likely want to at least seal with oil/salve/wax to seal up those little pores.
- You may want to opt to use top coats on surfaces which is easy to apply to these paints.
These paints are great for layering, blending, textured, and rustic finishes. They will also be mod/solid finish friendly. These paints are considered the best of both worlds when it comes to their porous nature so more painters tend to like them.
Non-porous Furniture Paints
Furniture paints rated number 3 are not really porous. Not only do they NOT accept wax/salves/oils being absorbed into their pores but adding wax/salves/oils can actually suffocate them and cause the drying process to be stunted. This will happen when the wax/salve/oil is applied too soon. The paint then does not fully dry/cure and therefore does not adhere properly to the surface. There is no significant mineral component to them so prep is going to be more necessary than with heavy mineral paints listed as 1s & 2s since they don’t have that added binder.
- Less distress friendly. You will need to be careful, likely start with a lower grit to break the surface, and not want to all the friction to “heat up” the paint
- Wax/Oil/salves are not recommended to “seal” since they will not penetrate the paint. Some decorative waxes *may still be used successfully
- When antiquing, a barrier (clear coat) is not necessarily recommended. Test yours but its likely you wont feel like you need one
- Proper prep is going to be most important with these paints!!
- They do not need to be sealed.
- Protection priority is give to preservation by Top Coating. Clear coats applied over the surface that are not meant to be absorbed.
- Top coats can often be skipped over or only used on Surfaces (where a drinking glass may set)
- Wise Owl CSP
- Annie Sloan*
- Eye Love Hue
- Dixie Belle
- Benjamin Moore Advance Paint
- Wise Owl One Hour Enamel
*Annie Sloan results are assumed according to personal past experience.
Have more questions? Leave them below! We would love to continue to add to areas covered here.
Ready to order your own paints? Check out my Product Buying Guide! Want to take a deeper look at the brands so many look to and trust? Check out my “Paint Reviews” at What kind of Paint to use on Wood Furniture!
Wednesday 12th of February 2020
Thank you so much for taking the time to give us such useful information!!
Wednesday 12th of February 2020
My pleasure! Thank you for taking the time to read!
Thursday 8th of November 2018
Hi there! I'd love hear what you found on crystalline silicates. I didn't see a link to a follow up post. This is so important!! Shannon
Tuesday 19th of March 2019
After reading this, what would you ever use latex paint for? I don't mean to be sarcastic, I truly don't know (other than maybe the inside walls of your house). This makes it sound like it really isn't good for much, but it has to have its purpose, right?
Thursday 19th of July 2018
Love the broken down comparison. It helps to see what one formula can do compared to another. Thanks for the info!!
Wednesday 18th of July 2018
Thanks These good information.
Wednesday 13th of March 2019
Which one are you talking about in the first question? Which one adheres?