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    Oil based v acrylic eggshell

    Most paint companies have oil based eggshell and acrylic based eggshell in their range. What are the differences between the two, which brands are best? Does it even matter that you can’t tell from the photo whether this door and frame were painted in acrylic or oil eggshell?

    There are endless debates about the pros and cons of xyz brand of oil v acrylic paint, and the plus and minus of application and VOC and brushmarks and drying times.

    We could go the Harry Hill route and call outright for a fight between acrylic and oil eggshell, and a fight between brand A and brand B . However, if you are feeling a little bewildered, and a lot of professionals tell me they don’t know where to turn next, can I suggest a predictable acrylic eggshell paint and a predictable oil eggshell paint that should leave you with a nice finish and a calm feeling in most scenarios.

    Little Greene Paint company offer one blindingly obvious choice of oil eggshell and when I want a fab acrylic eggshell… I turn to Little Greene too.

    Horses for courses

    It is sometimes said that my choice of products is a bit narrow or fanciful, because I am some sort of posh kitchen painter, whose clients don’t care how much things cost. I wish! I can assure you I do paint new architraves, scabby old glazed doors and peeling windows, and I do have to get a move-on, as time is definitely someone’s money!

    I am not saying that Little Greene eggshells are great for absolutely every scenario, (because that isn’t true – Mythic, Sikkens Tikkurila etc all have their place) but if any of the following scenarios apply, you should cut out the thinking and worrying, and consider Little Greene if:

    - you want to use oil based eggshell, but you are having trouble with drying times with new formula brands

    - the water based / water-borne eggshell you use runs madly, or doesn’t cover

    - you find that water-based eggshell is particularly brushmark stringy

    - you or your clients are looking at “Farrow and Ball” colours, or F&B eco eggshell

    (ie for almost all general decorating work, especially in older properties where an eggshell paint finish is required) go Little Greene.

    When to specify oil eggshell v acrylic?

    On standard interior woodwork (trim, doors, skirtings) I would recommend the acrylic eggshell almost every time.

    I only use oil based eggshell on hand painted kitchens, or where a heritage spec is required on interior woodwork. I am not big on exterior painting, but the Little Greene eggshells are specced for interior AND exterior surfaces. Good luck using Dulux eggshell outside!

    Does acrylic eggshell look different to oil based eggshell

    At first glance, the finish of Little Greene acrylic eggshell might look identical to oil – nice and full and deep. Close up, and definitely side by side, picky painters and discerning clients will see that there is a plasticy sheen to the acrylic compared to the oil. The above door and frame are in acrylic eggshell. The doors below are oil eggshell painted.

    Little Greene oil eggshell compared to other brand oil eggshell

    The flat sheen of LG oil eggshell sets it apart aesthetically from all acrylic and most other oil based eggshells (one exception is Paint Library, which is also made by LG.) And fundamentally it is the sheen, I believe, that differentiates a genuine traditional oil finish from other eggshells from other companies.

    Your perception of the sheen may be that brand xyz are all the same, once they have flatted down on curing, and some may say that my thinking is flawed and all eggshell is “traditional”?

    In my experience, clients who want traditional paint finishes, do see the difference between a sheeny Dulux and a more understated Little Greene hand-painted kitchen.

    In terms of numbers, Dulux, Leyland, Johnstones of the 20th century are about 30% sheen, and LG from 1778 onwards is 20%.

    Johnstones oil based eggshell is highly rated by a couple of specialist kitchen painters in my network, so I have no problem proposing that as a higher sheen option.

    With Dulux oil paints of any sheen, even the brilliant Sikkens range, I regularly hear of issues with drying times – ie they don’t dry by the next day. A similar problem is going on with Farrow and Ball’s eco hybrid (water-borne alkyd) eggshell.

    Little Greene oil eggshell is totally predictable for drying, coverage, filling ability, flow – and that is why I think it “shines” above the rest.

    Is acrylic easier to use than oil based eggshell

    Absolutely acrylic eggshell is easier to use than oil eggshell.

    - Acrylic eggshell flows on fast, dries to the touch within an hour, sands well, fills well.

    - Oil based eggshell flows on pretty fast, is touch dry in 4-6 hours, and dries overnight. Filling and sanding is a great experience!

    So on the surface, acrylic is way way better to use than oil-based in terms of getting things painted. Acrylic eggshell is easy to use too, but there are two big caveats before you diss oil eggshell.

    a) Do you know how to use acrylic eggshell? – a lot of professional painters still don’t know or are very uncomfortable using acrylic eggshell. Brushmarks, runs, over-brushing… Use LG and leave your troubles behind!

    b) Do fast drying times really help? As long as a kitchen takes the best part of a day to paint, there is absolutely no practical application advantage of acrylic eggshell over oil. Using the oil system, I would have no problem painting today, and sanding and topcoating tomorrow. I physically could not do all that any quicker with acrylic. Of course if you have a tiny kitchen, then maybe you can do 2 coats of acrylic in a day, but ordinarily, that isn’t the case.

    And a more important point than either of those 2 considerations – oil eggshell has body, and 3 coats of oil will enhance surfaces other than MDF or metal better than 4 coats of acrylic. (I do have an all water-based system that will equal an oil eggshell finish, but it takes a lot more than an undercoat and 2 topcoats.)

    Brushes for using Little Greene acrylic eggshell

    When I say that a lot of painters seem to have trouble with acrylic eggshell, what I think is going on is that their choice of brush is letting them down. I would be shocked if a decent painter could not get a good end result using a Wooster Alpha brush and Little Greene acrylic eggshell straight from the tin. (This Picasso brush is brilliant too.)

    How to apply acrylic eggshell by brush

    This is probably too general, but in general terms, you lay it on fairly liberally, brush out very quickly and lay off with a dry brush, no fussing.

    I hate to say this because it sounds condescending, but I taught Ingrid of Lilou Interiors how to apply the acrylic eggshell in 2 minutes. On a door with minimal cutting in, you couldn’t tell the difference between her work and mine. I can do 2 doors to her one and I don’t get covered in paint, but you get the idea, it is user friendly.

    Interesting tip too – Ingrid is not a time-served painter, but has used a lot of acrylic enamel in the US, but was never shown how to apply it, (where was Jack Pauhl when needed!) Treating it like oil paint, she never found the end results particularly pleasing.

    On glazed doors or panelling, you need to be careful and I tend to cut in to joints where I think I cannot keep the wet edge going. So it isn’t rocket science, lash it on, lay it off, and no worries about unexpected runs. And for coverage, one LG acrylic primer undercoat tinted to the colour of the topcoat, plus 2 topcoats. Lovely.

    Painting over previously painted oil paint in good condition, do not skimp on acrylic primer undercoat, otherwise you are on your own with poor coverage and stringiness – not to mention dodgy adhesion. Unlike Farrow and Ball, I would not expect any issues using some other brand of primer undercoat.

    Brushes for using Little Greene oil based eggshell

    The Wooster Alpha is excellent. I saw Cornwall kitchen painting specialist Colin at Plush Painting using it with glee and he achieved a beautiful finish.

    I generally roll and tip doors with a 1.5″ Wooster Alpha.

    On larger areas, I am warming to a 3″ Wooster FTP.

    Lee of Lees Decor in Leicestershire loves using his Wooster natural bristle brush with oil eggshell.


    Each to their own, and I am always looking at new paints to try out, but at a time when paint companies are changing their formulae with their socks, and creating all sorts of application issues for everyone, look for a solid base to work from on your journey to nirvana paint world. Therefore I would suggest you start at Little Greene, Wooster Alpha or Picasso brushes and work out from there.

    VOC levels of oil paint v acrylic paint

    I was just asked about the VOC (polluting off gassing) of oil v acrylic eggshell.

    To nail down the pollution in your home to minimal levels, you should go for acrylic as opposed to oil. In LG case, their eggshell is actually Toy Safe.

    Little Greene Oil eggshell is vegetable oil based now, I believe, so it is less pungent than the original formula, but it is still high in VOC.

    I am sure this will go down like a lead based balloon, but I would say that unless there are genuine acute health reasons like asthma or allergies, the eco case for acrylic eggshell v oil eggshell around the home is quite weak.

    Paint causes about 2% of the world’s pollution and of that, only a fraction of paint in the home, for decades, has been high VOC oil eggshell paint on trim and kitchen doors. The vast majority of paint is on walls and ceilings and that is almost exclusively water-based, which does almost no harm in situ to painters or homeowners. Every bit helps, and acrylic eggshell is great to use, but it won’t stop the planet from fizzing and dying.

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    16 comments to “Oil based v acrylic eggshell”

    1. Bob Stevenson

      I’ve found the acrylic eggshell technique to be very effective.

    2. james corburn

      thanks great blog and technique

    3. Nick Dunse

      Acrylic eggshell on furniture and cabinets really??? Hope u topcoat with a waterbased poly.. We do a lot of kitchen cabinets and furniture built ins etc… We use oil or waterborne semi gloss never eggshell unless topcoat end with a clear. Way to soft to hold up to wear and tear. The higher the sheen the harder to perfect eggshell is not at all difficult .

    4. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      Hi Nick, I don’t see where I wrote for pros to use acrylic eggshell on furniture and cabinets, the opposite, I would specify oil for kitchens, acrylic eggshell elsewhere.

      Having said that, I think US and UK paints have different sheen levels, at least based on what we know from Mythic, ie “your” eggshell is certainly matter than we would expect from “our” eggshell paint. Agree, semi gloss (for Mythic acrylic enamel) is probably the sweet spot for heavy use on kitchen cabinets.

      The waterbornes are getting very interesting. Some very clever “best of both worlds” paint coming along.

    5. Robin

      I believe the real issue for VOCs is the health of the painter in an unventilated environment and our lack of understanding of the ‘Danish Painters syndrome’ but it is worth searching on google if you are at all concerned.

    6. speedy sid

      very nice paint, i agree with Robin. i would like to say that , a paint should be environment friendly and not harmful for health and for children in the house, some paints are smelly and they are not suitable for the home where kids are.

    7. Ross Hutchison

      I am a total acrylic paint fan used most of them and its a win win win all the way for me, However a question I cannot seem to answer is acrylic vs oil – how long does it take for white paint to discolour for both – I am thinking oil is 3-5 years before a new coat is required but how long for acrylic????? or is it a case current acrylics have not been given enough time to show their true colours – get it! Thanks Ross

    8. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      Hi Ross, acrylic resin based paints have been out commercially since the 60′s. Whites wont yellow. If they are hybrid (oil content) they are prone to yellow, because of the alkyd resin effect. Acrylic trim paint that is low sheen on exteriors may well pick up dirt and look dull down but that “discolouration” can be wiped off.

      Yellowing oil paint, it has always yellowed but since 2010 some formulations have beaten all records!

    9. Louise

      If I am painting a bed frame would acrylic or oil be best?

    10. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      Apologies for slow response. If you have sealed the wood particularly any knots with a shellac based primer to prevent bleed-through from knots, then you can use either oil or water based paints to finish. What is the bed made of?

    11. Dani Mee

      I have a waxed, pine bedframe that I want to make over. I plan on sanding it down, priming with a shellac based primer and then using acrylic based eggshell. Is this the best way to go about it?

    12. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      Hi Dani, that sounds like a good plan, except I would probably try a quick test to remove the wax with a degreaser before sanding. This is purely because the wax may well clog up a lot of abrasive and be quite time consuming to sand off.

      If you use Krud Kutter Original or Fluxaf Pro Clean wax should scrub off quite well and then sanding is a breeze.

      At the end of the day, the quickest way to bare and clean wood is the aim.

      Shellac primer plus acrylic eggshell, that will work.

      We are doing a DIY Decorator of the Month competition the next 12 months, so why not take a before and after and send it me with an explanation of what you did, you could be picked as a winner. There will be a very good monthly prize, details to be announced next week!

    13. Sam


      I am about to paint some pine bedroom furniture (over 10 years old) and have just bought little greene oil based eggshell. I also bought a trade primer undercoat which I realised afterwards is waterbased, first question is is this ok? Second question is I was recommended perdy brushes, again will these be ok? And finally do I have to treat the knots of the wood first given the age of the furniture?
      I plan to sand down the furniture first, your help and advice would be much appreciated

    14. Lee

      Hi there – a little off topic but I have recently experienced quite a lot of dragging and issues laying off Little Greene Intelligence Matt on my wood work (skirting/architraves etc. I am a professional painter and have followed good practice – currently in process of returning product to stockist to swap for Intelligence Eggshell – but client wanted Matt finish on wood. I have used the Intelligence Eggshell with small amount of floetrol on the walls – lovely! I used the matt for the ceiling and it was drying fairly quickly but I did not experience the same issues as the wood. Any ideas?

    15. Andy Crichton Andy Crichton

      What was the base coat for the Intelligent matt emulsion on the timber? Too porous a surface, it could have been causing the excessive drying. You could dull down an eggshell sheen with dead flat decorator varnish to give the customer exactly what they want?

    16. Lee

      Thanks Andy, good tip. I think that despite the woodwork being of sound nature, using Little Greene primer really helps to create a consistent base for the top coat. I would recommend this as it will save loads of time, which I’ve learnt somewhat the hard way! Since going back to the stockist and taking with Little Greene, I have now been able to achieve a great finish! Fantastic product but by no means is it self under coating like some other brands of paint. Must be used in a more traditional way, which makes sense. Expensive but gives a super high quality finish when used correctly! Thanks!

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