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Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked

Listed under Blog, paint Posted Feb 07 2011

I started to jot down a few ideas about what differentiates traditional paint from modern paint, and ended up with reams of material. Rather than bore myself and you to tears, it is probably best to take the topic one ream at a time.

So, traditional painter, what is the difference between traditional paint and modern paint in 2011?

The principle difference between traditional paint 2011 and modern paint 2011, in my opinion, is the “look”.

If you think of “traditional” emulsion or eggshell as “flat and matt” and modern emulsion and eggshell as “sheeny and shiny”, then you can easily navigate around the misconceptions and marketing red herrings spouted by fans and suppliers of traditional and modern paint.

Traditional flat emulsion is 1% to 3% sheen, chalky, soft.

Leyland dead flat is the flattest, Paint Library is 2%, F&B Estate Emulsion, Little Greene and Fired Earth acrylic matts are 3%. They have various degrees of practicality. Some have less opacity and require extra coats for depth; the lowest sheen chalk paints are not wipeable; some brands of flat paints in darker colours can be touched in without leaving a mark, which is more practical than dark colours in vinyl matt, where you have to repaint the whole wall to cover a small mark…

To all intents and purposes, any sub 3% low sheen emulsions will have a very similar flat chalky appearance and are very interesting in changing light.

If it matters to you, they are fairly breathable and have low VOC content. Farrow and Ball Estate emulsion is 0.03% VOC content, Little Greene’s acrylic matt is a whopping 0.2% (I jest about whopping, there is more pollution coming out of the computer you are reading this from than is emitted from most emulsion paints. Even Dulux vinyl matt with fudged VOC figures (0.3 to 7.99%!!!!) is safer than the air coming in from the street full of cars!

You may be surprised to know that these traditional emulsion paints also have the same low sheen level of Casein bound distemper, one of the great traditional paint marketing hoodwinks of our time. If you seek technical problems and none of the advantages and user-friendliness of traditional flat matt emulsion paints, this product is for you.

I make no secret that Little Greene acrylic matt ticks all the boxes for me in many situations.

Traditional oil eggshell is 20-25% sheen, washable, good for wood. The better brand eggshells like Little Greene have formulated their mid sheen oil paint for interior and exterior use. For me it is THE ideal finish for kitchen cabinets and hand-painted furniture.

Modern emulsion is 5% to 7% plus sheen.
7% is the standard reflective value of Dulux Vinyl matt and most other brand trade vinyl emulsions. They have a plastic sheeny shiny modern practical finish in comparison to chalky soft emulsions.

Interestingly, Farrow and Ball Modern Emulsion is 7%. I don’t have an opinion on the look of the F&B emulsion, but I do know that its opacity sucks, The recommended specs for repainting previously painted surfaces with similar colour emulsion is 2 coats – compared to 1 x Farrow and Ball ceiling- wall primer plus 2 coats of F&B Modern emulsion.

Some painters say that Dulux flat matt in heritage period colours is the business and is far better and more durable than equivalent “over-priced” traditional paints. Problem with that supposition is that it is not a like-for-like comparison. Dulux flat matt is 5% sheen, so it has more of a reflective appearance than Estate emulsion, more sheen, so of course it is more wipable and more durable – chalky it isn’t. To compare quality and like for like, you should pitch modern Dulux Flat Matt v modern Little Greene Ultimatt. The historical pedigree is with LG, but the big money R&D is with Dulux. Which is better? As Harry Hill would say, only one way to find out. Fight!

Modern oil eggshell paint is 30% sheen
Oil based eggshell was the paint of choice for walls and woodwork when I were a boy. With 30-50% VOC it is noxious by today’s improving environmental standards. Satinwood is a new satin oil paint, it’s fine. Or rather, it was.

Since lowering the VOC pollution content of their modern oil paints, Dulux have problems with their oil paint finishes, perceived and real. Satinwood is a self-undercoating mid sheen paint, but it now dries almost glossy. After 2 weeks it dulls down to expected sheen levels and sorts out any perceptions that it is too shiny.

However, in reality, because of its glossy beginnings, I found it doesn’t behave too well as an undercoating paint, and on new work, does not cling easily to corners. The flatter traditional oil eggshells from Little Greene have significant advantages for usability and coverage over “greener” 2010 Satinwood. ( And talking eco, the VOC level of LG eco eggshell is 27% compared to Satinwood’s 30%. Dulux, the modern paint manufacturer hasn’t got it quite right yet!)

It’s in the look

If you focus on the “look” first and foremost, then you can better evaluate the pros and cons of a traditional paint or a modern paint.

When people blab on that you should or shouldn’t go for a particular type or brand – just because…(insert your deficiency) remember that every company has problems, deficiencies or successes with their product range, colour ranges, coverage, durability, availability, pricing…

Not all traditional paints are created equal, and we all know that is true for modern paints. As with any product selection, if you have the information, you can pick the right product for each situation. Be very wary of marketing claims. Dulux Flat matt is not dead flat. Little Greene Ultimatt isn’t really what I would call a traditional paint product, even though it comes in period colours from a traditional paint manufacturer. Traditional clay paint gives off far less negative healthy ions than a potted plant or a little water fountain… Farrow and Ball without an oil paint in their range, how is that traditional? etc etc

Finish already!

A long and, I find, fascinating topic, to be continued.

PS – Acrylic eggshell

I don’t have an opinion or much info to divulge with acrylic eggshells from traditional or modern paint camps. They are low VOC, all benefit from oil based primer undercoats, and come in different colours. Maybe if you are well versed in the nuances, leave a comment and grab the limelight. Thanks.



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14 comments to “Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked”

  1. acmasterpainter

    [watch out!] Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/traditiona

  2. ecopaintstore

    RT @acmasterpainter: [watch out!] Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/traditiona

  3. paintedroom

    RT @acmasterpainter: [watch out!] Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked – via #twitoaster https://traditionalpainter.com/traditiona

  4. acmasterpainter

    Thx @ecopaintstore for RT Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked – https://traditionalpainter.com/traditiona… does the “look” thesis hold water?

  5. BurtonTDSDerby

    RT @acmasterpainter: thx @ecopaintstore for RT Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked – https://traditionalpainter.com/traditiona… does the “look” thesi …

  6. sean

    Sorry mate but you are talking total twaddle. you obviously have no idea what a traditional paint actually is ( there are many different types) and before you comment on the toxicity of petrochemical paints you should do yourself a favour and do a little research ( you might even do your health a favour if you do). google painters dimentia, or natural paint or toxins in paint,etc and see what petrochemicals are in in so called low voc paints.

  7. Traditional Painter

    thanks for reading the post Sean, and your comments are welcome, even if a bit harsh.

    Traditional paint is a massive and sprawling and often subjective topic, and need to start somewhere.

    I have happily blogged about limewash and soft distemper and paints made from traditional recipes hundreds of years old, but from my observations of my own clients, and reading and talking to the occasional historical paint expert, those products and their qualities and original colours are not really what is prominent in most of the public’s (and my clients’ ) thinking nowadays, when contemplating “traditional” paints.

    So the point of the post is expressed in the first few lines – about trying to differentiate between what is generally marketed as traditional paint 2011 and the mainstream modern eg Dulux etc brands.

    And focusing on the appearance seemed to be the easiest way to circumvent all the sorts of firestorms that folks tend to start when debating which is better or worse- F&B estate emulsion has similar appearance as casein bound distemper as trade matt emulsion, but start basing the traditional v modern comparison on petrochemical content of one v the other, or breathability or energy expended on labour putting right failures- how does that arrive at anything conclusive, except all paint has something wrong with it, so lets not use it.

    So although I mention it, I TRY NOT to differentiate the two types of paint on the basis of low VOC v high VOC. I don’t say (or believe) low VOC isn’t full of chemicals, just as i don’t say which is the last dangerous to eat, because that isnt the yardstick of this post…

    All we want to do is help folks try pick the best paint with the required look for the job at hand. When folks say they want a traditional / posh paint from F&B, Little Greene, or period colour Leyland matt etc at least they might have some simple yardstick about why it is being called traditional. So here are the aesthetic pros and cons and a comparable measure of some of the qualities and numbers that brands bandy about.

    I have read quite a few data sheets and been amazed at the ingredients knocking around paint factories, but I am not in that line of business. If you want to do a post on the polluting content of flat v sheeny shiny paint v historical arsenic laden paint, I am very happy to post it. cheers

  8. acmasterpainter

    RT @paintedroom: [watch out!] Traditional paint v modern paint: de-bunked – https://traditionalpainter.com/traditiona… got a roasting, my stance is twaddle 🙁

  9. paintedroom

    @acmasterpainter Good on ‘ya matey! Your response was measured, friendly and wise! #twaddle

  10. acmasterpainter

    @paintedroom thanks, I was wondering there for a moment!!!! didnt want to sound defensive but I’ve spent years distilling that #twaddle 🙂

  11. Gregshell

    All I know is F and B is horrible to use. In thirty years I’ve never met a painter who likes it. I like Little Greene and ,because I’m a set painter, Mylands.

  12. Traditional Painter

    Hi Greg
    I hear it all the time too. Great marketing hey! So did you find me via Flints. I guess you heard of them in your line of work!

  13. oldsalmo

    I have read a lot of dribble in my time time but some of the comments are unbelievable ,Firstly can anybody define traditional paint is it pre 2000 or perhaps 1950 or even 1900 if you cannot define it be quiet as you are talking about something you know nothing about . a good starting point would be celinis book Mid thirteenth century or the Strasbourg manuscript about the same date because nothing changed much until Victorian times to talk about traditional emulsion is a joke because the first one was latex paint

  14. James Murphy

    Blimey – a war of words over…. paint! It seems there is no subject, however minor and innocuous, which the internet-mainframe cannot escalate into a cause for hatred and declaration of war! Well, for what it’s worth(!) I thought you dealt with Sean’s vitriol with great dignity, friendliness and intelligence – and for this I take my hat off to you! I DO think F & B estate eggshell paints very calmly and peacefully on exterior wood as it happens.

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