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Using Acrylic Trim Paints: Brush, Roller & Spray

Listed under Blog, brushes, Eco, Mythic paint, paint, Ron Taylor, spray painting Posted May 05 2012

This is a guest post by Ron Taylor who first started using acrylic trim paints in 2004, and is now an authority in the UK on the application of water-based paints with brush, roller and spray. If you are a professional looking for refreshing and refresher tips, or DIY wondering how on earth you can get a good finish with acrylic eggshell and gloss, bookmark this page.

If there’s one thing guaranteed to spark a debate amongst painters, it’s the use of acrylic paints on trim. For so long, alkyd products were the king here with only the sheen level in debate.

But acrylic is nothing new for trim, we’ve had it for years in the form of primer/undercoat. And we’ve used water based paints on ceilings and walls forever and no one complained about that. So why are so many painters so vehemently against acrylic paint when it comes to a finish coat on woodwork?

Quality of finish (look and feel), lack of shine (in gloss) and durability are all things that have been levelled at water based paint on trim as a way of dismissing it as not good enough for the purpose intended. Now, whilst this may have been the case a few years ago, it most certainly isn’t the case now.

Let’s take a good look at each of the above.

Acrylic paint – poor quality finish

There is a misconception of late that, in the old days of oil paint on trim, every job was perfect and every door we painted looked like the one on 10 Downing Street. I’m a decent painter (though I certainly wouldn’t say I’m the best), but I have never done anything that remotely looked as good as that. Now I know it’s metal and sprayed, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. The point is, with the best oil product in the world and an unlimited timescale, I’m saying I still couldn’t do it with a brush and/or roller to anywhere near that standard. But oil is still held in such high regard, because an acrylic product couldn’t come anywhere near that finish, right? Well, no actually. You definitely wouldn’t get the super, deep shine, but with any airless sprayer and a fine finish tip you would get the finish.

With a brush and roller it’s different, of course, and the faster drying acrylic will look a little grainier than oil. But unlike an oil finish, it won’t take 16 hours to dry and be susceptible to being covered in all sorts of flies and fluff.

I grant you, the feel of oil when dried is superior to most acrylics (with the exception, maybe, of Sikkens Rubbol BL Satura) but who but the fussiest of clients obsesses about it when the job is done?

Acrylic paint – lack of shine

Years ago, there were two main finishes for oil-based paint on trim: gloss and eggshell, with gloss being the more popular and eggshell. When I was learning the trade and then went self-employed, nobody had anything other than gloss. It was not even discussed with the homeowner. Only posh people had eggshell and at the time I never worked for them. However, satin finishes did come into favour about 20 years ago, and now seems to be by far the most popular finish amongst my clients.

So when acrylic paint lacks shine, just go for the sheen above. If the customer wants eggshell but it’s not shiny enough, use satin. It’s only when the very highest shine is required that acrylics fall short on sheen. Sadolin Superdec Gloss won’t have the excellent shine of a product like Sikkens XD but it will last as long and won’t be such a pain in the backside to apply.

Acrylic paint – poor durability

Yes I’ll concede on this one. I’ve yet to see an acrylic trim paint as hardwearing as oil. But how hardwearing do you want it? Most acrylics will put up with all but the worst abuse and as a rule of thumb, the higher the sheen, the more hardwearing it is. If the customer has young children grabbing the doors and kicking the trim, advise them that Diamond Eggshell is not the best product in that situation and Ecosure Gloss would be much more preferable.

Acrylic trim paint – usability problems

When I started using acrylics full time on trim, around 7-8 years ago, it was a learning curve. But at the time I had seen these products and wanted to persevere. I had always been unhappy with oil based paint. Too smelly, too sticky, wet for too long and white tended to go yellow over time. Water based paint seemed to be the answer to my prayers.

I soon found out that it wasn’t as simple as just switching paint, and a whole new way of working needed to come into play. I’ll be honest I nearly gave up, but the way the industry is now with EU legislation and yellowing gloss, I’m glad I didn’t.

When you first use acrylic paint you will notice 3 things: it dries too fast, it doesn’t cover and it doesn’t stick to existing oil painted surfaces. And you’re thinking ‘Why would I use that?

Well, you can apply acrylic paint, with the right tools, faster than oil, so you will save some time on each coat.

Once you know how to get the paint to stick, acrylic is much more forgiving than oil for showing up imperfections in the substrate.

If you decide to get into spray painting (a whole article in itself there) you can get an unbelievable finish at lightning speed. Whether it’s worth the hassle, though, is dependent on the amount of trim you have to spray.

But regarding acrylic vs oil on trim, there will come a day when there isn’t a choice. More stringent emission controls on VOC’s will, at some stage, regulate that all decorative coatings are water based. In the US it is already law in the state of California, with other states looking at doing the same.

How many coats of acrylic on existing oil painted surfaces?

When repainting existing oil painted surfaces, with oil paint you would be looking at one undercoat and gloss to complete the job, but you really need to rethink that with acrylic. One primer and two topcoats will be a more realistic specification.

Acrylic primers

You need an adhesion promoting primer to make the acrylic topcoats adhere to the surface. With very thorough preparation (wet sanding, etc) you may be able to skip the primer, but I wouldn’t think that would be a 100% reliable way of achieving good adhesion with standard acrylics. Products from Mythic like the excellent Black Label Satin and Semi-Gloss are now coming to the UK and these are self priming, which means you can skip the primer (even on bare wood) and these types of products offer superb coverage and adhesion, if you can get hold of them.

Avoid standard acrylic/primer undercoats under water based trim paint. They are cheap and cheerful and if you don’t prepare the substrate well beforehand, they won’t stick any better than just applying the topcoat. These products also tend to be a dirty white or grey in colour (for opacity) and leave loads of brushmarks. If you use them under oil, the brushmarks may be lost due to the oil paint levelling. But they won’t be lost under acrylics where the levelling is not as good. Plus the colour of these products certainly won’t help the poorer opacity white acrylic paint cover on top of them.

Choose specialist American primers. Also, dedicated manufacturers’ primer/undercoats are not as good, adhesion wise, as US primers like Zinsser 123+ and Mythic MP Primer. So a coat of Zinsser 123+ Primer will give a better finish, with superior adhesion under two coats of Dulux Ecosure Gloss than the same topcoats over Dulux Ecosure Undercoat. In the case of Mythic MP Primer you can also sand it smooth like an oil primer, which is unusual for a water based product. The US primers are formulated to stick. Many of our manufacturers’ acrylic undercoats have shocking adhesion to oil paints, and seem to be released as a companion in name only, with little thought to the job they need to do.

I have yet to come across any UK-made primer or primer/undercoat that comes close to doing the job that specialised products from the US do, and usually for less money.

Acrylic top coats

All acrylic topcoats are formulated with two coats of finish in mind. Flatter primers can absorb the shine of topcoats and reduce the sheen of the finish. Uneven application of topcoats over a flat primer can also lead to a patchy look. It’s always better to allow for two topcoats.

Best brushes for acrylic trim paint.

Acrylic paint is hugely brush dependent, and what works with one finish won’t, necessarily, work with another. Selecting the correct brush is a pain, I know, but it’s worth looking into, to achieve the look you want. All synthetic brushes are, most definitely, not the same.

Purdy Monarch Elites are a fine all-round brush and work well in most oils and some acrylics. But they can be too stiff in some coatings and leave more brushmarks. I’m not knocking the brush, but Purdy make a vast array of different bristle types, not just the Elites, with the XL line being much more forgiving of brushmarks. They look nicer too.

I have had great results of late with Proform Technologies Picasso (mainly in wall acrylic) and Contractor (for trim) brushes. The Contractor is soft, but pushes through paint easily, leaving a very nice finish. Unfortunately they are difficult to come by in the UK now, since the main importer was bought out.

Also look at Wooster brushes; they do a very varied range for all types of paint, with the Alpha and Ultra/Pro Firm being good choices. Also getting good reviews is the Wooster Chinex FTP. Chinex is a stiff bristle designed to push through heavy bodied water and oil based paint. As a rule of thumb, stiff bristle is not suited to acrylic, due to leaving brushmarks. The Wooster, however, bucks this trend in certain paints. It is ideally suited to a product like Sikkens Rubbol BL Satura, because this product has a tendency to flow out flat like oil paint, because of its longer open time. Try it in faster drying coatings and you more than likely won’t have such good results. But the thing is, try it once in acrylic trim paint, and if it doesn’t work, use it for cutting in emulsion, where it really does excel.

All of the above manufactures are American, I have yet to try a brush from any other country that performs in acrylic like US made products. I’ve tried a few UK made brushes, but they just don’t perform to the standard required.

It’s an expensive process buying brushes and rollers for water based paint, just to try them out, but it will pay dividends when you know what paint works with what applicator(s).

Angled sash brush If you haven’t tried angled brushes, please do. Though widespread in the US, Canada and Australia, they are still seen largely as a gimmick here in the UK. Why? I don’t know, because they work superbly for pretty much everything, except large areas of flat panelling.

Rolling acrylic trim paint.

Don’t overlook rollers either. Often a roller can be used to lay the paint on fast, on window sills and flush doors, so they can be layed off with a brush. If you get the right roller sleeve matched to the paint, you may not actually have to lay it off at all. This won’t work with all paints, and tends to work when the roller is newer, but again it’s worth trying, even if you do it once and it doesn’t work.

The best rollers I’ve used for this are Wooster. Their Jumbo Koter 4” and 6.5” frames are great for acrylics, when coupled with the Micro Plush and Pro/Doo-z covers. In fact I’ve rolled many doors with a 9” roller in the right cover with excellent results.

Professional tips for using acrylic paint.

Don’t fuss! I’ve found that acrylic trim painting works better, the faster it is done. That means laying it on, tipping it off and leaving it. Don’t go back to it, even after 30 seconds, if you don’t have to. You may be able to still work it, but if you can’t, you’ll tear the surface, make a mess and have more work on your hands to sand it and repaint.

Wipe out runs If you have a build up of paint, it may pull back as it dries, and you’re titivating will again lead to more work. If the build up is bad and the paint has turned, wet you finger and lightly blend it in. Don’t touch it with a brush or roller.

Reduce cutting-in time Cutting-in will slow you down in your efforts to apply paint quickly, so avoid unnecessary cutting in. I do this by brushing the trim first, taping off and painting the walls last. This is standard practice in America, but still smiled upon here. “This guy can’t cut in, right? But it’s easier, because it’s less cutting in to other surfaces. I usually do cut the wall paint to the door frames, but always tape the skirting in case of overspray or drips.

Masking tape Use the lowest tack tape you can that will stick to the finished trim, but won’t pull the uncured paint off (a full acrylic system is susceptible to this, when just painted).

Don’t ever be tempted to use standard cheapo masking tape or parcel tape. I’ve tried loads of tape from Tesa, Kleenedge and Kip, but always come back to Scotch Blue Painter’s Tape. I find it gives the most consistent results. Pull this off as soon as you can, even if it means pulling it off and re-taping for the second coat. The longer it’s on there, the more chance you’ll encounter issues removing it and lifting uncured paint. Pull the tape when the wall paint is just drying. Pull it too soon and you could get emulsion sagging onto the skirting.

If you need to leave the tape on for longer, ie if you are spraying, or it’s a massive staircase and you don’t want to waste tape or do it again, or you are spraying the walls, you could do one of two things. You could paint the surface where the tape will touch with an oil based primer; Zinsser Cover Stain is best, before your water based primer, or use the oil primer as your entire first coat. I know I’m going against what I said using water based primers but using this method it’s unlikely that the tape will pull off any paint, as the Cover Stain sticks like nothing else I’ve tried (BIN is the same, I know, but it’s a pain to use) and acrylic paints adhere well to it.

Avoid brush marks If you are having trouble with the paint levelling, add a water based conditioner such as Floetrol.

This will keep the open time longer and help the flow out of brushmarks. Use as directed, but don’t be scared of it. If you intend putting a capful in a litre of paint you may as well not bother, as it will do nothing. People are put off by the price, but think of it this way. If you have 6 litres of paint and you add a litre of Floetrol, you now have 7 litres of paint. Don’t see Floetrol as a waste of money. It does work and it’s worth trying.

Spray acrylic top coats For the very best finish with paint, acrylics in particular, don’t overlook spraying. If you haven’t sprayed paints before, this will seem daunting. And it should, because it is. But if you have the work to do it and the finances, it will open a lot of new avenues work wise.

I speak from personal experience, so I know a lot, if not all, of the problems associated with spray painting. But I also know the benefits. Be aware that buying the equipment will be just the start of your expense, but more of that in the next article Spraying acrylic trim paint.

This is a guest post from Ron Taylor, a professional painter and decorator working in the Midlands. In 2004, Ron took the plunge ahead of the rest of the UK pack, and he is definitely now an authority on acrylic paint and brushing, rolling and spraying acrylic paint in this country. He uses acrylic paints on all his private residential work. He can be contacted on………..07905 895502 ron.taylor3@ntlworld.com

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17 comments to “Using Acrylic Trim Paints: Brush, Roller & Spray”

  1. john mason

    Excellent article Andy, thanks for adding it.

  2. Traditional Painter

    It is a good reference for sure. I am happy to publish any decorating tips and information like this, from experts who know what they are talking about, and explain things clearly without falling into corporate techno speak!

  3. Alan Iles

    Wow, very thorough article and timely too what with some manufacturers oil based paints performing poorly. Acrylics are definitely the way forward.

  4. Traditional Painter

    Ron certainly has a handle on all things acrylic paint for woodwork. There is an equally definitive article on spraying too. Watch this space

  5. Barry Richardson

    Well done Andy , Definately the way forward , never use oil now as you say too may drawbacks. All professional decs should be embracing these new products as they have come on tremendously in recent years ie:mythic/Sikkens.

  6. Traditional Painter

    As you say Barry, it is only heading in one direction now. I still specify oil eggshell for kitchen cabinets, to keep that tradition and quality of finish going, but on all other trim work, it’s Mythic or Little Greene acrylic finishes all the way. And even with Sikkens oil gloss on front doors, I really rate the water based Rubbol undercoats.

    In theory, with water based paints coming to the fore, and their brilliant drying times, the standards should really rocket on busy sites, and new build work in terms of smooth finishes. As long as the basecoats and filling are done right, you should get a near perfect dust free finish, even with big-booted builders tramping past!

  7. Charles Budd

    That’s one of the most useful blog posts I’ve ever read (and that’s including your own blogs Andy.) I’ve just read it twice, and explained lots of it to my very patient girlfriend. 🙂 I’ve just started getting into using water-borne trim paints, experimenting like mad. Getting better and better results from Mythic semi-gloss by using a good dollop of Floetrol (yes, I was guilty of using a capful of it in a litre of paint at first!) I’m about to get into spraying (using HVLP) so I’d love to read the spraying article as soon as possible!

    Thank you Ron, for taking the time and generosity to write that blog for your fellow decorators. And thank you Andy for having the best British blog site for decorators wanting to get better and better at their craft.

  8. Traditional Painter

    Ditto hats off to Ron for sharing his knowledge.

    Mythic and Floetrol and you get to talk paint to your girlfriend too… life must be all roses for you, Charlie.

  9. Barry Richardson

    Yes very true , have recently carried out large new build with lots of other trades around 🙁 The Sikkens BL satura was my preferred finish on trim work , and the smoothness and ease of application (with Floetrol I might add), led to a very happy client and a happy decorator what with the dust and work going on ( and 3 dogs running around !!!!)A really classy oil based finish and tough wearing to boot, just wish i could get my hands on some Mythic Black Label, soon i believe 😉

  10. Charles Budd

    Ha ha! Yeah, Andy, all roses except the girlfriend now wants me to paint her new shop and half the furniture in it with Mythic & Annie Sloan, which is mostly your fault. Thank you VERY MUCH! I must try my trial tins of BL Satura soon, been meaning to for about 2 months, but there’s always these blogs to read…. 😉

  11. Traditional Painter

    Stop reading and get painting, mate. Theory will either confuse or kill you!

  12. Charles Budd

    Yes Dad. 😉

  13. Nigel

    well written 10 out of 10.

  14. Traditional Painter

    Thanks for taking the time to read it. A lot of info to absorb, but it makes sense of what is quickly becoming a vital topic for anyone painting to understand.

  15. chris spence

    Very well written article, giving a broad and thorough insight into the pro’s and cons of Water Based paint stuff.
    I think its a great thing you do bringing together traditional painters and decorators and sharing your knowledge and insight , warts,successes and failures alike.
    importantly and has you remarked VOC laws are getting tighter and there will come a time when there won’t be a choice for painters, so in that respect thankyou for keeping us up to date with products and there behaviour, good and bad.
    Good on you all, a true credit to the trade.

  16. C montague

    Hi i bave tried the satura bl white today on a worn painted door rubbed down well applyed with a purdy angle glide no flowetrol brushed it on well but it just kept running and sagging o was forever going back toit with a dry brush it was hard to push it around with the purdy xl glide help what am i doing wrong?

  17. Tony

    Hi spraying acrylic paints water base, i have tried spraying annie sloanes chalk paint and yes it sprays ok when diluted BUT water dont take to wax or old furniture without birdseyeing any ideas what paint will adhere to furniture. I have been spraying car cellulose and great results but not onto furniture that has not been stripped and prepared.

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