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Cheap Paint vs Expensive Paint: What is the difference? - Brush & Roll Painting

January 17th, 2023 | 4 min read

By Kaylea Kuhlman

Does your interior wall paint have scratches and marks? Can you see fingerprints? Is it hard to clean? 

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, low-quality paint may be the reason for your frustrating issues. 

Low-quality and high-quality paint comes in many different forms. Most paint companies, like Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore, have a range of high to low-quality products. Despite its poor quality, these companies also sell low contractor-grade paint that some painters and builders use.

It's important to know the differences and quality you need when completing any painting project for your space.

At Brush & Roll Painting, we have over 25 years of experience in fixing problems caused by cheap, low-quality paint. We have tried many products on the market and found the best ones to use that are durable, easy to clean, and easy to touch up.

This article will show you the differences in the quality between cheap or low-quality paint and expensive, high-quality paint. This article will also inform you of what goes into paint that determines the price.

After reading this article, you will be aware of why you might be having problems with your interior paintwork. You'll also know which paint is right for your next paint project.

Usability of low and high-quality paint

chart with the qualities of cheap and expensive paint.

As shown in the chart above, cheap paint doesn't have the strong qualities that high-quality paint does. While painters may have a difficult time using low-quality paint as the spread rate is low and the re-coat time is lengthy, homeowners may struggle as well.

Low-quality paint is often hard to clean, which makes stains embed into the paint. Low-quality paint is also known to fade, which often isn't a problem for interior paint, but it can be with extremely light or extremely dark shades.

The hidden secret of high-quality paint is that it saves you money in the long run, for two main reasons. Firstly, you do not need a lot of product to get complete surface coverage. There will be fewer original coats needed compared to low-quality paint. It also needs little-to-no touch-ups over the years. When it does need touch-ups, they are seamless. 

Reason number two, it is durable. High-quality paint is an investment, it will last about 20 years, so you won’t have to pay the price year after year. 

Understanding what amount of components are in the paint will help you determine if the paint is low or high-quality.

What is paint made of?

To compare the two qualities of paint, it's important to understand what paint is generally made of.

Ingredients of Paint

Person mixing paint ingredients

Four types of ingredients make up all kinds of paint, cheap or expensive. 

  1. Pigments (color, finish, hiding [coverage], and damage protection)
  2. Resins (the binding property)
  3. Solvents (a liquid carrier, water, or alkyd, that allows the paint to spread evenly)
  4. Additives (ex: mildew resistance, formation, and flow and leveling control). 

Ingredient information in paint is sometimes found on the back of the can, but often you may have to search for the ingredients on the paint company's technical data sheets (TDS). These are created for individual products. You can narrow down the ingredients for the exact paint and finish you are looking for. 

How Paint Ingredients Work

After the paint is applied to a surface and begins to dry, the solvent evaporates and leaves behind the pigment and resin, which becomes the solids. You want to look for a range of 35-50% in the number of solids in your paint. 

The higher that number, the more durable the paint will be, the thicker it applies, and the more coverage it gives. The lower percentage of these solids in paint does the opposite, it is thin, has poor hiding, and leaves you with low durability. 

The quality of paint depends on how much, or how little, all these components are used. Low-quality paint is made with more solvents/liquids and larger pigment particles (such as clay, silica, and talc). 

Higher-quality paint is made more durable by using a higher-grade resin and finer pigments. Smaller particles can grab a hold of surfaces they are applied to easier than large particles can. More expensive paints are usually made of acrylic or latex.

Occasionally, the finish of the paint will affect the price, by a few dollars. This may depend on the number of solids per volume and how much coverage it provides.

What are VOCs? (Volatile Organic Compounds)

VOCs are types of chemicals used in solvents. Their main purpose is to act as a medium while transferring paint in a can to its intended surface. These have high vapor pressure and low water solubility.

While paints have safe levels of VOC, as it's regulated by the federal government, they can be harmful when breathed in large amounts. The cap is 250 grams per liter for flat finishes and 380 g/l for other finishes (like semi-gloss).

The Minnesota Department of Health says, “once these chemicals are in our homes, they are released or “off-gas” into the indoor air we breathe. They may or may not be able to be smelled, and smelling is not a good indicator of health risk.” 

Many paint companies make low VOC paint or zero-VOC paints. Low VOC paint, or LVOC for short, contains 50 g/l or less of this chemical. Depending on the other ingredients, these paints can still be low or high quality. However, low-quality paints are typically made with more solvents, so they likely have more VOC levels.

Low VOC and zero VOC paints are environmentally friendly as there are fewer harmful chemicals in the paint. 

Color with Cheap vs Expensive Paint

paint cans with lids open exposing a black, red, yellow, and white

When mixing color, primarily darker shades, it causes the paint to weaken. Some shades of white are known to do this as well. Weak paint is often thin and uneven while applying. According to Benjamin Moore, “the most common paint colorants require the addition of certain chemicals so that they can mix easily into any number of paints (products).”

This is why Benjamin Moore created Gennex, a groundbreaking Color Technology tool that removes these chemicals that weaken paint and create waterborne colorants. This technology is found in many of their products, including Aura, Regal Select, and Ultra Spec 500. Aura also has a special Color Lock technology. This has pigments bonded to the dry paint and locks in color permanently to the paint film

Benjamin Moore paints created with Gennex Color Technology still hold their durability while maintaining a rich and accurate pigment. 

Choose What is Best for You

From this information, and our experience working with many kinds of paint since 1996, we know that high-quality paint is worth the investment. You cannot get the same quality product at a lower price. 

More expensive paint will stand the test of time with minimal touch-ups. To get this paint, you need to find the best paint that a company sells, like Aura by Benjamin Moore or Emerald by Sherwin Williams. If you have a painting project you are looking to hire for, find a contractor that uses this high-quality paint. 

Despite its benefits, we know expensive paint is not the answer for every project. Many contractors can use cheaper paint, so your project can fit into your budget.

Brush & Roll Painting understands that home painting is a serious investment. We strongly believe that the products we use, like these top Benjamin Moore paints, are the best in the market. 

Next, check out our Guide to Interior Painting to ensure everything is checked off before your project begins. 

Kaylea Kuhlman

Kaylea is the Brush & Roll Painting Content Manager.