I started painting the dresser for the guest bedroom yesterday (you can see the “before” dresser here if you missed it) and as I was priming the dresser, I started thinking through all of my favorite “go to” paint products that I’ve come to love and depend on over my years of DIYing as I’ve tried out various products and determined which ones are my favorites.
Over my 13 years of blogging about decorating and DIY, the questions I get the most always pertain to painting — painting furniture, painting cabinets, painting trim, painting exteriors. I think most homeowners know that paint is the cheapest way to update a home, but for so many who are new to DIY, knowing exactly what to buy can be a bit intimidating at first.
So today I thought I’d share my favorite go-to products that I use for all of my painting projects, whether I’m painting brand new drywall, kitchen cabinets, or the exterior of my house.
Behr Premium Plus
This is my general go-to paint for almost everything. I’ll use it for furniture, walls, trim, and cabinets.
You’ll notice that I don’t get the Behr Ultra or Marquee, which are more expensive paints. I’ve tried those others, and I’ve personally never found a tremendous difference that justifies the increased price. I just really like and prefer this one.
For walls, I almost always use an eggshell finish, and for trim (baseboards, crown molding), I use a satin finish. That’s not standard, as most people use a semi-gloss for trim, but I’m not a fan of super shiny paint finishes, so I prefer a satin finish for my trim.
When I’m using this on cabinets or top surfaces (like the tops of dressers, buffets, etc.), I always topcoat with my favorite clear coat, which you’ll find below.
Behr Interior Ceiling Flat
It’s rare for me to paint a ceiling a color other than white. I really like how a white ceiling keeps the room looking open and bright, so I only use color on a ceiling in very rare situations.
I remember the first time I painted the ceiling in the living room of our current house, and I thought it would be a great idea to carry the trim color (Behr Polar Bear) right from the crown molding onto the ceiling. It was awful. For some reason, the Polar Bear on the ceiling had very noticeable red undertones that were never noticeable on the trim. And Polar Bear has been my go-to trim color for years and years. But on the ceiling, it just didn’t work.
So ever since then, I just use pure white right out of the can, and I love a super flat finish on the ceiling that can hide imperfections unlike a higher sheen paint.
Benjamin Moore Aura Matte Finish
For most of my life, I avoided matte finish paints just because they’re so finicky, especially in darker colors. I mean, you just brush your hand across them, and it’ll leave light streaks that are then virtually impossible to remove.
But then I discovered Benjamin Moore’s Aura paint, and it’s amazing. When I want a matte finish on a wall (generally to hide imperfections that will show with a higher sheen paint), Aura is my go-to for a beautiful, cleanable matte finish wall. It’s not cheap, but when I absolutely want a matte finish, it’s the only one I’ll use.
Benjamin Moore Advance
Benjamin Moore Advance paint is a phenomenal paint for cabinets. It goes on beautifully, dries to a durable finish, and is easy to clean.
My one complain about this paint is that the lowest sheen available is satin, and to my eye (at least when used in darker colors) it looks more like a semi-gloss. And with only rare exceptions, I do not like glossy paint finishes. So for me personally, Benjamin Moore Advance is a paint that I would choose only if I were painting cabinets in a light color. If you’re painting your cabinets white, this is an amazing paint for that. If you’re painting your cabinets in a darker, richer color, it’s still an amazing choice as long as you like a finish that’s somewhere between satin and semi-gloss.
Benjamin Moore Aura Grand Entrance
This is my go-to paint for exterior doors. All of my exterior doors are metal, and I’ve always had a hard time getting a really pretty paint finish on metal doors until I found Grand Entrance. This paint is so easy to on, and it leaves a gorgeous finish. I’ve found that it’s also very easy to clean, which is important for exterior doors. It’s not cheap, but I find that the cost is worth the ease-of-use, the durability, and the cleanability.
Sherwin Williams Duration
When it comes to painting things, I have the least amount of experience with painting house exteriors. But after doing some research on the exterior paints that are available, I went with Duration from Sherwin Williams for our house, and I’ve been very pleased with it, and would choose it again without any hesitation. I used it on the pre-primed Hardiplank siding, the railings, trim, and columns on the front porch, and the shutters. It has worked beautifully on all of those.
General Finishes High Performance Topcoat
This is the magic right here, y’all. This is it. This is my absolute favorite, always-have-on-hand, water-based topcoat. I’ve used this on furniture, cabinets, doors, frames and other small DIY projects. I would coat everything in my life in this if I could. I buy it right here on Amazon.
I simply cannot overstate how much I love this product. I tried other water-based polyurethanes for years, and finally gave up on them. No matter how I tried applying the finish — spray, brush, roller — I was never satisfied. I wound up with streaks or bubbles or cloudy areas.
Then someone (and sadly, I can’t remember who) told me about General Finishes High Performance Topcoat, and I’ve never looked back. I would simply never consider using another clear topcoat. If I’m out, and my choices are to wait a few days for an Amazon order of General Finishes, or go to Home Depot and pick up whatever they have on hand, I’ll wait the few days. And that’s saying a lot for someone like me who almost always chooses immediate gratification.
When I painted the door in the studio bathroom black, every time I touched it, it would leave marks behind just from my hands. So I topcoated it with the GF topcoat, and that stopped happening. It completely changes the feel of the paint, and makes it so easy to clean.
And the finish is so amazingly durable that I feel completely comfortable painting kitchen cabinets with Behr Premium Plus, and then topcoating them with General Finishes, and knowing that the finish is going to last. And I’m very hard on surfaces, and yet my own kitchen cabinets don’t have a ding or scratch on them. If I were to choose one paint/finish product that I couldn’t live without, this would be it.
Zinsser Oil-Based Cover Stain Primer
This is my go-to primer for everything except unprimed drywall. As the name suggests, it covers stains amazingly well, and it’s a must for me when painting raw wood. I almost always brush it on, let it dry for a few hours (or overnight, depending on the weather and how fast it dries), and then it sands beautifully with 220-grit sandpaper. It’s just so perfect for getting a great surface for a beautiful painted finish.
It’s oil, so it does stink. I try to use it outside, or if that’s not possible, I’ll use it inside with a fan on and the window open. But it’s the only primer I’ll use, unless I’m needing to prime brand new drywall.
Zinsser Bullseye 123
And speaking of new, unpainted drywall, this is what I use to get it ready for its first coat of paint. New, unpainted drywall is literally the only thing I ever use water-based primer on. For everything else, I use oil-based Zinsser Cover Stain.
So those are my main go-to products, but I’m sure I’m leaving something out. If you have any particular questions about painting (walls, furniture, cabinets…anything), I’d love to help you out! Over my 20+ years of DIYing, I’ve tried painting just about anything that will stand still, so I’ve learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t work.
And if I’ve left anything off of this “go-to products” list, I’ll add them as they come to mind, or as your questions bring things to mind.
I’ve also have these other posts about painting that may be helpful to you: