Oil or Latex?

The first question homeowners ask is whether to use oil or latex paint. In general, latex paints have been improving steadily, leading some pros to give up oil-based paints entirely. Because they dry quickly and clean up with water, latex paints are more user-friendly than oil-based paints. But many pros still favor oil-based topcoats, arguing that they form a harder, more durable paint film and level out to a smoother finished surface. Latex paints also take longer than alkyd-based paints to cure fully (up to two or three weeks), and in the meantime are susceptible to damage. Bottom line? Either type will provide a good finish. If you do use a latex paint, make sure it is a 100 percent acrylic formulation, which offers greater durability and adhesion than vinyl acrylic paints.

A sprayed-on finish will be the smoothest, but there are some drawbacks. If a pro does the job, masking off areas in the kitchen that will not get paint—countertops, cabinet interiors, appliances— is time-consuming (read expensive.) Some pros spray all parts of the cabinets in the kitchen. Others spray doors and drawer fronts after they have been removed from the kitchen, and use a brush on the less visible cabinet frames. If you want to paint yourself, you can probably rent spray equipment from a local paint store.

Lots of homeowners do this successfully, even with little previous experience. Yet it's worth pondering whether the most heavily used room in your house is a good place to learn. You should be able to get excellent results by using a high-quality brush. Stay away from foam applicators. And don't use rollers, which leave telltale stipple marks.

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