The Difference Between Paint and Stain

The Difference Between Paint and Stain

If you’re into home DIY and renovation, you’ve probably had to make a decision about whether to choose a paint or a stain. The technology behind paints and stains has improved pretty dramatically, and both represent completely viable methods of protecting and coloring a surface. In many ways they are the same, but they are also distinctly different.

What Is The Difference?

All stains and paints are composed of pigments and a vehicle for those pigments. The chemical composition of the liquid vehicle means that modern paints and stains are very durable and can protect a surface very well, whether it is wood or some other material. Both stains and paints come in acrylic and oil varieties, and both types have advantages and disadvantages. But this is where the similarity ends.

When you open a tin of stain and a tin of paint, you’ll notice immediately that the stain seems a lot thinner. The paint actually has more particles of pigment suspended in the liquid vehicle, and this creates the visual difference between the two products. This means that stains will show the material underneath, whereas paint will cover it.

One other big difference is that paint sits on top of a surface and covers it, while stain soaks into a surface. Even though they do much the same thing in the end, choosing one or the other essentially comes down to two things: aesthetics and cost.

What Should You Choose For Your Project?

One of the most popular ways to use stain is to enhance the look and grain of natural wood. Stain lends itself admirably to this purpose and provides the following benefits:

  • The surface does not need priming before the application of the stain,
  • The stain will show the wood grain underneath and enhance its features,
  • Generally only one coat is required to get the look you desire,
  • It resists chipping and peeling better than many paints,
  • In the future, the stain can simply be re-coated rather than removed, making it more convenient.

Depending on the type of paint you buy, it can be more expensive than stain. Certainly the very best acrylic and enamels tend to have a higher price tag, but they have fantastic coverage. The advantages of paint are as follows:

  • The higher the pigment loading of the paint, the better the quality and the more saturated the look,
  • Many more color choices compared to stain,
  • Unlike stain, paint can be easily applied over painted surfaces without any other preparation,
  • Paint comes in matte, satin, and gloss finishes, whereas stain only comes in a matte variety and will need varnishing for a glossy look,
  • Paint will not soak into the surface like a stain, so you may only need to apply one coat over an absorbent surface since it will sit on top of that surface.

Whether you choose paint or stain really depends on what you want to do. Stain is certainly attractive when used over natural wood surfaces, but paint offers plenty of color choice. The choice is entirely personal.

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