A–Z of painting terms

Painting is the easiest way to transform your home. Knowing the terms associated with painting will help you get the right products and tools to give you professional results. Here’s our A–Z guide for many of the terms you’re likely to come across during your painting projects.


Acrylic paint is a water-based paint that is water resistant.

Adhesion primer

A primer used on hard-to-paint surfaces such as tiles, laminates and glossy finishes.


The moulding that goes around windows and doorways to cover the join between the frame and the wall finish.


See Architrave.


A rough sand and cement finish applied to brick or blockwork.


An oil based undercoat used to bind powdery or chalky paint.


When bubbles form on a finished paint job. Caused by moisture or other contamination of the surface that paint is applied to. It can also be caused by painting over a previous coat before it has dried thoroughly.


Occurs when two painted surfaces, such as a door and jamb, come together and stick. More likely to occur when using acrylic paints rather than enamel.


Brushes come in different sizes and bristle types to suit various tasks. A good quality brush will give you a better finish and be less likely to lose bristles, which will spoil the job.

Brush marks

These are visible lines or ridges left by the bristles of a brush in a dried paint job.


A box type structure built to hide wiring, pipes and other fittings or to fill the space between the top of your cabinets and the ceiling.

caulking gun


Waterproofing the gaps around or between building materials using a flexible filler.

Ceiling white

A paint specifically designed for ceilings. A flat finish helps hide defects and it has a low spatter formula, so it’s less messy when painting overhead.


A profiled plaster moulding placed at the junction between the wall and ceiling.

Cut in

Using a brush to paint around the edges of a surface that are too difficult to reach with a roller.

Design paints

Paints with surface effects that go beyond simply adding colour. Suited to feature walls or design elements.


A method of painting where an object is dipped in paint rather than having paint applied to it with a brush or roller.

Drop sheet

The cover placed over a surface to prevent paint drops or spatter from landing on it.

Drying time

The time it takes for paint to dry. Touch dry is when paint is dry to touch while recoat time is when paint has hardened sufficiently to be painted over.


A paint type that produces a smooth and hard finish. Typically used on trim and woodwork such as windows and doors.

Epoxy enamel

A paint for metal surfaces that does not require a primer. It protects against rust and has a very durable finish.

Etch primer

A primer for very smooth metal that etches the surface while coating it, providing good adhesion for top coats.

painting a ceiling

Extension pole

The telescopic pole that a roller fits onto for painting ceilings and walls.

Exterior paints

Specially formulated UV and weather-resistant paints. Exterior acrylics are self-priming for most colours.


The loss of colour from paint due to exposure to the sun or weathering.


Going over the wet edge of paint that has just been applied so it will blend with the following paint.


Material used to fill cracks, holes or gaps prior to painting.


Where paint peels off a surface, usually after blistering or cracking.


The level of shine on a paint. Different gloss levels are matt, low sheen, satin, semi-gloss and high gloss.

High gloss

The shiniest of gloss levels. Hard wearing and easy to keep clean.


A different word for colour.


Any paint coat between a primer and the top coat.


The frame in which a door sits and is attached to.


The recessed panel that sit beneath base cabinets.


A clear, durable finish that is generally applied to wood.


The amount a freshly applied coat of paint overlaps, and blends with, paint that has been previously applied.

Laying off

Going over freshly applied paint with a brush or roller so it has a uniform appearance. Always lay off a surface in the same direction.

Lead-based paint

Older paints contain high concentrations of lead, which can be a health hazard if ingested. Working with lead paints requires special precautions.


To fill a roller or brush with more paint.

Low sheen

A gloss level of paint. Usually used on walls.


A painting technique that simulates the look of marble.

Marine finish

A hard-wearing finish that will endure water and salt attack.


Covering of areas that are not to be painted. Usually achieved using masking tape and paper.


A gloss level. The least reflective of paint finishes.


A profiled feature used to hide a gap or provide decoration. Skirtings and architraves are examples of mouldings.


The length of fibres on a paint roller. Short nap rollers are best for gloss finishes; medium nap for low sheen and matt paints; and long nap for rough or textured surfaces.

Neutral colour

A colour that is not bright or strong but may have undertones of other colours in them. Examples of neutral colours are white, beige and grey.

Oil-based paint

Contains pigments suspended in a drying oil. Turpentine is the solvent for oil-based paints.


The covering power of a paint. A paint with high opacity will need less coats to cover over another dark colour.


Sprayed paint that has missed the intended surface.

Paint pads

An alternative paint applicator to brushes and rollers on smooth surfaces. Available in a range of sizes, some also come with guiding wheels for getting a smooth line when cutting in.

Picture framing

When the brushed areas around a wall are darker than the rest of the wall that has been rolled, resembling the frame of a picture. To prevent it, cut in first and work in smaller sections to try and maintain a wet edge.


The solid materials added to paint that give it its colour.


The essential work done to a surface to make it ready for paint. Thorough preparation is vital to a good looking and long-lasting paint job.

Primary colours

Red, yellow and blue. These colours can be mixed together to create all other colours.


The first coat of a paint job. It protects the surface it is applied to and provides a good bond for further coats.


A paint that combines the properties of a primer and a sealer.

Re-coat time

The time it takes for a coat of paint to harden sufficiently so that it can be painted over.


A smooth sand and cement coating applied to brickwork.

painting plywood


Rollers are available in many different widths and also in a range of materials to suit different types of paints and the surface being painted.


Drips in a finished paint job caused by trying to apply the paint too thickly.


See runs.


Smoothing a rough surface prior to painting and between coats to ensure a smooth top coat. Also done to roughen a smooth or glossy surface so following coats will stick to it.


A gloss level similar to semi-gloss. More recently used to describe the gloss level on clear finishes.


Applied to porous surfaces to seal and provide a stable base for following coats. Also used to prevent stains on a surface, such as water or mould stains, from bleeding through the final coats.

Secondary colours

Colours created by mixing two primary colours. They are purple, green and orange.


A gloss level between low sheen and high gloss.


Small droplets of paint thrown off by a paint roller as the paint is applied.

paint sprayer


Applying paint by spraying it onto a surface.


The substance used to dissolve and clean up paint. The solvent for acrylic paint is water and turpentine for oil-based paints.


A product that changes the colour of wood yet doesn’t hide the grain or texture. Needs to be followed with a protective coating, usually varnish.


Removing old paint layers in preparation for new paint.


Paint that is not quite dry and is a little bit sticky.

Tertiary Colours

Colours produced by mixing a secondary colour with one of the primary colours used to make it.


A liquid used to make paint runnier and easier to apply, usually its solvent.


The material added to a base paint to achieve the final colour. Paint colours are produced using varying quantities of a number of tints.


A variation of a colour produced by mixing grey with the original colour.

Top coats

The final coats of a paint job.


Applying small amounts of paint to fix defects or damage to a finished paint job.


A solvent for oil-based paints.


See turpentine.


A coat of paint applied after a primer but before the top coats.


A subdued colour that can be seen through another main colour.


A clear finish that dries to a hard, durable finish.


The ability of a paint to be cleaned and still keep its appearance.


Acrylic paints that can be cleaned up with and diluted by water.


A paint made from lime and chalk commonly used on exterior masonry surfaces.


When a paint or varnish goes yellow over time. Occurs with oil-based finishes.

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