Latex Paint vs Acrylic Paint (Which One is Better?)

During house painting projects, DIYers like you are faced with a big decision; to paint with latex or acrylic paint. So what is the difference between both paints? Here is the answer to that.

Latex paints on one hand are water-based paints that are easier to use and apply. Acrylic paints on the other hand are chemical-based paints that are more difficult to use.

The main difference is the finish, acrylic paints produce a strong, colorful, and weather-resistant finish that makes the paint more ideal for exterior use. Though latex finishes are also colorful, the finish is not as strong as acrylic finish which makes latex paints more ideal for interior use.

This post reveals more about both paints including tips to help you decide which of the two you need for your project. So let’s dig in. First, let’s check out latex paints.

What is Latex Paint Used For?

What is Latex Paint Used For?

Latex paint is water-based paint popular for its easy application, quick-drying, and maintenance. The term “latex” refers to the paint’s elastic features. Latex paints can stretch or expand based on humidity or temperature variations.

Latex paints are usually made of acrylic resins (the binder), paint pigments (the color), and water (the thinner). Most latex paints also contain limestone (an extender) which is used to delay or extend the paint’s drying time so you can get the best out of the paint.

Latex paints have a quick drying time of less than 1 hour after application. You can safely re-coat latex paint in less than 2 hours. The reason for this quick drying time is the water-based nature of the paint’s solvent. Latex paints also have a very low amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which makes the paint ideal for interior use and room decor.

However, latex paint has one flaw. The paint isn’t very durable. This is because the paint doesn’t have any chemical binder that improves its durability or strength. As such, latex paint is commonly used to cover low-traffic areas. But, latex finishes can be covered with sealants to improve the paint’s durability and moisture resistance.

Now, let’s check out acrylic paint.

What Is Acrylic Paint Used For?

What Is Acrylic Paint Used For?

Acrylic paint is a chemical-based paint commonly used for its water resistance and durability. The term “acrylic” is used to refer to the resin and polymer used in the paint.

Acrylic paints are made from acrylic resins, plasticizers, polymer emulsions, and paint pigments. Like latex paints, acrylic paints also have water-based solvents. But, acrylic paints contain extra chemicals like silicon oils. The presence of silicon oils in the acrylic paint coating is to improve the strength and durability of the acrylic finish.

Acrylic paints have a moderate level of VOCs in the paint coating which is why they produce a strong and sometimes offensive odor when used. The odor produced is from the paint chemical’s reaction to the atmosphere.

Acrylic paints are also elastic and are ideal for materials that contract or expand based on changes in the weather temperature. Acrylic paint is commonly used for artwork and designs on walls. The most common use of acrylic paint is to create murals.

However, acrylic paint has a flaw. The paint doesn’t have good coverage and is not ideal for painting large areas.

Latex Paint vs Acrylic Paint

Now, let’s compare the features of both paints and see how they stand when compared to each other. Let’s begin with the paint make-up.

Paint Chemical Make-Up

Paint Make-Up

All paints are made up of paint pigments which give the color. A binder that holds paint particles together. A solvent that makes the paint easier to apply. And, some paints have additives that improve the finish.

Both latex and acrylic paints use acrylic resins as the binder and water as the paint solvent. But, the paints differ when it comes to the additives and paint pigments.

Acrylic paint is also chemical-based. The paint includes different additives such as plasticizers and silicone oils. These extra chemicals and additives are included in the paint make-up to improve the durability and weather-resistance of the finish.

Latex paints on the other hand are usually made of a solvent, binder, and paint pigments. There are little to no chemicals in the latex paint make-up.

Also, acrylic paints have more paint pigments than latex paints. This is because acrylic paints are commonly used for artwork and murals. So the paint is designed to display more color.

Related Read: Can You Mix Latex Paint and Acrylic Paint?

Paint Adhesion

Paint adhesion or paint bonding refers to the paint’s ability to adhere to the material. Acrylic paints have better paint adhesion than latex paints. The improved adhesion is due to the extra chemicals and additives in the acrylic paint.

Acrylic paints will adhere to virtually any type of surface as long as the surface is properly prepped and primed. There are also acrylic paints designed with extra adhesion for surfaces like concrete and metal.

Latex paints however don’t have great paint adhesion. Though the paint will adhere to several types of materials too, the paint will peel off quickly if used on materials like concrete and masonry. This is why latex paints are generally reserved for materials like wood, drywall, and plaster.

Durability

Durability refers to how strong the paint is and how long the finish can last. Acrylic paints are also more durable than latex paints. This is because acrylic paints are usually designed with plasticizers. The plasticizer is a substance added to the resins in the paint to give the acrylic finish a soft plastic-like texture.

The plastic nature makes the acrylic paint more resistant to wear and tear as well as scratches and dents. This makes the acrylic finish more durable and ideal for high-traffic areas like walkways and patios.

Latex paint though durable is not as durable as acrylic paint. Latex paints are more prone to chipping, damages, dents, and scratches. All of these will wear the latex paint easily. This is why latex paints are more ideal for low-traffic areas like room decor.

Water-Resistance

Water-resistance refers to the paint’s ability to withstand moisture. Acrylic paints have better water resistance than latex paints. Latex paints tend to be water-soluble even after the paint has dried. This means that if you wash dried latex paint, it can turn semi-solid or wash off. Acrylic paints however can withstand moisture. Again, this is due to the presence of additives like plasticizers in the paint coating.

Interior or Exterior Use

This refers to which surface the paint is ideal for. Acrylic paints are more ideal for exterior surfaces and outdoor use. This is because acrylic paints are more weather-resistant than latex paints. Acrylic paint is also more elastic and tends to cope better with temperature changes and UV rays. Acrylic paint is water-resistant so it will thrive better during the rainy and winter seasons.

Latex paints on the other hand are more suited to indoor use. This is because latex paints are not as flexible as acrylic paints. So the paint can’t cope with intense temperature changes and UV rays. If used on outdoor furniture or exterior walls, latex paints will peel off quickly. So latex paints are better for interior surfaces where the environment isn’t very harsh.

Shelf Life

This refers to how long paint can last in storage. Acrylic paints have better shelf life than latex paints. Acrylic paint is designed to be very thick and it comes in tubes. So you can easily squeeze out the amount of paint you need and store the rest till it’s needed.

Latex paints however can’t be stored that easily. Once you open the paint container and the air gets in, the paint will not last long in storage. This is because the air will make the paint cure or harden in the container. So it’s best to exhaust the latex paint.

Usage and Maintenance

Latex paints are easier to use and maintain than acrylic paints. Latex paints often come in ready-to-use paint containers and all you need to apply latex paint is a paintbrush, roller, or spray gun. The paint will cover and go on smoothly. Latex paints are also easier to clean. You can get rid of stains from latex finish by using a rag and in tough cases, little water.

Acrylic paints on the other hand are not as easy to use or maintain. Acrylic paints come in tubes and are not ready to use. You first have to thin acrylic paint before using it. Acrylic paints also dry super fast. This is a huge disadvantage if you are working on a large project as some parts will dry quicker than others resulting in uneven consistency.

Also, acrylic paint is not as easy to clean or maintain as latex paint. Some acrylic paints will even require paint thinner like turpentine or mineral spirit for proper cleaning.

Cost

The price tags of both paints differ. Acrylic paints are often more expensive than latex paints and that’s saying a lot since you can get latex paints in gallons and acrylic paints to come in paint tubes. So with latex paints, you get more with less whereas acrylic paints will cost you more for less paint.

Paint Sealing

Sealing a paint finish helps to improve the durability and texture of the paint. It is easier to seal latex paints than acrylic paints. This is because sealants stick better to the water-based textured finish of latex paints. Acrylic paints can also be sealed but will require more work as you have to sand and primer before sealing.

Paint Coverage

This refers to the surface area or material size that the paint can cover. Latex paints have better coverage than acrylic paints.

One gallon of latex paint can cover up to 400 square feet of material. Acrylic paints however don’t have that much coverage, why? You guessed it.

This is because the paint comes in tubes and you’ll need a lot more to cover the required area. This makes acrylic paints more ideal for touch-up and small-scale tasks.

Fumes Produced

If you are working indoors, then you need to know if the paints produce fumes or not. When we compare acrylic with latex paint, then latex paint is safer. Latex paint produces fewer fumes than acrylic paint does. But, you need to have proper ventilation for both of these paints.

Latex vs Acrylic Paint: Comparison Chart

Here is a comparison chart to summarize the differences between both paints.

 LatexAcrylic
Paint AdhesionGoodBetter than latex paint
DurabilityGoodBetter
Water-ResistanceLatex paint is not water-resistantAcrylic paint is water-resistant when dry
Interior UseGoodGood
Exterior UsePoor if left unsealed. It’s best to use exterior latex paintVery good
Shelf Life1 year after opening the paint containerBetween 5-10 years after opening the paint tube
MaintenanceEasyTedious
Paint CostCheapModerate
Paint CoverageVery goodBest suited for small-scale tasks or detail work.

So which of the paints do you need for your task? This depends on a few factors. Let’s take a closer look.

Should I Buy Latex or Acrylic Paint?

Consider the following factors before making a choice.

Are You Painting an Exterior or Interior Material?

If you plan on painting a building exterior, acrylic paint is better suited. This is because the paint is more durable and weather-resistant. So it will thrive on exterior walls and outdoor furniture. Latex paint is more suited to interior paint projects and decorative work.

What’s Your Budget?

It all boils down to price, doesn’t it? Latex paints are cheaper than acrylic paints. So if you are on a tight budget, go for latex paints. If you can afford to spend more, you can go for acrylic paints but be prepared to thin before use.

How Much Surface Area Do You Need To Cover?

If you plan on using the paint for a small-scale task, you can stick with acrylic paints. Using acrylic paints for large-scale tasks will require a lot of prep work. Not to mention the extra cost of each tube of acrylic paint.

However, acrylic paints are more suited for light touch-ups and repair work. Since the paint also has a longer shelf life, you can use and store it until you need it again. Latex paints are more ideal for large surface areas. Latex paints have more coverage and you also get more latex paint in the paint container.

How Much Painting Experience Do You Have?

Acrylic paints are more difficult to use than latex paints. You have to squeeze, mix, thin, and stir the paint before using it.

Applying acrylic paint is also more difficult than applying latex paint. So if you don’t have much painting experience, stick with latex paints.

What Type of Finish Do You Want?

The finish you want also matters. If you want a durable finish for your walkway, acrylic paint is your pick since it’s more durable and strong enough to withstand heavy use.

If it is the color you want, the acrylic finish is also more colorful than latex paints. But if you want a finish that can be sealed or painted over easily, then latex paint is your pick.

Final Words

Overall, acrylic and latex paints are both great paints. Each with its merits and demerits. I know how difficult picking one can be but I hope the comparison above has made that decision easier for you. Ultimately, the paint you go for depends on your taste and choice of finish.

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