By Kyle Forbush, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Jun 15, 2019 at 1:02 PM

This content is presented by Nathaniel’s House Painting, LLC.

Paint is a building block of modern architecture. Without it, those of us whose homes are not made of stone would watch them wither away from weathering and the ceaseless effects of Father Time. Paint is a beautifier, a protector of homes and buildings, and a steward of a structure’s integrity. But what IS it?

In the most basic terms, all house paints are man-made materials that are applied as liquids and dry as a solids by a variety of chemical processes. Furthermore, there are two kinds of paint: oil-based paint and latex-based paint.

All paints consist of four main "ingredients."

Pigment (3-60% concentration)

Pigments are finely-ground particles or powders that are dispersed into paints to impart color, opacity, gloss, texture and hiding properties. There are three types that go into house paint: Prime pigments, color pigments and extender pigments.

  • Prime pigments provide hiding by providing color & whiteness that disperses light.
  • Color pigments are either organic or inorganic compounds, added at point-of-sale, that provide color and hiding.
  • Extender pigments are naturally occurring chemicals that add durability, volume and resistance to corrosion.

Binder/Resin (20-60% concentration)

Binders are organic or non-organic compounds that bind the pigments in the paint mixture together, proving adhesion to the surface painted and integrity/toughness to the dry paint film.

  • Alkyd or oil-based binders are made from oil derivatives like linseed oil, tung oil and soya oil. They used to be preferred by pros for outdoors because of their ease of application and resistance to weathering. However, because of recent environmental restrictions on VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds), contractors have started to use latex, or synthetic, binders instead.
  • "Latex binders" are all synthetic or manufactured, plastic binders that are used to bind the solid pigments together. They are used in water-based paint and are most preferable for indoors. Advances in science have produced vinyl acrylic--or PVA for polyvinal acetate--which provides excellent adhesion and is easy to apply yet mixed with a water base.


The solvent, or liquid, is the vehicle for evenly applying the pigment & binder compound onto surfaces that you’re painting. Solvents will evaporate into the atmosphere and cause the paint to dry and cure. The type of liquid used depends on the paint. In latex paints, water is used as a solvent. This makes for easy, soap-and-water cleanup. In oil or alkyd paints, the most common solvent is paint thinner or an alcohol-based liquid. Other paints and stains use strong organic materials derived from petroleum, such as naptha. When a paint is drying and you can smell something funky in the air, it is the solvent evaporating.


An array of concocted compounds are added to paint for a variety of performance reasons. Thickening agents provide additional girth & flow, mildewcides prevent mildew from growing, biocides halt bacteria formation, and so much more. Just go to Ace "The Helpful Place" and ask, "Do you have a paint that glows in the dark?" Why, yes, they do.

Now that you know a little bit more about what goes into paint and why, we hope you are able to make more informed decisions when choosing a brand for your home. Ask your local contractor what their favorite kind of paint is for each type of job, and stay informed on ways you can avoid releasing VOC’s into the environment.

And, as always, good luck on all your home improvement endeavors!