Top-quality paints are worth it because they'll typically get the job done with fewer coats. Higher-quality paints also go on more smoothly, are less likely to show flaws such as brush marks and usually provide a better finished look. They're also more durable, holding up to bright sun, scrubbing and resisting dings and scratches.
Benjamin Moore Aura (Est. $55 per gallon) gets more recommendations from experts, professionals and do-it-yourselfers than any other house paint we found. While it's pricey compared to its closest competitors, many say its self-priming abilities make up for it. It claims a one-coat finish, but you can expect to apply at least two coats when painting over darker colors. Benjamin Moore Aura is frequently mentioned positively on contractor discussion forums and many users prefer it over any other brand of wall paint.
Independent tests find Benjamin Moore Aura highly resistant to mildew and exceptionally durable when scrubbed --even in the matte finish. The satin finish suffers from gloss change when scrubbed with cleanser in the test, but consumer reviewers do not note that as an issue, so we don't consider it a deal-breaker. Tests show that Aura dries without leaving a sticky, tacky residue, does a good job of hiding color, and is not prone to fading or staining. Aura is a low-odor, low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paint. It contains less than 50 grams of VOCs per liter, far below the federal limit for these chemicals.
The biggest drawback to Aura is also one of the features that makes it so popular with so many: Its quick drying times. The manufacturer claims a one-hour drying time and users say that's an accurate claim. The good thing about quick-drying paints is obvious. In addition to being able to apply a second coat almost as soon as you finish the first, the room can be put back together more quickly. The bad thing is that if the paint starts to dry before you begin the next overlap section, it can leave brush marks or mottled textures. Most users agree that once you get past that learning curve of working around the drying paint, you get a beautiful finish.
If you're having a hard time justifying the $55 per gallon price tag of the Aura, consider Benjamin Moore Regal Classic (Est. $40 per gallon), a less expensive yet still high-quality wall paint line that reviewers say offers a big bang for your buck.
Regal Classic is a traditional paint without the one-coat, quick-dry or low-VOC features Aura promises. Still, a house painter on PaintTalk.com writes, "if I had to use one paint that is a combination of quality and a decent price, it would have to be Regal," a sentiment echoed by other professional painters on the same forum.
Benjamin Moore Regal Classic contains more VOCs than Aura: 100 grams per liter for Regal flat or matte, or 150 grams per liter for the other sheens, versus 50 grams per liter for Aura. Although ConsumerReports.org says it's hard to quantify the difference in health effects from various levels of VOCs, it says "less is always better" when it comes to these paint-fume chemicals.
If a low-VOC interior paint is a must-have, and Aura is just a bit too expensive, there's also Benjamin Moore Regal Select (Est. $50). Like Regal Classic, this interior paint fares well in independent tests as well as user reviews, and you can expect performance to be similar. Unlike Regal Classic, it boasts low-VOCs, even in the colorants you add. Although it's a bit pricier, users posting at PaintTalk.com suggest that the difference in performance between the two paints is miniscule and feedback is mixed on whether one is better than the other. Some suggest that Regal Select offers a robust palette of no-VOC tints and a slightly richer finish.
Although Benjamin Moore grabs more reviews than any other interior paint brand, you'll also find plenty of professional painters who like Sherwin-Williams' paints, available at Sherwin-Williams stores. Pros say either brand's middle- to top-tier paints are a fine choice.
Sherwin-Williams Duration (Est. $45 per gallon) is that company's answer to Benjamin Moore's Aura: Both are top-of-the-line, low-VOC paints that promise one-coat coverage in many cases. Sherwin-Williams Super Paint (Est. $35 per gallon) is a step down from Duration. However, Super Paint is a "steady performer," says one North Carolina remodeler on ContractorTalk.com, where Super Paint is a crowd favorite. Super Paint is available in flat, satin and semi-gloss finishes.
Two premium brands from big-box stores get high marks in independent paint tests: Behr Premium Plus Ultra from Home Depot and Valspar Signature Colors (Est. $30 per gallon) from Lowe's. Both are low-VOC paints, with 50 grams of VOCs per liter in flat/matte, satin and semi-gloss finishes. They get good feedback for stain and mildew resistance, scrubbing ease, ability to hide other colors and drying without stickiness.
If price is no object, reviews say you might consider Farrow & Ball Estate Emulsion (Est. $80 per gallon) sold at Farrow-Ball.com. Several homeowners at GardenWeb.com swear by this imported British luxury paint, saying the surface quality of the paint is amazing. They also comment on how easily it goes on the wall. Farrow & Ball paints stand out for its unique colors -- it uses pigments instead of dyes and the result is a vibrant, beautiful finish. At this price, Farrow & Ball is not for everyone, but if you have a small, special area in your home you want to highlight, it may be worth the investment.