All professional painters and contractors say that you should buy the highest quality interior paint you can afford. Top-quality paints go on more smoothly, are less likely to show flaws such as brush marks and tend to cover in fewer coats than cheaper paints. You could wind up buying fewer gallons of paint, with less hassle and a better finished look.
No interior paint gets more recommendations than Benjamin Moore Aura (*Est. $55 per gallon). Aura costs more than most paints, but the manufacturer says that because Aura is self-priming, one coat usually does the job, although deep colors may need two coats.
Popular Science first recommended Benjamin Moore Aura in 2007, naming it one of the magazine's top new products of the year and calling it "a total reinvention" of paint -- one that covers in one coat, dries in an hour and emits fewer fumes than ordinary paints, "so you can paint in the afternoon and entertain that evening." About.com's guide to home renovations, Lee Wallender, names it one of the best three interior house paints, saying it "goes on smooth and has excellent adhesion." (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)
Professional contractors also repeatedly recommend Benjamin Moore Aura on every Internet forum in Our Sources -- something no other interior paint can boast.
"Anytime I have a significant color change, [Aura] is my first choice. I also tend to go with Aura when cleanability of the finish is a high priority for the client," says one painting contractor on PainterForum.com. Another veteran house painter posts on ContractorTalk.com that Aura "makes getting good results with colors too easy," although he did need three coats of a deep red Aura to cover white walls.
Some other pros on ContractorTalk.com say they also have needed two or more coats of Aura on some jobs, and they don't see any reason to buy it instead of a less expensive two-coat paint like Benjamin Moore Regal (*Est. $40 per gallon). However, reviewers generally say Aura's smooth application and beautiful finish are worth the extra money. "Aura looks good after one coat, but it won't look like a $60 can of paint after one coat -- you need TWO," writes one do-it-yourselfer on GardenWeb.com. "Two coats of Aura will give you the coverage and the durability, wearability and all the aesthetic quality you could wish for."
Independent tests find Benjamin Moore Aura highly resistant to mildew and exceptionally durable when scrubbed -- even in the matte finish. The satin finish suffers gloss change when scrubbed with cleanser in the test, but other reviews do not note this problem. Tests show that Aura dries without leaving a sticky, tacky residue, does a good job of hiding the color beneath and is not prone to fading or staining. However, matte-finish Aura dries with roller marks in one test, which may be because it dries so quickly, as reviewers on Internet forums note. "Going back into the already drying paint will result in mottled texture that looks horrible," one poster on GardenWeb.com says of Aura, adding that if you avoid this, Aura looks great: "Personally, I love the stuff."
Benjamin Moore 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 in paint that have been linked to respiratory and other problems. In a performance test at Popular Mechanics, Aura beats zero-VOC paints from Mythic and The Freshaire Choice. Even though testers there say it does give off some fumes, Aura is still their favorite because it is easier to apply and more durable than the other paints when attacked with sandpaper. "The clear winner was Aura," testers conclude, "… but we'd still crack a window." Benjamin Moore Aura is available at independent retailers and some Ace Hardware stores in matte, eggshell, satin and semigloss finishes.
If you want a quality interior paint -- but you can't bring yourself to pay $55 a gallon for Benjamin Moore Aura -- professional painters and other experts say you'll probably be happy with Benjamin Moore Regal (*Est. $40 per gallon). Regal is a traditional paint, without the one-coat, quick-dry or low-VOC features Aura promises.
Still, "If I had to use one paint that is a combination of quality and decent price, it would have to be Regal," says a Long Island house painter on PaintTalk.com, a sentiment echoed by other professional painters on the same forum.
Benjamin Moore Regal comes in flat, matte, eggshell, semigloss and pearl finishes. The eggshell finish performs well on every measure in one independent test. It hides other colors well, keeps its gloss nicely even when scrubbed, dries to a smooth finish with no stickiness and resists staining and mildew. Regal is also the most fade-resistant paint in the test, although Regal semigloss tends to lose its gloss when scrubbed, and Regal flat shows roller marks and picks up grease stains more easily than the other sheens do.
Benjamin Moore Regal 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. Still, one homeowner at DoItYourself.com notes, "My wife is very sensitive to smell/allergens and had no problem whatsoever with the Regal" after using it to paint a large living room and dining room. "In fact, we both commented on how little 'paint smell' there was with the Regal."
Although Benjamin Moore grabs more reviews than any other interior paint brand, you'll also find plenty of pros 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 rates "better than most" interior paint brands in J.D. Power and Associates' latest nationwide survey of more than 9,800 people -- although not quite as high as Benjamin Moore, which is judged "among the best." It has better ratings than Sherwin-Williams for variety of offerings, ease of application (including coverage and odor) and overall satisfaction.
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. Both are highly recommended by professional painters and do-it-yourselfers at PaintTalk.com, DoItYourself.com and DIYChatroom.com. At AllExperts.com, paint consultant Rebecca Bushner recommends Duration as a great washable paint for a reader who keeps two big, dirty dogs in the house. A pro advisor on PainterForum.com agrees: "Once it's dry… it holds strong," he says of Duration. However, Duration's scrubbability scores in independent tests don't match this real-life testimony. In tests, various Duration sheens hold up OK to scrubbing, but not as well as many other paints, including Benjamin Moore Aura and Regal. Duration semigloss tends to lose its gloss when scrubbed, and matte Duration picks up grease stains more easily than some other tested paints. Duration contains less than 50 grams of VOCs per liter and is available in matte, satin and semigloss sheens.
Just as Benjamin Moore Regal is a step down from Aura, Sherwin-Williams SuperPaint (*Est. $35 per gallon) is a step down from Duration. However, contractors say SuperPaint is a "steady performer," as one North Carolina remodeler puts it on ContractorTalk.com, where SuperPaint is a crowd favorite. A poster on GardenWeb.com adds, "Although I get a family discount at Sherwin-Williams and can get their top of the line paints (Duration, Cashmere -- which are really good paints) at a 40 percent discount, I still often opt for their plain old SuperPaint. It is much easier to work with than the low-VOC paints as the dry time is slower. I've used SuperPaint for years and been satisfied." SuperPaint is available in flat, satin and semigloss finishes. VOC content ranges from 114 grams per liter in the flat finish to 141 grams per liter in the semigloss sheen. SuperPaint is not tested at ConsumerReports.org.
Sherwin-Williams Cashmere (*Est. $35 per gallon) promises a "buttery smooth" finish. Like SuperPaint, it has its devotees among contractors: Two at PaintTalk.com say they would choose Cashmere if they could use only one interior paint for the rest of their lives, and it's also a favorite on ContractorTalk.com. "We use Cashmere because it has high end looks," says one New York painting contractor. "Worth the extra $. It always takes two coats (which we do anyway) but the leveling quality and the rich looking texture are worth it." Cashmere is available in flat, low luster and medium luster finishes. Like SuperPaint, Cashmere contains more VOCs (72 grams per liter in the medium luster finish) than Sherwin-Williams Duration, and it is not tested at ConsumerReports.org.
Professional painters say Pratt & Lambert -- now owned by Sherwin-Williams -- is another high-quality brand. Pratt & Lambert paint wins J.D. Power and Associates' 2010 award for best interior paint, earning the highest possible ratings for durability, application (including coverage, smoothness, fumes and ease of application) and overall satisfaction. Pratt & Lambert Accolade and RedSeal (*Est. $35 per gallon) -- its top-of-the-line and second-best interior paints -- are both top choices at About.com. "Pratt & Lambert still falls within the designer paint category, but it is distributed through your friendly, local Ace Hardware," says Lee Wallender, About.com's guide to home renovations. Both Accolade and RedSeal list 100 grams of VOCs per liter in flat finish. No Pratt & Lambert interior paints are tested at ConsumerReports.org.
Two premium brands from big-box stores get high marks in independent paint tests: Behr Premium Plus Ultra (*Est. $30 per gallon) from The 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 semigloss finishes. Both perform consistently well in most tests, especially for stain and mildew resistance, scrubbing ease, ability to hide other colors and ability to dry without stickiness. Both tend to perform best in flat/matte finishes, although satin and semigloss finishes perform almost as well. However, both Behr and Valspar earn only average ratings in the J.D. Power and Associates' survey.
Professional Professional painters often recommend that do-it-yourselfers skip the big-box stores and instead shop for paint in a dedicated paint store, where they say you're likely to be served by someone who's very knowledgeable about the brand's paints. In general, pros say you'll get more attention, better advice and better service in a paint store than in a big-box store. Some who post on internet forums, including DoItYourself.com and DIYChatroom.com, report bad personal experiences with Valspar and Behr paints, complaining of thin consistency, bad coverage or a sticky or chalky dried finish. However, note that both Valspar and Behr sell cheap as well as premium paints, and few reviews specifically address the premium versions.