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Ceiling Paint vs. Wall Paint (What’s the Difference?)

A painter picking colors from a set of swatches.

If you’re giving your home a facelift with a new paint job, then you might hit a point where you wonder if it’s worth it to buy ceiling paint. Maybe you could use wall paint. Really, what’s the difference?

I wondered that too when I was painting my kitchen years ago.

Let me just say that yes, you can use wall paint on the ceiling, but you may not get the results that you expect. You’re also likely to end up with paint dripping onto your face, the carpet, and splattering all over the room.

Of course, with the right preparation, you can use wall paint on the ceiling and achieve beautiful results. It takes some work. That’s why it’s important to know what you can achieve with either wall or ceiling paint so that you can pick the perfect product for your home improvement project.

Related: Satin Paint | Flat Paint | Eggshell Paint | Latex Paint | Matte Paint | Water-Based Paint | Should You Use Exterior Paint on Garage Walls | Exterior Paint on Bathroom

Ceiling Paint is Higher Viscosity

A ceiling being painted with white using a roller with a long handle.

It’s easy to understand why you don’t want ceiling paint to be too thin. In paint terminology, this means that it must have a higher viscosity than wall paint. The best way to explain viscosity is by thinking of it in terms of a liquid’s thickness.

For example, water, honey, and molasses are all liquid; however, they don’t act the same because of their viscosity. Water pours easily. Honey is thick, and you can spread it around in a controlled fashion, and molasses has the highest viscosity of all. Hence, the term “slow as molasses.”

Viscosity works the same way with paint. Ceiling paint has a higher viscosity than wall paint, so it doesn’t splash and splatter. Not only that, but it also dries quicker.

Better Coverage

A painter on a ladder doing the ceiling using a roller.

It’s easier to get a smooth, uniform finish with ceiling paint. That’s because, in addition to adding body to the paint, a high viscosity also supplies full, opaque coverage in one coat. What this means for you is that it will cover stains and discolorations on your ceiling with much less effort.

Now, all this might make you think that the higher the viscosity, the better. That’s true, up to a point. But if you’re planning to use a paint sprayer, you must have the correct consistency of paint for the tool. Indeed, there are levels of viscosity to consider, even in ceiling paint.

According to the folks at Home Depot, flat latex is the best choice for textured surfaces like popcorn ceilings. The bottom line is that it’s best to consult the experts before you start the work.

Types of Ceiling Paint

One reason why you may consider an alternative is because ceiling paint is limited as far as color goes. White and shades of white, is what you’ll get with this product. The thing is that some shade of white is typically the standard for ceilings. And there are ways to achieve a colored ceiling if that’s what you want. You can have the store mix a custom color.

Before painting the ceiling a darker color, think about the effect it will have on the room. A light ceiling makes the room feel bigger and highlights the walls. Consider using trim if you want color up top.


Ceiling paint offers strong adhesion to a variety of textured surfaces such as stucco, drywall, and plaster. It’s also more durable than many types of wall paint and doesn’t crack or peel. You’ll find that you have a choice of water-based (latex) or oil-based ceiling paint as well. We’ll talk more about the differences between the two, shortly.

Price Range

You can expect to pay between $150 to $300 to paint the ceiling in a standard 10 by 12-foot room.

What About Wall Paint?

Rollers, brushes, cans of paint and color swatches on a wooden surface.

When it comes to variety, that’s what you’ll get with wall paint. First off, you can choose water or oil-based. Water-based is easier to work with and clean up.

Water-based vs. Oil-based

If you choose a water-based paint, make sure to clean the walls first. Then, you can rough the surface up a bit with some fine sandpaper. Creating some texture will help the paint adhere to the surface, especially if the prior paint was oil-based. Some of the advantages of using water-based paint include less toxicity, which also means it doesn’t smell overwhelming. It also dries quickly, and you can easily clean it up with water.

Plus, water-based paint prevents the growth of mildew. Not only that, but it also doesn’t fade in sunlight, doesn’t crack and chip, and you can use it on most surfaces.

OIl-based paint it more challenging to work with, and you should also wear protective gear if you choose this type. You’ll need to use a solvent, such as turpentine to clean brushes and everything else. The fumes are strong, so make sure the area is well ventilated.

Additionally, oil-based paint takes longer to dry.

On the plus side, it’s an excellent choice for the kitchen or bathroom because it resists moisture and cleans up easily. And it has more filling power than water-based paint, so you get smooth coverage with no visible brushstrokes.

What Can You Achieve with Wall Paint?

A wall being painted with white using a roller.

The results that you achieve with wall paint depend on the characteristics of the paint. For example, you can use a combination of high-gloss and matt to create texture. Latex, matt paint, is velvety smooth and opaque. It hides imperfections and gives the walls a rich color. The downside is that it’s hard to clean. You’d want to use this paint in low traffic areas such as the primary bedroom.

There are also options such as eggshell and satin that are a bit more durable and have some sheen. And if you want more sparkle and durability, there’s semi-gloss and high gloss.


A worker painting the wall using a brush.

Both water-based and oil-based paints provide a durable finish; although, oil-based is the most durable. The resin makes this paint hard when it dries, so it’s an excellent choice for molding and trim. It’s easy to wipe clean, and the surface holds up much longer than water-based paints.

Price Range

The average cost to paint the walls in a room runs from one to three dollars per square foot, depending on your choice of color, brand, type, oil or latex, and sheen.


There are lots of benefits to wall paint. First, there’s a wide variety of color choices. What’s more—you have options for the type of finish you want to create.

Ceiling Paint vs. Wall Paint: Which Paint Wins?

A woman on a ladder painting the ceiling using a roller.

I’ve found my favorite types of paint to use, through trial and error. For ceilings, I’ll always pick a high viscosity ceiling paint. If I’m painting it myself, I’ll likely use a brush and a roller, and leave the paint sprayer to the professionals. I like that ceiling paint dries fast and opaque, which means I only have to paint one coat.

As far as wall paint goes, an elegant eggshell for the primary bedroom, and something more durable such as a semi-gloss for the kitchen, bathroom, and kid’s rooms. In the living room, I prefer a velvety matt finish with a semi-gloss trim. How about you? What are your favorite paints for ceilings and walls?