Latex paint is a general term for all water-based paint. The binder in latex paints is what gives it strength and flexibility. Common binders are vinyl, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and acrylic. Acrylic latex paints tend to be the most durable and flexible. Most often used for exterior painting, they are suitable for a number of different applications, including house painting, decorative and faux painting and even in the fine arts.
Acrylic latex house paint comes in a number of different formulations. For home upkeep and construction, it's available in both interior and exterior products. Additionally, it can be purchased in almost all sheens, including matt, eggshell, low sheen, satin, semigloss and high gloss. Thus, it can be used for both interior and exterior walls and trim. It can be applied with a brush, roller or airless sprayer.
Despite what the name implies, no latex paints actually contain latex (which is a derivative of rubber), but acrylic latex paint does actually contain acrylic. Therefore, it quite safe for someone with a latex allergy to use latex paint.
Acrylic Latex for Exterior Use
Acrylic is the most expensive binder used in latex paints because it is particularly flexible and durable. This makes it especially suitable for painting exterior surfaces such as wood, vinyl and metal. Most paints are a blend of vinyl and acrylic. Because exteriors are subjected to more expansion and contraction due to changes in temperature and humidity, flexibility is an important criterion. Look for paint labelled "100% acrylic" for exterior use.
Acrylic Latex for Interior Use
Sometimes called acrylic enamel, this paint is well suited for interior woodwork and trim, kitchens, bathrooms and other areas that need to withstand humidity and frequent cleaning. Enamel typically refers to satin, semigloss and high gloss finishes.
Because acrylic latex has a smooth, level finish and good colour retention, it is preferred for decorative and faux painting. When blended with glaze, it dries to a rich, translucent appearance.
It is also used for sign painting and lettering, murals and airbrush painting.
Fine Art and Crafts
Acrylic latex paint is also available for fine arts and crafts. Its fast drying time and almost infinite range of available colours makes it a popular choice for tole painting as well as painting canvases, furniture and murals.
Where Not to Use Acrylic Latex
If you desire a very flat surface on ceilings or walls to minimise surface irregularities, avoid acrylic latex paint. Even the products labelled "flat" will have a very low side sheen.
Even the best acrylic latex paint will fail when immersed in water for any significant period of time. They are not suitable for boats, bathroom floors or pools. For these applications, choose an epoxy- or oil-based paint.