It sounds rather Shakespearean: “Deep base vs medium base paint. What is the difference?”
The quick answer is deep base paint has less titanium dioxide (TiO2) than medium base paint. Although we answered the question, you’re probably scratching your head, wondering, “But isn’t there more to it than that?”
Yes, there is, but we need to back up several steps to discuss and define terminology.
What Is Base Paint?
The short answer is that it contains a coating industry company’s DNA of that particular type of paint. Also, “base paint” is not the same as “base coat,” which is the first coat of paint you apply to a paint project. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Demystifying Base Paints
Not all base paints are identical. Base paints from Sherwin-Williams won’t have the same chemicals as one of their competitors, and vice versa.
The DNA of the base paint can determine:
- Whether the paint is for interior or exterior use.
- The paint’s adhesion properties.
- Whether the painted surface can be cleaned with household products.
- The paint is scuff resistant.
- What colors are best for the base.
- The paint’s sheen (flat, matte, satin, semi-gloss, gloss.)
- Clean-up (either with water or paint thinner.)
While some professionals determine which base paint they want to use on a project, most rely on the paint stores to decide. Also, some colors can only be created with certain bases.
So no matter how much you may want one particular base, it may be impossible to make.
When you go to your paint store, the clerk will select which base paint to recommend based upon:
- The color you want.
- Where your project is located: indoors or outside.
- Your budget.
- Your expectations, such as durability, cleaning, water resistance, etc.
Even though base paints from various companies contain different chemicals and elements, they all share one crucial chemical. Let’s explore what it is.
Role of Titanium Dioxide In Base Paints
Coating industry companies design their base paints to be as pure a white as possible. Suppose you made a side-by-side comparison of base paints from different manufacturers. In that case, you’d notice they all are white or opaque white.
This key ingredient all companies use is titanium dioxide (TiO2). This white pigment can scatter light, which makes it appear to our eyes as white, bright, and having opacity (not transparent.)
Coating companies use this “base” to add colorants (also called pigments) to achieve various colors. There are two types of titanium dioxide:
In the coating industry, rutile TiO2 is preferred because it is more durable and scatters light better than anatase TiO2.
Let’s look deeper into the three most common bases:
- Deep base
- Medium base
- Light base
Deep Base Paint
To better understand deep base paint, let’s look at a painting example. Your child wants to paint his bedroom firetruck red with a charcoal gray accent color. When you go to your local paint store, they’ll choose dark base paint. And here’s why.
As is, deep base paints are opaque and have the least amount of TiO2 of the base paints. If you decided to paint with it (which is a bad idea!), the existing color would bleed through the opaque, whitish base paint.
Coating companies manufacture deep base paint this way because it’s designed for deep colors (thus the name) that require more colorant than lighter hues.
Some examples of colors requiring a deep base are:
- Navy blues
- Dark greens
Where Is Deep Base Paint Commonly Used
The only thing limiting where you use deep base paints is your imagination. Perhaps you want a regal, formal dining room, so you opt for a rich shade of red with black overtones.
Or you want to paint your white doors black for a European vibe. How about a theatre room, but you choose eggplant purple instead of black. Or your child wants a Captain America-themed room, so you use navy blue and a vibrant red.
It’s worth noting that many coating companies now offer a pre-mixed black. These are obviously in a deep base, but these are great products if you want the blackest black.
Lastly, because deep base colors have more pigment than lighter colors, they tend to take longer to dry. This is especially true in cold weather and high humidity.
Be sure to factor extra time into your project using deep base paints.
Medium Base Paint
Next in our discussion is medium base paint. As the name implies, medium base paint has more titanium dioxide than deep base but less than light base paints. In other words, it’s in the middle of the TiO2 spectrum.
As we mentioned at the start, the coating company determines the chemical makeup of medium base paints. So each varies from vendor to vendor and product to product.
Let’s look at some of Sherwin-Williams interior paints to clarify this. The store has base paints for SuperPaint, Duration, and Emerald. Each base can be tinted, but it has different properties that make them unique.
That’s also why the prices vary from product to product. Even if you ordered a quart of SuperPaint, Duration, and Emerald in the same color, each looks subtly different when you apply them side-by-side for a test.
When matching wall colors, it’s essential to know the name of the coating company and the product used.
Just like deep bases, you shouldn’t use this product without having it tinted. Remember, off the shelf, medium base paint is white.
Even if you’re applying it to an existing white ceiling or wall, it may not cover marks or fingerprints. And it definitely won’t cover a darker color.
You’ll apply more coats than necessary, which will cost you man-hour and product.
Colors best suited for a medium base are those in the earth tones like rust, terracotta, and certain blues and grays. Medium base paint isn’t suited for dark colors or lighter shades.
Deep Base vs Medium Base Paint
The only differences between deep base vs medium base paint are:
- The amount of TiO2 in each; medium has more than deep base paint.
- The color they can create. As discussed, reds and blacks can only be made in a deep base to allow for the extra colorants. Conversely, lighter colors like terracotta don’t need as many pigments, so a medium base will suffice.
All bases are priced the same at most paint stores when it comes to cost. And coating companies have medium and deep base paints specifically designed for interior, exterior, trim, water resistance, etc.
Light Base Paint
Last but not least is light base paint. As you have probably already figured out, this base has the most TiO2 of any previous bases. It’s also used more frequently than medium and deep bases.
This is because light bases are ideal for trim colors, ceiling whites, pastels, light grays, and beiges.
Of all the bases that you could use untinted, light base is the best option, but with a caveat.
I’ve used a non-pigmented light base for white ceilings in a flat finish and sometimes for pure white trim in a satin or semi-gloss. But I’m recoating these areas that have already been painted with a similar pure white paint.
I’d never use an untinted light base to cover a wall or trim with darker colors. And sometimes, I’ll have the paint store add a little umber pigment to the base to help it cover even on pure white projects.
While we’re on the subject of ceilings and trim, clients often tell me their trim and ceiling are “just white.” Unfortunately, there’s not an industry standard for “just white.”
This is especially true of paints explicitly labeled as “ceiling paint.” PPG’s ceiling white isn’t the same as Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore’s.
Keep that in mind if you’re trying to touch up a ceiling. Unless you know what paint company and the product used, you’ll need to match it.
Other Base Paints
You may see articles about Accent Base paints by PPG, but this product is no longer available. The gist was that it had even less TiO2 than deep base paints for ultra-dark colors that would give better coverage and fewer coats.
However, most coating companies constantly develop products that cover and look better than their competitors. This is especially true of dark colors.
Years ago, the most challenging color to use on interior walls was red. You needed to prime the wall with a charcoal black color and then hope you only needed three coats of red to make the color uniform.
Nowadays, there are products available for reds that are so good that priming is no longer necessary. You can probably get consistent color coverage with two coats.
Clear Tint Base
There’s one final base to look at, and it’s clear tint base. These products are primarily for staining or finishing wood cabinets, decks, and furniture. As with the other bases we’ve discussed, clear tint bases vary by manufacturer.
For example, one manufacturer created a clear tint lacquer for the topcoat on stained cabinets. This lacquer is designed to withstand household chemicals and water and is durable.
Since you want the stain color to be visible, you wouldn’t tint this lacquer. This clear tint is solvent-based, meaning you need to use lacquer thinner to clean brushes and rollers.
MinWax has a clear tint base solid color stain. Most premixed stains are watery and can be messy to apply. This product boasts of being 5x thicker, making application easier and not as messy.
It can be tinted to over 200 colors, and one coat dries in about an hour. Because it’s water-based, you can clean up brushes and rollers with soap and water.
We hope you better understand the differences and similarities between deep, medium, and light base paints. Remember, your paint store is the best source for determining which base you need for a particular project.