Paints and stains are pretty similar in their end results, and both are frequently used to decorate or finish pieces of furniture and fences or outdoor features.
There are definitely pros and cons to both products, and these can be weighed up when you’re trying to decide which is best for your project.
In terms of ease of application, stain is generally easier to apply. You often don’t have to prime before staining, making its application less time-consuming. Plus it usually requires just one coat, whereas paint will often require several.
What is the difference between staining and painting?
Stain is always thinner than paint, and you can tell it apart from paint by the way in which it soaks into a surface. In contrast, paint sits on top of the surface, coloring the substrate, or becoming part of the substrate as color.
Another difference between the two is the surfaces they can be applied to. While you can get a myriad of paints for different surfaces, stains are primarily used on wood.
Stain is ideal when you’re trying to enhance and preserve the natural characteristics of raw wood, rather than trying to conceal these.
You can also get stains designed for concrete.
Paint comes in a greater range of finishes, from high-gloss to matte or ‘flat’ varieties, it also comes in a broader range of colors, and is designed to provide color uniformity and conceal flaws and imperfections on the surface.
Which is cheaper: paint or stain?
Stain is usually cheaper to purchase than paint, which is more expensive per gallon.
If you have a large area to coat, such as a fence, a stain could be a more economical option, and it will also last longer, meaning you won’t need to retouch it as often as paint.
Which one is for me?
Paints and stains each offer their own benefits.
Stains allow you to enhance raw wood surfaces and are great for preserving rough-sawn and textured siding and shingles on your home. A stain will provide a more natural look.
If you’re looking for something bolder, and want a uniform color that will conceal the surface fully, then paint is probably a better option for you.
Let’s break down the pros and cons of each:
Advantages of using a stain vs paint
- Cheaper and more economical
- Provides a more natural look that preserves the raw properties of the wood
- No primer required and minimal prep
- Less likely to peel and chip
- Faster application – usually requires only one coat
Disadvantages of using a stain vs paint
- Fewer colors to choose from
- Batching of stain is more crucial
- Only comes in a ‘flat’ sheen
- Cannot be applied over painted surfaces
- Very absorbent surfaces may require more stain
Advantages of using paint vs stain
- Paint provides uniform coverage that conceals flaws
- A wide variety of colors to choose from
- Different sheens and finishes available
- You can paint over previously painted surfaces as long as you prep them. Whereas you cannot do this with stain.
- Paint can be applied to a broader range of surfaces
Disadvantages of using paint vs stain
- Paint is generally more expensive to purchase
- Paint takes longer to apply and needs more prep
- Paint can be prone to cracking or flaking
- Paint often needs more than one coat
Things to consider before you choose
Do you want a more natural look that will preserve the characteristics of the wood rather than conceal them? If so, a stain is a good choice as it will enhance raw wood, while also providing protection.
Because stain penetrates the surface rather than sits on top of it, it’s less prone to chipping and peeling, unlike paint.
If you want minimal prep, go for a stain. Staining wooden surfaces often doesn’t require a primer, so it’s less time-consuming.
While stain can be used only on wood or occasionally concrete, paint is far more versatile. Another thing to consider is how absorbent the surface is.
If it’s very absorbent and you’re using a stain, you may end up having to use a lot more than you first planned for.
Stains and paints each have their own place in the world of painting and decorating, but which product is best for you depends on the type of surface you’re working with, and the final effect you want to achieve.
Stain is great for preserving raw wood while enhancing its features, while paint offers a much larger selection of colors and finishes, and can be great for transforming a surface that has a lot of flaws that you want to conceal.