When it was time to paint my dollhouse I had to figure out what the best paint for dollhouses is. Not an easy task. It’s not like painting my actual house, which has drywall, wood, and other surfaces. The dollhouse I’m painting is plain old wood.
Unlike my house, my dollhouse won’t see as much abuse (I hope!). No dirty handprints all over the place. No one taking an overly long shower and steaming up the bathroom and ending up with moisture running down the walls. And, no one “accidentally” creating original artwork anywhere.
Plus, the dollhouse won’t be outside, so no elements to worry about. But, even knowing all of this, I didn’t know what the best paint for dollhouses would be. Do I use leftover paint that I have lying around the house? Should I use oil or water-based paint? What finish looks best?
I took a deep dive into the world of paints. Surprisingly, it’s deeper than you think. And, I learned that while there is no one right paint, some paints are better than others for dollhouse painting.
Different Doesn’t Just Refer to Color
I’ve done a lot of DIY stuff over the years (including painting), and I know there are different types of paint. And, though you probably know this, I’m not just talking about colors. There are different types of paint bases (oil, latex, etc.) and various types of finishes (satin, eggshell, etc.).
In many ways, choosing the type of paint you’re going to use is a personal preference. Oil-based paints have different advantages and disadvantages to latex-based paints. Same for finishes. What you’re painting and what you’re going to do with the final product is what drives the paint choice.
I wasn’t sure what the best paint for dollhouses would be, but I knew I needed to think about what, where, and how I would use it. The finished dollhouse isn’t going outside, so I figured that standing up to the elements wouldn’t be relevant. But, I don’t know if this is something that’s going to be handed down for generations, so maybe I do need something that’s long lasting and easy to clean.
Oil-based paints seem to be going the way of the dinosaur (no pun intended. Well, maybe a little). The problem with most oil-based paint is that they aren’t great for the environment. In fact, oil-based paint is starting to be phased out (as in, not sold in certain places anymore).
As I learned during the Keeper’s House project, oil-based paint stinks! Sure, there are some low-VOC formulas, but that doesn’t mean much, compared to the smell of a latex-based paint. Plus, oil-based paints a pain in the butt to clean up! You have to use mineral spirits to clean them. For the record, it is super-easy (in my opinion) to clean up oil-based paints with mineral oil. It’s just not fun.
Also, and I only learned this one too late, you need to use a specific brush to work with oil-based paints. Specifically, natural bristle brushes. Yeah. Otherwise, the bristles come out when you paint and when you clean.
Oil-based paint tends to yellow with age. Oddly, that tends to happen more when things aren’t exposed to light. Light makes the yellow go away. Who knew?
But, there are some advantages to using oil-based paints. It dries slowly, which, shockingly, is a good thing. If you’re not in a rush to paint your dollhouse, slow-drying paint results in a smooth finish. Well, smoother than if you used latex paint (and if you don’t do a great job sanding).
And, that smooth finish? It’s also really hard. And, by hard, I mean durable. Those finishes can take a beating. Conversely, it also makes them less flexible, which means they are prone to chipping and cracking.
Latex-based paint has always been my go-to for paint. In fact, it’s pretty much everybody’s go-to for paint these days (particularly for interior paint jobs). Latex-based paint used to be considered inferior to oil-based paints but not so these days.
Unlike oil-based paints, latex-based paints don’t smell as much as oil-based paints. Trust me on this one. They also dry faster than oil-based paints. That’s good if you’re in a rush (or painting a large area). The problem is that the faster dry time means a less smooth finish. When you’re painting drywall that’s probably not as big of a deal as when you’re painting unfinished wood (although, you can sand the wood down).
Latex-paints are also “flexible.”. Unlike oil-based paints, latex-based paints aren’t as hard. This means they’re less prone to chipping and cracking, but the overall finish isn’t as durable as oil-based.
But, latex-based paints don’t yellow like oil-based ones, and they are easier to clean up. Just a little soap and water should do the trick (along with some elbow grease).
Oh, and the best thing about latex-based paints? They’re not combustible.
Since a dollhouse isn’t as big as an actual house, you might think the best paint for dollhouses is something you can pick up at the craft store. Like, say, acrylic paint? You don’t need a whole gallon of paint (i think) to paint a dollhouse, so why not go with acrylic paint?
Acrylics are an interesting choice as the best paint for dollhouses. They are oil-based paint, so many of the pros and cons of acrylic paints are the same as for oil-based paints. However, acrylic paints resist fading over time and when exposed to light. If you’re sure about the color for your dollhouse, this could be the way to go. They also dry quickly, so if you’re in a rush (or just impatient), this could also be a good choice.
If you’re considering acrylics, be aware that they come in different thicknesses. Some are thin and runny (like regular paint). Others are thick, almost like a paste. I guess, depending on your tastes, there’s no wrong way to go, just make sure you get the right one.
Because acrylic paint dries quickly, you’ll need to clean up quickly. If you let the paint dry on your brush, you’ll never get it all the way out. Instead, while you’re painting, keep the brush wet, either with the paint or with water. Pro tip: use synthetic brushes because the paint won’t stick to them as much as natural brushes.
To clean the brushes, wash them in warm, soapy water as soon as you’re done. But, don’t get lazy and let the brushes soak in water overnight. You’ll ruin the brushes! Get to cleaning them up right away.
I know that’s a lot of information, so here’s a handy, quick reference guide for your convenience:
So, you’ve picked the paint base and the color. But, what about the finish?
Yeah, there’s more to choosing the best paint for dollhouses than the color and the base. There’s the finish, too.
Because there are multiple choices for finishes, you’ll need to figure out what works best for what you’re painting. Each has advantages and disadvantages not just as the best paint for dollhouses, but as the best paint for all of your painting projects.
Flat, or matte finish, is the least shiny of all the finishes. Because it reflects less light, flat finish is a great choice to hide imperfections in whatever you’re painting. However, the lack of shine makes it the hardest of all the finishes to clean.
Also known as satin finish, it’s slightly more shiny than flat, but not so shiny you’re blinded. It’s easier to clean than flat and can usually be wiped clean with a wet rag.
A little more reflective than eggshell, semi-gloss wipes clean pretty easily. But, because it reflects so much light, any imperfections in your project will start to show.
A super shiny finish that easy to clean but shows every imperfection. Glossy paints are usually used on trim but are great for furniture because it’s got a hard finish. This is super easy to clean.
This was a new one to me. Chalk-finish paints are paints with a fine granular powder in it. When the paint dries, the granules create a matte finish and highlight brush strokes and imperfections. It creates a naturally distressed look (but you can sand the paint for an even more distressed finish).
One day, I’m going to build a haunted dollhouse, so I’m thinking chalk finish is the best paint for dollhouses with a spooky look!
And, the Best Paint for Dollhouses Is…
Don’t hate me, but the answer is: it depends! Really.
If you think the dollhouse is going to be used a lot, you’ll probably want something with a harder, more resistant finish. If it’s really just for show, you could choose softer, less durable finishes.
That said, don’t feel like you have to pick out one type of finish, or even one type of paint, and stick with it for the entire dollhouse. You can use one type of paint on walls, a different type for trim work, and a third one for the exterior. It’s really all about what you want your dollhouse to look like.
So, the best paint for dollhouses is whatever you want! Don’t be afraid to experiment, test, repaint, or start over. If you’re a newbie like me, you’ll find you have to try a bunch of different things to find the best paint for dollhouses — and everything else!
What are your paint experiences? Good? Bad? Any advice?