Ceiling Paint Costs a Bit More. Should You Buy It?

Traditional Flat Drywall Ceiling
Traditional Flat Drywall Ceiling. Getty / Oktay Ortakcioglu

One way companies thrive is by splintering core products into specialty niche products.  We've seen this all throughout the home improvement industry, and no place more than in the paint industry.  After all, there is a thing called bathroom paint.  You can term this either brand splinterization or necessary niche products, your call.

If you need to paint your ceiling, go right ahead.  Pour that gallon of flat white latex in the paint tray and have at it.

  The world will not stop turning.  Your local home improvement store will not come pounding on your door in the middle of the night, asking why you didn't use ceiling paint.  Yes, you can do this.

However, there is the little matter of this thing called ceiling paint.  Is it necessary?  Will it result in a better ceiling with fewer drips and splatter along the way?

Greater Viscosity to Slow Drips, Splatter

Higher viscosity paint with more solids means that you can paint above your head and expect less dripping.  Not only do drips make a mess below (no matter how clean a painter you feel you are, always use a drop cloth), they create unsightly areas on the ceiling that are difficult to fix after drying.

This table compares two types of ceiling paint with one type of wall paint.  Both types of ceiling paint surpass the wall paint in terms of viscosity, total weight per gallon, and solids by weight.

  In short, ceiling paint has roughly the same consistency of thin honey1

Type of PaintViscosityWeight of 1 GallonSolids By WeightCost/Gallon (Based on 5 Gallon Bucket)
Valspar Wall Paint290-100 KU10.6 lbs.45%$20.71
Valspar Ceiling Paint396-104 KU11.7 lbs.52%$22.40
KiLZ Ceiling Paint495-105 KU11.3 lbs. (+/-) 0.259.9% (+/-) 2%$22.00

One benefit to thicker paint is its greater hiding ability.  Ceilings in poorly ventilated bathrooms are prone to mildew spots.  After fixing the ventilation problem with a fan or heat lamp, the mildew spots can be cleaned with TSP and then covered over with ceiling paint.

Ceiling Paint Is White and Flat

The intrepid few homeowners want orange-yellow ceilings or they might even go so far as painting the ceiling a dark color and keeping the walls light.

Yet the majority of homeowners want white, or near-white, ceilings.  This isn't necessarily a case of style-cowards afraid to inject the slightest bit of color in their lives.  White makes sense for your house's "sky" because anything darker acts as a kind of visual stop.  When the illusion of infinity is desired, white does a pretty good job of depriving the eye of this visual anchor, thus letting the eye wander upward...and upward.  It's only the frame of the surrounding walls, a ceiling light fixture, or a shaft of light beaming across the ceiling that breaks this illusion.

Additionally, it's guaranteed that ceiling paint's finish is flat--often the very flattest finish that the paint manufacturer produces.  Any kind of glossiness, even the slight sheen from eggshell, shows up on ceilings far more than on walls and should be avoided.

With both of these--white color and flat finish--you can certainly find these attributes outside of ceiling paint.  But purchasing the ceiling paint does mean that you don't have to consider either quality:  it's just already in place for you.

Buy or Not?

Buy.  Ceiling paint's slightly higher cost than wall paint, plus thick consistency and flat finish, make it useful when painting rooms.  Personally, I don't mind spending a bit extra to mitigate the "frustration factor" associated with ceiling paint drips, drop, and goops.

Footnotes

  1. Kreb's Units (KU) are a standard of measurement for viscosity, as used by a machine called a viscometer.  Viscometers measure the thickness of paint.  By way of comparison, honey's viscosity begins at 2,000 centipoise, roughly equivalent to 106 KU, and ranges as high as 10,000 centipoise.
  1. Valspar Professional Interior Latex Eggshell Series
  2. Valspar Ultra Interior Flat Ceiling White Latex-Base Paint and Primer in One
  3. KiLZ Ceiling Paint - Stainblocking Paint & Primer