Many people tend to confuse paint and stain as similar and make the dreadful choice of using one instead of the other. While these two do have stark similarities, they still differ by a large margin and have their own designated purposes. As a homeowner or project leader, you should know the difference between the two so you can decide which is best suited for your project. 

How are they similar?

Before we discuss their differences, let’s first dive into how these two substances are similar. Paints and stains are both composed of pigments and a vehicle or solvent for those pigments. A binder is also added that helps hold the pigment together. Adding a binder can also make it easier for the pigment to adhere to a properly prepared surface. The liquid vehicle that houses pigments and binders has chemical compositions that make them durable and efficient in protecting a surface. Through this vehicle, the pigment flows onto the surface being painted on or stained. Once the liquid evaporates, the pigment and binder remain on the surface. The surface is now stained or painted on. 

How are they different?

Now that we discussed the basic similarities of the two, let’s learn the factors that set paints apart from stains and vice versa. 


When it comes to variety, paints easily win over stains. If you want to work with paint, you can choose from a wide variety of colours, levels of sheen, and various finishes that can completely customise your space to your liking. Stains, on the other hand, come in just a few colours and at nearly the same opacity with each other. They also come in a matte variety that still needs varnish to achieve a glossy finish.


A visual comparison between a can of paint and a can of stain shows that the latter is thinner and sheerer while the former has a thicker and opaque consistency. Since paint is composed of more pigment than stains, it naturally covers the surface and sits on top of it. In contrast, stains have much more solvent mixed in, in which the surface can absorb the stain. Stains can show the material underneath, whereas paint completely covers the surface it was painted on. 


Typically, paint needs a properly prepared and primed surface for it to apply smoothly and evenly. For this reason, paint usually takes more time to apply compared to stains that usually need just one coat for a very natural look. On that note, paint can be applied to all surfaces, while stains are mostly limited to concrete and wood. Not to mention, you can’t apply a stain on a painted surface. For re-coating purposes, stains are definitely easier since you don’t need to remove the previous stain. On paint, you would have to remove the chipping and peeling paint to get a fresh, even layer. Do note that highly absorbent wood or surface will require a lot more stain to fully coat the surface. 

Application of either paint or stain may be a hassle for some people. Consider contacting professional help for your painting or staining needs. 


Paint is usually more expensive than stains, seeing as there is much more variety when it comes to painting. Of course, higher-quality paint with the best pigment and sheens or finish can get a bit more expensive. 

So, paint or stain?

Ultimately, the decision depends on you. Stain is commonly used for enhancing the beauty of natural wood, while the paint is usually used for major projects around the house like interior and exterior walls, frames, doors, and the like. 

The good thing about this whole debacle is you can mix and match stains and paints in your house. You may choose to stain your cabinets, doors, and tables while choosing cool tones for your bathroom wall and vibrant red accents in your dining room. It is completely customisable depending on your aesthetic, budget, and vision. 

At Wayne Bowden Painters, we can help with your residential painting and decorating needs. Whether it be standard or specialty paint jobs, coatings, waterproofing, and staining, we can efficiently work around any sized home. We can provide our own scaffold, help with colour consultation alongside Resene and Dulux, as well as general advice. We take a lot of pride in our before, during, and after customer service. Give us a call to find out why.

In Conclusion

It’s safe to say that there are stark differences between paint and stain, even if both serve the purpose of adding colour and bringing inanimate objects to life. Now that you know how different the two actually are, hopefully, you can make more informed decisions about your paint and stain needs moving forward. 

Need more help on choosing between paint and stain? Just give us a ring and we’ll help you out.