Have you hired a professional painter and the painter’s throwing out terms you’ve never heard?  Or, maybe you’ve decided to tackle the project yourself but don’t understand some of the painting lingo!  Here we will explain some of the most common misunderstood painting terms.  Hopefully understanding their meanings will allow you a great outcome either way!

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Terms For Application of Paint

There are some terms very important to understand when it comes to the application of paint.  Applying paint is a little more complicated than most believe. There are appropriate tools, types of paint, and techniques for a successful job.  We will provide definitions for the most common misunderstood painting terms here as they relate to applying paint.  


Curing refers to the process of a substance becoming fully hardened.  Paint goes through a chemical process of fulling bonding to the surface you’ve painted.  Until the paint has completely hardened it is still in the process of curing.

Cutting In

Cutting in means you paint borders in areas that are too tight for a roller to access when painting.  It is one of the most common misunderstood painting terms. Cutting in involves painting a border around the perimeter of a wall.  After cutting in, a paint roller is used to roll the paint onto the larger area of wall and over the edge of the cut line to blend it all together.  Cutting in prevents the roller from accidentally bumping the adjacent wall, trim piece, or ceiling by keeping the roller at the cut line edge.

Dry To Touch

This term means the paint no longer feels tacky when touched.  Typically you want the first coat of paint or primer to be dry to the touch before painting the next coat.

Roller Cover

A roller cover is a cylinder shaped painting tool that is designed to be used with a paint roller frame.  This roller is used to cover larger areas more evenly than if brushed.

Common Misunderstood Painting Terms 2

Roller Nap

The roller nap is the length of the fibers on the paint roller cover.  Different lengths are made for different finishes.  The nap length is always listed on the front of the roller packaging.  Shorter naps, like ¼” are best suited for very smooth surfaces like doors and cabinets.  Longer naps, like ¾” to 1”+ are used on rough or extra rough surfaces like stucco and brick.


When a painter refers to the substrate, the painter is just referring to the surface which will be painted.  It may be drywall, siding, brick, stucco, etc.

Terms Associated With Paint

You may run across some confusing terms when discussing or researching attributes of paint .   Some of the most common misunderstood painting terms are associated with paint specifically.  Understanding paint and its properties will allow you to select the correct paint for your project.


Adhesion is extremely important when it comes to paint.  It is a term that refers to how well the paint stays on the surface you painted.  Obviously you want your paint to have good adhesion so you get the most life out of it.  It is especially important for exterior paints due to the expansion and contraction of paint.  Adhesion is critical!

Bonding Primer

A bonding primer is typically used to prepare a surface that doesn’t accept paint well.  Those surfaces can include baseboards, cabinets, or stair rails that have a glossy finish.  After prepping the surface, the bonding primer is painted over the glossy surface to create better adhesion between the surface and the following coats of paint.


Colorant is the pigment that is added to base paint to create the color in your paint.


Elasticity is the ability of a material to stretch, or expand and contract with movement.  The elasticity of paint is very important, especially in exterior paint.  Exterior temperatures tend to fluctuate which causes things to expand and contract.  Paint needs to be able to expand and contract with these fluctuations so that it doesn’t crack and expose the surface it’s protecting.


Hue is the actual color of something, and more technically correct than saying “color”.  However, most of us use the term “color” when referring to paint instead of hue!

Common Misunderstood Painting Terms


Sheen is another one of the most common misunderstood painting terms. The sheen of a paint refers to the amount of gloss or shininess a paint has.  The most common sheens are: Gloss, Semi-Gloss, Satin, Eggshell, and Flat.  Each has their own attributes and should be discussed with a paint professional before a purchasing decision is made.

Stain Blocker

A stain blocker is a type of primer used to cover stains before applying your paint.  It is a very robust covering agent that prevents stains from bleeding through your newly applied layers of paint.

Painting Techniques

Painting techniques can differ from painter to painter, however there are some standard practices consistently used by top-level professionals.  These technique terms are important to know whether you are interviewing painters, or gathering tips to do the painting project yourself.


The term masking is used to describe the process of using painters tape and sometimes masking paper to protect a surface from unwanted paint.  By applying painters tape and/or masking paper along a baseboard for instance, the baseboard will be protected from any wall or ceiling paint being applied above it.

Spot Priming

Spot priming is just as the term states, but is one of the most common misunderstood painting terms.  It simply means to apply primer to any spots where the original surface has been exposed.  Sometimes after sanding old paint off of siding, those areas of the siding become exposed.  The exposed areas need to be spot primed before painting to ensure good adhesion of paint.

Tape Caulking

Tape caulking is a process of masking to create straight, crisp lines.  Painter’s tape and then a thin line of caulk is used before painting.  The caulk prevents the paint from bleeding throught the tape which allows a very straight line of paint when the tape is removed.  

Hopefully these terms and definitions of the most common misunderstood painting terms have raised your knowledge.  Understanding the terms and their uses can save a lot of frustration when dealing with your painter, or doing the project youself.

Contact Paint Pals for a free no obligation painting estimate, we have been serving Northern Colorado since 2009 with many happy clients!