The paint aisle can be a lonely and mystifying place. Store shelves are stacked high with cans that look almost identical, bearing names full of promise: Premium, Premium Plus, Premium Plus Ultra, Emerald, Diamond, and so on. Prices per gallon hopscotch from $20 to $60 to $100, and it’s difficult to know whether you’re paying for quality or hyperbole.

Even within the same paint brand (including brands that get top scores in our tests), there are performance differences that names won’t illuminate. In Consumer Reports’ extensive lab tests, Behr Premium Plus Enamel, $28 per gallon, performed almost as well as Behr Marquee, $43 per gallon, and left a smoother finish while delivering a $15 savings. And despite its compound-superlative name, Behr Premium Plus Ultra, $36 per gallon, got almost the same high marks as both its Behr cousins in our tests. Clearly, naming and pricing aren’t reliable indicators of quality. But our tough tests are.

Bear in mind, also, the motives of those you might ask for advice. Some contractors, for example, want to get in and out of your house quickly in order to move on to another job. Hence, they care more about how fast paint dries—and yes, there are differences—so they can apply a second coat quickly.

But we test paint with the homeowner in mind, which makes durability an important factor in our evaluation, says Enrique de Paz, an engineer who has run our paint labs for 11 years. “A paint that repels stains, holds up to scrubbing, and still keeps its sheen is what counts in the home,” he says. “Consumers need a paint that stands up to the wear and tear of family life, not just something that looks nice in a pristine showroom.”

That’s why our paint ratings include all of the qualities that make a paint great—and we don’t take into account how fast it dries. We do, however, give higher marks to paints that cover an old color best with just one coat. So when looking at our ratings, consider the Overall Score first. Then focus on the performance in specific tests, such as resistance to staining or mildew, to help you pick the right paint for your project.


Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the May 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.