Going Back to Black after the pandemic is a new challenge. With ever shifting prices and reformulations our tried and true floor black out options have changed drastically.
A resilient and reliable black paint is very important for our space. Most of our designs at Flat Rock Playhouse do not include a floor treatment due to the angle of the audience to the performing space. We have added a Black box show slot to our season and our floor is getting more traffic than in years past.
Currently our process starts at the top of season. We do a full repaint of the playing area with Tough Prime and seal it with 3-4 passes of Behr Low Lustre Concrete Sealer in a garden sprayer. We finish it with a final black tinted seal coat. Between shows we touch up the floor, hit the big scuffs and dings with a little dab-dab of Tough Prime. Then we freshen up and unify with a tinted black sealer.
I wanted to be certain I was making the best choices with my budget and general availability so I decided to get science involved!
Of the twelve options I tested, ten of them are readily available at your local Lowes and Home Depot. One option is from my local paint store and one is a tried and true classic from Rosco.
Prices are ever on the rise because of inflation. I know some of us are in the nonprofit world and we purchase our materials with tax exemption. Some of us are in the for profit world trying to pinch pennies in an industry crawling back to life.
The prices below are accurate as of November 14th. With that being said, I can confirm that these prices have risen at least two dollars a gallon since July of 2022.
There are pro-paint programs at both Lowes and Home Depot. If you are buying LOTS of paint from the big box stores, it will help you save money to set one up. You can either establish one through your workplace or on your own. (If you work predominantly as a freelance artist or muralist, I would suggest the latter so that you can access it outside of a specific theatre or shop.) Both Home Depot and Lowes have tiered savings program. You can find more information at the Lowes and Home Depot websites – just follow the links!
When it comes to buying paint for my shop and I am not ordering Rosco, I work with a locally owned and operated paint store. I prefer them to the big box stores because I like to shop locally and support the local economy where and when I can. There are also huge benefits to working with a local vendor. One of the most notable is potentially larger discounts than the big box stores can offer. I get 33% off of the list price at my local paint vendor which makes a HUGE difference in the quality I can afford.
If you are working with a nonprofit theatre or organization, there are ways to set up a sponsorship with the theatre that will benefit your budget and your vendor alike. If you are a for profit buying in large volumes there’s value to the business in keeping you coming back. That could mean leverage for you to ask for a discount. These vendors are able to offer better deals as they are often independently owned and operated.
Also growing a relationship with these places is so much easier than at the big box stores. These folks are interested in what I am working on, have offered to order specialized products, and truly care about the quality of service and product they provide. I want places like this to stay in business so shopping there is the easiest way to support them.
Compare and Contrast Process
There are a few things I wanted to include in my compare and contrast.
Our base level of samples include the following steps, One coat on top of primed white, two coats of Flat black. Then I used the Behr Low Lustre Concrete Sealer in a PreVal to seal. I gave it three passes. The samples are finished with two passes of tinted black sealer.
After these samples were fully dried, I threw them under blue run lights to see the full range of the black colors. The blue light helped to pull out the undertones of the various blacks. I found that the bluer the undertone, the blacker it would seem under run lights. The options with a redder undertone seem to stick out the most and tend more brown under blue lights.
I was looking solely at what the black looks like with a clear seal coat. The black tinted sealer made a huge difference in the overall look under run lights.
To further illuminate the differences between undertones, I took it a step further.
If you are buying your black to repaint your stage black floor AND mix your color it’s important to know what kind of undertones your black paint has. I mixed the sample paints and my shop white to a 1:1 ratio to better see the undertones of the black.
Here are the top three neutral black options if you’re wanting a product for a two-fer:
Wear And Tear
With scuffs, dings, scrapes and more, our black floors get beat up. To emulate this damage I asked my carpenters to walk all up on our wear and tear sample.
I stomped around the floor in my work boots and pulled on my tap shoes to give this experiment a good once over. After a quick sweep and a damp microfiber wipe down I was ready to check the damage.
Shown in this sample, starting from the bottom, is black with no seal coat, then low lustre with three passes, and then an additional two coats of tinted sealer.
You can see that there is SO MUCH BENEFIT to sealing your black floor, even more so with a tinted sealer.
Overall I’ve found the Valspar options are the weakest performers. The coverage is spotty and not that resilient even after being sealed. Below you will see a full chart of results, with one being the worst and 10 being the best.
*Here are my winners*
No shocker here, Tough Prime is clearly our number one pick for black floors.
The blue undertones work well with blue run lights, it has great coverage and resiliency. BUT, you are getting what you pay for here. Tough Prime is running about $85 a gallon currently and within the past 9 months the price has elevated about $15-$20. I have also had to be in constant contact with my vendors about availability. There was about a 3-5 month run where I couldn’t find anyone with stock, or if they had stock it flew off the shelves. This is the tried and true winner if you’ve got the budget and the time to hunt it down!
Second place is Glidden Premium, which is a shocker for me. It’s the least expensive of the options tested AND it has some of the highest marks of the group. Congrats to Glidden Premium for being an all around workhorse! My only desire is that it reads a little darker under blue light with a clear sealer. If you finish this black with a tinted sealer, you’ve got yourself a great affordable option at $21.98 a gallon.
Third is Ben Moore Super Spec 500. It has a nice deep, dark tone. This is for sure a two coat black to get the best quality. What pushed this to third was the price. Since I get a 33% discount I get a $50 quality product for a great price. I highly suggest you start building relationships with your local vendors.
Fourth place at $49.98, Behr Marquee is higher in price but is true quality. I wish that the tone of the black under blue run lights was a bit deeper but it passes all other tests with flying colors.
Save your money– Behr Dynasty at $59.98 is a big pinch to the budget if you have a larger floor that needs covering. It passes all of the tests easily but I don’t think this would be an economical choice.
Whatever black paint you utilize, I HIGHLY suggest including a final spray with black tint. It deepened the black color in *all* cases and helped to build resilience in the longevity of the finish. We used Scotch Coatings Universal Colorant in Lamp Black.
What other products would you like to see compared? What other types of tests would you like to see?
Let us know in the comments!
Check out these other great articles from Steph Charaska on the Scenic Route Blog!