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!

Image shows mixing containers from black paint samples

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.

Pricing

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.

Image shows price comparison from paint retailers

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.

Image shows black paint sample board in various stages of completion

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.

Image shows paint sample board under blue light

To further illuminate the differences between undertones, I took it a step further.

Undertones

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.

Image shows a sample board of paint brands, after having been mixed 1:1 with white paint

Here are the top three neutral black options if you’re wanting a product for a two-fer:

One – Glidden Diamond by PPG is the truest neutral
Two – Glidden Premium
Three – Valspar Signature

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.

Image shows Steph testing the sample board with tap shoes

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.

Image of Steph using a damp towel to wipe off sample board after stress testing is complete

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.

Image of final sample board, after testing is finished

You can see that there is SO MUCH BENEFIT to sealing your black floor, even more so with a tinted sealer.

Results

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.

Image shows side-by-side performance/quality rankings from the individual black paint brands

*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 moneyBehr 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!

Sticky Scrim Fix

Taking Care of Yourself as an Artist


Steph Charaska
(she/her/hers)
Creative Revolutionary
IG: @char.darling
stephcharaska.com

Steph has been an avid practitioner of creativity since a young age. She has 12 years of experience as a scenic charge artist in the entertainment industry. She has her roots in the Chicago storefront theatre scene and now has developed her artistic voice as a mixed media artist. Steph also produces and hosts a comedy variety showcase, and regularly performs stand-up comedy. Using her background in performing and her passion for education, this social media marketer makes delightful, impactful content to inspire her followers to take brave steps into the unknown wilds of their creativity.
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3 Comments
  1. JennyHitmar 1 week ago

    Thank you for this Article. Do you cary sherwin Williams around you? I’m curious how SW porch and floor holds up against these others. Would also like to see PPG Breakthrough on the list. Also would love to know your thought on porch and floor box store paints in general. I’ve had widely varying results between brands, but would like another scenics opinion on why floor paints aren’t more widely considered.

    • Author
      Steph Charaska 1 week ago

      It was my pleasure to write! There may be a second back to black blog in the works that will include more and different tests some other highly suggested products. I belive that floor paints aren’t often considered because many scenics need their black paint for more than just floor paint and they need the versatility. My guess would be the floor paint has some added durability in the binders as high traffic is anticipated. I add durability using the concrete sealers mentioned in the post. Are there any floor specific paints that you like to use?

  2. JennyHitmar 1 week ago

    I’ve had good luck with Sherwin Williams porch and floor. And poor luck with Behr Porch and floor from Home depot. We are going for more than just black, and can get the white SW porch and floor pretinted if needed, but that’s getting off the black floor paint topic!

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