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Paint Sizes: A Complete Guide to Help with All Your Painting Projects

paint sizes hdr

How many times has this happened: You’re ready to begin a paint project, and you buy the wrong amount of paint. 

I’ve been guilty of buying either too much or too little to finish the job at hand.

Selecting the correct paint size is what leads us to have a third of a 5-gallon bucket sitting in storage for years.

In this article, discover how to determine the correct amount of paint for any project. We’ll also cover different paint cans (metal and plastic containers), types, and the best way to store leftover paint.

What Size Paint Can for Your Project?

Several years ago, I had a home paint project I needed to complete. I was finishing the basement and stairwell and was ready to roll.

As I walked into the paint department, I faced a massive wall of colored containers of various sizes. 

Paint can are sort of cool. You have little bitty baby ones, some small ones, medium-sized ones, and the behemoth jumbo ones. 

Now, common sense says the little one is not going to cover your living room walls. But, the big 5-gallon bucket is overkill for touch-up work. 

Yet, getting the right amount of material is necessary for cutting expenses and waste. I’ll show you how to understand and figure paint can size coverage.

The real Tim Taylor, Bob Vila, suggests the following calculations for the paint area:

  • Wall: width (length) x height = total square feet.
  • Windows: wall calculation – window frame and glass = total square feet.
  • Doors: wall calculation – door panel only = total square feet.
  • Ceilings: length x width = total square feet.
  • Trim/Frames: length x width = total square feet.

Here’s a general chart to help you determine what size paint cans you need and how many:


paint size calculator

Mr. Vila also gives us the following guide for interior paint can sizes:

  • The average area for 1-gallon is 325 square feet, single coat
  • The surface coverage for 1 quart is 100 square feet, single coat

Another factor that needs mentioning is the texture of the area you’re painting. I tend to forget this, and it sometimes throws off my estimates.

An unprepared, non-primed surface will absorb more paint. Textured surfaces will need more material than a smooth.

This applies to a knock-down texture versus more of an orange peel splatter. The former has more smooth surface areas overall, compared to the seemingly infinite surfaces of the later.

This can add up and make a big different if you’re painting your entire house for example.

Finally, painting over a darker surface with a light one will also take more product to full cover the previous darker color.

Online Paint Calculators

If you feel like saving time, or, like me, math is not your friend, you can use an online paint calculator. Big box hardware stores offer them, along with a few paint company sites. The math is the same Mr. Vila used, but you don’t have to do it yourself.

Here is the link for Lowe’s paint calculator: Lowe’s Paint Calculator 

The bottom line?

Planning, preparation, and accurate measurements will make the task less expensive and quicker.

Here is a video to help determine the appropriate paint amount.

Types and Sizes of Paint Cans

Depending on the use, there are various sizes and types of containers for paint products.

Knowing the sizes can help you become familiar or remind you of what’s available when you go to purchase and even store unused paint later.

Here are some common types and sizes:

paint sizes cans

Exterior Paint Sizes

As the name implies, exterior paint is for applications exposed to the elements. The most common use is for the outside of your home. 

But, it also works for outdoor furniture, play equipment, fencing, and other outdoor use. To determine paint can sizes in liters, divide gallons by 3.8.

Exterior paint can sizes get calculated in gallons due to the size of most exterior projects. This type of paint is either latex or oil-based, and its application is with sprayers or brushes. 

There are alternate sizes from samples of 8 ounces to smaller cans of 1 quart.

Interior Paint Sizes

Like exterior paints, interior projects get figured in gallons and fractions of gallons. The material is either oil or latex. 

The application methods commonly used are roller brushes and sprayers. 

Below is general chart showing actual sizes of various paint containers to give you dimensions, weight and capacity of each:

paint can size chart

With cans varying in size from 8 ounces to 5-gallon buckets, there are plenty of options. You’re no doubt familiar with many of them.

Spray Paint Sizes

spray paint can sizes

Spray paint canisters use aerosol propellant to disperse fresh paint. Spray paint can sizes range from 3.5 ounces to 20 ounces and come with many types of (applicators) tips. 

Spray paint is a material used for metal and plastic surfaces. 

Small paint can sizes are available for sample use and minor jobs.

Art and Craft Paints Sizing

art and craft paint sizes

The materials for art and hobby projects size differently.

They come in containers called pots, pens, jars, and tubes:

Container Size Approximate Coverage
Pot 0.12 fl. oz. 4”x4” canvas
Tube 0.4 fl. oz. 4”x8” canvas
Pen 0.4 fl. oz. 4”x8” canvas
Jars  3-12 fl. oz. (Up to4)  8”x10” canvas

These products work for painting on canvas, fabric, stone, and ceramic. They can be poured onto the medium or painted on with a brush. Your imagination is the limit. 


Here are some frequently asked questions by DIYers asking for guidance with paint sizes:

Can I reuse paint in a 5-gallon bucket that has been sitting for a long time?

Yes, there are ways to reuse old paint. The first step is to strain the paint into a clean container. 

You will need:

  • Cheesecloth or fine mesh screen.
  • A clean container large enough to take the residual product.

Strain the paint through the cheesecloth into the new container. Then either throw out the leftover, or you can apply paint thinner and try to reclaim it. 

DO NOT apply thinner to the paint directly in the bucket. That will dilute the material and limit coverage.

After this process, if you still have some leftover paint in your bucket consider storing it in a smaller paint storage can like these

paint storage containers


Will using a paint calculator keep me from having waste?

No, but it will help decrease the amount of waste or excess created in the job. 

Remember to control the material amount by purchasing smaller quantities for fractional amounts.

Is the coverage different between interior and exterior paints?

Yes, each paint has different bases. These compounds can affect the coverage of material on the surface. Also, remember that each area will need different amounts to cover well.

So, keep in mind that you may be buying a different sized paint can for your exterior project than you wood for that living room makeover that covers roughly the same amount of area!


Determining the amount of material needed is a simple yet critical element of project management. 

Limiting the amount of excess product by understanding paint sizes and coverage reduces the overall cost and waste involved.

Remember, proper preparation of the area will make the task less expensive.

It will allow better material control and reduce expenses which is always an important part of any project!

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