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August 18, 2017

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Battle for the Front Door: Benjamin Moore vs. Fine Paints of Europe

August 19, 2017

Anyone who knows me knows I have a passion for beautifully painted entry doors. The right entry door becomes a window to the home and the family who lives there, as well as a longstanding testimony of the craftsmanship of whoever painted it. The front door makes a statement and its importance should not be overlooked.

The color, the gloss level, and overall quality of the finish (taking into consideration the style and look of the home itself) are all vital. That is why choosing the right product for the front door is also vital. Choose the wrong product and you'll be repainting it (or hiring someone to repaint it) in a year or two.Choose the right product and it may very well last 15 years before needing a maintenance coat (assuming it was prepared and coated appropriately). 


Hands down the most noteworthy product for front doors comes from Fine Paints of Europe. Hollandlanc, their oil enamel, particularly in the brilliant sheen (high gloss) is known across much of America and Europe (think London and Amsterdam) for its ultra high gloss finish. In recent years Benjamin Moore introduced a product to the market, called Aura Grand Entrance, to provide American homeowners with a product that delivers the look and performance of  Hollandlac in a waterborne formula. 


Over the last year I have researched and tested these products to see if and how they compare, and which one has an advantage over the other and in what application does that advantage show itself. While spending some time discussing and posting in The Painters Chatroom, a Facebook group with over 10,000 painters from around the world, I was receiving questions from numerous people asking about the comparison between Hollandlac and Grand Entrance, so I took the time and looked into it. I decided to consider a number of criteria: durability/scratch resistance, application characteristics, gloss level, overall finish quality.


There is some misinformation and confusion when comparing these products I should clear up. In my opinion, at the very least, the comparison of Hollandlac to Aura Grand Entrance is an apples-to-orange comparison because they have different resin systems (alkyd, or oil, vs waterborne-alkyd). To be fair, Benjamin Moore did formulate Grand Entrance to resemble Hollandlac, an oil, but given the fact that Fine Paints makes a similar waterborne-alkyd product, called Eco, the apples-to-apples comparison is Grand Entrance to Eco, not Grand Entrance to Hollandlac. The can label on Grand Entrance says "Grand Entrance creates the deep rich look of a fine European enamel. This unique waterborne alkyd provides a finish that is equal to the best solvent-based alkyd finishes." In other words Benjamin Moore gives their  approval for the comparing of Grand Entrance to Hollandlac, so that is what I'm doing. But since Eco is more similar to Grand Entrance, my test took on a third product.














How I did my test:  I purchased 3 cabinet doors from my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore and performed the same finishing process on all three doors for the three products.


Process:  Sand and clean, two coats of oil primer (FPE oil primer/undercoater for Eco and Hollandlac, and Benjamin Moore Fresh Start oil primer for Grand Entrance).  Sanded from 220 up to 1200 grit, applied one topcoat, let dry, sanded 400 up to 1200, then second topcoat. Grand Entrance and Eco both required a third coat of product for optimum appearance.


Durability: Unsurprisingly Hollandlac is just plain hard to scratch. Once it's had about two days of dry time you pretty much need a metal object and some force to scratch it. I have yet to get a scratch on with a fingernail. Eco's durability or scratch resistance is about 85% of Hollandlac's. Grand Entrance is about 50%. I was surprised at how easily I could scratch the film, even after a week of cure time, so I double checked this with a door at my own residence I had painted in Grand Entrance satin about two months prior to this test. Sure enough, I could scratch it quite easily with my fingernail. Kids and a dog had not been kind to the door and it showed signs of wear and tear after only a few weeks. I actually hate how disappointed I was at this find. This one factor alone is a deal breaker for me. If a client insists on Grand Entrance for their front door I will not warranty the paint job.


Application Characteristics: There are two portions of application I considered: the actual application of the product, and how the product sands in between coats. When doing this for a living, and considering 80% of my time painting a front door is spent sanding, both are vital to evaluate. 

Brushing: Grand Entrance is hands down the easiest enamel type product I have ever applied. It goes on smooth, it levels near perfectly with minimal effort, it resists sagging and dripping, it has a lot of open time so you can straighten and smooth out your brush strokes without worrying about it setting up too fast. GE is clearly the winner at application. Very impressive for a waterborne product.  Eco brushes out similarly to Grand Entrance. I honestly didn't find too noteworthy of a difference. Hollandlac, on the other hand, is a difficult product to brush. Because of environment regulations these oil enamels come in what is basically a concentrated form, needing to be thinned (with FPE's own thinner) a pretty particular percentage (based on your brushing technique, the brush you're using, ambient temperature, etc). It also requires a brush that has a balance of stiffness and softness that is hard to articulate. FPE sells a brush made by Omega in Italy specifically for applying Hollandlac.



Sanding:  The winner for sanding is Hollandlac. Oil paints tend to turn straight to powder when sanded. The density of the Hollandlac means it can be sanded quite a bit before burning through it, so for that reason Hollandlac is my preferred product even considering the hassle of oil cleanup.

Grand Entrance and Eco both sanded about the same, and both are quite difficult to sand. Rather than turning to powder when sanded, the waterborne-alkyd product tends to "pill" up, and those little "pills" of sanded product, if you're not using a vacuum or dust extractor with your sander, remain under your sand paper and put scratches in the paint film. So these are products that are better wet-sanded, which is a messy hassle on its own.


There is a drawback here with the two waterborne-alkyd products. These products are not as high build as Hollandlad, which means that because they have a thinner film, and because of how they sand, they are less forgiving products than Hollandlac. If you look close in some of the sample photos you can see sanding scratches left in the Eco and Grand Entrance samples. This is because of how difficult it is to get it to sand smooth, so even though I sanded these samples up to 1200 grit there are scratches left still because of how the film pills up under sandpaper. I believe this is due to the uniqueness of the waterborne-alkyd coating. And by the way, the technology, to the best of my understanding, was invented by Fine Paints of Europe. Benjamin Moore followed suit in making waterborne-alkyd coatings, and now most manufacturer's make at least one. FPE's waterborne-alkyd resin is stronger than the others, most likely because of where they source their material ingredients.


Here's the fun part: Appearance


Gloss Level: Here's another point of misinformation and confusion. If you ask a Benjamin Moore rep which paint is shinier, Grand Entrance or Hollandlac, almost all of them will tell you the BM product is shinier. And that is not based on a visual examination, but on some numbers on technical data sheets which don't always mean as much as we think, and also partly due to some numbers being reported incorrectly.


If you compare technical data sheets, Fine Paints of Europe's website reports Hollandlac Brilliant's gloss level at 80 GU (Gloss Units) at 60º, and Benjamin Moore reports Grand Entrance High Gloss at 85 GU at 60º. If you go solely by those numbers it would seem like the BM product is shinier. So I got in touch with Emmett Fiore who is the technical director at Fine Paints of Europe, and he said the numbers on the FPE website are not accurate, and the Hollandlac Brilliant is actually around the 95 GU at 60º mark, 15 GU higher than Grand Entrance.


However, you don't need numbers to understand the difference. That Hollandlac is much shinier is immediately obvious to the eye. In the photos below you can easily see the difference between the two products.





 Now how does Eco's gloss compare? As you can see in the two examples below, the larger door (Eco) is shiny, but not as shiny as the smaller sample (another smaller sample of Hollandlac). It is more similar to Hollandlac's gloss than Grand Entrance's.



















The purpose of this test was to evaluate the difference between the three products in high gloss, so the satin was not compared in either product. For purposes of comparison, FPE Satin is comparable (or slightly shinier) than many manufacturer's semi-gloss.






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