Application by Hugo Rivera using the products Epoca Spatolato over Antiqua I lime plaster from Merlex Stucco & Vero.

“Italian finish” is the broad term given to a wide range of products that have been introduced into the market. Other names include faux finish, Venetian plaster, colored veneer plaster and I am sure there are more regional names out there in the marketplace. The lines have certainly become blurred between these products. Some products are referred to as a plaster and are really no more than a thick paint. Not to demean these types of products, though, they can perform admirably and meet a need. It is understandable that manufacturers would want to capitalize on the history, legacy and marketing advantages of calling the product a plaster. The terms plaster and decorative finish, when referring to interior finishes, can be confusing.

Chris Miller with Miller & Sons used Merlex’s Antiqua I product in this application.

What's in a Name?

So what is the difference and why does it matter? The definitions of “plaster” from the online Wikipedia and Webster’s dictionaries both basically define plaster as a product that starts as a dry power and when mixed with water, is trowel applied and sets to a hard decorative coating. This could describe a setting type joint compound just as easily and setting type joint compound is not a plaster. It also comes up short on other products, such as lime-based putties, which would definitely be plasters. Why does this matter? If you live in a state with various subcontractor license classifications, you need to be careful.

A recent scenario had a subcontractor with a drywall license ask the state license board about his license being appropriate to apply a specific product which had the word “plaster” in it. The state responded as I thought they would: “You need a plastering license to install plaster.” When the inquiry was resubmitted and a more accurate description of the product was provided, the state reversed its position and allowed the drywall contractor to proceed. Remember, state employees do not know the product like you do and must be fully informed to make the correct determination.

Variance’s Omnicoat is a surface leveler designed to be applied over rough textures to create a smooth finish.

New Products all the Time

If these lines currently seem a little out of focus, they could get downright fuzzy in the very near future. Not that that is a bad thing. Manufacturers have been discovering, testing, inventing and creating new formulations and compounds with the result being some very creative products with a range of possibilities that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. These “decorative coatings” and/or “plaster” products will be pushing the limits and changing perceptions of what wall finishing is. These new products are crossing the line in different directions. I recently saw three such products by three quality manufacturers. All are “decorative coatings,” some even use the word plaster in the product description and they could not be further apart in performance, application and results. All are excellent and will fill particular market niches.

Merlex’s Antiqua I product used in a retail store. The application was done by John Moss of Moss Art Studio.


The first product I saw applied was by Vella and manufactured by Specialized Building Products. The newest product addition is a hybrid of a Level 5 gypsum wallboard skim coat and a veneer plaster (this is my personal definition). The product is primarily designed for spray application but can be trowel applied to a gypsum wallboard with treated joints or other properly prepared surfaces. While the product is approved for application over a Level 3 finish, existing painted orange peel or knockdown surfaces for optimum results, I would recommend it be applied over a Level 4 finish. I have seen it done both ways and the application over the Level 4 was pretty amazing as it provided a smooth abuse-resistant Level 5 finish. The machine used at the test wall was an affordable airless type sprayer. The operation took two passes and was immediately wiped down with large 12-inch drywall knives. The tool blade lines were left and let set for a few minutes and then wiped down to leave a smooth, slick, blemish-free finish (water could be sprayed if needed).

The product comes pre-blended in a bucket, sets slowly, can be lightly sanded but is not required, and when fully cured, gives you a hard and abuse-resistant finish that can be painted. The product can also be pre-tinted in a variety of colors. The folks at Vella seem to have the makings of a good product and are presently marketing it under a couple names as it is a blend between the traditional Level 5 finish for drywall and a veneer plaster. The product is being introduced with two names, Level Wall-5 and Vella Veneer Plaster-one for the East Coast and one for the West Coast. I would recommend that if you want an abuse resistant Level 5, you should check out the YouTube videos posted on the Vella Web site

The East Coast marketed product Vella Venetian Plaster System’s Level Wall-5 (Vella Veneer Plaster as marketed in the West Coast) is seen on the far right. This product is a smooth wall system with zero sanding.


Variance Acrylic Finishes is a unique product line with a full offering of affordable acrylic-based Venetian plasters that have proven to do some amazing things in their own right. The newest additions are Armourtone and Omnicoat. Armourtone is a spray-applied product (unlike their more traditional line of trowel applied plasters) yet provides a very abuse resistant finish. Armourtone has a wide range of texture possibilities, from imperfect smooth, orange peel to a more conventional knockdown. The product line comes in 24 standard colors and sets in about two hours with a full cure in two weeks.

Omnicoat is a high build surface leveler that was designed to be applied over those lovely rough textures that were so popular for decades to create a smooth finish with very little surface preparation. Omnicoat can be applied over a variety of properly prepared substrates, integrally colored or painted. Omnicoat is also a basecoat for the company’s line of Venetian plasters. Check out the Variance Web site for live product demonstrations in your area


The last product line is by Vero-Rialto. Vero Venetian plasters were born in Italy from seasoned, slaked-lime kilns. While known as high quality, lime-based plasters, the company is now offering some resin-based decorative coatings. The Vero Venetian products have broken new ground but in the complete opposite direction from the previous two products. They have made their product a true work of art and it is hard to call anyone working with this product a plasterer, unless you remember than Leonardo DiVinci was a plasterer, also.

Omnicoat (this picture and the next) can be applied over a variety of properly prepared substrates and is also a basecoat for the Variance’s line of Venetian plasters.

Now that I said that, if Leonardo were alive today, the Vero line is exactly what kind of plaster he would be proud to use. Some Venetian plasterers are true artists and this is their medium. More aptly put, your home is their canvas. Do yourself a favor, pull out a European baguette and check out the products featured on their Blog Spot:

Featured are jobs using Vero’s lime products (Antiqua, Epoca Spatolato, and Epoca 800 lime paint) and resin-based products (Solution, Evolution, and metallics). Vero is also using a new medium of materials. Acoustical plaster is nothing new-we have been applying these plasters for years in auditoriums and concert halls to achieve highly sought after Noise Reduction Coefficient ratings. Vero has a Venetian plaster that can do the same thing but made with cotton. Yes, cotton. Vero’s new US CottonWall Plaster is truly a “green” product that provides a nice looking plaster and can create a serene interior space by reducing noise and echoes. The product is perfect for in-home theatres. For more information, check

Always Room for More

I was beginning to think that the market was saturated in decorative coatings and now was the time to see who survives, but I think I was wrong. Companies like these and others are on the move to re-shape our thoughts on interior wall coverings, decoration finishes, faux effects, Venetian plaster, Veneer plaster, Level 5 coatings or whatever you want to call them. The future looks pretty amazing and if you are not exploring this stuff, you are missing out. I strongly encourage you to visit, attend and seek out any demonstrations. This is not our father’s interior plaster.

They come in threes

This story is unusual in that three competitors are featured in a single article. Each of the three companies were contacted-and in the spirit of fair play-they responded with enthusiasm. The desire to get honest and fair information out to Walls and Ceilings’ readers trumped all other issues. Variance, Vella and Vero-Rialto provided 100 percent support and with great respect and admiration to the competition. These three firms, and I am sure there are others, are about to change the way we think about decorative finishes. Each company, in their own way, will reshape and challenge conventional practices. So much so that ASTM will likely have to deal with these new innovations. Companies like these are exciting to watch as we move into the future. Please verify any and all information in the article with the specific manufacturer before proceeding on your interior decorative or plaster project.