Thanks to modern paint technology there is a paint for every type of surface. In most cases professional painters will select a flat acrylic paint for the ceiling, a low-sheen acrylic for the walls and a semi-gloss or gloss acrylic for the woodwork.
Water-based acrylic paints have a number of advantages over their oil-based enamel counterparts. When you're painting, drips and splashes can be removed with a simple wipe over with a damp cloth. When you're finished, paintbrushes can be cleaned up in water. Unlike enamel paints, acrylic paints emit almost no fumes or vapors when applied, they dry faster and they usually cost less. Oil-based enamel paints can offer superior durability and are often favored for very high quality work but for a DIY paint job, it's hard to go past the acrylics. The types of paint below can be either acrylic or oil-based.
Semi-gloss paint is a little less easy to apply than flat and low-sheen products, but provides a highly washable surface. It's usually used on windowsills, doors and trim, and in kitchens and bathrooms, where moisture resistance and washability are key.
High-gloss paint is highly reflective, which means it will highlight any flaws and defects in the surface; if you're going to use a high-gloss paint, you'll need to be meticulous about surface preparation. You will also need to take great care in how you apply the paint so that you end up with an even surface without runs. The advantage of high-gloss is its resistance to grease and moisture, which means it is easy to keep clean.
There are numerous specialised paints on the market designed for particular jobs. Textured coatings are useful for covering up uneven walls and ceilings, but bear in mind that they are extremely difficult to remove. You can also buy paints for floors, tiles and melamine (for revitalising kitchen units).