Review of Paint Finishes

July 25, 2017

This is an older post, but I thought since I have received so many questions from readers lately about which paint finish is best to use where, I thought I would post again:

I seem to get asked quite a bit, which paint finish/sheen should be used on the ceiling, walls and trim. Here are a few quick and easy ways I use to remember paint finishes:

all finishes

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* Paint finish means the same as paint sheen.

* Another way to think of sheen is to think of amount of shine your want.

*Types of sheens include Flat, Matte, Eggshell Enamel, Satin Enamel, Semi-Gloss Enamel and Hi-Gloss Enamel.

I have narrowed it down to only three finishes to remember that you will ever need for 98% of the time: Flat, Eggshell and Semi-Gloss.

Flat/Matte:

ceiling

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* Flat and matte are exactly the same finish/sheen. You only need to remember Flat.

* The flat sheen is low on reflectivity and has the least shine. That means your flaws are hidden on rough and uneven surfaces.

* The best place for flat paint is on the ceiling, where less reflection is a plus.

Eggshell:

eggshell sheen

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* As it name implies, it has the same sheen as an eggshell.

* Eggshell is a bit more reflective than flat, but not shiny. It is the most popular finish.

* An eggshell finish covers wall imperfections well. The sheen cleans more easily than a flat finish.

* An eggshell sheen is what I suggest for interior walls.

Semi-gloss:

semi gloss

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* Semi-gloss is a  semi-shiny finish that wipes clean easily. Semi-gloss is what I recommend for all trim, kitchen and bath cabinets, moldings and doors.

 

Satin/Pearl is the most confusing sheen terminology for consumers. This finish falls in between eggshell and semi-gloss. They are rare times you might wish to use, but I rarely ever recommend.

Gloss- A shiny finish/sheen used for that lacquered look on furniture:

Martha-Stewart-Chinoiserie-Sideboard

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And that’s it! Easy to remember- Flat, Eggshell or Semi-Gloss. The higher the sheen, the higher the shine — and the higher the shine, the more durable it will be.

There are no set rules for how certain paint colors look in each finish; that decision is totally up to you!

9 comments

  1. Excellent information, Kelly. Though some paint companies do have flat and matte paints which have different levels of sheen.. One example is Pittsburgh Paints.

    When I was buying paint for our just installed drywall walls in the laundry room, initially I thought I would use eggshell (or even semi-gloss) thinking it would be easier to wash. But I wanted the walls to have a sort of “old world plaster” appearance and was adding a hand-applied texture so…..

    When I saw PP has a washable flat latex, I jumped at the chance to give it a try. 🙂 I’m extremely satisfied with how it washes with no loss of color or sheen, and goes on gorgeously easy. It gave the appearance of centuries old walls I’d seen in Europe.

    Today’s flat paints (by some manufacturers) are very washable. I guess the best thing to do is check it out for your own project and pick the sheen that’s right for you. 🙂

    Thank you for giving your readers great paint sheen advice.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful explanation and also that recommendation in the comments from Connie N. Paint finishes have always baffled me and I have a question about the above picture of the entry way with the aqua door and wooden table. What finish are the walls in that photo? They look like they have an easy clean finish. The description says semi-gloss but I’m thinking that was referring to the trim and moldings. Are the walls in semi-gloss, eggshell, or some other finish? With 3 active children under 12 my main living walls need to be as easy to clean as possible and I’m thinking most flat finishes would just grab and try to keep any smudge they may present. 🙂 Helpful suggestions? I have a large living/dining/kitchen area all together that doesn’t get the amount of natural light I’m looking for and am wanting to change from a color similar to Behr Spring Storm blue to Simply White in order to add more light and lift to the whole area. Wondering if this would work. Thanks for any suggestions!

    • Hi Leilani,

      In the photo, the walls are in eggshell and trim in semi-gloss. If you worried about being able to wipe clean the walls, I would suggest using a Satin Finish. A bit shiner, but easier to wipe clean. Satin is sometimes used in kid’s room for that purpose of being able to wipe clean.
      Changing over to white for your living room, just be careful it is not a North facing room, where white paint tends to look ‘dirty’. Hope this helps!

      • Thank you Kelly! I will certainly keep all of this in mind (I’ve actually written it in my home details notebook I carry along). Our sun comes in from the South side but mostly seems to go over our house rising up the brick side of our home and setting on the other side. This could be a blessing in disguise here in SC as we have a brutal summer sunshine. I may just need to upgrade our interior lighting to help get the light I want inside. Thank you for your help. I enjoy your posts and all of the helpful photographs. Great work!!

  3. I am in the process of building and wondered what suggestions you have for the amount of sheen to apply to floors?

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