How To Pick the Right Paint Sheen

Choosing the right paint color for your walls is tough enough, but if you want your paint job to look its best, you also need to pick the right finish (or “sheen”). The right (or wrong) finish can make or break the overall look of the room.

When it comes to selecting the right paint sheen, it’s easy to get confused. Many first-time painters are surprised at how many sheen options there are. Should I get flat, matte or glossy?

Pro-painters and seasoned do-it-yourselfers will both tell you that picking the right sheen is incredibly important. Different paint finishes not only look different, but they also wear differently. Some hide scuffs and are easier to clean, while others will show everything. This is especially important if you have children, a pet or two at home, or you have a high-traffic area.

The key is finding a finish that not only looks good, but will also look good for years to come. Aside from appearance, the ease (or difficulty) of cleaning and ability to hide small scuffs and scrapes are the biggest differences between sheens. The need to clean of course differs in each room of your home, and you’ll want to think about how the room will be used when picking your finish.

Paint Finish (“Sheen”) Basics

Generally for walls, the flatter, or less shiny the paint, the better the paint looks. Current trends favor matte or flat finishes. Anything shinier than egg shell has a tendency to look cheaper and dated.

However shinier finishes have there perks. While flatter sheens may look good today and hide small scuffs better, high-shine finishes like satin and gloss are easier to clean. For this reason, satin and gloss sheens are often used for trim and molding. When a high-shine finish is paired with a flat-painted wall, the shiny trim can really set off a room and make the borders pop.

Here’s a list of the most common finishes from least shiny to most shiny.

1. Flat Finish. Flat finish is paint with no gloss at all. It is more forgiving to imperfections and scuffs than any other finish, but may be difficult to clean.

2. Matte Finish. This finish is great if you expect to do some touch up work. Brush strokes disappear and it can be used to create a suede effect with dark colors. This finish is often used on large empty walls and paired with high gloss millwork to make it stand out. Similar to flat finish, it will hide blemishes well, but will not be as easy to clean as its higher-gloss cousins.

3. Egg Shell Finish. If you like being in the middle, then this finish is for you. It’s the most widely used finish for walls, and for good reason. A step up from matte in terms of shine, egg shell has just touch of gloss which helps in reflecting light and making a room seem brighter. Touch-ups may not be as easy as the previous two finishes, but egg shell is reasonably easy to clean. When in doubt, go with egg shell as it works for just about any wall in a home.

4. Satin Finish. Satin finish is often described as velvety. Novice painters may find it more difficult to blend their brushstrokes with satin, but once the paint has dried, it is easy to clean. Satin contains more gloss which will lighten a room (compared to using the same color with a flatter finish), but that reflective quality will also cause wall imperfections to be more visible. Most people like to use satin in entryways and hallways.

5. Semi-gloss Finish. Semi-gloss is a kind of gloss’s middle child. Satin is usually the choice for jobs that need a little shine, and gloss and high-gloss are used when something has to be shiny. However, if you’re looking to paint some baseboards or a door, semigloss is a good choice. To be clear, this finish has a gloss to it, but it doesn’t reflect as much light as you might expect. Moreover, it’s easy to clean and also works well in areas that see a fair amount of traffic.

6. Gloss Finish. Gloss finish is perfect for kitchens, or anywhere else that food might be splattered and needs to be easy to clean. Food, drinks and whatever other foreign objects that may be hitting your walls will be very easy to clean up when gloss paint is used. In most cases, a damp rag or sponge will get would-be stains off with just a couple wipes.

7. High Gloss Finish. Like gloss, high-gloss finish is incredibly easy to clean. It’s also super shiny (for better or worse). However, this glossiest of finishes is often avoided because of its high maintenance. The reflective nature of the finish makes everything noticeable. Drips, nail holes, scuffs and pretty much anything else will be nearly impossible to hide with high-gloss finish. High gloss finishes should only be used in special circumstances. To look good, you need a pre-painted surface that’s in impeccable condition. High gloss sheen is very reflective. It works well in low-light rooms, but can be overwhelming in a room that gets a lot of natural sunlight.


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