Paint is an almost magical tool for altering the appearance of a space. However, not all paints are considered equal. Some are great for giving vintage furniture or cabinets a new look, while others soften out the lighting in a nursery or embolden the hues of a sitting room. While much of this effect boils down to the color, finish also plays a role. Choosing a paint finish can be a bit overwhelming, so here we give a summary of the five main types.
Something About Sheen
Before we dive into choosing a paint finish, let’s discuss what sets them apart. There are two qualities that distinguish one kind of finish from another, and both boil down to the same cause: number of pigments and additives in the paint. Paint is a mixture which includes resins, solvents, additives, and pigments. A higher volume of pigments and additives increases both a paint’s durability and its sheen.
Durability is an easy quality to understand, but sheen is another matter. It is a measure of how much light reflects off of a given paint. This is often interpreted as shininess, though it goes a little further than that. A high sheen can alter how a paint hue appears to the human eye because it reflects more light. For example, a shade of white paint with a flat finish may look duller than the same formula with a finish with a high gloss.
Unfortunately, paint manufacturers do not standardize sheen levels, so one company’s can of satin may be glossier than another’s. Different manufacturers may even call the same kind of finish by different names, so do your research before finally choosing a paint finish. Be sure to test sections of your paint before applying it to an entire surface to make sure the sheen looks the way you want it to in the room.
The 5 Options When Choosing a Paint Finish
Flat or Matte
Flat or matte finishes have the lowest available sheen levels. In fact, depending on the manufacturer, these finishes may even look almost chalky. Because they do not reflect large amounts of light, flat finishes are often used for masking or hiding imperfections, especially in drywall. Unfortunately, because they have the smallest amount of additives, their durability is nothing to write home about.
Flat finishes tend to wear down more quickly than other finishes, so they are not good for surfaces that experience a lot of contact (like cabinet doors). This makes them difficult to clean since any effort to rub away marks leaves the paint looking smudgy. If your paint gets marked up, you’ll have to repaint the entire wall if you want a smooth surface. If you have small kids or pets to threaten clean walls, consider choosing a paint finish that is hardier than mattes.
Adding in a bit more sheen, eggshell finishes are known for their soft almost velvety appearance. They also soften out any room in which they are applied to the walls. They are still not very hardy, but they are generally a good choice for bedrooms, hallways, family rooms, and entryways.
In keeping with luxurious adjectives, satin finishes have been described as almost pearly. Without quite reaching glossy territory, satin finishes reflect a good balance of light, without excessive shine while proving to be quite durable. If you are choosing a paint finish for your bathroom or kitchen, consider satin.
Now we have come to the finishes that are truly shiny. Semi-gloss finishes reflect a lot of light and hold up to vigorous scrubbing. Clean-up is a breeze with semi-gloss finishes, so they are also ideal candidates for kitchens and bathrooms as well as for door trims and baseboards. Many people also choose to use a semi-gloss finish on their ceilings. So elevated, they are great for hiding things like airborne grease and smoke residue.
Gloss or High-Gloss
Gloss or high-gloss finishes are the highest on the sheen and durability scale. These finishes reflect a lot of light. This has the benefit of making a room seem lighter than it is, but any texturing in the painted surface becomes obvious with all the light bouncing around. For this reason, many homeowners enlist professional painting services to apply paint with gloss finishes, since if the paint is not applied perfectly, every errant brushstroke is painfully obvious.
If your goal in choosing a paint finish is to find something that will hold up well against a lot of contact, gloss is the way to go. These finishes are the most durable and hardy. This makes them easy to wipe off and clean, so they are a great fit for high-contact surfaces like doors, trim, and cabinets.