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Guide to Paint Sheens and Finishes

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
by Sherry Castaldi
Category: Home Makeovers

Hurray! You’ve finally made it through the paint color selection process for your home and you’re feeling pretty good about it, only to be asked what sheen or finish do you want that paint in? Excuse me? What finish? What sheen? What in the world is that???

Here’s a guide to choosing the right paint sheen for your job.

Paint finishes range from a flat finish or no gloss sheen to a high gloss finish.  Generally speaking the shinier the sheen, the more durable and scrubbable the paint finish is, which equates to easier to keep clean.   Shiny surfaces, because they are reflective, help to make a small space feel larger.  They can also make architectural features pop. You will also want to keep in mind that the more sheen, the more light reflective properties the finish has, which also means this finish will show every flaw and imperfection.

At the other end of the spectrum are the flat finishes, and since they absorb light, making them an excellent choice for hiding imperfections compared to a high gloss finish.  However, flat finishes are not washable like the more durable glossier counterparts, so flat finishes are not a good choice for high traffic areas that will receive much finger touching. Washing and scrubbing can damage the finish in a flat paint.

Selecting your paint sheen’s durability and light reflective qualities for the specific area it will be used in is equally important as selecting your paint color.

Paint finishes and the areas they are most commonly used in:

Flat or Matte – Best for most walls and ceilings. A flat finish will be most forgiving of flaws and will absorb rather than reflect light. However is not a very washable paint, therefore not a good choice for high traffic areas.

There are also few variations available within flat paints that you should know.  A ceiling flat paint is specifically designed to roll on with less spattering and resist yellowing over time.  Some manufacturers may offer a matte finish with an increase in washability and durability, a blend of both worlds so to speak.

Eggshell – Good if your walls will receive small amounts of traffic or touching as the finish can be wiped down. Has more sheen or luster than a flat paint but also more scrubability than a flat finish.

Satin or Pearl – Better for high traffic areas and room with higher moisture such as kitchens and baths. Good for rooms that will receive a steady amount of touching or moisture.

Semi-gloss – Best for moldings, trim and cabinets. The higher sheen will help to emphasize architectural characteristics and will make wiping and cleaning easier.

High gloss – Will reflect light well, is easy to clean but should only be applied to perfect surfaces as it will emphasize every flaw. Consider exterior doors, shutters and trim work of architectural areas.


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