Types Of Paint Finishes and Getting A Top Quality Paint Job

types of paint finishes and when and where to use them

As a real estate agent, I get the opportunity to go into many homes.  The quality of the interior paint jobs can vary greatly from home to home. 

Getting a professional-quality paint job relies on several things.   One step that can differentiate a bad paint job from a good paint job is using the types of paint finishes correctly throughout your home.

Different types of paint finishes have a different sheen or reflective quality can range from flat matte to high gloss.  Each paint sheen has its pros and cons and should be chosen carefully for each area of your home. 

One big mistake that the DIY painter can make is choosing the wrong sheen or finish for a particular area of their home.   But an average homeowner can learn to paint correctly. If you are not willing to put in the time or effort consider hiring a professional paint contractor for your next painting project.

So when should you use Eggshell vs Semi-gloss or Flat vs Eggshell?

Types of Paint Finishes or Sheens

While there is no right or wrong paint finish to use and it is a personal choice, there are reasons to select one paint finish over another.  And, while it may be the same color your choice in paint sheen can have a drastic impact on the look and durability of your finished paint job.

Different paint companies will have slightly different names for their various paint finishes but let’s cover the different paint sheen’s you will commonly see.

What is A Paint Sheen?

The sheen is the amount of light a paint finish will reflect or absorb.  Flat paint absorbs more light than it reflects giving almost no reflection of light.  Gloss paint is highly reflective and reflects most of the light hitting it.

Why Does The Type of Paint Finish Matter?

A matte or flat finish will absorb most of the light leaving no reflections in the finished paint jobs.  It gives a smooth, luxurious appearance.

A gloss finish will give a ton of reflections and highlight any flaws if used on a wall.

That begs the question of well why not use matte finish everywhere? There are trade-offs to be had when choosing the types of paint finishes you will use for your job.

The duller the paint sheen the more forgiving it is on flaws in the wall but the more prone it is to scuffing and difficult to clean without leaving a mark.  Flat or Matte paint is easier to applies and touches up easier than a gloss finish.

Higher gloss finishes are far more durable and can be easily cleaned and scrubbed without damaging the finish.  They are more labor-intensive to apply and are harder to touch up. While a semi-gloss paint finish can create very distracting reflections on the wall, the shiny finish can help brighten a room.

When you compare flat paint to gloss paint there are pros and cons to each.  That is why they make a handful of finishes in between.

What Paint Finish Should I Choose?

Ideally, you want to use the lowest sheen you can get away with for the best looking job.  But you also want to choose a paint finish that holds up as well.

Before you pick a paint finish for an application consider how dark the color is, the wear and tear, the traffic, who is using the room and the moisture levels. 

A laundry room might warrant a satin finish or semi-gloss finish due to the wear and tear and moisture levels.  A matte or eggshell finish may be more suitable for a very little use guest room.

Most baseboard, door and window trim work best with a Semi-Gloss or High Gloss finish due to its washability and durability.

Matte or Flat Finish Paint

  • Matte or Flat finish paint absorbs all the light leaving no reflections at all.
  • It is perfect to hide imperfections in a wall.
  • It is easier to apply and requires fewer coats than paint with a glossier sheen.
  • It can be easily touched up and blend with the original paint coat.
  • It scuffs and stains the easiest of all paint finishes.
  • It can be washed, but cannot handle any scrubbing at all.
  • A Matte or Flat paint finish should be considered in low traffic areas.
  • Good for rooms like guest rooms, offices, adult bedrooms that don’t have a lot of wall contact and low traffic.  Matte paint may not be best for most hallways, kitchens, baths, high traffic or high moisture areas.

Eggshell Finish Paint

  • The Eggshell finish is called eggshell finish mirrors its namesake, the egg.  The sheen is a very soft glow that is almost nonexistent.
  • It is still easy to apply and touch up and the finish is soft enough to hide many imperfections. 
  • It is scuff and stain-resistant and can handle a little scrubbing.
  • It is the perfect mid-traffic finish and probably the most popular paint finish for walls overall.
  • It is great for bedrooms, hallways, living rooms and almost anywhere in the house.  Can be considered for bathrooms and kitchens depending on the usage but you probably want to go with a slightly higher finish.

Satin Finish Paint

  • Satin finish paint can also be categorized with Pearl or Soft Gloss finishes.
  • It is shinier than the Eggshell finish paint but still provides a soft glow to the reflections.
  • It is more durable and stain-resistant than lower paint sheens and provides good scuff resistance and is moderately easy to touch up.
  • This is a good mid to high traffic paint finish. 
  • Perfect for playrooms, laundry rooms, mudrooms and even hallways, living rooms and bedrooms that may receive higher traffic.  It is also a good paint finish to consider for bathrooms and kitchens depending on humidity levels.

Semi-Gloss Paint Finish

  • Semi-Gloss paint shows a hard reflection with very little light absorptions.
  • Because of its reflective nature, it is hard to hide flaws and blemishes on the surface to be painted.  It requires meticulous prep work and is harder to touch up.
  • It is very durable and scuff resistant.
  • It is easily cleanable and can be scrubbed quite hard.
  • Semi-gloss paint is perfect for high moisture areas.
  • Semi-Gloss paint is perfect for trim, doors and high moisture areas like bathrooms (without exhaust fans), laundry rooms and kitchens.

High-Gloss Paint Finish

  • High-Gloss paint finish creates a mirror-like surface with hard harsh reflections.
  • It is extremely durable, scuff resistant and very easy to clean and scrub.
  • High-Gloss is best for trim.
  • It is the most unforgiving of the paint finishes and highlights every flaw.  It is harder than any other sheen to touch up.
  • Not very suitable for walls in your home except for specialized uses.

Dark Paint Colors and What To Know About The Finish You Use

While I have layed out a good overview of the different paint finishes and where to use them it is a bit of a generalization.

Dark paint colors will be prone to highlight the reflections in the sheen you choose.  Reflections are generally white or light and in contrast to a deeper paint shade, they will be far more obvious. 

Consider going down in paint sheen in a darker color to minimize the distracting reflections.  There will be a balance that needs to be achieved.

Types of paint finishes - glossy door showing flaws


The Exception To Every Rule

Like everything, paint technology is always changing.  Many strides have been made over the past 20 years in paint technology.

One area paint companies are trying to perfect is the durability and washability of matte or lower sheen paints. 

The Sherwin Williams Emerald line of acrylic latex paint and the Benjamin Moore Aura Bath and Spa paint offer a matte finish paint that is more stain-resistant, mildew resistant and offers high washability may be a good choice for kitchens and baths.

You can get the luxurious feel of a matte finish with the durability of a higher sheen finish.  The paint does come at a premium, expect to pay $75-100 a gallon.

A Word On Paint Primers

A primer is meant to be a bottom coat that seals and gives a uniform base for a topcoat.  They are made up of mostly resins that are meant to do the job. 

Finish paint is made up of resins and pigments.  The pigments are what give the paint its hide.  A high-quality paint job starts with good priming.  Don’t skip the priming step.

Priming is a must if you are painting new wallboard and previously unpainted finishes or need to seal a different finish (like oil-based to latex).  Primer is also a must if you are going from a deep color to a light color.

Carefully consider if you should prime first. If you are in question…. prime!

Paint Finishes For Kitchen Cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets have been a popular option when renovating a kitchen.  Nothing takes a beating like your kitchen cabinets so it is important to get the right finish for durability.

Semi-gloss is probably the most popular choice for kitchen cabinets.  Secondary choices are satin and high-gloss.  Consider using a specialty paint product, like Valspars Cabinet and Furniture Paint, that is oil enhanced to flatten out and slow down drying time for a smoother finish.

Choosing the right types of paint finishes for the job  creates perfection.

Paint And Selling Your Home

One of the single best investments you can make when selling a home is a quality paint job of a neutral color.  Supplies to paint are relatively inexpensive if you paint yourself.

Not only is color important but so is selecting the right type of paint finish.  Using glossy paint on walls is usually a bad idea.  If you are an experienced painter a glossier paint finish will show every flaw and mistake.

Choosing the right paint finish is a big step in getting a quality paint job in your home.  Choose the type of paint finish carefully based on the needs you have for the area.

Your local paint store or paint contractor will be a great resource to help choose the right finish and they would be happy to answer any questions for you.

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