The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes
Updated: Jul 5
You arrive at your local Paint store, phone in hand with a list of all the things you‘ll need for your paint project. You've already spent your fair share of hours picking out the perfect paint color, and now the sales associate is taking your paint order. You tell them the name of the color you’ve picked out and then they ask you a question that you weren't expecting. ”What finish would you like that in?”.............
If you find yourself in this situation then I hope you're reading this right away. If you’re reading this before making your way to the paint store then even better! Allow me to help you figure out the perfect paint finish for your project. Here is your ultimate guide to paint finishes!
Low Sheen VS. High Sheen
First things first. In order to determine which sheen is best for your project, we need to discuss the major differences between low sheen paint and high sheen paint. The easiest way to understand the differences is to think of it as a slider. On one side you have low sheen or flat paint. Low sheen paint does an amazing job of minimizing imperfections in your walls, allowing you to have smooth-looking walls without doing too much surface prep. However low sheen paint is often unable to handle cleaning of any kind. On the other side of the slider is high sheen paint such as semi-gloss or gloss. High sheen paint is durable and can withstand a lot of abuse and scrubbing, making it ideal for high-traffic areas. The downside, however, is that the higher the sheen the more imperfections on the surface will be magnified.
You might be thinking “Well then the choice is obvious. Just pick the finish that is right in the middle for the best of both worlds.” While that certainly is an option most professional painters recommend different finishes for different surfaces and rooms in your house.
Here’s an overview of the most popular finishes and where to use them:
Flat paint is most often used on ceilings for the obvious reason that your ceilings should hardly be subject to traffic of any kind, making it a safe place for this more delicate finish. Not to mention it just looks amazing up there.
Flat paint is also often used on walls in areas that won’t receive too much traffic. An adult bedroom or home office might be the right place for flat paint. Remember you won’t have the luxury of being able to scrub this paint so make sure it’s in an out-of-the-way place.
Coming in with a slight sheen. Eggshell paint offers many of the benefits of flat paint while giving you the ability to lightly clean the walls if something were to happen.
This sheen is a go-to for almost any room in any home. The only caution we would give is when using this sheen in a bathroom, the bathroom must have good ventilation.
Almost everything that can be said about the eggshell finish can also be said about the satin finish. They are often interchangeable. Just know that satin has slightly more sheen and by extension is slightly more durable.
If you have the option to choose between the two you might consider using satin in a child’s room or bathroom.
The semigloss finish is most often associated with trim and doors. Since your trim and doors are likely to take the greatest beating of all the surfaces in your home, you're certainly going to want to put something durable on it. That is why most painters will recommend semi-gloss for those surfaces.
Semi-gloss is also often used in bathrooms with poor ventilation. If mold were to grow in those high humidity areas it would be much easier to clean that off of a semi-gloss paint which can prevent the mold from staining the surface while also standing up to harsh scrubbing.
Of course, there are more paint sheens that aren’t mentioned here, but these are by far the most popular.
Here is a quick look at most of the available sheens, and where to use them in order of from lowest to highest sheen:
Flat - Ceilings/Walls
Matte - Ceilings/Walls
Eggshell - Walls
Pearl - Walls
Satin - Walls/Trim
Semi-gloss - Trim/ Bathroom Walls and Ceilings
Gloss - Trim (use very sparingly)
High-End Flat Paint
What if you simply love the look of low sheen paint, and want to use it in every area in your house including the bathrooms? I’ve got good news. Most premium paints from Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore give you the flexibility of having a low sheen yet durable paint. It comes with a hefty price tag but if you have it within your budget I promise you won’t regret making the upgrade. These high-end paints offer a superior finished product that will last for many years. We certainly recommend going with these paints whenever possible.
Long story short, you will want to use low sheen paints in low-traffic areas such as bedrooms and offices, while using higher sheen paints in high-traffic or humid areas such as doors, trim, and bathrooms. As for all of the other rooms in between, feel free to pick a sheen from the middle, our go-to choices being eggshell or satin. If you follow those simple rules you shouldn’t have any trouble selecting the right finish for your paint project!
If all of this seems a bit overwhelming, we completely understand. perhaps you would rather leave it to the professionals. If you live in Maryland and you're looking to work with one of the best painters in Baltimore County, feel free to reach out to us at Aurora Painting! Schedule a call below!