Demystify choosing the right paint sheen for any paint project in your home…
Do you stutter when the paint clerk asks you what kind of sheen you’d like on your paint? It’s OK. We’ve all been there. And I’m here to help.
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That’s right. Today, let’s have a chat about sheen…
Nope, not THAT kind of Sheen. Paint sheen.
Like most things in life, nothing is simple. Same goes with paint. You can’t just walk into Home Depot or Lowe’s, pull a can off the shelf and come home and slather it on your walls. That would be nice, but you have to plan a LITTLE bit, at least.
The color, of course, is the biggest hurdle. To make sure you’re off to a great start on that front, I created a free guide for you that will make sure you don’t make the five classic mistakes most people end up making when choosing paint color. You can grab your copy by clicking here or on that picture below. Once you enter your email, I’ll send it to you straight away.
But beyond the color, you will also have to pass the “sheen test” not to be confused with a “screen test”, which is much more daunting, or “house arrest” which wouldn’t be good, either. No, the “sheen test” is that moment when Mr. Paint Counter Guy looks at you and says “What sheen would you like?” Do you know how to respond?
I’ll give you some potential answers in multiple-choice form:
A. “Grande half-caff, 3 pump, no-whip, no foam soy vanilla latte extra hot, please”
B. “I’ll take Paper. Plastic is bad for the environment.”
C. “Give me a combo #5 with diet coke”
D. Interior flat, with primer
Let’s discuss each choice:
If you answered A: Seriously, dial back the drink deets, dude. You sound like a tool.
If you answered B: I applaud your environmentally-savvy-ness. But this is incorrect. P.S. what about your re-usable hemp grocery tote, smarty?
If you answered C: The whole ordering food by number thing kinda freaks me out, so I got nothing for you here, except to say, this answer is incorrect.
If you answered D: DING DING DING…you get the shiny (high-gloss) gold star for the day. You are painting royalty.
Here’s what we’ll be covering in our discussion of paint finishes today:
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What is paint sheen?
As Maria Von Trapp said, or rather sang, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
So just what is paint sheen? In short…
Paint sheen, or luster (also lustre) is the level of shininess, or on the opposite end of the sheen spectrum, dullness of your paint. It’s a spectrum.
Let’s briefly discuss the most popular sheens available in the paint market, moving from the least shine to the most shine.
At one end of the paint sheen spectrum, you’ll find flat paints. Also often called “matte”. This sheen is the least light reflective, so it is the least shiny of the group.
Flat can be a good choice for walls that have a lot of surface imperfections, as they’ll shield the visibility of those issues. That said, flat paints are typically the least durable option and most difficult to clean. So if you have kids, pets, or are just…human, lean a little to the shinier end of the paint sheen spectrum, if you don’t want to repaint often.
One of the most popular paint finish options on the market, eggshell has just a touch of shine, without looking, well, shiny. It’s a versatile finish that can be used in many different places inside and outside your home.
A step above eggshell in terms of shine, satin is also a super popular paint finish option. Easier to clean than its less shiny finish pals, satin is more durable, but also looks shinier and happier than a flat finish. So if shiny, happy walls aren’t really your bag, think twice about this finish.
Gettin’ glossier! This shiny, easy to clean, super durable finish is a great option for trim, doors, bathrooms, and exterior areas as well. But take heed on wavy walls…semi-gloss will not hide surface imperfections well.
At the top of the shine spectrum is a high gloss finish. Usually reserved for trim and doors, high gloss is the most cleanable finish around. But it also doesn’t play well with surfaces that aren’t perfect. It will reveal every bump, wavy and weirdness that you may never have even noticed in your wall. But if a shiny, happy finish that plays beautifully with light is your wish, then a high gloss paint will make you smile.
Beyond shiny versus dull, sheen also factors into durability and clean-ability of your paint. I’ve mentioned it briefly above, but let’s discuss a bit more.
Paint Sheen and Durability/Cleaning Ability
The rule in regard to choosing a paint sheen for ease of cleaning and durability is that…
For homes with little kids, if you’re choosing between flat and eggshell, typically err on the side of one step UP the sheen scale.
I rarely ever use flat paint in my home. The ceilings are the one exception to that rule. I always use a flat sheen for my ceiling paint. Moldings are on the other end of the spectrum.
Semi-gloss works well for interior moldings, especially baseboards. Why? Let’s face it, those get dingy and dusty, and being able to easily wipe those down is a big plus. Semi-gloss, or a high gloss helps them clean up nicely.
Paint Sheen and Visibility of Surface Imperfections
The effects of paint sheen don’t end with the level of shine versus dullness, or the difficult or easy of cleaning. Sheen also plays a role in the ability to hide or reveal imperfections. Meaning, imperfections in the painting surface itself.
If you’re anything like us and have an affinity for buying older homes…perhaps houses with plastered walls instead of drywall, for instance…choosing a paint that can hide the bumps and waves and wonkiness of your walls will be a plus.
If you’ve got funkadelic, wavy gravy, lumpy bumpy walls, err on the flatter side of the chart. I wouldn’t go higher in sheen than an eggshell with wonky walls. Your eye will end up drawn to every imperfection.
If given the choice on my walls, I usually pick an eggshell or even satin. In our foyer, pictured above, we used a satin. I love how it plays with the light and gives off a little shimmer. Flat can be so blah and boring.
More sheen to me makes a space more visually appealing, especially when you’re going with a neutral hue like a gray, greige, beige or white.
If you are going for a bold color, then you don’t necessarily need more sheen to give any more visual interest…it’s already there in your color if that makes sense.
Here’s a paint sheen chart that breaks down preferred paint finish room by room.
Room by room paint sheen chart
Want to know the best paint sheen choice for your bedroom? Or the proper paint finish for your kitchen? Trim sheen? What sheen should ceiling paint be? This little chart will help answer it all.
More Paint Sheen FAQ’s
You’ll see some variation of these based upon brand, but the basic list of sheens (from dullest to shiniest) are: flat/matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, high-gloss
While I wish there was a black and white answer to this question, the answer has many shades of gray (which seems appropriate since we’re discussing paint, after all). The best finish for your paint project depends several factors such as humidity and moisture in the room, how smooth the painting surface is, whether or not durability and ease of cleaning is important to you, and if you prefer a shinier or duller finish.
Low sheen paint is on the flat, matte end of the paint sheen spectrum. It has a less shiny, duller, low-luster appearance than higher sheen paint finishes such as satin and semi-gloss.
Great question. Sadly, there is not a great answer. While paint stores can do a great job color matching, sheen matching at this time is a much more difficult thing to do. This is why it can often be hard to touch up walls. Even if you get the color right, if the sheen of your touch up paint doesn’t align with the sheen of the paint already on the wall, it won’t match. The best thing to do is spot test in an inconspicuous area. If your touch up area looks too shiny, then go a level down on the luster, and vice versa if the touch up looks too dull.
Because trim, especially base molding trim gets nicks, dings, dusty and dirty, it’s best to go with a higher sheen paint, like semi-gloss or high-gloss. Going with a sheen that is a step up from your wall color will also make the trim pop and give some good visual dimension to your paint job.
For interior doors, choose a sheen that is easier to clean. Semi-gloss and high-gloss are two good options. For exterior doors, same advice! Just make sure to purchase an exterior paint with a semi-gloss or high gloss sheen rather than an interior grade paint.
Exterior grade paints can be purchased in all the same sheens as interior paints. And the guidelines for picking exterior paint sheen are similar to those for choosing interior sheen. Think about the exterior paint surfaces and imperfections, your needs in terms of ease to clean, preferences for shine versus a more matte look, and integrating some visual interest by varying sheen of your door and trim compared to the rest of the surfaces on the outside of your home. Typically, a higher sheen (semi-gloss or high gloss) is used for trim paint, while a more matte luster (satin or eggshell) is used for the rest of the exterior surfaces.
Painting a brick fireplace? There’s no hard and fast rule for choosing a sheen when it comes to brick. Really for this project it comes down to taste. Do you want your brick to look a little shiny and bright? Or do you want more of a matte appearance? You can really choose your sheen based on appearance for this project.
Paint sheen conclusion
When deciding on a paint sheen that is best for your home, first consider your needs in terms of the following factors:
These are the three questions you need to ask yourself before you head to the paint counter. If you know how much shine you want, how cleanable/durable you need the paint to be, and whether or not the walls you’re painting have few or a lot of imperfections, you’ll be able to pick the right sheen, every time.
So clutch that paint swatch confidently and walk right into Home Depot or Sherwin Williams or Ben Moore and you boldly order that gallon of glory…and do it with gusto.
Now that you’re a lean, mean paint sheen queen, are you ready to dive deeper into that pail of paint? If so, we’ve got all kinds of help for you in the realm of paint, including many posts that dig into specific paint shades, so you can see if it could be the right shade for your own home! Check some of these out, for starters!
More Painting Topics To Peruse
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