When you decide to paint your home, often the first thing that comes to your mind is, “what color should I use?”, But the less commonly asked question is “what paint sheen should I use?”. In this article, we will break down what sheen is, the pros and cons of each type, and how to find the paint sheen that’s right for you.
What is a paint sheen?
Sheen simply means how much light the paint reflects.
This can range from no reflection (low-sheen) to an almost mirror-like reflection (high-sheen).
High-sheen or glossy surfaces are typically easier to clean. Common in bathrooms and high-traffic areas. If you intend to hide or downplay imperfections in a space, you should avoid high-sheen paint. To make architectural features pop like entryways, consider using a high-sheen.
Low-sheen paints are best for concealing imperfections and are best in lower-traffic areas. Lower sheen paints tend to show more true color and are better at reflecting light.
Let’s take a look now at the various paint sheens.
Pros: Flat finishes have the lowest sheen. They are an excellent choice for low-traffic areas like closets, dining rooms, and ceilings. Flat paints are perfect for ceilings because they avoid light glare and allow you to see the true color. If you’ve ever turned the lights on in a room and gotten a bright glare, you’ll notice that you’re unable to see the true color of the wall. The anti-glare properties of flat paint allow you always to see the wall’s true color.
Another great benefit of flat paint that it hides imperfections like bumps or small cracks in the walls. It also goes on smoother over rough surfaces which makes it an excellent option for older walls, textured walls, or walls with a lot of drywall issues.
Cons: It is harder to clean and is not recommended for high-traffic areas like the kitchen, bathroom, or hallways. This is because flat paint has a porous texture, which can trap dirt and lead to burnishing when scrubbed or rubbed off. Flat colors don’t touch up quickly and can show skin oils if touched. If you have small children, flat paint might not be the best choice for you.
The one exception to this is Sherwin-Williams Duration (which is available in all sheens) and is specially formulated with patented cross-linking technology that forms a smooth and continuous paint film. This technology not only locks in the colorants, but also provides superior resistance to staining, burnishing, and water-streaking. If you desire flat paint and are afraid of any of the above cons, Duration may be a good choice for you.
A word of caution – different paint brands have different definitions of flat paint. A company may call its paint flat when in reality it is actually a matte paint. It may still look flat, but has a slight sheen to it.
Pros: Eggshell is the most common paint sheen for interior walls. It has a little more sheen than flat paint which means it reflects just a low amount of light. It has a slight gloss of about 10-25%. Eggshell makes a great choice for hallways, living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. It has a smoother finish than flat paint and can hide some imperfections. If you want to add just a hint of sheen in your room, eggshell is the perfect option.
Cons: Eggshell has medium durability and can handle mild stains and moisture. It is not recommended to use eggshell in areas like a kitchen or bathroom or areas with heavy traffic. It is washable but not as washable as some of the paints we’ll talk about below.
A word of caution: Eggshell sheens will vary between manufacturers. One company may have an eggshell paint with as much sheen as a satin finish of another company – so always view samples before making your final decision.
Pros: One of the most popular sheens for modern design, satin has slightly more pop than an eggshell. It has a richer appearance than eggshell and just like the flat and eggshell sheens, satin is great on wall surfaces where you want to hide imperfections. Satin has about a 25-35% gloss when compared to eggshell and flat paint. This is a very washable paint and is perfect for areas with moisture and dirt like kitchens and bathrooms. It is also a great choice for kids rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and other high-traffic areas. Satin doesn’t show skin oils and offers less light-glare than your semi-gloss or gloss sheens.
Cons: While satin is a highly durable and popular paint choice, you must consider the surface you are painting on. If the surface has imperfections, satin paint will tend to highlight those imperfections. Additionally, if you are not careful in your application, inconsistencies can be evident. This makes touch-ups difficult.
A Word of Caution: Just like with the sheens mentioned above, what companies define as satin can vary. Some satins may have an almost semi-gloss finish while some may be closer to an eggshell. Always view the samples before deciding.
Pros: With a very shiny and smooth finish, semi-gloss is a step up from satin and has anywhere from 35-70% gloss. This is because it reflects a lot of light and will show imperfections. As you go up in sheens, more acrylic is added to the paint, which means increased durability but also increased light glare. Semi-gloss is a great choice for extremely high-traffic areas of the home and a good option for trim areas, furniture, and door areas where you want more attention. It also makes a good option for bathrooms with poor ventilation because it is highly water resistant and can be cleaned easily.
A common design trend for years has been eggshell on the walls and semi-gloss on the trim work. This creates a contrast between the two areas.
Cons: If you do not have good wall-surfaces that are level and smooth, I would avoid semi-gloss. Many painters will try to avoid semi-gloss due to the amount of light glare. If you have a room with high moisture, satin sheens can still suffice as paint technology has gotten more moisture-resistant. Be sure to talk with your painter or paint rep to get the best advice for your situation.
Pros: This sheen was very common several decades ago but is making a come back in certain design areas. If you’re feeling bold, this can be a good choice for windows and door trims. Gloss paint is the easiest of all sheens to clean and soap, grease, water, and stains can be wiped away with ease.
Cons: Gloss is not commonly used, and many painters will avoid this sheen due to its highly reflective properties. Gloss will show just about every imperfection so be sure your area is well prepped and ready to be painted.
Like with any painting job, thorough surface preparation is critical for any surface. If you plan to use a higher-gloss finish, this is even more important.
If you’re unsure on how a sheen might look, it’s always wise to test them out on pieces of scrap wallboard first. Different light levels and color temperatures can have a big influence on how colors appear. It’s recommended you always try a variety of samples to obtain the best results.
The answer is… it depends. The best factors to consider is the use of your space, amount of traffic, and the aesthetic that you desire.
High gloss paints (gloss and semi-gloss) will be easier to clean and more durable, however, imperfections and light glare will be apparent and it will be harder to touch up.
In lower gloss paints (flat and eggshell) you will be able to hide imperfections, touch-ups will be easier, and it will showcase the truest-colors because of the reduced reflection.
Satin is often a nice middle ground between high and low gloss because it provides washability and a mild light reflection.
A better place to start when deciding on the right paint sheen might be high gloss vs low gloss.
The two are near opposites in terms of reflectively with high gloss reflecting the most light and flat reflecting zero light. Low gloss paints are the hardest to clean and least durable, however, in low-traffic areas they provide a smooth sheen and are more economical than high-gloss paints. Lower gloss paints (like flat, eggshell and satin), easily hide imperfections and if you are trying to do a quick do-it-yourself painting of your home, lower gloss paints may be your best choice.
If you desire a higher gloss paint, you may need the help of an experienced professional.
We hope this was able to shed some knowledge on the world of paint sheens. If you are still unsure or have any questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.
If you’re looking to hire San Diego’s most-trusted painter, look no further than TruLine Painting. We have over 25 years of residential painting experience, are a top-rated painting contractor in San Diego, and 2-time recipient of the Angie’s List Super Service Award (2017 and 2018)
Also, if you’re looking for some inspiration on the top residential painting trends of 2019, check out a recent blog post on the top 42 trends of 2019.
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