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A Guide to Different Paint Finishes (& When To Use Them)

Styling Tips Jun 4, 2020

Welcome back to paint 101, this time we’re talking all about paint finishes, and when you should use them.

Choosing the right type of paint can be confusing, particularly when you’re at the hardware store confronted with aisles full of different sheens. We get lots of questions about when you should use various paint types, so we thought it would be useful to lay out all the info for you as part of our paint series!

Tips For Choosing the Right Paint Type or ‘Sheen’

When you think about different paint types, it generally comes down to the ‘sheen’ that they have. Paint sheen or finish refers to the amount of light that the paint reflects from its surface. Simply put, paints with a higher sheen reflect light and paints with a low sheen absorb light. Below we outline all the different types of paint types based on their sheens.

One thing to note is that if your paint color is dark and rich but you don’t want a super shiny effect, step down at least one level on the sheen scale. That’s because the darker and richer the paint color is, the more colorant it has, which boosts sheen. Ditto if you’re painting a large, sun-washed, or imperfect wall. The higher the sheen, the more defects will show. 

Paint Type: High Gloss

Glossy paint finish is the most durable and easiest to clean of all paint types. It’s hard, ultra-shiny and light-reflecting.S surface prep is important: this type of paint will show every lump and bump underneath, so don’t skip the prep work.

Suitable for :  Kitchens, cabinets, doors, window trims and areas that sticky fingers touch and likely to get dirty

Durability: Very high

Semi-Gloss

Semi-gloss paint types are some of the most resilient. These finishes create a smooth, slightly reflective finish that is durable and easy to clean. The higher the gloss, the easier the cleanup of messes like fingerprints and smudges. 

Note that semi-gloss’s extra sheen may change how your paint color looks on the wall. More light from your lamps or the room’s uncovered windows will bounce off of semi-gloss surface than a satin surface (which actually absorbs some additional light instead). As a result of the way light reflects, the same paint color may appear slightly darker in a semi-gloss finish and slightly lighter in a satin one. So, factor that in when you’re making your final decision about which paint finish to use.

Suitable for: Kitchen, bathrooms, trims, brown holding. Also areas that get a lot of use and require frequent wipe-downs like playrooms, kids’ bedrooms and rooms where moisture, drips, and grease stains challenge walls. 

Durability: High

Satin

Satin finish is often described as velvety and is more flattering over pocks, divots, and scrapes since it draws the light in and tricks the eye into seeing a more even surface. So, if you want to deflect attention away from faults and blemishes without spending hours sanding them away, satin is the way to go. It’s biggest flaw is it reveals application flaws, such as roller or brush strokes. Touch-ups later can be tricky.

Suitable for: Bedrooms, living rooms and family rooms, foyers, hallways, kids’ bedrooms

Durability: Medium to high

Eggshell

This paint essentially has a flat (no-shine) finish with little lustre, like a chicken’s egg. Eggshell covers wall imperfections well and is a great finish for gathering spaces that don’t get a lot of bumps and scuffs.

Suitable for : Dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms

Durability: Medium

Flat or Matte

Latte or matte paint finishes are non reflective. A flat finish will soak up light, create a smooth appearance in areas with surface imperfections and hide any bumps or scratches in the surface of the wall. Flat finishes are the hardest to clean, but are easy to touch up which means you can repaint any major marks or scratches. 

Suitable for: Low-traffic rooms with lots of light, like an office or a formal sitting room, adults’ bedrooms and other interior rooms that won’t be roughed up by kids

Durability: Low

My Personal Preference for Paint Sheens

Personally, I prefer a more matte finish on all paints in our home. That’s because I find that the more shiny a surface, the more cheap that it can look. Take our kitchen for example. We hand painted the cabinets using a bespoke colour. Although it might have been better to paint them in a higher sheen due to the amount of use they get, we knew that the lower sheen paint would make the kitchen look much more expensive. For me, I’m happier to have a space looking better, even if the surface may be a little harder to clean down the line. So far we haven’t had any troubles and I find marks actually show up less than they would on a shinier surface.

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