Choosing the Right Paint Sheen for Every Wall

December 22, 2013

If you’ve ever walked through the interior and exterior paint aisle at your local New England hardware store then you know there’s a dizzying array of options from which to choose. Flat… matte… eggshell… velvet… satin… it’s hard enough choosing paint colors! Now you have to choose, well, what exactly?

Those terms – and others like semi-gloss and high-gloss refer to what’s known as sheen. Sheen is defined as the degree of shine in interior and exterior paints, and it can definitely be tricky to pick the right sheen of paint for your walls.

The common paint sheens, in order of lowest shine to highest, are:

  • Flat
  • Matte
  • Low-sheen
  • Velvet
  • Eggshell
  • Satin
  • Semi-gloss
  • Gloss
  • High-gloss

When it comes to choosing the right paint sheen, the rule of thumb is: the higher the shine, the higher the durability. Shinier paints are stain resistant and can be wiped, washed, and even scrubbed with no ill effects. That’s because they create a harder barrier – especially high-gloss paint, which is the hardest and most durable of all the paint sheens.

But of course, durability isn’t the only thing people look for when choosing paint. Flatter sheens minimize imperfections because they don’t reflect as much light, so imperfect walls appear smoother and more beautiful. However, flat, matte, and low-sheen paints are much harder to clean and more likely to stain so probably best for households without small children or pets.

Here’s where to use some of the paint sheens you’ll see on hardware store shelves:

In kitchens, baths, and high-moisture/high-traffic areas, more sheen is better. Flat paints can take on water stains and are almost impossible to clean to like-new condition if exposed to oil or food spills. Semi-gloss is a good option for walls that will encounter sticky finger and trim subject to above-average levels of abuse.

Painting kitchen cabinets and bathroom cabinets calls for high-gloss paint. This hard-wearing sheen of paint is best for any surface that is going to endure a lot of touching or dirt and is also good for window trim. Keep in mind, though, that it will show every imperfection so don’t skimp on the prep work.

choosing paint sheen

Use satin where you want a flatter look without sacrificing durability. Satin combines the look of flatter paints with much of the durability of higher sheen paints, making it good for kids’ rooms, foyers, hallways, dining rooms, and family rooms. Be aware that satin paint will not hide application flaws and that makes it hard to touch up when scratches happen.

Use eggshell in the living room – especially if your walls aren’t perfect. Eggshell looks gorgeous and comforting on living room and grownup bedroom walls, and it’s a great choice on walls that have problems you can’t repair easily. That doesn’t mean you can avoid the usual prep, though.

Once you have a handle on paint sheen, picking the right one for your project should be no problem. The one place you could run into trouble is if you’re switching brands mid-project. One company’s idea of eggshell might be another’s velvet or vice versa. Most hardware stores will have a sheen chart available that can help you make sure that the paint you want comes in the sheen you need.

At Jerry Enos Painting, we know the right products for the job. Every Massachusetts exterior painting and interior painting project is different, and unlike other MA painting companies, we will always treat your house, building, or surface as one-of-a-kind. Call us for a free estimate at 978-546-6843.

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