PAINT FINISHES 101
Not sure which paint finish is best for your surface? Once you figure out your needs, it can be easier to figure out which sheen is best (excluding Charlie, he’s a hot mess).
- you sometimes get small scuffs on your walls = you need wipeability
- you have four kids, three dogs, two gorillas and a donkey in your home, and you need a Hazmat suit to wipe down your walls = you need washability
- you have textured or damaged walls = you should consider sheen
In this photo, there are four different paintable surfaces with different needs
First, I’ll give you a quick n’ dirty summary. HOWEVER, please take the time to read the rest of this blog post as it has IMPORTANT information and considerations!
BEST PAINT FINISH FOR CEILINGS: flat
BEST PAINT FINISH FOR TRIMS, DOORS & MOULDINGS: satin
BEST PAINT FINISH FOR WALLS: matte or eggshell
BEST PAINT FINISH FOR CABINETS: satin
BEST PAINT FINISH FOR PAINTED BRICK: eggshell
Now, let’s learn a little about what you can expect in SHEEN or GLOSS from the above finishes!
BTW – there is variation in percentages between finishes, brands, and lines of paint – these are approximate numbers.
FLAT FINISH PAINT
Flat paint has little to no sheen. Because of this, it’s usually not washable or even very wipeable. Some higher-end brands have some luck with basic washability (Benjamin Moore Aura and Sherwin Williams Emerald), but I’m sceptical over the long-term for high-use areas. I’ve found the only TRULY WASHABLE paint is Benjamin Moore ScuffX.
Matte paint can have a 5-10% gloss finish, making it slightly more washable, but still not as durable as a shinier finish.
10-25% VISIBLE SHEEN
An eggshell finish is similar to that of an actual eggshell, not flat, not shiny – kind of in-between.
SATIN OR PEARL FINISH
25-35% VISIBLE GLOSS
Satin or pearl is the next step up from eggshell. Satin/pearl has a reasonable amount of sheen to it without being as glossy as a semi-gloss.
Satin finish (and glossier finishes) can slightly brighten and enhance colour compared to flat and eggshell finishes (due to light reflectance).
70-85% VISIBLE SHEEN
This one has some kick to it with a sheen level that will reflect light back into your room.
The white barn door is shinier than it needs to be
85%+ VISIBLE SHEEN
This is the full meal deal in the sheen world. A high gloss finish adds drama, and impact and has supreme washability. I usually find it to be way more than is necessary and prefer satin or semi-gloss.
The sheen on this door is so strong; it’s distracting
However, the sheen is irrelevant if you buy crappy paint. The better quality your paint is, the more durable your finish should be – a la moi
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at what you could use in your own home.
THE BEST PAINT FINISH FOR TRIMS, DOORS & MOLDINGS
Hands down, satin is the most popular finish for any type of trims, doors and mouldings. Why is it so popular? It’s washable without being overly glossy.
- old homes look fabulous with a semi-gloss trim but can easily handle a satin finish
- newer or modern homes tend to suit a satin finish
- shiny finishes can expose flaws, so make sure your trim is in tip-top shape – the same with your painting skills
- the photo above shows a satin finish
THE BEST PAINT FINISH FOR THE CEILING
In 99% of cases, a flat finish is best for a ceiling. Why? There are a few reasons…
- you don’t want your ceiling reflecting light back at you, and shinier finishes are reflective
- ceilings are often textured, and a textured finish will be enhanced with shiny paint, as will any flaws
THE BEST PAINT FINISH FOR WALLS
MATTE OR EGGSHELL
When it comes to walls, there are many considerations…
The best paint finish for walls that are in great shape – matte or eggshell
- If your walls are smooth, in good condition, and you don’t have kids or dogs, you can definitely consider a quality matte finish.
- If your walls are smooth, in good condition, and you DO have kids, dogs or a spouse with Dorito fingers, you may want an eggshell finish. A great alternative is ScuffX in matte finish as it’s far more washable than the average paint (it’s the only paint I’ll use in my home in the future).
The best paint finish for walls that are damaged or uneven – matte or eggshell
- As mentioned earlier, I highly recommend ScuffX. And no, I don’t get paid anything to say that (I pay myself in Starbucks, white wine and personal high-fives) – I just love its washability and overall finish.
- Any sheen will expose flaws on your walls. While ScuffX matte has a particular sheen at a certain ANGLE, its overall look is very muted.
- However, if you have kids/dogs/spouse/gorilla, you may need to sacrifice that low sheen for some wipeability with eggshell (IF you aren’t using ScuffX).
The best paint finish for heavily textured walls – matte
- The great thing about textured walls is that the texture will help disguise any fingerprints, smudges, etc…
- If you’re worried about washability, you can use eggshell, but it will slightly enhance the look of your textured areas. Again, check out ScuffX (yes, I am passive-aggressive).
If you’re painting your walls a dark colour – matte
- If you’re painting a medium or dark-toned colour (feature wall or whole room), it can look garish with too much sheen (there are few exceptions). Ideally, you would use a washable matte finish (this doesn’t apply to cabinets – only walls).
BTW, the only eggshell finish that is REALLY different is Behr’s, which is more like a satin finish (I would use it for furniture or trim, not walls, personally).
THE BEST PAINT FINISH FOR KITCHEN CABINETS, VANITIES & FURNITURE
I’ve yet to meet a semi-gloss or high-gloss cabinet that I love UNLESS it’s on a flat panel cabinet in a more modern setting. Satin is almost ALWAYS the best finish for cabinets (some brands refer to it as ‘Pearl’.
- A satin finish is great for washability, without reflecting my purdy lil face back at me. I have done some furniture pieces in semi-gloss, and they looked sharp but were too reflective. Again, the shinier the paint is, the more you will see flaws, so if you’re painting your own cabinets, satin will have a bit more forgiveness than semi-gloss for a less-than-perfect job.
What’s the best way to sample paint colours?
Undoubtedly, you’ll be heading out soon to grab paint samples – stop right there! I want you to check out SAMPLIZE. Samplize offers peel-and-stick paint samples that are more AFFORDABLE, EASIER and more ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY than traditional paint pots. Here are just a FEW reasons why I recommend Samplize to my clients…
- samples arrive ON YOUR DOORSTEP in 1 DAY, depending on the location
- they’re more affordable than the samples pots/rollers/foam boards that are needed for traditional paint sampling
- if you keep the samples on their white paper, you can move them around the room
Visit the SAMPLIZE website HERE
The Best Paint Finish for Your Front Door
When it comes to the front door, satin is usually a safe bet. Why?
- Direct natural light can expose flaws such as dents, scuffs, brush and roller marks. Add a glossy finish to this, and it’ll be a hot mess.
- Dark colours in a glossy finish can be a bit garish if not suited to the home.
- Flat or eggshell finishes can look chalky on the front door and aren’t washable enough for the wear and tear that doors get.
- Satin finish on the front door is my fave. Wipeable, classy – not glassy.
The Best Paint Finish for a Brick / Stone Fireplace
Brick can look abrasive when shiny, yet dull when flat. For this reason, I like eggshell for a brick fireplace (more than satin).
- If you paint your brick a dark colour, eggshell finish looks best.
- If you’re painting your brick a light/white colour, eggshell or MAYBE satin.
A few more tidbits…
- The more coats of paint you put on, the more sheen you will get. What looked eggshell at TWO coats can look shinier at FIVE!
- The quality of your brush and roller matters DESPERATELY! Invest well.
At the end of the day, it’s up to YOU as to which finish makes the most sense. Talk to your local paint store as they can be a wealth of knowledge and may know a few tips particular to your region.
Well, that about covers it! If you’re considering hiring a painter, I highly recommend you read this: The 10 Questions You Need to Ask BEFORE Hiring a Painter!
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Originally written May 2017, updated 2022