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Paint Finishes

Ever wonder what the difference is between matte, flat, eggshell, pearl, semi-gloss, high-gloss, velvet, satin or pearl when it comes to paint sheens?

The seemingly small difference of paint sheen can make a big impact on a room. It can even make the difference between a homeowner loving and hating a paint job!

Once the paint colors have been selected it is important to get the right paint. That starts with knowing a bit about paint finishes or sheens.

Unfortunately, there is not a uniform standard in the paint industry for the names given to paint finishes by manufacturers. Paint companies market their products with various names that are not consistent with their competitors. For instance, depending on the manufacturer an eggshell paint may range any where from 10 to 40% gloss.
Master Painter Institute has a list of Gloss and Sheen Standards that are followed by some paint manufacturers. MPI's numeric sheen system can give a standardized specification for sheens so that architects, contractors and homeowners can choose a level of sheen rather than a particular paint product.
While there is some disagreement on the levels of gloss found in various paint finishes the following descriptions are meant to be a helpful guide in understanding paint finishes.
Flat Finish Matte / Velvet Finish  
0 to 5% gloss 5 to 10% gloss  
Flat paint has little or no shine so it doesn't reflect light. As a result flat paint works wonders to hide irregularities in walls and ceilings. Pure color can be seen from all angles. Marks are not easily washed, but can be touched up with extra paint that is kept on hand. Because there is no sheen these touch ups don't show the way glossy paint touch ups would. While percentages vary between companies and paint lines, matte paint does not have a high amount of gloss. Matte is sometimes also be called or marketed as velvet or suede. Matte does have an increased sheen over flat paint that adds to its scrubbability. It still does an excellent job in camouflaging minor bumps and imperfections in the wall.  
Eggshell Finish Pearl or Satin Finish  
10 to 25% gloss 25 to 35% gloss  
Named after the characteristics of an actual eggshell, this finish may appear to have little sheen straight on, but viewed from an angle it does have more of a sheen. Walls can still look good with the added gloss and they will stand up significantly better than a flat paint. (The percentage of gloss in an eggshell finish may vary dramatically between paint manufacturers. Some considering 10 to 25% gloss an eggshell paint, whereas others may call a 26 to 40% gloss an eggshell finish.) Just as a pearl has more shine than an egg, a paint with a pearl finish will be more glossy than eggshell. While it is commonly used in painting windows, doors and trim, it can also be used for walls.
It is practical for use in bathrooms, kitchen, children's rooms and high traffic areas because it is meant to withstand light scrubbing and washing. Both eggshell and satin finishes have increased in use for walls.
Semi-gloss Gloss  
35 to 70% gloss 70 to 85% gloss  
Paint with a semi-gloss finish goes on smoothly and has a nice gleam without being too dramatic. Trim, doors, windows and cabinets are the surfaces most often applied with semi-gloss. Gloss paint has a has a shinier finish than semi-gloss and is popular for trims, doors and cabinets. Careful attention should be given to prep work and undercoats to create a smooth surface for glossy paint.  
85% gloss and higher  
This highly luminous sheen has the greatest amount of gloss and looks almost like plastic. High-gloss paint certainly offers durability and washability, making it ideal for cabinets in the kitchen or bathroom. The reflective surface of this paint finish really exaggerates imperfections, so prep work is important to a clean polished look.  



What sheen is for which room?

Bathrooms Kitchens  
For most the best paint sheens for the bathroom are semi-gloss and gloss. A good quality eggshell or satin will offer enough durability for a bathroom if you don't happen to be in love with glossy bathrooms. Like bathroom, kitchens are generally painted with a gloss or semi-gloss paint. For those who prefer a lower sheen, a good quality scrubbable satin or eggshell finish would more than suffice.  
Trims and Windows Kitchen Cabinets  
Semi-gloss or gloss or high-gloss are the best option for windows and trims. Satin is also an acceptable paint sheen. When it comes to kitchen cabinets, go with a gloss or semi-gloss. If those are too shinny for you try a pearl, satin or eggshell.
Doors Bedrooms
Both gloss and semi-gloss are highly recommended for doors. Eggshell and satin are also runners up for a door paint sheen. Flat and matte are not recommended for doors. Flat or matte are the preferred sheen for most bedrooms. Eggshell and satin have more shine, but offer greater washability for children's bedrooms.
Hallways Ceilings
Eggshell or flat are great sheen choices for hallways. If it is a high traffic hallway you may want a sheen, like satin, that will hold up a bit better. Flat is an excellent sheen for use on ceilings as this sheen hides imperfections so well. Although flat is the preference, matte or eggshell can be used on ceilings as well.
Living Room Dining Room
Flat is the first choice for many in for living rooms as it camouflages small cracks and bumps. Matte and velvet are great choices too. Eggshell or satin can also be used for this room, although they will have more shine. Low luster walls are preferred in the dining room making flat and eggshell the best sheen options. Satin is another finish that can be used in the dining room. Pick the sheen level you are comfortable with.
Designers generally like flatter paints with less sheen for walls because they conceal small imperfections. Additionally, paint with little to no gloss reveal the true color of a paint that is not altered by variations of reflection or glare. Contractors often like to work with lower gloss eggshell paints as these paints are easier to touch up. On the other hand, homeowners, especially moms want their walls to be scrubbable and favor eggshell finishes that have a higher sheen, or pearl / satin paint.
Get help selecting the right paint from professional painters who work with paint all the time. Our painting contractors can help you understand more about paint sheen and get your next painting project done for you!! Get free painting estimates today.
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