The California Paints Blog

How to Select the Right Paint Sheen for Your Home

Posted on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 @ 04:50 PM

What are the differences between paint sheens and why do they matter? On my arrival as a complete paint novice, I had no clue that there's more than oneblue bedroom sheen of interior paint or exterior paint. Now that I am well versed on the matter, I want to share my new found knowledge on the subject!

Understanding Paint Sheen

Paint finish or sheen refers to the amount of light a paint will reflect when dry. California Paints offers up to 5 different paint sheens per product. They include matte or flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss. Matte has the least amount of light reflecting capabilities while Gloss has the most. Each sheen serves a unique purpose in both interior and exterior projects. Let's explore shall we!?

Matte or Gloss? Which sheen is right for you? 

Matte/Flat- This sheen has the lowest light reflecting capabilities and therefore is perfect for use on walls that are worn with bumps and cracks. My bedroom walls were the perfect candidate for a matte finish, however I didn't want to sacrifice the durability. Matte finish won't provide the protection a higher sheen would and is harder to clean. In order to fix scuffs and scratches it is easier to give it a quick coat of paint. This makes matte finishes perfect for rooms that see less activity such as bedrooms. Ceiling paint also has a flat finish, although California Paints offers a full line of ceiling specific paint that won't cause you too much confusion at your local hardware store!

Eggshell- Moving one step above Matte is Eggshell. Eggshell has a quiet sheen like that an egg shell! It is more durable than flat or matte sheens and is easier to wash. However, as the sheen increases, imperfections become more and more difficult to hide. Eggshell offers a good balance of washability and hide, which makes it ideal for hallways, living rooms, and dining rooms. Most commonly, all basic interior walls are covered by either matte or eggshell except for kitchen and bathrooms.

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Satin- Satin provides the best protections and washability before paint finish gets truly shiny. Ease of care makes satin a good fit for kitchens and bathrooms. This sheen is also appropriate to use in rooms where small children reside. Imperfections are much more visible due to the reflection of light.  Overall satin provides a velvety finish that is a great middle ground of sheen and durability.

Semi-Gloss– Semi-gloss provides a great sheen that isn’t over powering. This sheen makes it another great finish for bathrooms and kitchens. It keeps moisture out and is even easier to clean than those previously mentioned. It is also fitting for use on trims.  A word of caution; make sure your surfaces are well prepared.  Semi-gloss will emphasize any imperfections.

Gloss- The most reflective of the sheens, gloss is our final paint finish.  Gloss is rarely used in interior spaces because it is so shiny.  However, it is appropriate for use on furniture and floors. It can be used in small doses to make a statement.  Whenever it is used, make sure the surface is flawless. 

Exterior Paint Finishes

Exterior finishes differ slightly from the traditional interior sheen listing above.  Instead of flat or matte, exterior's lowest sheen is low lustre or velvet flat like our rated #1 exterior paint, Fres~Coat Velvet Flat.  Siding, trim, and door should be painted with either low lustre, velvet flat, or eggshell.  The only time semi-gloss or gloss paint should be used for exterior use is on furniture or decking.

Paint Sheen Summary

1. The flatter the paint, the better it will hide surface imperfections

2. Flatter paint makes touch-ups easier and more seamless

3. The glossier the finish, the greater the durability

4. Generally, the higher the gloss, the more washable and scrubbable the surface

5. Gloss surfaces offer more mildew resistance because they are less porous 

Final Thoughts on Paint Finishes

Now that you are all masters with paint finish, it is time to get to work! My final word of advice? Varying sheens can affect the way the paint color looks.  Next time you are at your local hardware store, check out our brand new Superior Interiors color card featuring paint sheen chips for reference.  If you are feeling a bit adventurous, why not mix sheens in a single project?  Create stripes or other patterns with the same color in different sheens. It's subtle but unique!


Topics: interior paint, exterior paint, paint sheen

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