Are you confused about the different types of paint sheens? Oh, good. This is the post for you. Here’s how to choose the right paint finish for your space.
We talk a lot about paint here.
Maybe because it’s one of my best friends.
We’ve discussed how to pick a paint color and what the best blue paint colors are and discussed this group of amazing neutrals and the one thing you need to do before painting and talked about paint in a zillion other paint posts that you can see here.
And in all that paint talk, I realized something.
I’ve never really gone into detail about which paint sheen works where and if glossy or flat or semi-gloss is what you need.
It’s almost spring friends. It’s so close. I can smell it. If you are under layers of snow or the day looks dreary and exhausting or your toes are cold and you need some fuzzy socks, no worries.
This too shall pass.
And when spring gets here and we all want to spring clean and refresh and paint our spaces? This post will be your best friend.
Here’s a simple guide on how to choose the right paint finish for your space.
Flat paint is the least glossy of all the paint sheens.
You could probably figure this out already by its name because you, my friend, are brilliant.
It’s chalky and doesn’t really have any finish or sheen at all. It’s purpose? To divert light away from the painted surface.
That’s why it’s perfect for ceilings.
Please. I beg of you. If you read nothing else here today. If you only get this far and realize that you have to start your exercise program today and leave at this point in the post to go run five miles, please pay attention to this.
DO NOT PAINT FLAT PAINT ON YOUR WALLS.
You will regret it.
Flat paint loves dirt. It loves scuff marks. It loves to show every scratch that it meets along the way. Remember that it diverts light? It won’t reflect light at all so your walls will look flat and lonely and unlighted.
edited to add: I stand corrected. Truly. There are so many amazing comments about flat paint in the comments that I feel I need to add flat paint as an option for walls—maybe not just kitchen and bath.
Recap: this is the right paint finish for ceilings and all rooms that want to look scratchy.
Eggshell or Satin
These paint finishes are almost the same. Super close. First cousins. Eggshell is slightly less shiny than satin.
If you like the look of flat paint on the walls and you want the tiniest of shines, eggshell is the right paint finish for you.
Satin is my go-to choice for walls.
The brilliance of satin is that it’s the perfect combination of flawless and understated.
(total aside: Those are two words I strive for and have yet to achieve).
Satin is the right finish for walls.
The amazing thing about a satin finish is that covers up most of the flaws on the wall but doesn’t really draw attention to them because it only has a slight shine.
The challenge with a paint finish like semi-gloss on the walls, it reflects light with its shiny self and all the flaws are highlighted.
Recap: this is the right paint finish for all walls and rooms that want to look flawless.
I have a love-hate relationship with the semi-gloss paint sheen.
There are times when I want it to be shinier. I want it to be a true gloss.
There are times when I want it to a little more subtle. I don’t want it drawing attention to all the blobs and cracks and dents that come along with a 110-year-old house.
The good thing about semi-gloss is that typically it comes in a latex paint.
Most of the time it’s used for moldings and door frames and window moldings and crown moldings and basically anything that isn’t a wall or a floor or a ceiling. When you paint a semi-gloss latex paint instead of a glossy enamel, the moldings tend to stay white. Glossy enamel can fade over time and have a slightly yellow tinge which presents a challenge when you want to touch up your moldings.
I typically recommend latex semi-gloss over glossy enamel.
It cleans up with water and it doesn’t have the super strong smell of enamel.
One of the paint truisms is that you CANNOT paint latex over enamel unless you prime it first (and even then it’s a little iffy). It will peel right off.
However, you can paint enamel over latex.
Recap: semi-gloss is the perfect paint for moldings that need a little shine.
Gloss enamel is seriously the magician of paint.
Typically, gloss comes in enamel. I’ve seen it used in a latex enamel which is glossier than semi-gloss, but not nearly as glossy as true enamel.
The amazing thing about gloss enamel is that you paint it on with a brush.
Wait a minute.
And the paint levels itself.
It’s so thick that it’s self-leveling, which means that it provides a clean, even coat without brush marks.
It’s mostly used for moldings or doors or window moldings.
It is so pretty if you are looking for a high shine with your moldings.
But IT STINKS.
And it’s hard to clean up.
I don’t usually recommend it because sometimes it can be too glossy and too shiny. It’s like your moldings will be shouting out for the world to hear and the rest of your room may not be able to keep up.
Recap: this is the right paint finish if you are looking for high shine or over-achieving molding.
If you aren’t painting because you have eight feet of snow on the ground and the Hallmark channel is calling your name?
Here’s a simple guide you can pin from my book, The DIY (Decorate It Yourself) Planner.
It tells you everything you need to know in just a few words.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I have a few more words. 🙂