What Is Paint Sheen? A Guide to Choosing the Right Paint Finish for Every Room

Paint sheen refers to the gloss level of the paint. In general, higher gloss levels translate to a shinier appearance. You can also think of paint sheen as the amount of light reflection in the paint. Higher gloss paints generally reflect more light than paints with a lower gloss level.

When choosing paint finish for one or more rooms in your Pennsylvania home, you should factor the gloss level into your decision. Some rooms, such as a bedroom or living room, are best with lower sheen paint. High gloss paints work best for trim and cabinetry. There are several options, and if you’re wondering what paint sheen to use, this guide will help you decide. A qualified professional can be a great resource for learning more about the different types of paint sheens and determining which type is most suitable for your living space.

Types of Paint Sheen

There are many potential sheens for your home. Almost every type of sheen will work in any room in your house or apartment. However, some are more ideal for certain locations, such as high-traffic areas. Understanding that glossier sheens reflect more light than semi-gloss or no-gloss sheens can help you decide on the right one for your project, whether it’s a main hallway or a barely used guest bedroom. You can even mix and match products for a customized look that will best suit your needs.

There are six different types of paint sheen, which are as follows:

Flat

This type of sheen yields a smooth and subtle finish that works best in living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms and on ceilings. You can also use flat sheen in family rooms and hallways. It hides imperfections and diffuses light, so it’s ideal for low-traffic areas

This type of flat finish is often preferred in new construction and on ceilings because it doesn't reflect light directly, meaning that any flaws or imperfections in the walls or ceilings are not as noticeable. Flat sheen can be touched up much easier than any other type of sheen.

One drawback is that it’s the most difficult type of paint sheen to clean due to its porous surface, which traps dust and debris. However, some newer products feature a scrubbable surface that cleans up much more effectively than previous products.

Matte

Matte paint sheen has a slicker feel to it than flat sheen. Although these two types are very similar in terms of appearance, matte sheen gives off a very small amount of reflection. In comparison to higher-gloss sheens, however, the reflection of matte sheen is not very noticeable. You can use matte sheen on ceilings, but it’s preferred for living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, family rooms and hallways.

Eggshell

Eggshell sheen is aptly named for the fact that it is a bit dull and hardly shiny, much like a real eggshell. You can use eggshell sheen in many types of rooms, including the ones that are suitable for flat or matte paint sheen.

Eggshell sheen also gives an elegant low-gloss finish to foyers, kitchens and trim. The low-luster sheen is great for low-traffic areas. Its smooth surface means that the eggshell sheen is a little bit easier to clean than flat sheens. This type of finish is often used in office settings as well.

Satin

Satin is glossier than eggshell, but not as glossy as a semi-gloss sheen. What sets satin apart from flat and eggshell sheens is that it can be wiped clean, making it ideal for indoor or outdoor use.

Satin is also a better choice for more active rooms, giving an elegant finish to everything from family rooms and playrooms to laundry rooms, kitchens, dining rooms and children’s bedrooms. Because it absorbs moisture quite well, it's optimal for kitchens and bathrooms.

You can also rely on this highly versatile sheen for guest bedrooms as well as trim, shutters and doors. Another benefit of satin sheen is that it tends to easily resist mildew, dirt and stains. You can clean satin sheen easier than flat or eggshell sheen paints. All it takes is a little light scrubbing.

Semi-Gloss

You can effortlessly scrub semi-gloss paint sheen surfaces clean, making this type of paint sheen the most suitable option for high-traffic areas. Semi-gloss paint creates a nice shine in any space. As with satin, semi-gloss can be used indoors or outdoors.

The most ideal settings for semi-gloss paints include doors, trim, molding, hallways, cabinets, kitchens and bathrooms. As opposed to eggshell and flat sheens, semi-gloss and full-gloss sheens highlight a number of imperfections in the wall or ceiling.

Although they're durable, semi-glosses should be used on walls or ceilings with little to no blemishes. Thoroughly prepare the surface before applying the sheen to promote an unblemished and uniform surface.

Gloss

Full-gloss paint delivers a high-shine finish and a smooth surface that is easy to scrub clean. These characteristics make it the best paint option for surfaces that demand frequent washing. For this reason, you can use it on trim, woodwork, cabinets, molding and doors. It also works great in kitchens and bathrooms.

The eye-catching high-gloss sheen stands out for its ability to highlight details. Very glossy sheens are similar in appearance to plastic or enamel, so they’re best when used on surfaces with no prior imperfections.

If you're only painting ceilings and you need a ceiling-specific sheen for your Harrisburg area home, consider specially designed ceiling flats. As opposed to other types of sheen, ceiling flats are often very resistant to splatters.

Choosing the Right Paint Sheen

Whether you're planning a multi-room renovation or you simply want to touch up one part of your house, you want to choose the best paint sheen. When you're deciding, keep in mind that the higher the sheen, the higher the shine. Shinier sheens tend to be more durable than their flatter counterparts. A qualified professional can help you select the right paint sheen for your home.

Remember that flat paint doesn't shine at all, while high-gloss paint is completely shiny. Eggshell, satin and semi-gloss sheens fall somewhere in between. While most sheens overlap, some are best when used in specific spaces.

The shiniest high gloss sheen is also the most durable. It's a top choice for any space involving dirty or sticky fingers, such as trim, doors and cabinets. Some of the most practical applications for this type of paint are kitchens, doors and window trim. It’s important to complete all the necessary prep work because it's easy to see every flaw with this type of sheen.

Any room with moisture-laden walls are best suited for semi-gloss sheen, which also stands up to drips and grease. With a high level of durability, it's no surprise that semi-gloss is a great match for trim, chair rails, bathrooms and kitchens.

Satin is easy to clean and livens up the appearance of family rooms, hallways, foyers and kids' bedrooms with its soft and velvety appearance. This type of sheen is a safe bet for most high-traffic areas, but it has one drawback: it shows a fair amount of application flaws, such as those from rollers or brush strokes. While later touchups are possible, they can be a bit difficult. Satin sheen is also highly durable.

Eggshell isn't as durable as its higher-gloss counterparts. However, it does an excellent job of concealing imperfections on walls and ceilings. You'll want to use this sheen in dining rooms and living rooms, as long as the walls aren't often bumped or scratched.

Although it's tough to clean, flat and matte sheens are a good choice for spaces with lots of flaws or imperfections. It also gives the most amount of coverage, which is great for saving time and money. You might need to keep some extra sheen handy if you really want to thoroughly clean the walls, as the paint may come off during the process. Some of the most ideal uses for this type of sheen are in adults' bedrooms and spaces with minimal chances of scuffs and damage, especially from kids.

Determine the Best Sheen for Your Project

When you're researching the various types of sheen, the next logical step is to determine the best fit for your needs. Consider how effective your desired paint color will be with a specific sheen type. For example, if you're thinking of using a darker and richer paint but don't want it to be very shiny, go with a medium-gloss sheen. Darker and fuller paints often have more colorant, which actually enhances the sheen.

If you're painting a brighter wall, or one with lots of imperfections, keep in mind that higher sheens show more defects. Another helpful hint is cost – the more sheen you desire, the more you can expect to spend. This is typically one to two additional dollars per gallon as the sheen level increases. Hiring a qualified professional in Central Pennsylvania for the job will ensure that the task is done right the first time, using a minimal amount of resources.

Pairing Sheen with Room Type for Residential Spaces

There are many different walls and areas to paint in a residential or commercial setting. In many instances, each room poses its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of the amount of light it receives and the level of flaws and imperfections on the wall.

There are guidelines to consider to best match each sheen type with a specific room, but you may need to vary the type of sheen you use based on specific concerns and budget.

Bathrooms and Kitchens

When you’re deciding on the right type of paint sheen, you’ll find that some types hold up better to the often moist and humid bathroom and kitchen settings. Flat and matte sheens aren’t very durable, making them a poor choice for such environments.

If you’re looking for the best paint sheen for your bathroom or kitchen, it’s best to go with at least an eggshell sheen. For optimal results, use semi-gloss sheen. It’s not overly shiny and the extra gloss acts as a barrier for moisture and drips.

Bedrooms

In most cases, you’ll want to use a more durable sheen in a child’s room because the walls are more likely to be scuffed and scratched. Satin sheen is generally recommended for use in a child’s room, while flat or matte sheens are optimal for adult or spare bedrooms because the walls are less likely to be scuffed. Eggshell and pearl sheens also hold up well in a child’s room. Matte or eggshell sheen is generally recommended for an adult’s bedroom or a guest bedroom.

Family Room and Living Room

Matte or eggshell sheens are great choices for family and/or living room spaces. Eggshell’s low sheen looks great on family or living room walls. It’s not the most durable type of paint sheen, which is why it’s optimal for lower traffic areas.

Hallways and High-Traffic Areas

It's best to use a high-grade paint for highly trafficked areas. Some individuals might shy away from higher grade or higher gloss paint as it's typically more expensive than the lower gloss varieties. Although glossier paint is ideal for high traffic areas, you can also get away with at least a satin or semi-gloss paint.

Trim

If you’re looking for the right paint sheen for your trim, satin is a good choice due to its self-leveling properties and smooth, velvety appearance. For interior trim, semi-gloss sheen is preferred because it's easier to clean. Additionally, this type of sheen adds depth to rooms with eggshell or matte walls.

Ceilings

Flat or matte sheens almost always work best for ceilings. If your ceiling has many imperfections, you’ll want to stick to a flat paint sheen. Another benefit of using flat sheen on ceilings is that any light emitted from ceiling lights or windows can cause textured plaster to stand out from the sharp angles of light.

Choosing the Right Sheen for Commercial Properties

Choosing the best paint finish for a commercial setting is quite similar to selecting a finish for your home. Matte paint is often one of the first considerations due to its affordable price. Although matte paint produces a warm, comfortable appearance, it doesn't wash very well and is therefore not recommended for reception areas, conference rooms, or other areas in commercial spaces that have frequent visitors.

On the other hand, boardrooms and executive offices can be great places to use this type of paint as the walls are less likely to get dirty and they often don't get as many visitors. A trusted professional can help guide you in the right direction by considering the unique demands of your commercial space and determining which types of sheen will work best.

Some commercial spaces are dark and may require copious amounts of artificial light to brighten them up. While this often helps, covering the walls with a high-sheen paint can catch and reflect the light, making the room appear larger and brighter than it actually is. The higher gloss paint you use, the more likely it is to accentuate flaws. If your goal is to hide imperfections or minimize them, you'll want to go with a low-luster paint. For example, satin and eggshell paints can be great choices — they're warmer and have a higher level of sheen than low-luster or flat paints.

If you want to paint your office's stairways and halls, you'll want a finish that is relatively easy to clean. Most business owners find that satin finish is the ideal choice, as it's glossier than an eggshell finish and is quite resistant to dirt. The finish has a dull, velvety shine that won't mask imperfections. For repainting your corporation's bathroom and/or kitchen, you'll want to go with a semi-gloss paint because it's easier to clean and has a high water resistance. This type of paint is also most suitable for surfaces such as trim and doors.

Looking for more info on common wall painting techniques? Read our post to learn more!

Consider Specialty Coatings Painting Contractors, Inc.

Knowing how to pick the right paint sheen is crucial for your Harrisburg area home or office space, and choosing the right paint finish is a multi-faceted process. Seeking help from a trusted professional will ensure the job gets finished quickly – and finished to high standards.

Contact Specialty Coatings Painting Contractors, Inc. today to learn more about our residential and commercial painting services in the Central Pennsylvania area. We are happy to serve residents in the greater Harrisburg area, as well as individuals as north as Williamsport, south as York, east as Hazleton, and west as Altoona.

Give us a call or contact us online today for pricing and information.

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