This is the (cough cough) long awaited follow up to the Introduction to the Color Wheel post I wrote a little while ago. If you wondered what the difference was between eggshell and semi-gloss – then I have finally delivered on my promise and collected information from a myriad of sources and added my own opinions where it seemed relevant.
Flat or Matte Finish
Flat enamel is a paint with a durable flat, matte finish. A downside to flat paint is that stains are more difficult to remove because unlike paints with a higher sheen, their non-reflective surfaces have a porous texture which can trap dirt and make cleaning more challenging. While some flat paints are advertised as washable today, you may need to touch up scratches or marks by covering with a bit more paint, so be sure to keep some on hand after you’ve finished painting. That having been said, I always ask people is “when was the last time you actually scrubbed your walls?”
I tend to like flat paint more than most other people – I think the color is truer with a little more depth to the tone. If you have poorly finished walls, this would probably be the best finish to use. I also think that you should always paint the ceiling with a flat finish. Always Always Always!
Eggshell (Eg-Shel) Finish
If you can picture the very low sheen on the shell of an egg, you have an idea of how an eggshell paint finish will appear. This finish has only a slight hint of shine or gloss so it’s a good choice for walls and holds up better with cleaning than a flat finish paint. In our architectural office, this tends to be the default sheen selection because it presents the best of both worlds – good color saturation and the ability to wipe down the wall around the light switch without changing the wall texture.
Satin finish paint has a smooth, velvety look with a bit more gloss. It is most often used for windows, doors, and trim, but on rare occasions can also be used as wall paint. This is particularly suitable for kids’ room walls, kitchens, or bathrooms (spaces of high humidity or at the risk of getting wet), areas which get a lot of traffic. Paint with a satin finish is formulated to hold up to cleaning and light scrubbing.
Semi-gloss paint is most often used on doors, trim, and cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms. It is easily cleaned and lays down a nice, subtle shine, without being too slippery looking. Take care with pre-paint preparation work, as poorly prepared surfaces can look downright criminal when highlighted by a semi-gloss surface.
High gloss paints have an almost reflective quality, as their shiny finish mimics the look of enamel or plastic. Though not widely used in home interiors, it is becoming more popular for a dramatic look on cabinets, trim, and furniture in very formal and very contemporary settings. This finish will magnify any and all surface imperfections, so through and careful preparation and sanding is essential before painting with high gloss paints. I generally stay away from feild applied semi or high gloss paints. Even in high end work, things can get dodgy really fast. If that speck of dust floating through the house lands on the surface – you’re screwed because it will be obvious to all.
I would like to take a few moments, go all “archimatectural” on you, and blow your head up with some important technical information. We need to review/ introduce an aspect of wall finishing that many people do not know about – wall level finishing. This is the designation standard for how your wall will be prepared to receive the actual final finish. I rarely hear people mention this in the articles I read and I think it is the most important aspect when preparing a new wall. Simply put, it’s how much drywall mud get slathered on the wall and in how many layers. Apply mud, dry, sand, and repeat. The more times this is done, the mo better your finished wall will be.
I am sticking this information piggy-back style at the end of this post because if you are simply painting over an existing wall, this doesn’t really matter to you.
All six levels of wall finish are listed and defined here but in my projects, we rarely go below a level 4 finish. Depending on the sheen of the paint on the wall – or if the wall is in a space that receives an abundance of natural light raking across the wall, you might really need a level 5 finish (defined below). Otherwise, you will see every tape joint and wall imperfection like it’s circled in blood from the person who painted your wall. So here you go – keep in mind the quality of the wall surface before deciding on which paint sheen you wish to use. Once you get to level 4, I included the recommendations from most paint manufacturers which sheen should go with what wall finish level.
Level 0 is used in temporary construction or if final decoration is undetermined. No taping or finishing is required. Dust walls constructed in mall storefronts are an example of walls finished at level 0.
A Level 1 finish is recommended in areas that would generally be concealed from view or in areas that are not open to public traffic. In Level 1, the surface is left free of excess joint compound. Ridges and tool marks are acceptable for a Level 1 finish. This level is often specified in the plenum area above ceilings, in attics, or in service corridors.
In garages, warehouse storage areas and other similar areas where the final surface appearance is not of concern, a Level 2 finish is the recommendation. Level 2 may be specified where moisture resistant gypsum board is used as a tile substrate. Joint compound is applied over all fastener heads and beads. The surface is left free of excess joint compound. Ridges and tool marks are acceptable for a Level 2 finish.
In areas to be decorated with a medium or heavy texture or where heavy-grade wall coverings will become the final decoration, a Level 3 finish is recommended. Fastener heads and accessories shall be covered with two separate coats of joint compound and all joint compound shall be smooth and free from tool marks and ridges. Before final decoration, it is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of final finishes. Level 3 is not recommended where smooth painted surfaces or light- to medium-weight wall coverings become the final decoration.
If the final decoration is to be a flat paint, light texture or lightweight wall covering, a Level 4 finish is recommended. Fastener heads and accessories shall be covered with three separate coats of joint compound. All joint compound shall be smooth and free from tool marks and ridges. Before final decoration it is recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a drywall primer prior to the application of final finishes. Gloss, semi-gloss and enamel paints are not recommended over a Level 4 finish.
Level 5 finish is recommended for areas where severe lighting conditions exist and areas that are to receive gloss, semi-gloss, enamel or non-textured flat paints. Level 5 requires all the operations in Level 4. Additionally, a thin skim coat of joint compound, or material manufactured especially for this purpose, is applied to the entire surface. The surface is smooth and free from tool marks and ridges. Before final decoration it’s recommended that the prepared surface be coated with a primer prior to the application of final finishes. The Level 5 finish is required to achieve the highest degree of quality by providing a uniform surface and minimizing the possibility of joint photographing and/or fasteners “burning through” the final decoration.
I hope this information has some value and that I have cleared up some questions associated with selecting the right paint sheen.