If you’re new to the whole wide world of paints (and let us assure you, it is indeed a very wide world), you're likely to feel like a kid in a candy store while wandering the color aisle—or like you are drowning in a sea of options. But wait! Color is not the only way to add character to a room—there are also paint finishes. In fact, the same paint color can look completely different based on the finish, from matte to glossy and every sheen in between. The question to ask yourself: How glossy should I go? A slight change in sheen can make a major difference in both durability and light.
This added layer of possibility means more options for finding the perfect paint for your space. To demystify the topic a bit, we asked Jessica Barr at Behr Paints to break it all down. Before you start painting your walls, read on to learn about the different types of finishes, what they’re good for, and how they make a small but transformative difference in the resulting paint color and texture. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself with what you pick. As Barr points out, “People often come in looking for one thing and then leave with something else."
With more pigment than any other finish, it’s the concealer of paints.
The Look: Non-reflective, a flat finish will soak up light and hide any bumps or scratches in the surface of the wall.
The Lowdown: Flat finishes are the hardest to clean, so don’t use them in high-traffic areas. But if it’s high-quality paint, you should be able to gently scrub away any imperfections after paint has cured for 30 days.
Best For: Low-traffic rooms with lots of light, like an office or a formal sitting room.
This popular finish is not shiny but not totally matte, and easier to clean than flat.
The look: “It’s slightly velvety in appearance," says Barr. "When the light hits it, there’s the softest glimmer." Think of it as a goes-with-anything glow.
The Lowdown: Though not as tough as semigloss, eggshell hides imperfections better, and it’s easier to clean than flat finishes.
Best For: Everyday spaces, like living rooms and bedrooms.
Perhaps the best all-around player when it comes to durability.
The look: Right in the middle of the sheen spectrum, a satin finish is more light-reflecting than eggshell without appearing as shiny as semigloss.
The Lowdown: Hides imperfections like bumpy walls reasonably well, and it’s easy to clean.
Best For: Humid spaces like bathrooms or dark rooms that don’t get a lot of natural light, like basements.
Sleek and easy to live with, semi-gloss is a happy middle ground.
The look: Shinier than a satin finish, semi-gloss is known for its radiance. It pairs well with other finishes when used as an accent, too.
The Lowdown: If you need something durable, and you’re OK with shine, semigloss is your match. However, due to its heightened sheen, you’ll be able to see existing imperfections more easily.
Best For: Great in high-moisture, high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, or on crown moldings and trims to make them pop.
Super light-reflective and statement-making, it’s also the most durable.
The look: Most designers would consider high gloss a specialty finish, as it has a glamorous glass-like effect, Barr explains.
The Lowdown: It does show imperfections, but it’s also extremely easy to clean. That being said, high gloss is the trickiest to apply. Barr suggests using a quarter-inch roller or a high-density foam roller for smaller spots.
Best For: Accents that you really want to stand out, like furniture, doors, or cabinets.
Looking for more expert design and home improvement tips? We can help with that.
An Intro to the Specialties...
Matte surfaces can look like velvet: rich and saturated. They’re not easy to clean, so beware if you've got a house full of kids. This office nook by 2LG Studio and John Lewis of Hungerford was sprayed with Mylands’s FTT-018 in Matte. If you're not sure whether your home would accommodate a matte finish, Barr says to "ask yourself what your expectations are as far as durability and lighting, both from natural and artificial sources. But if you have a low-traffic home, you can just think about your decision in terms of shiny or not shiny.”
The rich, liquidy sheen of a lacquer-like finish bounces light around a dark room. Designer Alisa Bloom used Fine Paints of Europe’s Delft Blue 4003 in Hollandlac Brilliant to illuminate this bedroom. And remember, "before you make up your mind, take a personal inventory of your house and be realistic about the condition of your walls, thinking about how a sheen can either highlight or minimize imperfections," Barr advises.
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