The Sheens

 In Colour, Painting, Sheen

When tackling a new painting project, it is important to choose the right sheen (gloss level) for the task at hand. The sheen that you use has a direct impact on the functionality and appearance of the finished product. The purpose of this posting is to educate you of the various sheens available, and to give you an idea of how and where they are most optimally used. Essentially there are 5 sheen categories that you need to know about. There is a cloud of confusion hovering around the topic of sheens and it is the goal of this post to provide homeowners with a strong basis for selecting the right gloss levels for their home.


A flat sheen paint is typically what you would see used on ceilings throughout the house. Flat paints have zero gloss so they do not reflect light, and because of that they are the best at hiding surface imperfections. More than all other sheens it will make your walls look smoother while hiding imperfections, such as improper drywall joints. In direct correlation to gloss level is the level of washability. Since flat paints have zero gloss, they also have zero washability, meaning that if the paint is to be marked up in any way, you will not be able to wash it off. This makes it an ideal paint sheen for ceilings because ceilings are out of reach and are not commonly marked up throughout day-to-day living.


Next up is low sheen paint. Low sheen paint is also interchangeably referred to as low luster, matte and ulti-matte. A low sheen paint can be used on the walls in many areas of a house. It offers a little bit of washability and reflects a low amount of light. Low sheen paints still can hide imperfections very well while also granting the ability to wipe small fingerprints and smudges from the surface. Small marks can easily be wiped away and forgotten about, but you shouldn’t expect the ability to clean up large markings. Low sheen paints are often used on the walls in living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms (not a kid’s bedroom), large foyers, and basements. It can also be used in hallways and powder rooms dependant on who will be using the areas.


Before low sheen paints were developed, eggshell was the most commonly used gloss level for your walls. Now that low sheen paint is an option, the use of eggshell has scaled back but is still perfect for certain areas of your home. Eggshell sheen has good washability and is ideal for areas that are prone to scuff marks and high traffic. It is most commonly used in kids’ bedrooms, laundry rooms, smaller hallways and stairwells, as well as in some kitchens and dining areas. Any walls where you want them to be washable, eggshell sheen is the paint for the job. With eggshell being more reflective of light it doesn’t hide imperfections as well, so you only want to use eggshell with a purpose.

Above eggshell in the rankings of sheens is satin and pearl, respectively. Confusion usually sets in around these 2 sheens. What you need to know is that each of satin and pearl are increasingly more washable and even more reflective. If you are looking for a specific look that is somewhere in between eggshell and semi-gloss, then you will want to dwell deeper into the finishes of satin and pearl.


Semi gloss is the next category above eggshell. We are now looking at paints that are most commonly used for trim and doors. Rarely are semi gloss paints used on anything else within the house, typically only in commercial applications will semi gloss go on anything other than your trim. Base trim, ledges, window frames, door frames and doors are generally the most touched and scuffed up areas of your home and semi gloss paints are used on them because it is very washable. Although it wont hide imperfections for you, because the trim in your home carries with it a small surface area, it is not considered a con. The strong reflective aspect of semi gloss paints is also ideal aesthetically for your trim and doors.


At the end of the paint sheen spectrum is high gloss paints. High gloss paints are extremely washable and at the same time very reflective. High gloss paints are not commonly used for residential purposes. However they can be used on areas such as trim and doors if it suits the look you are striving for.

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