Interior house paint finish and sheen basics
The “finish” of the paint is a term that relates to how the paint will look when dry. The finish of the paint may appear dull or shiny. It may also be somewhere in between dull and shiny.
“Sheen” is the term given to the finish of paint to indicate its amount of shininess or gloss. Paint with a “flat” finish has very little or no sheen. Paint with a shiny finish has a high sheen.
In the paint finish spectrum, flat paint has the least sheen, while full-gloss or high-gloss has the most.
Variations on sheen
Each paint manufacturer has interior house paints that fall into the sheen or gloss categories of flat, low-luster, semi-gloss and full or high-gloss. Individual manufacturers may have their own unique name or names for products that follow into the categories above. Some will even have paint available that is between the gloss levels above.
Ask your paint dealer to show you samples of their different sheen levels.
Sample cards are often available that show their different sheen levels on the same color card.
Benefits of sheen (gloss)
The sheen or gloss of a paint’s finish has several benefits:
- Moisture protection
- Soling protection
The sheen or gloss of a paint’s finish helps to protect the paint from the absorption of moisture and soiling. These benefits enable a glossed paint to be more washable than a flat finish paint, as soiling material is more resident on the surface and more readily washed clean.
Flat paint lacks a sheen or gloss finish to protect it from moisture, soiling and staining. Moisture, soiling and staining material that comes in contact with a flat paint-finished surface is more easily absorbed into the paint than when it comes in contact with a gloss paint-finshed surface. Absorbed soiling is more difficult to clean.
Paint finish spectrumPaint finishes are named by their amount of sheen. (also called gloss or shine) The list below ranks paint finishes in order from highest sheen to lowest sheen.
- Full or High-Gloss (most sheen or gloss)
- Semi-Gloss (medium-gloss)
- Eggshell or Low-Luster (low-gloss)
- Washable Flat (in between Flat and low-gloss)
- Flat (Very little, if any gloss. Could also be considered no-gloss)
Flat finish paint
Flat paint has little, if any, sheen or shine. It is the best paint finish for minimizing the noticeable effects of small surface imperfections. For this reason, new home construction ceiling and wall surfaces are painted with a flat-finish paint. Flat-finish paint is also used widely to freshen ceiling and wall surfaces before a house is listed for sale.Because flat paint has little or no sheen, it is more prone to soiling and staining than paints with a higher level of sheen. Flat paint is also not very washable.
Flat finish paint can be used on ceiling and wall surfaces, but is not recommended for use on trim surfaces. Flat paint is not recommended for bathrooms that have a shower or bathtub. Kitchens surfaces that are exposed to cooking vapors should not be painted with a flat-finish paint.
Washable flat paint finish
The sheen level of washable flat is between flat and low-luster. It is the best paint finish for offering the combined features of minimizing the noticeable effects of surface imperfections and washability.
If you prefer the look of a flat-finish paint and have children and/or pets, then a washable flat-finish paint would likely be a better choice for you than a flat-finish paint.
Washable flat house paint can be used on ceiling and wall surfaces. It could also be used on trim surfaces, but a paint with a higher sheen would be more washable and durable.
Eggshell or Low-Luster paint finish
The sheen level of eggshell or low-luster paints is between that of flat and semi-gloss paints. Low-luster paints offer more washability than Flat and Washable Flat paints due to a higher level of sheen. The higher sheen level of low-luster paints does not minimize the noticeable effects of minor surface imperfections as well as flat or washable flat paints.
Low-luster-finish house paints can be used on ceiling, wall and trim surfaces. They can also be used in kitchens and bathrooms where surfaces may be exposed to higher levels of moisture.
Semi-gloss paint finish
The semi-gloss paint finish has more sheen than a low-luster finish but less sheen than a full or high-gloss finish. The amount of sheen in a semi-gloss finish make it both washable and durable. It is also an ideal finish for sufaces that are exposed to cooking vapors and bath/shower steam.
The sheen of a semi-gloss finish does tend to show the effects of minor surface defects.
Semi-gloss paints are used on ceiling, wall and trim surfaces. They are also used in kitchens, baths, showers and other rooms that are exposed to cooking vapor and moisture. Children’s play room walls are more washable when painted with a semi-gloss-finish paint.
Full or high-gloss paint finish
Full and high-gloss paints have the most sheen. They are much shinier than other paints. Although popular in the past, high-gloss paints are not often used today.
High-gloss paints are used on trim surfaces, but their use on ceiling and wall surfaces is not widespread.
Detailed information about interior house painting surface preparation can be found in the book:
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