Are you ready for a fresh coat of paint in your home? Since spending most quality time at home, I’ve been getting called in for paint consultations more often than usual. While many of us have been spending a fair amount of quality time at home with our families, this time has been great for us all to reflect. In terms of their home specifically, many people have been reflecting on how they feel within their homes, how well it functions for them and contemplating home improvement projects. 

All homeowners have some form of paint used for decorative purposes within their homes. But are we using paint correctly, and using the right sheen level for its intended surface and purpose? I can’t even begin to tell you how often I see the wrong finish applied to the walls of a new client’s home or get asked what the new paint finish should be. 

These questions are often last for many people during the paint selection process – purely focusing on the color choice being made instead. This is perfectly understandable! But there is nothing worse than choosing a fantastic color for the finish or sheen level of it to let the whole room down. Let’s look at avoiding this.

Choosing the right sheen level for the job at hand can seem like a daunting task. Especially because of the fancy names suppliers use. There appears to be a lack of standardization to the untrained eye. We’re here to help demystify paint sheen levels to save you from making a big mistake on your next paint project. 

How to Choose the Right Sheen Level

There are a lot of different types of surfaces here, which will need to be treated slightly differently when it comes to the paint sheen level used. The walls are likely to be a matte finish, while the woodwork will have more of a sheen (pearl and upwards).

Understanding the sheen levels associated with paint is one of the first areas to grasp initially, before you can look at them separately. In basic terms, the higher the sheen, the higher the shine. And the higher the shine, the more durable the actual finish will be. Another way to look at it is that the lower the sheen percentage, the less reflective the surface.

Here are some common paint finishes and their sheen levels explained:

Flat / Ultraflat – 0-3% sheen

Matte – 3-10% sheen

Eggshell – 12-20% sheen

Pearl – 15-25% sheen

Satin – 25-35% sheen

Semi-gloss / Gloss – 35-60% sheen

High Gloss – 85% and above

(All figures above are “typical” and therefore approximate. Always check the specific paint supplier’s specifications before purchasing as these may vary).

Source – Benjamin Moore

Traditionally, doors, trims, architectural details, or furniture have been painted with a semi-gloss or high gloss finish due to the frequent use and potential damage that may be caused through this. Semi-gloss is rarely a good choice for walls because it highlights imperfections and any “lumps or bumps” on the wall’s surface.

In parallel to the above, surfaces such as cabinets, shutters, hallway, and kitchen walls would be painted in pearl or satin finishes. This is due to these surfaces again being quite well used, prone to cooking splatters, and therefore needing an element of protection from this, while visually looking more matte than a gloss.

Windows and family rooms are typically painted in an eggshell paint, while bedrooms and dining rooms are suited to more matte paints. For ceilings and siding, we commonly see these painted in flat or matte.

Nowadays, many designers and homeowners have been seen to be more creative with their sheen choices. It really depends on the surface, how the environment tends to be used (regularly, irregularly), the probability of wear and tear, and how you would like your surfaces to look, either matte or shiny.

It is quite clear in this bedroom example that the paint used for the walls is likely to be eggshell or higher because of the imperfections that are visible. The shininess of the paint finish shows these more than if a more matte finish was selected.

Other Points to Consider

While there are general suggestions relating to paint and their sheen levels which we have covered in the above section, there are some quick tips and notes to also be aware of before making your decision.

Eggshell paint is commonly used in homes for walls and is a good finish to use. It is important to avoid using any paint with a higher sheen level than this (semi-gloss and upwards) as this will highlight imperfections on the surface.

Flat or more matte finished paints will need more regular touch-ups than eggshell because they scuff more easily, and marks begin to show. These can take time, particularly for larger areas, which busy families often do not have time for. However, builders often push homeowners into using flat paint because it hides imperfections and is easier for them to work with.

In this kitchen example, you can see that the cabinets have been painted to look more matte than shiny due to the style and overall design of the kitchen itself. This is a good example of how you can be creative with the finish to suit your overall preference.

There’s no straight “right” or “wrong” thing to do when it comes to paint finishes, but by keeping to the traditional uses as above, you can be safely assured it will look fantastic. Otherwise, be creative! But make sure you do the research beforehand.

That rounds up our top tips and advice for choosing the right sheen level of paint for your home! We hope you have found this helpful and informative. Please let us know in the comments below as we would love to hear your thoughts.