Interior Design

Choosing a Paint Finish

 A couple of years ago my husband and I built a house and because I can not stand the thought of paying someone to do a job that I am completely capable of I started painting it room by room. Up to this point in my life I had painted a lot of pictures and watched a lot of people painting on DIY Network, so how hard could it be? The physical part of painting was easy, it was picking out a color and a finish that was the hardest part. I thought I knew about paint. I took an entire class in my master’s program about how certain paint colors pull colors, how to mix colors and how paint colors look different in natural light vs. artificial light. Over the entire summer I came to find I was a complete rookie when it came to painting.

I will start with how to choose a paint finish and in a later blog get into choosing colors and the best products to use.
There are five basic finishes for colors, each have their pros and cons that I will do my best to explain.

  • Flat or Matte- Ceilings, Accent Walls, Low Traffic
  • Eggshell- Living Room, Bedrooms, Medium Traffic
  • Satin- Kid’s Bedrooms, Kitchen, Bathrooms, High Traffic
  • Semigloss- Kitchen, Bathroom, Doors, Cabinets, High Traffic
  • Gloss- Trim, Moldings, Railings, Shutters

TIP: The higher the shine the more durable it will be


Flat or Matte Finish
A flat finish will give a smooth, elegant look with no reflection. I love the look of flat paint. It is more true to the color and the most forgiving finish. If your walls have imperfections like an uneven texture, patches or joints this finish will absorb the light  and make them less noticeable. I did my master bedroom in a flat finish and absolutely loved it ….until my husband got home from the season.

After an entire summer of fingerprints everywhere I read a few articles on flat paint and why it was making these marks. Many of them talked about how this finish is “harder” to clean… More like impossible to clean. I found myself scolding my husband like he was a three-year old for touching the walls. Every fingerprint and hand print showed up. I tried cleaning them by taking a wet wash cloth and wiping them off, but all I did was make an even bigger mess. You could then see every spot I tried to clean. It is a nightmare. He doesn’t know yet, but I will be repainting the room as soon as I get home. 

I still love the look of this finish, but there are certain areas in the house more suited for flat paint. The ceiling should almost always be flat. Low traffic rooms or accent walls also work well with flat paint. Never, never paint a child’s room with flat paint. Unless you have the calmest angel of a child on earth you will more than likely end up regretting it. 


Eggshell Finish
This gorgeous room is in an eggshell finish. This finish gives soft, velvety look. Like the name suggest it has a sheen that resembles an eggshell. Like the flat finish it is also considered a low luster finish. From straight on it appears matte, but viewed from an angle it has a slight sheen. This finish makes imperfections less noticeable and seems to smooth out the wall. 

This finish is easier to clean than a flat finish. You can wipe down spots on the wall (like around the light switch) without it deteriorating and leaving even more marks. Eggshell paints make a protective coat on the wall that is durable. While it does clean better than a flat finish it is not recommended for high traffic rooms like the kitchen or bathroom. (it doesn’t clean that well) This finish is good for bedrooms and living rooms, rooms that don’t expect a lot of people through them. However, for a child’s room I would go with a satin finish. 


Satin Finish
This adorable nursery is painted in a satin finish. This finish gives a smooth, velvety look with a little more shine than the eggshell. It will add depth and warmth to a room. This finish has a more reflective surface which makes it great for resisting dirt and stains. 

Satin finish is good for high traffic areas like a kitchen or spaces with high humidity or a good chance of getting wet like a bathroom or laundry room. Satin paint is also great for children’s rooms. It is made to hold up to minimal scrubbing and cleaning. You still need to be careful not to scrub too hard or it can wash off the walls.

TIP: Always keep a little of the paint from each room in case you need to touch up spots on the wall. I’d also write on the paint can what room it came from. It can be easy to forget . 


Semi-Gloss Finish
This finish has a slightly glossy appearance and reflects light and brightens the room more than the previous finishes. This finish has a high resistance to moisture so it is great in bathrooms and kitchens. Because it is easy to clean it is often used on trim, cabinets and doors. It is ideal for high traffic areas because it can be scrubbed more than the other finishes. 

Before painting with semi-gloss or gloss paints you need to prepare the wall. It needs to be smoothed out and be free of imperfections because the gloss will highlight any nicks or dents.

It is a little harder to paint with because the shine allows you to see the brush strokes more than the previous finishes. To get it nice and even I rolled on the first coat and then with the second coat I started with a roller full of paint and in one motion went from the bottom to the top and did this all the way around the room. I use this technique with every room, but really needed to do it with this glossier paint. 

TIP: Remember that the higher the sheen the darker more intense the color will be. 


Gloss Finish
So the first room I ever painted was our half bath. I had this amazing looking room in my head and was so excited to start. I started with the ceiling, my focal point. I got two 8×10 stencils and a satin gold paint. Eight hours later of looking straight up I was tired, annoyed and finally done. (looking back I’d get a much bigger stencil) 
I then went to home depot and picked up a gorgeous dark blue gloss paint. I had never worked with a gloss paint before… If I had I wouldn’t have used it on these walls or I would have prepped the walls way more and made sure they were smooth as a baby’s butt. The builders used a cheap flat paint, my high gloss paint showed all of the many imperfection in the wall. Beyond that, you could see every direction of my brush strokes. I did my start at the bottom and go straight up technique, but it didn’t matter. I could see it all. After hours of doing my best to get every stroke perfect, I had to accept that with the gloss finish I wasn’t going to get the smooth finish I was looking for. 

Gloss finish is highly reflective and usually used on trim, molding, railings and shutters. On the plus side gloss walls can be cleaned with ease, so when my four young nephews come over and need to use the bathroom I send them to this one. I can say though, that I have never seen one finger print on my bathroom walls. 

Practice makes perfect and you will never know what your favorite finish is until you try them out. Buy some samples of the same color in different finishes, decide what you like best and start a weekend project. Everyone has a room that could use some TLC.


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