Homeowners spend a lot of time picking paint colors. What most of us don't realize is picking one of today's paint finishes is just as important. Most people agonize for days and weeks over the right color. You can also test your favorite colors at home to see how they look in natural sunlight and artificial lighting.
Paint Terminology Worth Learning
Buying paint is simple, right? Not really because you've got to pick your colors, your paint finish and calculate how much paint to buy. Here's what my friend Maria's living room (above) looked like as she tested different paint colors. She worked really hard on color selection which you can see on two of the three test walls. Here's what she did to pick her paint finishes:
- Maria shared her final paint choice. It's Sherwin-Willimas modern grey (SW 7632).Ceilings are white with a flat finish. Maria feels that combination is perfect because it makes the eight foot ceilings feel as tall as her old nine foot ceilings.
- Walls are satin because her painter said satin is more forgiving than flat paint. While her old house with plaster walls used a flat finish, he said satin would cover up the drywall imperfections better. The painter explained her test colors were all satin and … she liked the look!
- Trim is semi-gloss with the color matching her white kitchen cabinets. The cabinet door shown above is the one that Maria carried everywhere for several months to make sure all her new “whites” played nicely together.
Paint's Light Reflectance Value
What's all the fuss about? Paint finishes affect how we see color. That's because the paint sheen is the glossiness of a paint finish. Flat or matte finishes don't reflect a lot of light, instead diffusing the light in many directions. At the other end of the spectrum, shiny paints like gloss and semi-gloss, reflect the most light. The light reflected affects how we see the color.
Design professionals use the Light Reflectance Value (LRV) to understand how much visible and usable light is reflected from a surface, in all directions. It's a bit confusing because colors have an LRV regardless of the paint finish (more research needed). Interior colors typically have an LRV of 50 percent of higher, especially when you're trying to brighten up a room with minimal or no sunlight.
For those who want to learn more about the LRV of paint colors, you need to visit Lori Sawaya's website. There's an entire article on Light Reflectance Value which is where I found the wonderful LRV scale above. There's an abundance of painting tips to help you pick the right paint colors and finishes for your home.
How Paint Finishes Affect the Color We See
Unless you're an interior designer, decorator or professional painter, we don't understand how the paint finish affects how we see the color. Learning about today's paint finishes offers three benefits to the savvy homeowner picking paints.
- Hiding imperfections in your home's walls and trim is easier with the right paint finish.
- Washability is determined by your choice of paint finishes, especially when there are little ones at home.
- Durability increases with paint finishes that are glossy because they contain a higher ratio of adhesive binder that solidifies into a solid surface.
- Different paint finishes reflect light differently, and that affects how you see the color.
Flat or matte paint finishes don't reflect light which is why they're perfect for masking imperfections in your walls. Satin paint finishes are slightly more reflective than eggshell paint finishes, giving walls a silky finish that has a slight glow.
Different paint finishes also wear differently, so picking the right paint finishes or sheen will make it easier to keep your walls looking good for years to come. You'll want to use different paint finishes for different rooms depending on the amount of activity that occurs in each room. The higher the sheen, the easier to clean!
A paint's sheen or gloss level is usually chosen based on the requirements for durability. The higher gloss a paint is, the harder the finish. Harder paint finishes are better at withstanding wear and tear. At the other end of the spectrum are flat paints. The surface of flat paint is more porous so it can trap dirt and be more difficult to clean.
Nolan Painting offers and important tip that you might not know. “Finishes vary among paint manufacturers, so be sure to test exactly the paint you are interested into evaluate its reflectivity. One manufacturer’s eggshell is another’s satin, and you want to be sure that the paint you select has the appearance you desire.”
How Many Paint Finishes are There?
First we'll review the pros and cons of each type of paint – high gloss, gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell and flat (also called matte) paint finishes. The table below (and infographic above) will make it easier for you to select your your paint finishes easier. If you want to learn even more about how much light these paint finishes reflect, ApartmentTherapy.com has a nice article.
- High gloss paint finishes – offer the highest sheen and the hardest finish making them easy to clean. At the same time they reflect light and reveal every surface imperfection making them difficult to apply well (hint: leave this paint to the pros). High gloss paint is good for areas exposed to heavy traffic and prone to fingerprints. High gloss paints are also good for accent trim you want to make pop.
- Semi-gloss paints – are less reflective than high-gloss paints and offer good resistance to stains. They're a good choice with small children, e.g. for hallways and playrooms.
- Satin paints – have a softer sheen and won't glare like high-gloss and semi-gloss paints. They are still washable and fairly durable, making them practical to use throughout the house.
- Eggshell paint finishes – have a soft sheen, like an egg. This paint finish works well for walls but not trim around doors, windows, etc. You can wash eggshell paints without harming the surface.
- Matte finish paint – is non-reflective which allows them to conceal surface imperfections better than other paints.
- Flat paints – are fine for ceilings and low-traffic areas like bedrooms. Flat finishes are also useful where walls are rough or damaged, as they'll hide these imperfections better than any other paint finish.
|Room||Recommended Paint Finishes||Requirements|
|Kitchen||Satin or Semi-gloss||Washable & durable paint for areas subject to dirt, grease and moisture.|
|Bathrooms||Satin or Semi-gloss||Washable & durable paint for areas subject to dirt, grease and especially bathroom moisture.|
|Hallways||Satin||Washable & minimize how much dirt the paint picks up.|
|Dining/Living Rooms||Eggshell or Satin||Eggshell has a rich look but minimal washability; Satin has a richer look and more washability than Satin.|
|Family Rooms||Satin or Semi-gloss||Satin has washability while semi-gloss is very washable. Either is perfect for high traffic areas exposed to dirt, grease and moisture.|
|Bedrooms||Eggshell||Washable and minimizes dirt pick-up.|
|Ceilings||Flat||Minimizes visibility of surface imperfections.|
|Trim/Baseboards||Gloss or Semi-gloss||Provides a strong, washable surface.|
Note: No discussion about oil versus latex paints has been included here as there are numerous problems with oil paints and many states no longer allow their sale. The pros and cons of oil and latex paints:
- Latex paints – dry quickly, only need water for thinning and cleanup and have fewer fumes and odors than oil-based paints
- Oil paints – provide an extremely durable finish BUT they dry slowly, require mineral spirits for thinning and cleanup and have strong, smelly fumes.