How to Choose the Right Paint Sheen

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted to paint a wall. Now raise your hand if you thought picking the right paint color was the only major decision you needed to make for painting said wall. Now raise your hand if you didn’t know that in addition to selecting the right color you ALSO needed to select the right paint sheen. And now raise your hand if you have no freaking clue what the different paint sheens are or when the heck to use them. If you raised your hand for any of these then this post is for you. You should also be happy to know that you are not alone because I’ve been there and I still find myself referring to my paint sheen cheat sheet that I scribbled on a piece of paper and keep in my purse.

Choosing the perfect paint color can be stressful enough. Once we think we have it all figured out and march on down to our local paint store to order our perfect color of paint, the guy at the counter asks “Do you want this in Eggshell, Satin, Flat, Gloss, or Semi-gloss” and we find ourselves on the brink of a full blown meltdown in the paint store.

Choosing the right finish is just as important as choosing the right paint color because choosing the wrong one could mean a do-over that costs twice as much. Different sheens can change the way color appears on walls – making colors either more matte or more reflective and glossy. If you aren’t stoked on the look of super shiny walls then try stepping down at least one level on the sheen scale. I especially recommend going a level down for darker, richer colors because the darker the color, the more colorant it has, which boosts sheen. Same goes if you’re painting a large, sun-washed, or imperfect wall – the higher the sheen, the more defects will show.

Another important factor to consider when choosing a sheen, is the function of the space you are painting and whether or not you will need something with higher durability due to traffic. A general rule of thumb I like to stick to is the higher the shine, the more durable and easier to clean it will be. Flat paint has zero shine and is the least durable whereas gloss has all the shine and is most durable – in between are eggshell, satin and semi-gloss. Adding sheen also adds to the cost, usually an extra dollar or two per gallon as you step up on the sheen scale.

I figured it was about time to put my scribbled sheen cheat sheet into a more “official” digital version so I lessen the risk of spilling coffee on it or finding it crumpled up at the bottom of my purse. But more importantly, I wanted to create an official paint sheen guide as a resource for you guys to keep in your back pocket, or Pin to a Pinterest board, so next time you walk into a paint store you can know what sheen you want and feel confident asking for it. 

Brett Foken