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Paint Finishes

By: Brian Albrecht
Posted: Jan 14th, 2021

Paints can be a world in and of themselves. With thousands of colors to choose from, varying levels of sheen or gloss, and a seemingly ever-increasing amount of specialty features, it can be difficult to navigate what to use where, when, why, and how.

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Sheen / Gloss

Every paint company seems to use slightly different language when it comes to the sheen of their products. From flat to matte to eggshell to satin, pearl, and gloss each one is different, or depending on the company, might be the same. Benjamin Moore has levels that include flat, matte, eggshell, pearl, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss while Sherwin Williams uses flat, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss as their standards, but also include pearl, matte, eggshell, and low and medium luster in their catalogue as well depending on the product. Navigating it all can be a bit tricky when it comes to getting the terminology right, not to mention picking the sheen that is right for you and your application.

When picking the correct sheen there is a fine line to walk with durability. In general, the higher level the sheen the more protective and durable the finish. However, the higher the level of sheen, the more apparent imperfections and damage become. So how the hell does that work? One finish is more durable, but at the same time less durable, and the other is less durable, but also kind of more durable? Unfortunately, this is the game we play when it comes to paint!

Figure 1 - High gloss cabinetry. Project by Albrecht Wood Interiors.

The industry standard utilizes a semi-gloss finish on all trim (casing, baseboard, crown molding) while walls are typically a step down in sheen with an eggshell or matte type finish. The semi-gloss finish offers decent protection from vacuum bumps and minor wear and tear while the eggshell/matte provides a slight sheen but not enough for fingerprints and minor imperfections to be readily visible. For a long time, the standard was always to use a semi-gloss paint in bathrooms on both trim, as well as, walls; this was because the higher the sheen, the more resistant to water the paint was, as well as providing the added bonus of washability. However, nowadays there are eggshell/matte level paints that offer washability and moisture resistance without a sheen level that shows condensation runs after every shower, meaning we no longer need to change sheen depending on the room type.

It should be noted that higher levels of sheen also become harder to do touch-ups on. An eggshell finish can often times be touched up and blended in around a specific spot, whereas higher sheen levels require the entire wall be painted else you will see exactly where the new layer of paint has been applied. Another aspect to consider when choosing your sheen is whether your project is a remodel or a new home. Even the most elaborate remodel must work with some of the inherent imperfections that come with an existing home, and as such, a higher sheen might not be advisable as it will show more of those imperfections. If walls are out of level, have high or low points, or simply have years of wear and tear on them, a higher gloss paint will always make those elements more readily visible due to their ability to emphasize light and shadow in ways that a flat or eggshell might not.

Figure 2 - Semi-gloss gold painted ceiling. Project by Albrecht Wood Interiors.
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Figure 3 - Matte finish painted walls. Project by Albrecht Wood Interiors

All of that being said, the industry standard is the industry standard for a reason. Unless you have a particular reason why you would like to go with a higher sheen or lower sheen, we recommend going with what the professionals have deemed the best combination of protection and ability to hide imperfections.

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Special Features

While there are obviously interior and exterior paints, there are also a wide variety of added features that come with different lines of paint. Some such features include fade resistance, improved durability, washability, low-VOC, and moisture resistance, with some paints boasting all of the above in a single can. In general, the more features, the more expensive the paint. However, as would be expected, typically the more expensive the paint, the longer lasting and more durable the finish. Where you choose to spend the money on a more quality paint is entirely up to you, but there may be a few options worth considering.

A paint with fade resistance is going to hold up better in those areas that receive a lot of direct sunlight, however, a dark basement isn’t going to see the same level of fading over time and therefore might be a location you can get away without the fade resistance. Washability is a feature that is best reserved for spaces that take a beating or are undergoing the most temperature change, such as bathrooms or kids playrooms that may get scuffs and the occasional crayon or marker “enhancement.”Low-VOC paints are, for the most part, the standard today, as they release far less toxic fumes and can be identified by a much less pungent smell when being applied. Moisture resistance is an important feature that should be considered in those places where you expect there to be increased humidity (bathrooms, greenhouses, etc.) to protect the substrate, be it drywall or plaster, from increased exposure. Moisture resistance paint, while an added layer of protection, should not be a substitute for moisture resistant drywall in key areas.

While navigating the world of paint can be a bit of a hassle, making the right choices from color to sheen to added benefits can add years of life to your walls and trim. When in doubt, the best person to ask about your paint selections is the person who spends the most time around it, the painter. Painters see thousands of different colors, they see the wear and tear that different paints undergo, and they’ve seen which paints cause them the most call-backs for touchups and problems. While a paint supplier will tell you that a high gloss is the most durable, the painter will tell you how quickly that high gloss finish can look terrible.

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