Where and When to Use Each Type of Paint Finish
While the colors themselves make a big splash, paint finishes can help transform your space, too.
Everyone knows the decorating power of paint: It's an easy, cost-effective way to transform a single wall, an entire room, or a piece of furniture. But as you select paint for a project, color isn't the only factor you should think about. Paint finishes are equally as important, as they vary from matte to glossy and can both smooth or add texture to your walls or décor pieces. And it's not just about aesthetics: Some paint finishes are better suited to specific rooms than others. If you're painting a bathroom, for example, it's important to select a finish that can withstand humidity, condensation, and bright lights; in the kitchen, especially behind your countertops or stoves, a paint finish that washes well is critical. "When it's time to paint a room in your home, color isn't the only thing to consider," says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design for The Home Depot. "Choosing the right types of paint finishes will determine the final look of your room."
Krystal Mindeck, HGTV Home® by Sherwin-Williams senior product manager, says that selecting your paint finish is an important step in any painting project. "There are multiple finishes to select from ranging from flat/matte to semi-gloss with each finish suited for different situations," she says. "In general, the higher the finish, the higher the shine and higher the durability." Durability is key for most homeowners, but especially those with households that includes kids and pets. A frequent washing shouldn't wipe away a coat of paint, and the right finish can ensure this doesn't happen.
There are also faux paint finishes that add texture and dimension to any room or project. Make a brand-new wall look lived in with a faux crackling effect. It's a fairly simple process that involves a few layers of paint and a clear varnish. For a more elegant, elevated space, like the dining room or a formal living room, a raw silk faux paint finish might be something to consider. This special technique yields beautiful results.
Ahead, Fishburne and Mindeck share everything you need to know about choosing the best paint finish for your needs and preferences.
Whether you're looking to cover up some minor flaws or want to minimize light reflection, a flat or matte finish is ideal. "A flat/matte finish has the lowest level of gloss or shine and light reflectance; however, it also provides minimal washability and durability," says Mindeck. "Flat finish is the ideal sheen to smooth out and hide many minor imperfections on your surface." She recommends using this paint finish in low-traffic areas, like ceilings, dining rooms, and bedrooms.
An eggshell finish has a subtle sheen or gloss appearance, according to Mindeck. "Eggshell is more washable and durable than a flat finish," she says. This is important when considering upkeep, and especially if you have young children or pets. She says to use this paint finish for medium traffic areas like hallways, kids bedrooms, living rooms, and laundry rooms.
Perfect for medium to high-traffic areas—like kitchens, living rooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and hallways—a satin finish has a medium shine or gloss appearance. "Satin finishes are easy to wipe down as they offer overall excellent washability, scrub resistance and durability, more than an eggshell finish," says Mindeck.
A semi-gloss finish offers a high shine appearance and is the most washable, moisture-resistant, and durable finish, explains Mindeck. She says to use this paint finish on high-trafficked areas like cabinets, trims, doors, bathrooms, and kitchens, as it can withstand multiple washes. "However, if your surface has multiple imperfections, this finish is not recommended as it will showcase those imperfections," she says.
For a Tried-and-True Look
If the entire process feels overwhelming and you're looking for a default paint finish to choose, there's one that Mindeck recommends. "When in doubt of what paint finish to select, eggshell finish is all around a great choice as is it provides all around subtle shine appearance with added durability," she says.
Faux Raw Silk Finish
"Raw silk is a faux finish created using a glaze paint and coarse steel wool," says Fishburne. "You can create the look by applying a thin layer of glaze with a roller or bristle brush and then firmly dragging a balled-up piece of coarse steel wool across the glaze. The result is a texture that mimics the look of raw silk."
You can even create a worn-in look with paint. "Crackling is a special paint process that creates a distressed look. A crackling paint is used over another color of paint and finished off with a clear varnish," says Fishburne.
Sponging is one of the easiest faux finishes, according to Fishburne. "All you need is a painting sponge ($50.73 for six, homedepot.com) and some glaze paints in two to three complimentary colors," she says. "Use the sponge to dab on layers of color to capture the effect."
Combing is a faux finish created by dragging a paint comb ($9.95, homedepot.com) through a colored glaze, says Fishburne.
A paint finish can even mimic the look of a wood grain. "Wood graining is a popular way to give a wall a rustic look," says Fishburne. "All it takes is a special tool called a wood grain rocker or a wood grain texture paint."