Property Managers: What You Need to Know Before Your Next Paint Project

By Dave Weaver, PCM Paint Division Manager | August 11, 2014


Choosing the right mix of Color and Sheen for your next paint project can be more important than you think. Do you know the difference between paint colors and paint sheens? Believe it or not, the two terms are consistently mixed up. Unlike paint color, paint sheen refers to the level of shine in the paint finish. To make it even more complicated, any color can be in any sheen. For example, say you want a blue paint with a soft, velvety finish for the inside of your building. You would ask for “interior paint, blue lake (paint color) in eggshell (paint sheen/finish).

According to Master Painters Institute (MPI), “We found 40 different names between flat and semi-gloss… One company creates a new name for gloss level between flat and semi-gloss every year. There’s nothing wrong with that from a marketing perspective, but that creates a great deal of confusion from an industry perspective.”

There’s no question the amount of choices can be overwhelming. But that’s where we come in. Let’s start at the beginning.

There are five basic types of paint finishes
(Listed from the dullest to the shiniest):

  1. Flat/Matte
  2. Eggshell/Low-Lustre
  3. Satin
  4. Semi-Gloss
  5. Gloss

Before you select a paint sheen, it’s important to understand the qualities that each one has to offer.  Paints without a shine are referred to as having a flat or matte finish. This is because they diffuse the light reflecting off the paint. A semi-gloss or glossy sheen, on the other hand, reflects light more directly leaving a slight shine.

The ideal sheen isn’t just visual, it’s also a question of functionality and the amount of traffic in that particular room. If the sheen you want falls somewhere in between two styles, you can always mix them together to find the perfect finish.

So, what’s the difference between these 5 finishes?

  1. Flat/Matte is a low-sheen paint with an easy-clean, non-reflective appearance that’s ideal for low traffic areas and ceilings.
  2. Eggshell has a soft, velvety appearance and is a good choice for moderate traffic areas such as living rooms.
  3. Satin has a pearl-like appearance, and is great for moderate to high traffic areas or areas that have some exposure to moisture, such as kitchens.
  4. Semi-Gloss offers a sleek, radiant sheen recommended for cabinets and trim, high-traffic areas and high-moisture areas.
  5. Gloss creates a brilliant, shiny appearance with a glass-like finish. This is great for high-use surfaces.

Tips for choosing the right sheen:

Below is a paint sheen cheat sheet from the Home Depot that delves even further into these details, advising which paint finish is best for which room.

paint sheen chart

If your paint color is dark but you don’t want a shiny effect, step down at least one level on the sheen scale. The darker the paint color, the more colorant it has, which boosts sheen. The same goes for an imperfect wall painted with a light color. The higher the sheen, the more defects will show. Keep in mind, adding sheen also adds to the cost, usually an extra dollar or two per gallon as you step up on the sheen scale.

Our goal is to help you gain a better understanding of what considerations and preparations you should make before your next paint project. We want you to feel well-equipped to ask the necessary questions for your property. Not to mention, if you choose to do the painting yourself, we’d like to help make the paint decision process as smooth and simple as possible.

Questions? Give us a call at (301) 595-3700 or shoot us an email at! We’d be more than happy to answer any questions and/or send one of our expert paint estimators to assess your property.

Painting a metal surface? Take a look at our blog, “Tips for Painting Metal Surfaces.