Choosing the Right Paint Sheen

Check out these tips for choosing paint sheen.

I went to the paint store the other day to pick up paint for the bathroom, and the salesperson asked what sheen I wanted. I’m painting woodwork and the walls. Even though I thought I knew the answer, I asked what the choices were.

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Satin is a good sheen for woodwork. It’s got a bit of glossiness but doesn’t telegraph every imperfection.

In order of sheen, from least glossy to most, here’s what he said: flat, flat enamel, eggshell enamel, satin enamel, semigloss enamel and high-gloss enamel. Well, in the first place, the term “enamel,” in my opinion, has lost its original meaning. I used to think it meant a hard, glossy oil-based paint. My best guess now it that it suggests a durable paint that’s washable. With that in mind, I chose flat enamel for the walls. There was a time when painters chose semigloss oil paint for kitchen and bath walls so they could be washed. But unless you really want glossy walls, I don’t recommend it. Modern water-based paint formulas are washable enough. And considering that the higher the gloss, the more imperfections show, most walls look better with flat or eggshell paint. The same goes for exterior siding.

I like woodwork to have a bit of sheen, but this is a personal preference. I chose satin enamel for the woodwork. It’s shiny enough to set the wood apart from the walls, without being too glossy. The only time I would recommend high-gloss enamel for wood is if your woodwork, furniture or cabinetry is in pristine condition and meticulously prepped. Otherwise any little imperfection will look like a glaring flaw. I also like exterior trim to have a bit of glossiness, and usually choose satin enamel. Check out this article to learn tips and techniques for exterior painting. If you have a fabulous front door that you really want to show off, then semigloss or even high-gloss is a good choice.

— Jeff Gorton, Associate Editor

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