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How to Select the Right Paint Finish

By: Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson
November 25, 2014
Color isn't the only consideration when planning your next paint project. The finish you choose will determine how vivid details appear and how easy the surface will be to clean. Our pros explain how to pick the right sheen for every job.
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Photo: Behr Paint

Sheen On

Color options run the gamut, but there are typically just four to five finishes to choose from within every paint manufacturers' line. And while each brand refers to their finishes differently, the distinguishing factors are essentially the same — luster and washability.
In general, paint finishes range from completely "flat" or matte to shiny or "high-gloss." Glossier finishes contain higher levels of resin and lower levels of pigmentation, whereas less shiny ones contain more pigment than resin.
"Selecting the ideal sheen involves both aesthetic and practical considerations," says Aimee Desrosiers, Director of Marketing for Behr. "From an aesthetic standpoint, sheen creates visual interest and from a practical standpoint, the right sheen can help extend the life of the paint job," she says. Image courtesy of Behr

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Photo: Sherwin-Williams

Prep School

Proper prep is the difference between a smooth paint job and a bumpy or streaky one. Depending on the surface you're painting, you may need to use a primer or an undercoat prior to applying the paint. Steve Revnew, vice president of product development for Sherwin-Williams, also notes that shinier paints require thinner roller covers than flat finishes. Image courtesy of Sherwin-Williams

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At one end of the spectrum you'll find the chalky finish known as "flat," which features a matte sheen that absorbs light and helps hide surface imperfections. Flat paint is ideal for high-traffic areas and ceilings where irregularities and lap marks may exist. It's important to note, however, that all flat paints aren't created equal. The kind made specifically for ceilings is designed to roll on with minimal spatter and resist yellowing over time. Image courtesy of Farrow & Ball

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Photo: Behr Paint


With a bit more luster than flat paint, eggshell enamel offers superior scrubability to completely flat finishes. In this room, the subtle difference between the eggshell paint on the walls, the semigloss paint on the door and the high-gloss paint on the table is evident even under soft candlelight. Image courtesy of Behr

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