This story shows how to pick a paint based on its sheen and what surface it will cover.
Once you have dealt with the color and quality factors, there's one more consideration when picking paint for a surface -- its sheen. Sheen is a measure of how much light reflects back from the paint -- in short, how shiny it is. Although sheen is controlled by quantity of the paint's pigments and additives, what's important to your choices is that certain sheens look better and clean easier on certain surfaces.
Most paints fall into one of four sheen categories -- flat, satin, semigloss, and gloss. Manufacturers may choose descriptive names such as matte or eggshell, so avoid surprises by checking actual samples when comparing paints. Sheen affects not only the appearance of a painted surface, but also its durability. The higher the sheen, the harder the paint.
But don't assume all glossy paints display the same reflectivity. Sheens are not standardized from brand to brand. One company's satin may be glossier than another brand's. Here's how the sheen of a paint can affect your choices.
Flat paints are pretty much nonreflective, with a matte finish that's good for hiding imperfections -- bumps, dents, patches, and nailheads. These paints show marks and scuffs, however, and the soft surface stains easily. Newer scrubbable flat paints are tougher and easier to clean.
Satin paints display a light luster with a soft texture. They are more durable than flat paints and can be used for trim that won't get much abuse, especially when you want to set the trim apart from a flat-painted wall.
Semigloss paint has a higher gloss and tougher skin than satin paint, so it stands up to use and cleans more readily. However, a semigloss paint has just enough shine to begin to show imperfections in the surface.
Gloss paints are the hardest -- and hardiest -- of all. This sheen is sometimes considered enamel and can take abuse and some rough scrubbing. Its high gloss makes imperfections clearly visible.
The sheen of a paint may also alter the perception of its color. For example, the same tint of white may look whiter in a glossy enamel than in a flat wall paint. That's because more of the color is reflected, even though the color itself is the same. To make sure you have the paint sheen you want, take home samples and paint them on test boards.
Traditionally, different paint sheens have been favored for various surfaces.
Paint for ceilings
Ceilings don't suffer the abrasion other surfaces endure, but cooking vapors, airborne grease, smoke, pollution, and plain old dirt gradually make a ceiling dingy and dull. A flat or semigloss sheen is a good choice for ceilings because it hides imperfections well. Paints formulated specifically for ceilings are thicker so they are less spatter prone, are nonyellowing, and dry faster.
Paint for walls
Many homebuilders apply flat paints to walls to help disguise less-than-perfect drywall finishing. But flat paint quickly shows wear. Attempts to clean away dirty marks often result in creating a larger smudge. A satin finish is more forgiving, with substantially upgraded durability and without excessive shine. Paint made for bathrooms and kitchens contains extra mildewcides and is moisture and peel resistant. Ask your dealer about child's-room paints. Formulated for hard use, they can be perfect in other demanding locations, such as kitchens, baths, laundry rooms, and hallways. And for a kitchen, you can even apply a semigloss or gloss finish on the walls to make them easier to wipe clean.
Paint for trim
Doors, windows, and moldings typically take a higher sheen than walls because they get more physical contact and need a tougher surface. Besides, a glossy surface accentuates the woodwork and makes it stand out from the walls. That contrast between trim and walls adds interest to your design scheme. Choose trim paint that's at least one step glossier than the walls.