How to Determine Wall and Trim Finishes for Your Next Painting Project

Exteriors. Should you Spray or Brush.
March 25, 2017
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Many of my customers ask what paint sheen we recommend for walls, trim and ceiling paint. When making a determination, there are several factors to consider.

  • How smooth are the surfaces to be painted?
  • What is the lighting in the area?
  • Do you want to be able to scrub smudges or do you want easy touch ups?

Paint, generally, comes in 5 sheens. Some premium paints have more variations however.

Flat finish – Flat is used often in large well lighted areas where there are multiple light sources. Large entry areas, hallways, living rooms and bedrooms. It is also used on walls in older houses because it makes imperfections less obvious. Ceilings and garages are often painted in a flat finish.

Advantages: Easy to touch up, makes uneven surfaces appear less obvious. Absorbs light so finish, especially in deep colors, looks richer. Creates a greater contrast to trim when trim is painted with semi-gloss or gloss paint.

Disadvantages: Difficult to clean. Touch ups are often required in lieu of scrubbing. Some of the higher quality products have light scrub surfaces.

Eggshell finish – Similar traits to flat with some scrub-ability. Used in common areas and provides an even, slightly reflective finish. This is the primary finish used in residential and commercial projects.

Advantages: Even reflectivity in brighter areas. Can be lightly scrubbed, depending on the product used. Higher quality products are more cleanablethan lower quality products.

Disadvantages: If touch ups are required, you may need to paint the whole wall in well-lit areas.

Satin finish – Used in kitchens, bathrooms, some cabinetry, laundry rooms and low lighted areas where scrub-ability is required. In bright areas, where sunshine reflects through the room, wall imperfections are more easily seen.

Advantages: Easier to scrub.

Disadvantage: impossible to touch up without painting a whole wall. More difficult to apply evenly by unexperienced painters. Proper tools need to be used for an even sheen coverage.

Gloss and Semi-gloss – Used mostly on trim, windows, doors and cabinetry. Generally, dries to a more durable, smoother surface. Excellent contrast to wall finishes. These finishes come in both latex and oil based products.

Advantages: Easy to clean. Touch ups are not as obvious on trim. Cabinetry is more difficult to touch up. More durable to nicks and scrapes.

Disadvantages: Light coats are required to prevent running. You can’t apply water based trim paint over oil based paint without a primer coat or it will peel relatively quickly. You need to test the surface before applying. Tools are more difficult to clean when using oil based products.

If you have any questions or clarification, you can contact your painting professional or paint provider.

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