How shiny or dull is the paint? As you probably know paint is available from flat to full gloss, with several steps available in between.
Paint is rated in sheens, also known as glossieness. Below is a list of five paint gloss levels from (1) Flat to (5) Full Gloss. If the categories get a little confusing, please be aware that paint gloss is technically rated on how much light it reflects and the scores range from zero to over eighty five. That is why there are flat paints (example Flat with a reflectivity score of 4.8) with a tiny bit of sheen and eggshell paints (example eggshell with reflectivity score of 5.1) that look almost identical to flat paints.
Flat paint looks the best in almost all situations except for trim which looks better with some shine. Walls, ceilings, closets etc.. will present the best with a fresh coat of flat paint on them. In times past flat paint had one game ending negative quality. If you tried to clean it it would smudge. If there were kids or pets then flat paint was out. Today’s flat paints have a much higher “scrubability” rating and can be cleaned better than in years gone by. They still look the best, and now some of the good flat paints can be cleaned. I still don’t recommend them for homes with young kids or with pets that go outside and get dirty.
Eggshell is a confusing category. Not flat and not a satin, it has a little bit of sheen. To make matters more confusing some paint manufactures call some of their satins “eggshell”. You can look at the actual ratings of the paint to see how shiny it is or you can just tell us what type of sheen you want and let us decide which paint to use – based on the application.
With three kids in my house we choose to use a satin finish Dunn Edwards Suprema on the walls and ceilings. The low sheen helps keep sheet rock texture looking soft and natural while at the same time it holds up well to being repeatedly washed or scrubbed. Its important to note there is a large difference between “repeated washing” in a home and “repeated washing” in a commercial building like a hospital or nursing home. For home use a satin finish in a quality paint is great in most situations.
Semigloss paint is hard and can be repeatedly scrubbed. The same material in the paint which gives it the gloss also makes it resistant to wear and helps prevent things like crayons from penetrating down into the paint. If semigloss didn’t make textured sheetrock look bad it would be a great choice for walls. But since it does make sheetrock look bad its mainly used on doors and trim.
Gloss paint is used almost exclusively by us on metal items. Fences, column tops, light fixtures etc.. Its the hardest and best wearing of all five types of paints. It also shows the most defects. One little speck on a glossy surface will stand out and be noticed.
One noteworthy job: We recently painted a home interior where the clients wanted only full gloss paint used. Full gloss white paint on the walls, ceiling, doors and trim. I tried repeatedly to talk them out of it. Even had them sign a waiver as I was afraid of how it would look. When it was finished I was suprised. Really suprised. It looked clean and nice and after plants and furniture were in it was really clean looking. Not what I would pick, but it was certainly easy to clean and being a small home it was bright.
More Information on Sheens
For the engineers and people who wantt to know every last detail, a good article on a different web site about how paint sheens are classified: