How to Choose the Right Paint Finish For Interior Walls

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright painted walls and warm colored accents, chalk boards and glitter that highlight my daughters’ room, these are a few of my favorite things.

Oh dear paint, you surely know how to make us happy with the way you brighten up a room, but why, oh why, do you give us such a challenge with all the choices you have to offer?

Hundreds of colors and hues that make our eyes glaze, egg shell or semi gloss or flat, how do I ever choose the right paint finish?

As I shared in my Paint, Paints, Painting post, I’ve been going to town with one of my favorite modes of frugal home decor: painting of all kinds. This past week, I’ve been tackling a few walls and I wanted to share a few tips that I’ve gained when deciding on a paint finish.

For years, not only was picking the paint color a long arduous task, but so was deciding on which paint finish to choose. They were of equal dilemmas to me, but not any longer. Paint colors will continue to remain a difficult choice, only because I love so many looks, but now that I understand how to choose the perfect paint finish for interior walls, the process is so much easier.

How to Choose the Right Paint Finish For Interior Walls

I wish someone had told me years ago that determining your paint finish revolves around two factors: sheen/luster and wash-ability. I always thought I could make a “really wrong choice” when deciding on the finish and now I understand there was nothing to worry about. You can’t go wrong in picking a finish (the same can NOT be said about picking colors), you just need to know the questions to ask.

In simple laymen terms, “How much sheen do you desire on your walls and how often will you need to wash down those walls?”  That is what you need to ask yourself and then work back from there. Sheen simply refers to the amount of light that paint reflects from its surface, so you choose which sheen based on the purpose/function of the room and how reflective you want the walls to look.

To over simplify the process, there are really only five main choices: flat, egg shell, satin, semi-gloss and glossy ( in the order from no reflection of light, to the glossy that really reflects light.)

Flat Finish

I’m going to confess something. When we built our first and only home 16 years ago, every room came in the “flat/matte” finish that most builders use for ease. Flat paint has  a matte finish with no sheen, and almost a chalky look, so therefore it is the best choice for hiding imperfections. I didn’t know a thing about paints and I kept most of the walls in that white flat for years, until I realized that every time the kids put their hands on the hall way walls and I needed to wipe their prints off, a bit of the “chalk” came with it as well. Here’s my confession, I still have a room with that same white flat paint. It rarely sees traffic and it’s been perfect for all these years (until now. It has to go in the next few months.)

One key thing to remember is that the shinier the paint, the better it washes up and cleans off, so any high traffic areas that have kids hand prints and dog tail swishes, go towards eggshell, satin or semi-gloss on the walls. These are the three finishes specifically made to withstand repeated cleaning.

Eggshell Finish

One of the main reason I love the new Glidden line of Ultra Durable Disney Interior Paints is they have taken the guess work out of the main wall finish and use an eggshell finish for the wall paint.  If you can picture the sheen of an egg shell, you can envision this. It’s super durable and has just a tad more sheen than flat making it great for hiding imperfections, but also strong enough to handle the scrubbing we have to do in kids spaces.

A huge positive benefit of Disney’s paint line is that is has NO VOC, and it’s virtually odor free during application, so it’s great for those with sensitive allergies or odors.

Satin Finish
We are taking more step towards increased sheen with a satin finish paint. It has a smooth, silky look that is similar to egg shell and semi gloss but with a pearl like finish. It is most often used for doors, windows, trim, or ceilings, but can also be used as wall paint and on wood work. Many use it in rooms,  kitchens, or bathrooms, or  areas which get a lot of traffic. I used a satin in my mudroom and while it’s held up nicely, when I paint it again, I will use a semi gloss which is better for rooms with really high traffic.

Long ago, I read that Semi- gloss and Glossy finishes should be used if you desire a small space to seem bigger, and I agree.  I locked that tip away and always choose semi gloss for my small bathrooms. Due to the reflective nature of the sheen, it can open up a dark room which has no windows.
Since semi gloss is good for high humidity areas, it’s often recommended for kitchens, bathrooms and garages.  I used it on all the walls in my kitchen due to the large work load the walls receive. It is easily cleaned and lays down a nice, subtle shine, while holding up to my constant scrubbing. That can never be said for flat.  Semi gloss is almost always used for doors, trim, and cabinets. Pre- paint preparation work must be done because if you have poorly prepared surfaces, dings, holes etc, both semi-gloss and glossy paint finishes will pick that up more so due to their reflective nature.

I don’t recommend high gloss paints for walls unless you are using them in small samplings and desire a dramatic, contemporary look. Their shiny finish mimics the look of enamel or plastic, and really give an amazing  depth of color, so they’re ideal for  rich, jewel tones when you want to really give a pop of impressive color. The downside is that you must have smooth surfaces, and will not cover any imperfections. Glossy can be fun for furniture, but again, it  requires lots of pre-painting prep.

When deciding on a theme for any room, it’s always good to pick one key item that you love and build around that choice.

Since I was doing our girls room, my daughter was set on using this very bright fushia chalk board paint for accents. So we developed the theme around the above Art Print, which tied in perfectly with her color choices.

 Can you see the color she choose on the right?

Yep, it’s bright, and I love that we can create chalkboard paint in any color that we can dream up. The Great Slate chalkboard paint lets you make crazy-cool, colorful wall art – that’s also a canvas for even more wall art!

Rather than do the entire wall in this chalk board paint, we decided to create some fun polka dots on an accent wall, and I just love the results, especially since it’s so very easy to create this new look. Since our theme centers around the crown art print, and the fact that our daughters are our precious princesses, the polka dots are filled with words that remind them of their true worth: Loved, Chosen, Precious, Accepted etc.

Hopefully, my simplified overview on choosing the right paint finish for your interior walls can help you take the guess work out of your choices.

What rooms in your home need a little boost? What’s your favorite paint finish?