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A Guide to Paint Gloss


Choosing the right paint for your house is a decision that goes beyond just picking a color that catches your eye. It’s a choice that can significantly impact the aesthetics, durability, and maintenance of your home. The type of paint you choose can affect how well your walls resist wear and tear, how easy they are to clean, and even how well they reflect light. Therefore, it’s crucial to make an informed decision about the type of paint you use.

Terms like ‘sheen’ and ‘gloss’ are often confused or misunderstood. While these terms are frequently used interchangeably, technically they refer to different aspects of paint. ‘Sheen’ refers to the degree of light reflection, while ‘gloss’ is a type of paint known for its high sheen. For our purposes we will use them interchangeably as most people understand the concept.

In this guide, we will delve deeper into the world of gloss paint, exploring its unique features, benefits, and how to use it effectively. Whether you’re a homeowner looking to refresh your space or a professional painter seeking to expand your knowledge, this guide will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of gloss paint.

What is paint gloss?

The glossy finish of gloss paint is a result of the way it reflects light. When light hits a surface, it can either be absorbed, transmitted, or reflected. In the case of gloss paint, a significant portion of the light is reflected, and due to the smooth and hard finish, this reflection is direct and not scattered, giving the paint its characteristic shine.

Gloss vs Sheen

While “gloss” and “sheen” are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation, they do have distinct meanings in the painting industry.

  1. Gloss: Gloss refers to the amount of light that a painted surface reflects. Higher gloss levels mean a greater amount of light is reflected, creating a shiny, mirror-like appearance. This shiny finish can highlight imperfections, so gloss paint is typically used for surfaces like trim, doors, and cabinets, where durability is also important.
  2. Sheen: Sheen is a measure of the degree of light reflection and also refers to the luster, or visual texture, of the painted surface. It’s more about the aesthetic look rather than the amount of light reflection. Sheen levels can range from flat (no sheen) to high gloss. Different sheen levels are better suited for different areas; for example, flat sheen is often used for ceilings and walls, while semi-gloss or gloss sheen might be used for trim and kitchen or bathroom walls due to its durability and ease of cleaning.

While the two terms are related, they are not the same. Think of gloss as the amount of reflectivity and sheen as the quality of that reflectivity, in terms of its visual texture and luster. However, in many cases, especially in product labels, the terms can be used to describe the same thing: the shine of the paint once it dries. The difference is subtle and may not matter much to the average homeowner, but it could be important for a professional painter or a homeowner who is very particular about the final appearance of their painted surfaces.

How is gloss measured in paint?

The level of gloss in paint is not just a subjective perception; it can be quantitatively measured using a device known as a gloss meter. This device works by projecting a beam of light onto the painted surface and then measuring the intensity of the light that is reflected back. The resulting measurement gives a numerical rating that corresponds to the shininess of the paint.


Levels of Gloss

The Master Painters Institute (MPI) is an organization that develops and maintains architectural paint and coating standards. It serves as an authoritative resource on paint and coating products, providing independent testing and certification to ensure that paints meet quality and performance standards.

Their gloss level standards specifically help to ensure consistency in paint sheen and performance across different brands and types of paint. This makes it easier for consumers and professionals alike to select the appropriate paint product for a particular application, knowing what to expect in terms of the paint’s appearance and performance.

Here’s how the MPI gloss levels are defined:


Gloss Level 1 (0 to 5): This level corresponds to what is traditionally known as flat paint. It has the least amount of gloss and reflects minimal light.


Gloss Level 2 (5 to 10): This level is often referred to as a high-side flat or velvet. It has a slightly higher gloss level than flat paint but still maintains a mostly matte finish.


Gloss Level 3 (10 to 25): This level is equivalent to what is commonly known as eggshell. It has a noticeable but not overpowering sheen.


Gloss Level 4 (20 to 35): This level is known as satin. There is a slight overlap with the eggshell level, but satin finishes tend to have a more pronounced sheen.


Gloss Level 5 (35 to 70): This is the semi-gloss range. Paints in this range have a significant sheen that is clearly noticeable.


Gloss Level 6 (70 to 85): This level corresponds to gloss paint. It has a high sheen and reflects a lot of light.


Gloss Level 7 (85 and up): This is the high gloss range. Paints in this category have the highest sheen and reflect the most light.

Gloss level guides

Most paint stores will have gloss level guides to help you select the write level of gloss for your project. This one is from Dunn-Edwards and contains 7 levels of gloss according to they paint formulas. It also contains recommendation guide to help you pick the correct level of gloss for your project.


Examining the gloss guide at different angles can help discern varying gloss levels. It’s beneficial to observe it under diverse lighting conditions such as direct sunlight, shadows, brightly lit rooms, and dimly lit rooms. This way, you’ll notice that the same level of gloss can appear differently under varying lighting circumstances.


The Impact of Light Refraction on Paint Colors

The perception of paint colors can significantly change depending on the angle from which they are viewed, a phenomenon primarily due to light refraction. When light hits the surface of gloss paint, it doesn’t just bounce back; it refracts, or bends, altering the way we perceive the color. For instance, consider a paint sample viewed directly from the front and then the same sample viewed at a slight angle. Even though the paint color is identical, the amount of light reflecting off the gloss paint changes when viewed from a different angle. This change in light reflection can alter the perceived color enough that the two paint samples may appear mismatched. This effect is a crucial consideration when choosing paint finishes, as it can impact the overall visual consistency of a painted space.

Paint Sample Viewed From Above

When observed directly, it can be challenging to distinguish between different gloss levels as they can appear identical. This similarity is due to the angle of observation and the room’s low lighting conditions at the time the photo was captured.


Paint Sample Viewed From an Angle

Observing at an angle, the distinctions between gloss levels become significantly clear. Despite the color being identical, in this case, Seaside, the left square seems darker because it possesses a higher gloss level.


Gloss vs Flat

High gloss paints are very reflective, making them ideal for surfaces you want to highlight, like trim, doors, or cabinets. The high gloss level also makes these surfaces easy to clean, which is beneficial in areas like kitchens and bathrooms where frequent cleaning may be necessary. However, because the high gloss accentuates every detail, imperfections in the surface are often more visible.

Lower gloss paints, such as flat or matte, are less reflective and therefore better at hiding surface imperfections. These paints are often used on walls and ceilings where a softer, more subdued finish is desirable and where the need for frequent cleaning is less likely.

In between these extremes are levels like eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss. These offer a balance between the aesthetic and practical qualities of high and low gloss paints.

Is choosing a higher gloss paint right for your project?

When it comes to choosing paint for your home or project, a higher gloss paint can offer several advantages that make it a compelling choice for certain applications. Here are some of the key benefits of gloss paint:

  1. Durability: One of the most significant advantages of gloss paint is its durability. Gloss paint forms a hard and robust finish that can withstand a lot of wear and tear. It’s resistant to knocks and scratches.
  2. Easy to Clean: Gloss paint is incredibly easy to clean. Its smooth, hard surface means that dirt and grime can’t easily penetrate it.
  3. Reflects Light Well: Gloss paint is highly reflective, meaning it bounces light around the room. This can make your space look brighter and feel more open.
  4. Aesthetic Appeal: Gloss paint has a shiny finish that can give a luxurious and high-end feel to a space. It’s particularly effective when used on trim, doors, and cabinets, adding a touch of elegance and sophistication.

Choosing gloss paint can provide these benefits and more. However, it’s essential to consider the specific needs of your space and your personal preferences when deciding on the type of paint to use.


Caution When Using Glossy Paint

While gloss paint is highly durable and easy to clean, it’s not without its disadvantages. One of the primary drawbacks is that it tends to highlight any imperfections on the surface it’s applied to. Whether it’s the waviness of a wall or an imperfect corner on trim and moulding, gloss paint will accentuate these flaws due to its reflective nature.

Furthermore, overusing gloss paint in a space can lead to visual overload. The high level of reflection can make it difficult for your eyes to focus and rest on any particular surface, creating a sense of overwhelm.

Therefore, it’s typically recommended to use gloss paint judiciously. It’s best suited for surfaces that are flat and smooth, such as a machined flat panel cabinet door. By using gloss paint strategically, you can enjoy its benefits while minimizing its potential drawbacks.

What gloss level is right for your painting project?

Here is our recommendation guide to help.

Choosing the right level of glossiness for your paint can make a significant difference in the final look and functionality of your space. Here are some guidelines on when to use different levels of glossiness:

Interior Walls:

Interior Doors and Trim:

Exterior Walls:

Exterior Doors:

Remember, these are general guidelines, and the best choice of paint can vary depending on specific factors like the condition of your surfaces, the amount of traffic in an area, and your personal aesthetic preferences.


Using Dunn-Edwards Evershield for Stucco Homes

When it comes to painting stucco homes, our go-to product is Dunn-Edwards Evershield. This ultra-premium, ultra-low VOC, 100% acrylic paint is specifically designed to offer maximum protection against a variety of elements, making it an excellent choice for exterior applications.

Stucco, by its very nature, is a rough and porous material. It’s susceptible to UV color fade, mildew, efflorescence, and water intrusion. Evershield’s advanced technology and high-quality ingredients provide a robust defense against these issues. It safeguards the stucco from film failure, including problems such as grain-cracking, peeling, and blistering, which are common with lesser quality paints.

The flat finish minimizes light reflection, helping to hide surface imperfections and providing a smooth, uniform look. Despite its flat appearance, Evershield maintains exceptional durability and is easy to clean, a crucial factor for maintaining the exterior of a home.

Evershield’s excellent coverage and adhesion make it a reliable choice for stucco. It adheres well to the rough, uneven surface of stucco, ensuring a smooth and even finish. It also provides excellent coverage, often requiring fewer coats than other paints, saving both time and resources during the painting process.


Using Dunn-Edwards Spartashield for a Dead-Flat Exterior Finish

In certain situations, we turn to Dunn-Edwards Spartashield for the ultimate in dead-flat exterior paint. Spartashield is a unique product that offers a truly flat finish, coming in at just a 1 on the gloss scale. This minimal gloss level results in a subtle, understated aesthetic that can be ideal for certain architectural styles and environments.

Spartashield is particularly well-suited for homes with a Santa Fe style. This architectural style, characterized by its earthy tones and natural textures, pairs beautifully with the muted, matte finish of Spartashield. The paint’s dead-flat finish complements the rustic charm of Santa Fe style homes, enhancing their unique features without overpowering them.

Additionally, Spartashield is an excellent choice for homes that need to blend in with their natural desert surroundings. In these environments, a glossy finish can look out of place, reflecting too much sunlight and detracting from the natural beauty of the landscape. Spartashield’s dead-flat finish, on the other hand, mimics the muted tones and textures of the desert, helping the home to harmonize with its surroundings.

Despite its flat finish, Spartashield does not compromise on durability or protection. Like all Dunn-Edwards products, it’s designed to withstand the elements and provide long-lasting color and coverage. So, while it may blend in with the landscape, it stands up to the challenges of the desert environment.


Choosing the right paint for your home is a multifaceted decision that extends beyond simply selecting an appealing color. It’s a choice that can significantly influence the aesthetic appeal, durability, and maintenance requirements of your home. The type of paint you opt for can determine how well your walls resist wear and tear, how easy they are to clean, and even how effectively they reflect light.

In this guide, we’ve explored the world of gloss paint, shedding light on its unique features, benefits, and effective usage. We’ve clarified often misunderstood terms like ‘sheen’ and ‘gloss’, and provided a comprehensive understanding of gloss paint, making it easier for you to make an informed decision.

We’ve also delved into the specifics of different gloss levels, their applications, and the benefits and drawbacks of gloss paint. We’ve shared our experiences with Dunn-Edwards Evershield and Spartashield, two high-quality paints that we often use for different types of exterior surfaces.

Remember, these are general guidelines, and the best choice of paint can vary depending on specific factors like the condition of your surfaces, the amount of traffic in an area, and your personal aesthetic preferences.

Whether you’re a homeowner looking to refresh your space or a professional painter seeking to expand your knowledge, we hope this guide has provided you with a deeper understanding of gloss paint and its applications. Here’s to making your next painting project a resounding success!