What is Paint Sheen? What gloss levels mean what? Do I need semi-matt, eggshell or satin, what is the difference?

Why is Gloss level terminology less important than a specific percentage figure?

The “gloss” or “sheen” level is very important when it comes to paint for many reasons. The gloss level is arguably more noticeable than colour i.e. the same paint produced in different gloss levels will stand out more than two slightly different shades in the same gloss level (I stress arguably). Not only is the aesthetics important but also functionality. Generally speaking, a gloss finish is more hardwearing, can be easier to clean and can offer greater protection to the elements. Matt finishes have grown in their popularity in recent times as they hide many surface imperfections and do not appear to age as quickly i.e. if the finish is “dull” to start with it cannot get much “duller” over time! This is a sweeping statement as many primer-finishes have grown in their popularity as they offer protection, a finish colour and a fashionably low sheen. Sheen can make a new product look old and an old product look new, far more than a colour alone.

What gloss level do you require? This is a common question we ask and a very common question that gives rise to further investigation. In terms of taking an order for any paint, we require the paint type, the colour, the quantity and the sheen/gloss level. In terms of colour, this is a whole other minefield but I will touch upon it here. “Goose-grey” from one manufacturer could be a “Minerva-grey” from another manufacturer, this is why we will request a reference number, be that a British Standard, RAL, Dulux, NCS, RAL Design etc. The same question is asked of gloss level, as one manufacturers “Satin” is another manufacturers “Semi-gloss”. As with colour reference, numbers are specific and not susceptible to variation, BS00A05 “Goose-grey” and BS00A05 “Minerva grey” are the same colour, as the “00A05” is the specific, “Minerva” and “goose” are non-specific to the colour.

Gloss level terminology is very similar to colour terminology and why a percentage should always be quoted by the customer and asked for by the supplier. Gloss levels should be quoted in a percentage; “30% matt”, “30% eggshell”, “30% gloss”, the 30% is the relevant information, the terminology that follows is similar to “Minerva or Goose grey”. To measure the gloss as a percentage the use of a gloss meter is required.  The gloss meter is an instrument which is used to measure the reflective gloss of a surface. Gloss is determined by projecting a beam of light at the surface of the item at a fixed intensity and angle and measuring the amount of reflected light at an equal but opposite angle. The figure of reflected light is measured in percentage.

In powder coating, Gloss is considered as 85% +/- 5%, Matt is 30% =/-5% and 65% +/-5% is deemed Semi-gloss by many with the odd exception denoting this percentage as “Satin”. To add to the confusion there are some powder coatings with gloss levels between 5% and 20% which are also regarded as “matt”! You can begin to see where confusion begins.

Sheen or gloss level is as important as colour when it comes to giving a visual appearance of being the same. Typically, a powder coated window, conservatory or architectural application will have a 30% “matt” finish. When a wet paint is required for repair or refurbishment, a “matt” paint may well be of a lower sheen than 30%, unless specified. The importance of a percentage when specifying a gloss level should never be assumed.

What is optical matt, dead-matt, chalk-board matt, Satin, eggshell, semi-matt, semi-gloss, gloss, piano gloss? These are all terms quoted when it comes to paint sheens, the percentage is the definitive. Typically, but not definitively, the following is a very broad range of terminology and percentages.

0-5% sheen, “Optical matt”, “Chalk-board matt” “Dead-matt”, all basically suggest the very lowest sheen.

10%-25% sheen, “Semi-Matt”, “Matt”, “Eggshell”, “Satin”

25%-40% sheen, “Eggshell”, “Satin”

40%-65% sheen “Satin”, Semi-gloss”

70%-85% sheen “gloss”

85%+ “High-Gloss”, “Piano Gloss”

This is why the percentage figure is paramount, a “Satin” could range from 10% to 65% dependent upon manufacturer and type of paint. Issues arising when the correct gloss level is requested and supplied, but may still have issues.

“Why is the matt paint I requested glossy when I open the tin?” is one of the stranger queries we have received. On further investigation it transpired the paint had not been applied to a surface but appeared “glossy” in the tin, as it was still liquid.

  1. “I have used some of your paint and it is gloss and not 30% matt as requested”. Again, on investigation the paint had not been thoroughly stirred and the matting agent had settled on the bottom of the tin. When the paint was stirred, a 30% sheen was achieved.
  2. Application and film thickness can affect the gloss level of most paints. Generally speaking, a thicker coat of paint or more coats of paint will produce a glossier finish. This does not mean that six coats on 20% sheen paint will yield an 80% finish, but the gloss level will increase. If a paint is applied via spray and via brush, the brush application may appear glossier as any brush marks would give a slight texture that would “attract” the light and appear glossier. Conversely, a glossier paint could appear duller than expected if applied thinly or possibly at a lower temperature than recommended. A change of gloss can sometimes occur when incompatible primers and topcoats are applied or insufficient time is allowed between coats.

Hopefully this has gone some way to explaining gloss levels and why there is not typically three variants when it comes to sheen, Matt, Gloss and something in between.

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