What does sheen mean?

A lot of customers, when asked what kind of paint they want, answer with eggshell, so I think its time to peel back the curtain on sheen and explain what that is, how its measured, and why different companies have different appearances when compared on the wall.  Now back in the day maybe 15 years ago or so, eggshell was a color in the off-white range, but now it solely refers to the sheen of the product.  So, when your asked what color you want, and you say eggshell, the staff are likely to give you a range of whites to choose from, to ensure you choose the color that you feel is closest to what you desire and have pictured in your mind as “eggshell color”.



So, what is sheen?  Well sheen can be classified from low to high as flat/matte, losheen, eggshell, pearl/satin, semi-gloss, and gloss (the difference between semigloss and gloss is visually minor, but some commercial specifications call for one or the other).  Sheen is measured by units, determined by architectural standards set by the Master Painter Institute or MPI, as well as engineering companies that have agreed that a certain range of units of gloss level or sheen will correspond to certain titles.

Below are the sheen standards listed on the MPI website, notice that sheen is a range of allowable values, we will cover more on that later.

Gloss at 60 degrees

Sheen at 85 degrees

Gloss Level 1

a traditional matte finish – flat

maximum 5 units


maximum 10 units

Gloss Level 2

a high side sheen flat – a ‘velvet-like’ finish

maximum 10 units


10-35 units

Gloss Level 3

a traditional ‘eggshell-like’ finish

10-25 units


10-35 units

Gloss Level 4

a ‘satin-like’finish

20-35 units


minimum 35 units

Gloss Level 5

a traditional semi-gloss

35-70 units

Gloss Level 6

a traditional gloss

70-85 units

Gloss Level 7

a high gloss

more than 85 units



The degrees that’s mentioned regarding gloss is your angle of observation to the surface, so if you are at a 60-degree angle to the wall, that coating should be measurable within that gloss level.  The difficulty here is that you might have a preconceived notion of what eggshell should look like from your old walls, but paint dulls down over time.  So, after 10 years a “eggshell” wall is more like a flat, so when you paint fresh eggshell (and its more pronounced when using two paints from different companies) you get a shinier wall, even though both are eggshell, but might not be what you were expecting it to look like.


So why is it that different companies’ paints look different on the wall even though they should all be” eggshell”? well that falls to the decision that was made at production and to set a standard that they believed would meet most people’s needs and aesthetic preferences.  And while its true that the glossier paints wear and wash better, there are some products that are washable and durable even in a flat and will perform for a long time standing up to the wear and tear of living.


So when your in the store and looking for a particular sheen or product, let us know what your painting so that we can make the right recommendation and right product, not necessarily the most expensive stuff.