When you head into the paint aisle to get the materials you need for a project; you likely focus on color. But then, as you scan through the cans, you realize you have more decisions ahead. You may start thinking, “Flat? Eggshell? Are they different? Does it really matter what I pick?” Often, that’s just the beginning of the flat paint vs. eggshell debate, and it’s one that’s not easy to settle.
For flat paint vs. eggshell, the primary difference is the sheen. Flat paint hardly reflects any light, so there isn’t much of a luster. Eggshell paint has just a hint of shine, often to the point where it’s only barely noticeable at a glance but clearly present upon closer inspection.
There are a few other key differences between flat and eggshell paint. However, there are also many similarities. Since both options are widely available, it’s typically best to look at the various features and compare them. Here is an overview of the differences and pros and cons of eggshell vs. flat paint.
Flat vs. Eggshell Paint: Key Points
When choosing paint for a project, you have to select a color and a sheen. Both options impact the overall look of your project. Plus, sheens carry different benefits and drawbacks through their differing compositions. If you don’t factor those into the decision, you might end up with paint that isn’t a great fit for your needs.
Here is a quick review of the key points to factor in when deciding between flat paint vs. eggshell paint:
|Flat Paint||Eggshell Paint|
|Appearance||Intense color, no sheen||Strong color, slight sheen|
|Adhesion||Potential issues with glossier underlying paint finishes||Reasonable, will stick to most paint finishes|
|Durability||Lower durability. Less flexible, low toughness, highly susceptible to wear and tear||Moderate durability. Not as flexible or tough as higher sheen alternatives, susceptible to wear and tear|
|Coverage||Exceptional coverage||Excellent coverage|
|Maintenance||Scuffs and scratches are fairly common occurrences, won’t stand up to scrubbing, touchups blend with ease||Relatively easy to scratch or scuff, won’t stand up to hard scrubbing, touchups generally blend well|
|Ease of Use||Incredibly easy to apply, touchups are simple||Reasonably easy to apply, touchups aren’t overly difficult|
|Primary Uses||Ceilings, blemished surfaces, low-traffic areas||Mid-traffic areas, formal living spaces, adult bedrooms|
What Is Flat Finish?
Flat paint is a non-reflective paint, offering essential no sheen. The glossiness of paint is impacted by the binder to pigment ratio. Higher sheen paints have more binder than their lower sheen brethren. With flat paint, the amount of binder is essentially as low as possible, effectively giving it no shine.
Lower shine levels are beneficial in areas where a high amount of shine could get overwhelming, such as in small rooms or on ceilings. Additionally, since it doesn’t reflect much light, flat paint is fantastic at disguising imperfections, like dents or dings on the surface of a wall.
With flat paint, you also get more pigment. This makes the color intense and vibrant. Plus, that allows the paint to offer exceptional coverage thanks to the higher amount of pigment. The practically non-existent sheen also makes the application and touch-ups a breeze, as the paint isn’t as prone to streaking.
However, the binder is what gives paint extra durability. When the amount of binder is low, the paint doesn’t stand up as well to wear and tear or scrubbing. Additionally, it causes less water resistance. With the low amount of binder in flat paint, it isn’t as tough as essentially any other finish. Additionally, it isn’t water-resistant.
Lower amounts of binder also make a paint cheaper than higher sheen alternatives. While the difference may be small on a per-can basis, it can add up quickly on larger projects.
Flat Paint Pros and Cons
- Exceptional Coverage
- Easy to apply
- Hides imperfections
- Easy to touch up
- Low durability
- Challenging to clean
- Not moisture resistant
What Is Flat Paint Used For?
Flat paint is typically used on surfaces where a significant amount of shine can overwhelm a space. It’s the classic choice for ceilings since having a ceiling stand out visually isn’t usually a goal.
Flat paint also works well in low-traffic, small spaces. The inside of closets or pantries is a potential example. It may also work well on the back panel of bookcases.
Since flat paint hides imperfections, it’s a popular choice for walls with dings and dents. The same goes for downplaying highly textured walls, as the non-reflective surface makes texture less noticeable.
What Is Eggshell Finish?
Eggshell paint has just a hint of shine, creating a gentle luster that’s incredibly subtle at a glance. That makes the paint color a tad more dynamic than you find with matter options. The extra depth created by the glow essentially ups the visual interest.
However, the low amount of sheen makes eggshell decent at disguising imperfections in surfaces, though not as strong as matter finishes. That can make it a solid choice if the dents or dings are barely noticeable, as the eggshell paint might hide them reasonably well. However, even the low shine could make deeper dents or dings stand out a bit.
In the grand scheme of paint finishes, eggshell paint is still relatively low in the amount of binder. Since that’s the case, it isn’t as durable as paints with more sheen. Along with not being water-resistant, eggshell paint doesn’t stand up incredibly well against wear and tear or scrubbing.
The benefit of the lower amount of binder is that it’s easier to apply eggshell paint without streaks. Additionally, touchups blend better than they do with higher sheen alternatives.
On the cost side of the equation, eggshell is moderately priced since it falls near the middle of the sheen scale. That makes it affordable on a per-can basis but more expensive for larger projects compared to lower shine alternatives.
Eggshell Paint Pros and Cons
- Moderately priced
- Solid coverage
- Simple to apply
- Touchups typically blend
- Hides small imperfections
- Lower durability
- Doesn’t stand up to scrubbing
- Lacks moisture-resistance
What Is Eggshell Paint Used For?
In most cases, eggshell paint is ideal for low- to moderate-traffic areas where contact is minimal. Formal living and dining rooms are prime examples of places where people often use eggshell paint. Adult and teen bedrooms are also solid choices for this sheen level.
At times, eggshell paint can work well on ceilings. If a room is darker and a decent size, the gentle sheen can add some light without overwhelming the space.
Eggshell paint may also be suitable for display-oriented furniture pieces. Shelves holding décor items are one such example, though eggshell paint may also work on adult bedframes, desk or table legs, and similar low-touch furnishings or furniture parts.
What Is the Difference Between Flat vs. Eggshell Paint?
By looking closely at how flat paint vs. eggshell paint compares in various categories, it’s easier to see how they stand apart. That may make choosing the right sheen for your project simpler.
Here’s an in-depth look at the difference between flat and eggshell paint.
While eggshell has a slight sheen, giving the paint a gentle glow, flat paint is non-reflective. The varying shine levels can lead to several differences in the appearance of the paint after it is applied.
First, light bounding off of paint can alter the perceived hue. The color of the light – whether it’s warm or cool – may impact eggshell paint more than flat paint. Similarly, if light strikes an object and then bounces off the paint, it’s more likely to influence the look of eggshell paint instead of flat. Since that’s the case, flat paint offers truer color.
Second, the differences in sheens impact how dynamic the paint looks. With eggshell, the gentle glow can create a sense of depth that you don’t get with flat paint. Whether that’s positive or negative largely depends on the space and whether there are imperfections on the painted surface.
There can be some adhesion differences depending on whether you use eggshell paint or flat paint. Generally speaking, eggshell sticks well to other sheens as long as the paint type is compatible, such as applying a fresh coat of latex eggshell paint over another water-based paint.
With flat paint, you may have some adhesion issues if the underlying paint is glossier. Flat paint is lower on binders. Since paints with higher sheens are slicker, they may not adhere as well as you’d like without extra preparation. For example, you might need to sand the surface before applying flat paint, giving it a texture that helps it stick.
As mentioned above, eggshell paint has a gentle sheen while flat paint essentially has none. That means that eggshell paint is noticeably shinier than flat.
However, that doesn’t mean that eggshell paint is incredibly glossy. Generally, the sheen is extremely subtle, so it may not register visually at a quick glance.
Additionally, while flat paint is non-reflective, that doesn’t mean it fully absorbs all light that strikes the surface. Instead, it simply doesn’t bounce off in a way that stands out.
When it comes to durability, both flat and eggshell paint have challenges. The lower levels of binder make both paints less flexible and more susceptible to wear and tear. Scuffs and scratches can be a problem with both finishes.
Additionally, neither generally stands up well to a hard scrubbing. Most flat and eggshell paints aren’t inherently moisture-resistant either.
However, comparatively speaking, eggshell often performs a bit better for durability. This is simply because it has more binder than flat paint.
When it comes to coverage, more pigment and less binder typically lead to a better result. While eggshell and flat paint perform well in this department, flat paint does come out ahead. It has the lowest amount of binder overall, giving it the highest percentage of pigment.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get one-coat coverage with either option. That’s especially true if you favor one-coat products, as those are explicitly designed to improve coverage levels.
Generally speaking, paints with more binder take longer to dry. Since that’s the case, flat paint often dries faster than eggshell.
It’s critical to note that the dry time differences between flat and eggshell paint can be negligible. While you might get as much as an hour difference between flat paint and high-gloss finishes, eggshell is still very low for the binder. As a result, the time difference may be a mere 10 or 15 minutes, an amount that’s small enough that many would consider it inconsequential.
On the maintenance end, flat and eggshell paint have very similar benefits and drawbacks. One of the biggest pluses is that flat and eggshell paint are easy to touch up. Since flat paint is non-reflective, streaking is incredibly uncommon. While the chance of a noticeable difference on the surface is higher with eggshell touchups, there’s still unlikely.
When it comes to drawbacks, you may need to maintain the paint more often. Scuffs and scratches are more common with lower sheen paints, so touchups may be a necessity more often.
Additionally, both are harder to clean, as they don’t stand up well to scrubbing. If you use even a slightly abrasive cleanser or sponge, both eggshell and flat paint may come off of the surface.
The only exceptions are flat and eggshell paints explicitly designed for ease of cleaning. There are some products on the market that offer the benefit. It’s just not universally available in these sheens.
Ease of Use
Technically, since flat paint has no sheen, it’s the easiest option to apply. Even if wet paint crosses a dry area, you won’t see noticeable lines as long as the thickness of each pass doesn’t incidentally create texture. Since that’s the case, using a classic W technique to paint a large area works well.
However, eggshell is still very user-friendly. While there is a gentle sheen, it’s subtle enough that you won’t typically get streaking from overlap, even over dry paint. Since that’s the case, you can also use the W technique here.
When it comes to cost, flat paint is typically the cheapest option within any given paint line. However, on a per-can basis, eggshell may only cost $1 to $2 more per can, depending on the brand. Even for larger projects that require several cans of paint, the total cost difference usually remains pretty low.
However, you may see a more significant price spread in some product lines. While the per-can cost difference will typically remain below $5, it may add up to a notable difference for large projects, such as painting an entire home interior.
How to Protect Flat Paint on Walls
If you want to protect flat paint on walls, you have some options. First, you can apply a clear coat over the color. Clear coats are available in essentially any finish. Covering the paint in a clear coat gives a buffer between the color and the outside world, potentially boosting durability. However, that can create challenges with touchups, so keep that in mind.
Second, you could go with oil-based flat paint instead of water-based paint for your project. Generally speaking, oil-based paint is more durable than its water-based equivalent. Since that’s the case, your flat paint will stand up better to wear and tear.
Can You Mix Flat and Eggshell Paint?
Yes, you can mix flat and eggshell paint. If you do, you’ll typically get something in the near-matte range, giving the paint the tiniest touch of sheen.
If you mix the paints, you need to ensure that they are thoroughly combined. Otherwise, you may end up with sheen differences once the paint is applied, creating an uneven final look. In most cases, machine mixing is your best bet for avoiding those issues.
How to Make Eggshell Paint Flat
If you have eggshell paint but want a flat finish, you have two choices. First, you can use a flat clear coat to nullify the eggshell sheen. In most cases, this is the most straightforward approach, requiring the least amount of work. However, you could have issues if you need touchups, as the surface finish doesn’t match the original paint sheen.
Alternatively, you can reduce the shine of eggshell paint by lightly sanding the surface. You’ll want to choose a fine grit, preferably something in the 400 to 500 grit range. Do a test spot to make sure it meets your expectations, then lightly go over the entire surface.
One problem with sanding is that the results can be uneven. Additionally, if you sand too much, you may take off the color, revealing the underlying hue. Since that’s the case, it’s best to proceed with caution.
Can You Paint Eggshell Over Flat?
You can paint eggshell over flat paint as long as the paint types are compatible. In some ways, flat paint is functionally similar to primer since the amount of binder and sheen is so low. As a result, you may not need to do any prep work, aside from ensuring the surface is free of dirt and grime before painting.
How to Make Flat Paint Eggshell
If you want to make flat paint eggshell, your best bet is to apply an eggshell clear coat. That’ll give you an even final look quickly and efficiently. Usually, the only drawback is typically that touchups to the color may stand out.
Otherwise, if you have a can of flat paint, you could combine it with satin paint to get something closer to an eggshell sheen. The main issue is that you can end up with streaks if the paints aren’t incredibly well combined. If you have a machine paint mixer, that may not be an issue. However, you’ll likely have trouble if you’re mixing by hand, making this an ill-advised approach in that situation.
What Paint Is Better: Flat or Eggshell?
Ultimately, both flat and eggshell paints have their benefits and drawbacks, so one isn’t inherently better than the other. However, one may work best in specific situations, making one option a stronger fit for your particular project.
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