Break through the jargon to ensure you choose the right paint for the job.

By Karen Rechenberg, PPG Paint

When it comes to paint, there’s a lot of jargon, from “sheen” and “finish” to “scrubbability” and “washability.” A novice painter might find themselves asking: What do those terms actually mean? Understanding common paint terminology can help ensure the right paint choice for your project, no matter how big or small.

Kitchen With Aqua Paint
PPG Paints; Color: PPG Misty Aqua

Washability: This is an umbrella term that captures stain resistance, as well as the paint’s ability to resist burnish (shiny spots) and marring (loss of color)—both of which often result when cleaning a painted wall. Marring can also be a result of abrasions, like school bags and clothing rubbing along the wall. You can find super-premium paint that can be highly resistant to stains, burnish, and marring, such as PPG UltraLast™ interior paint + primer.

Sheen: The sheen on the label refers to the reflectivity of a paint’s surface. A flat or eggshell sheen is the least reflective, while semi-gloss or satin sheens are more reflective. Less light reflection from the wall results in a lower-energy finish ideal for spaces where relaxation is the goal, like bedrooms, living rooms, or anywhere you want a spa-like vibe. Paint with a higher sheen has more energy and looks great on cabinetry and doors, in playrooms, or highlighting an architectural feature. Higher sheens also help bounce light around a room that receives less natural light.

Gloss: There is a distinction between sheen and gloss in the paint industry, and it’s all about the viewing point. Technically, “gloss” refers to how reflective the paint’s surface is when viewed straight on, while “sheen” is a measure of the reflectivity when viewed with your cheek close to the wall. This is the view you would have of a long hallway wall as you walk through it.

Dining Room & Stairs
PPG Paints; Colors: PPG Big Cypress (left wall), PPG Transcend (front wall)

Coverage: This term captures two different attributes of paint. The first refers to the area you can cover with a gallon of paint. To calculate the amount of paint you need to buy, use a paint calculator tool to help remove the guesswork. Additionally, coverage is also used to describe the paint’s ability to cover a pre-existing color, which can affect the number of coats required to achieve a uniform finish. A higher-quality paint offers more protection and richer color in fewer coats.

Stain Resistance: This is the paint’s ability to keep stains and scuffs from penetrating the paint film. Everyone wants their hard work to pay off in a long-lasting, freshly-painted look. Higher sheens are more stain-resistant and are generally recommended for kitchens and bathrooms.

Scrubbability: This term describes how resistant a paint is to aggressive scrubbing, which can be necessary when attempting to remove tough stains from paints that don’t offer enough resistance. Scrub resistance is measured by scrubbing a paint film until it breaks. In contrast, stain resistance is a measure of how easily a paint film releases a stain.

Taking the time to understand common paint terms before you pick up a paint brush can make decisions about your next project less stressful and more likely to result in the look you want to achieve.