The Best Sheen for Kitchen Cabinets

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There are different levels of sheen for your kitchen cabinets.
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Kitchen cabinets are painted or stained and clear coated in a vast array of colors. After the paint or clear coat dries, it leaves a particular sheen. The sheen means how much your cabinets actually shine when light is reflected onto the surface, and it's almost as important as other finish parameters, such as hue, shade and transparency.

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In general, finishes with a higher sheen level are more durable because they contain a higher concentration of binders, but because dirt tends to show up more easily, they need to be cleaned more frequently, says Real Simple. Matte finishes contain soft light-deflecting additives or more pigmentation, which makes them less durable, but they hide dirt and imperfections on the surface more effectively.

Seven Levels of Sheen

Master Painters Institute, Inc., identifies seven distinct types of sheens available in paint and clear coat products. These sheen types range from no sheen at all, otherwise known as matte, to a very high sheen, or full gloss. MPI tabulates the sheen levels as follows:

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  • Level 1 - Matte
  • Level 2 - Velvet
  • Level 3 - Eggshell
  • Level 4 - Satin
  • Level 5 - Semi-gloss
  • Level 6 - Gloss
  • Level 7 - Full gloss

Finishes below level 7 are typically produced by adding light-deflecting ingredients or more pigmentation. The amount of sheen that you choose for your kitchen cabinets is based on your own personal preferences, but in general, glossy sheens of paint and clear coat perform best on kitchen cabinets.

Satin Paint and Polyurethane

Satin paint or polyurethane will provide the best sheen for you if you prefer a soft glow on your wood. Both products are one step above a flat paint or clear coat in which there is no sheen at all. Flat sheen products are not suitable for kitchen cabinets. They are very difficult to clean and maintain. A satin sheen is easier to care for, and will show the least amount of dirt, grime and imperfections on the face of your cabinets.

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Semi-Gloss Paint and Polyurethane

Semi-gloss paints and polyurethane have a sheen that is one step above a satin sheen. This is one of the most popular sheens, not only found on kitchen cabinets, but on woodwork throughout the home. A semi-gloss sheen will provide a nice shine to your cabinets, but it will not be an overbearing shine. The semi-gloss sheen is very durable in high traffic areas such as your kitchen, and it is easily maintained. This sheen will show or reflect a little more dirt and grime than satin, but overall it is a good choice for your kitchen cabinets.

Gloss Paint and Polyurethane

Gloss paint products and polyurethane will provide a shine one step above semi-gloss products. Gloss products reflect more light and are even easier to clean than semi-gloss or satin products. This sheen is best used if there is no surface damage on your cabinets. A high-sheen product such as gloss may be easy to clean, but it will also show more imperfections in your cabinets.

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Tips for Choosing Sheen

The best sheen is really all about what you prefer, but if you want durability, choose gloss sheen. If you a want mixture of durability and low maintenance, go for satin and if you have surface imperfections that need camouflaging, choose an eggshell or matte sheen. Keep in mind that sheen also affects color. A particular shade or hue will appear slightly darker under a matte sheen than it will under a gloss sheen.

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Debbie Tolle

Based in Oklahoma City, Debbie Tolle has been working in the home-improvement industry since 2001 and writing since 1998. Tolle holds a Master of Science in psychology from Eastern Illinois University and is also a Cisco-certified network associate (CCNA) and a Microsoft-certified systems engineer (MCSE).