Paint finishes don't just determine how shiny your final result will be: they also dictate the durability of your paint job and how light plays off the surface once it's dry.
Overall, the glossier your paint, the longer it will last—and the more dimension your newly-painted room will have.
Read on to learn how paints get their finish, ways to make any kind of paint glossy, how to decide which finish is best for your area, and the answers to other frequently asked questions.
The name for this finish comes from Dutch or German roots meaning "to glow or shine" and is related to similar roots as the word "glass."
It's an apt name since high-gloss paints can create a shiny, glass-like surface once dry.
While it’s not at all uncommon to see low-gloss paint on interior walls, the more noticeable shine of higher gloss paints is usually reserved for areas prone to contact.
These include baseboards, trim, bathrooms, kids’ bedrooms, doors, and kitchens—particularly on cabinets, where smudges from fingerprints occur almost daily.
Semi-or high-gloss paint is more durable and better withstands this contact. What’s more, it can be wiped down much more easily than flat paints.
What Makes Paint Glossy?
Paint gloss is achieved by adding higher concentrations of the binder, a type of resin that increases light reflection. It also makes the paint much stronger and its color more intense.
The pigment in your paint is a solid that’s been ground up very finely; it’s not liquid, and therefore can’t adhere to surfaces on its own. Instead, it needs the resin/binder to accomplish this and ensure even application.
Ultimately, the amount of pigment versus binder is what determines a paint’s glossiness. Also called the “PVC” or pigment volume concentration, this ratio simply measures what percentage of the solid components in dry paint is pigment rather than a binder.
The more binder/resin you have, the shinier the finish will be once the paint solvents have evaporated and the surface is dry. An example of this is semi-gloss being shinier vs satin paint.
Likewise, higher concentrations of pigments result in a duller finish that reflects less light. These are known as flat paints, which have matte finishes.
You can purchase paint that already contains this resin adhesive, or mix in a polycrylic varnish to achieve the same effect. Glazing compounds can add shine as well.
Alternatively, you can create a semi-gloss paint with lower- and higher-gloss paints by thoroughly combining the two before painting.
How To Make Paint Glossy: Step By Step Guide
While you can easily make flat or low-gloss paints glossier by mixing in other components—including higher-gloss paints of the same color—how do you make paint glossy once it’s already dried on your wall?
Fortunately, making dull paint shiny is a straightforward process, even if you’ve already completely painted a room.
How to Make Acrylic Paint Look Glossy
Although acrylic paints usually already have some gloss, you may want more depth after it’s dried. The easiest way to make acrylic paints appear shinier and to increase their strength is to apply an acrylic varnish with the level of gloss you want.
Keep in mind that acrylic paints are best for smaller areas, as they dry faster than other formulations. This is because they’re chemical-based, and the solvents therein evaporate more rapidly.
- 1After your painted surface has dried, clean it to remove any debris that might have settled since you’ve painted it. Open windows, turn on fans, and take other steps to ensure your work area is well ventilated.
- 2Mix up a solution of 1:4 water and varnish, unless the label instructions state otherwise. Stir thoroughly but slowly. This will avoid adding air bubbles to the varnish, which would show up on your painted surface.
- 3With a bristle brush (dry), paint the varnish solution onto your painted surface evenly, taking care not to paint areas more than once or overlap the applications.
- 4Allow the varnish to dry completely before handling or touching. If desired, apply another coat to increase glossiness.
Ways to Make Flat Paint Look Glossy
To make flat paint glossy after it’s already dried on your walls or other surfaces, you have two options: you can either paint over the flat coat with a glossier paint to cover it up—effectively treating the flat paint as a sort of tinted primer—or apply a polycrylic varnish.
- 1Wait until your flat paint has completely dried. If necessary, lay down another drop cloth or other surface to catch drips and spills. Shake your varnish well and open the container.
- 2Pour into a painting tray or an appropriate paint sprayer device. If using a roller, apply the polycrylic coat the same way you’d apply another coat of paint. If spraying, use even motions from one edge of the wall to the other, continuously moving.
- 3For minor touch-ups or areas such as corners, you can cut in with your varnish using a small brush, just as you'd do with paint.
- 4Allow to dry before applying second coats or touching up areas you may have missed before.
Increase the Glossiness of Eggshell Paint
To make eggshell paint glossier, you’ll do the same process as above with a polycrylic top coat. If you haven’t yet used an eggshell paint and want to make it glossier before painting your walls, consider mixing in a semi-gloss paint.
It’s important to remember that mixing paints works best when you only go up to the next sheen, as increasing the gloss too much—for example, mixing a flat paint with a high-gloss variety—can cause streaking or separation.
How to Make Spray Paint Glossy
For spray-painted pieces, increasing glossiness is very simple.
- 1Wait until your initial coat has completely dried. If needed, apply additional coats to ensure total coverage.
- 2Apply a coat of clear gloss finishing spray paint, then allow to dry. A second coat might be desired.
If your first coat has a matte finish, you might want to apply a second coat with a higher gloss first, to increase the shine of your glossy topcoat even more.
Most Common “Off The Shelf” Gloss Paint Sheens
Before purchasing paint, it’s helpful to understand the differences between gloss levels so you can achieve the right aesthetics and durability for a given area. These are the most common finishes you’ll encounter when selecting your paints:
Semi-Gloss Vs High-Gloss Paints
As their names suggest, the difference between semi-gloss and high-gloss paint varieties is that the former has less gloss once it's dry.
It also reflects less light and is, therefore, a fairly popular choice for areas where the durability of high-gloss paint would be useful (trim, cabinets, etc.) but where very high shine isn't desired.
High-gloss paints are the shiniest choice and can withstand much more contact (as well as the subsequent cleanings). You’ll usually see these on trim work, doors, and cabinetry.
While they highlight imperfections on the painted area, they’re also incredibly effective at drawing attention to interesting architectural details.
Finally, sitting just between semi-gloss and high-gloss paints is the also aptly-named “gloss” finish.
These paints are a happy medium for many homeowners and DIY enthusiasts who want the durability of high-gloss but with slightly less light reflection. They're commonly used on cabinets or doors, as well as bathroom or kitchen walls where fingerprints, grease, and dirt are common.
Paints with a flat finish are low in gloss, reflecting less light–giving a matte appearance that can camouflage dents, scratches, and other flaws on a surface.
However, that lower shine also translates to lower durability and higher vulnerability to damage or stains. For this reason, flat paints are preferred on surfaces where contact is minimal to non-existent, such as ceilings.
In the proper lighting, velvet finishes look remarkably similar to flat paints. Change your angle, however, and you’ll notice a very subtle shine that increases durability and allows for easier cleaning than flat finishes.
You can use velvet in hallways, playrooms, and other high-contact places, or on ceilings when you want a little dimension.
A bit glossier than velvet finishes, eggshell paints are one of the most common choices for interiors because they provide a noticeable gloss without being too shiny.
You can use these anywhere you expect to see higher traffic, although areas not as contact-prone will look great with this medium, as well.
Low Sheen Paints
Between eggshell and semi-gloss paints, you’ll find low sheen varieties. These are ideal for areas like bathrooms or kitchens when you want a bit more durability and easier smudge removal than eggshell can provide.
Benefits Of Glossy Paints: Why Use Them?
Drawbacks Of A Glossy Paint Finish
Although glossy paints certainly have their advantages, there are some downsides to using them. These drawbacks get more noticeable the higher your gloss level is, so weigh the benefits against these cons before painting.
Glossy Paint FAQs
Will a clear coat make paint shiny?
Adding a clear coat can make painted surfaces appear shiny, provided it is correctly applied and contains a gloss compound. Flat/matte clear coats do exist and will increase your paint's durability, but not its shine.
Can I mix high-gloss and flat paint?
It’s recommended to only mix paints with comparable glossiness levels. This allows for smoother, even finishes and prevents streaking. For this reason, you’d want to mix high-gloss with gloss paints, and flat paint with velvet or, at most, eggshell varieties.
Which is better: oil- or water-based gloss paint?
The main advantage of oil-based gloss paint is that it’s more durable than water-based versions, but takes longer to dry. However, water-based gloss paint is less likely to yellow over time, so it might be preferable for glossy whites and lighter colors.
Why does white gloss paint go yellow?
Gloss paints contain solvents that, when exposed to UV light, grow discolored and take on a yellowish appearance.
This is most noticeable in white paints but can happen to virtually any color—one reason even bright shades might appear duller as the years go by. The easiest solution is to use a water-based gloss paint instead.
When painting, the gloss content and finish of your paint is just as important a decision as the color itself. Glossier paints offer increased depth and dimension, reflect more light, look brighter, and provide more durability than flat paints.