Colour may well be the simplest way to transform a space, but a good paint job requires more consideration than slapping on a couple of coats. Of course, the better the prep, the better the finish, but before you even start rolling out the drop sheets, spend time working out what the best paint product is for the job.

There are so many types of paint on the market with differing descriptions – flat, eggshell, low sheen, matt acrylic, satin, ultra flat and more – that the process of choosing the right one can be mind-boggling. But in reality, there’s just a handful of basic products to select from. Our guide will help you sort the satins from the semis, so you can decide which type is right for your particular project.



Most flat and low sheen paints are acrylics, which have a low odour and can be cleaned up with water. While you could seek out flat and low sheen paints that are solvent-based (enamel), there’s really no reason to. However, when looking at semi-gloss and gloss paints, there’s no denying that enamel paints are toughest, as they dry to a harder surface than water-based paints. The upside is a finish that’s durable and handles rough treatment better than an acrylic gloss. Downsides include the strong smell, long drying time and the clean-up, which requires mineral turps.



Extended exposure to VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paint can make some people nauseous and dizzy. Most synthetic, water-based paints contain an acceptable level of VOCs that shouldn’t prove a risk to the DIY painter, provided they are used in a well-ventilated room.

But if you suffer respiratory ailments, are chemically sensitive, or want a greener alternative, there are paints based on plant oils, extracts and minerals that contain little or no VOCs. Try a supplier like The Natural Paint Place for more product information.



Some manufacturers’ satins are quite smooth and velvety-looking; others are glossier and not that far removed from a semi-gloss. A true satin sits somewhere in the middle – think of it as a mid-sheen paint. Kids’ rooms often suit satin because it takes more wear and tear than flats or low sheens and isn’t bothered by a light scrub. Satin also works well in kitchens and bathrooms as the higher level of gloss a paint has, the more durable it is.



Also referred to as matt, ultra flat and matt acrylic, flat paint has little-to-no shine and delivers an elegant finish. Choose this paint if you have less-than-perfect walls – its coarse pigments deflect light rather than absorb it, making faults in the underlying surface less obvious. But because it’s matt it’s prone to scuffs and marks, and isn’t suitable for high-traffic areas or kids’ rooms – those same coarse pigments that hide imperfections can be worn down by cleaning, leaving shiny patches.



The level of sheen in this category can differ markedly. Paints labelled eggshell tend to have a lower level of shine than those called low sheen. But by definition, both have a slight lustre and work in living areas and bedrooms. Low sheen paint is the most popular paint used in Australian living areas – it disguises imperfections, albeit to a lesser degree than flat paint, but is less damaged by cleaning.



Popular for trims, skirting boards and interior doors, semi-gloss can withstand manhandling yet is relatively low-key in feel and lustre (unlike gloss, which can be as shiny as glass). The trick to using semi-gloss is preparation, as the glossier the finish, the more obvious the underlying imperfections. If painting over existing semi-gloss paint, first lightly sand the surface (unless it’s lead-based) to aid adhesion. If the surface hasn’t been repainted for a few years, you may need to prime it first.



Gloss is the shiniest paint of all. Like semi-gloss, it tends to be used on window and door trims, doors and architraves. You could use it on walls, but it would be quite a statement – and if your walls are anything less than perfect, forget it. Many glosses are made with water-based technology, which makes them a little less hard-wearing than their solvent-based cousins, but the clean-up is easier.


For more paint advice and colour trends,  try:
>> how to choose the right white for your walls
>> fresh paint ideas to add zing to your home
>> how to choose the right neutral paint
>> DIY painting guide: how-to advice, tips and colour schemes