What is a matte finish? How does matte finish look?

matte finish

What is a matte finish? A matte finish is a paint finish that lacks any lustre or glows. It is a finish that has a smooth and even surface that is totally non-reflective towards light and hence it does not display the highlights and shadows that one typically appreciates in a normally smooth surface when light is shown onto that surface. Check the image below:

Normal painted wall. This wall is not painted in Matte finish. (Image courtesy of blendermarket.com)

In the image above you can clearly see the wall glow of the paint on the left side of the screen. This is the highlight. Similarly, you can see the hard shadows cast by the chairs on the wall behind it. These are the problems of having glowing or shiny paint on a wall. Both the highlights of the lights/lamps and the shadows of the objects in the room will be clearly visible and distinct on the wall behind.

This is especially discernible at night when you turn on the lights. During the daylight hours due to the diffuse sunlight lighting up your house, most paints won’t be as discernible as they are in hard interior lighting at night. At night when you turn on the lamps, these shadows and highlights will become clearly discernible.

Most people don’t enjoy having these highlights and shadows in their rooms and living spaces. This is where a matte finish comes into play. Matte finish paint has a tendency to absorb light and hence it does not shine and glare. While it will not get rid of the highlights and shadows entirely, it still acts to greatly dim them so that they are not as noticeable as they are with regular glossy paint. Look at the image below:

What is a matte finish
Image courtesy of Nippon Paint

The image demonstrates matte black paint being used. The matte black is absorbing most of the light emanating from the hard light from the white bulb. There are still shadows and highlights in the image but they are greatly dulled down. This can give a unique look to your living space. It looks best when used in either a living room or a bedroom. Though I would advise against using matte paint in kitchens and bathrooms as this can make them look a bit small.

Matte finish is part of the modern home design forte, It is used widely to make areas of importance stand out from the rest of the house. The most common place where I have used matte paint is on the feature wall behind a bed in a bedroom. As the bedside lamps go against these walls. Using matte finish paint will keep the lamps from casting out the characteristic Yo-Yo-shaped highlights and shadows on the wall. Instead, they will cast a plain dull glow as seen below.

Another common place where I use matte paint is on the ceiling. This is a great place to use matte finish paint as the light from the bedside lamps will be prevented from casting shadows. So when you wake up in the morning you will not be greeted by these shadows on your ceiling on a daily basis.

Is matte finish the same as flat?

Yes, Matte finish is also known as flat. It basically means that the surface is non-reflective and will not give out a shine or glare.

What is the benefit of a matte finish?

The major benefits of a matte finish are:

  • Matte finish can make highlights and shadows much dimmer and smoother. This allows the walls to look much more smooth and sleek. If you have ever had an iPhone skin that makes the phone look matte instead of shiny, you will easily understand what I am talking about.
  • The matte finish makes the furniture in the room stand out from the space. See the image below. The matte black paint casts a great backdrop against which the furniture in the room pops out and gives a soothing feeling.
  • Matte paints are generally more resistant to the elements. Even if you live in an area that has high humidity levels and heat, the matte finish paints will be able to withstand that for as long as it has very few added oils in them for the shine. Compared to regular paints which usually have a higher quantity of oils in order to make them shine, matte paints will last about two years more on average than regular paints.
  • You require less amount of paint during the painting job. Glossy paints regular at least two coats to bring out the true colour and shine. On the other hand, if you are using matte black then just a single coat of paint will do the job nicely. This can result in significant savings during a paint job.
What is a matte finish
Image courtesy of Sherwin Williams

Is matte finish or glossy better?

To tell you the truth it is mostly dependent on preference. Matte finish is liked by the younger generation. The bold colours that are available only in a matte finish are something that the younger generation adores. They have mostly grown up within houses that have this modern aesthetic.

Older people tend to like the glossy paints more because these were the only paints available during their times and hence they feel a connection of comfort with them.

If you are asking for a decision in this regard then I would recommend going with the modern matte finish paints with bold colours. This is very much in line with the modern aesthetic. Just make sure to go for neutral colours. If you are planning on selling or flipping the house after renovations then a matte finish is a must in my opinion. In the houses I have constructed over the past five years I have always gravitated towards using matte paints, as they make the house look more modern.

Learn more about glossy paints in our dedicated article here.

Learn more about satin paints in our dedicated article here.

Is matte paint hard to maintain? Is matte paint harder to clean?

Yes, Matte paint can be harder to maintain if you have kids around the house who frequently throw their hot chocolate on the wall. Matte paints cannot be cleaned with a quick wipe with a wet towel. Unlike glossy paints, which are oil-soluble and can be cleaned easily, most matte paints are water-soluble. This means that wiping with a wet towel is going to dissolve and remove the paint instead of cleaning just the hot chocolate. This can be a deal-breaker for parents with little kids. So keep this in mind while going for matte paints.

If your kids like drawing on the walls then also beware the drawing are not going to wash off at all. You would need to cover them up with a fresh coat of paint a few times to hide them.

But if you are set on the look, then having kids should not be an issue. Just buy your kids a giant wall-mounted drawing board/ whiteboard and let them be creative. This is the solution that I have employed at my house and the kids love it. 🙂

Learn more about glossy paints in our dedicated article here.

Learn more about satin paints in our dedicated article here.

Find more articles similar to “What is a matte finish? How does matter finish look?” here.

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