Can Sheen Be Added to Flat Paint?

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Key Takeaways:

  • Yes, sheen can be added to flat paint through methods like using a glossy topcoat, mixing in gloss paint, or adding acrylic resin.
  • The amount of sheen depends on the ratio of flat to glossy paint – more gloss paint creates a higher sheen.
  • Applying polyurethane or varnish as a topcoat creates a glossy finish over flat paint.
  • Paint flattening agents like calcium carbonate can reduce sheen when mixing paints.
  • Adding too much acrylic resin without pigment can reduce coverage of the paint.
  • Start with a small amount of gloss paint when mixing and add more gradually to achieve the desired sheen.

Flat paint, known for its matte, non-reflective finish, is a popular choice for many interior walls and ceilings. The lack of sheen minimizes surface imperfections and creates a smooth, uniform look. However, some homeowners may wish to add a subtle sheen to flat paint to give walls a hint of luster and visual interest. The good news is that it is possible to increase the sheen of flat paint through several methods.

This article will provide a comprehensive evaluation of techniques for adding sheen to flat latex or acrylic interior paint. It covers options like applying a glossy topcoat, mixing in semi-gloss paint, using acrylic resin, and more. For each method, the process will be explained along with considerations regarding the level of sheen produced and impacts on paint quality. The goal is to equip the reader with expert knowledge to successfully transform flat paint into the desired low-to-medium sheen finish for their home.

Discovering how to modify flat paint provides homeowners great flexibility. No longer limited to a matte look, flat paint can be adjusted to achieve pearl, eggshell, satin, or even semi-gloss finishes. With creativity and the right techniques, the possibilities are endless! This article outlines everything needed to understand the methods for adding sheen and achieve the perfect custom paint sheen for any room.

How Can Sheen Be Added to Flat Paint?

There are several effective techniques for adding varying levels of sheen to flat interior latex or acrylic wall paint. Each has its own advantages and considerations.

Apply a Glossy Topcoat Over Flat Paint

One simple method is to apply a clear glossy topcoat over existing flat painted walls. This creates a shiny surface layer, providing light reflection and sheen without needing to repaint. Polyurethane and varnish are common topcoat options.


  • Lightly sand the flat painted surface to rough it up slightly and ensure adhesion.
  • Wipe away any dust.
  • Apply two coats of water-based polyurethane or varnish, following the product directions.
  • For higher sheen, an oil-based topcoat can be used instead of water-based.


  • Polyurethane provides a medium-high gloss finish, while varnish ranges from satin to high gloss depending on the type used.
  • Oil-based topcoats yellow over time, so water-based is best for light paint colors.
  • The topcoat adheres to the flat paint and dries to a hard, protective finish.
  • Too many topcoat layers may give an overly slick or plastic-like look.

Mix Gloss Paint into Existing Flat Paint

For a subtler approach, semi-gloss or high gloss paint can be mixed into existing flat wall paint. This adds sheen from within the paint layer for a natural, integrated look.


  • Determine the sheen desired – higher gloss paint ratio creates more sheen.
  • Mix the gloss paint into the flat paint starting with a small amount, like 1 part gloss to 4 parts flat.
  • Mix thoroughly and test on swatch cards or an inconspicuous area.
  • Adjust ratio as needed by adding more gloss paint in small increments.


  • The ratio can be adjusted to achieve egg, satin, semi-gloss, or even high-gloss finishes.
  • Mixing too much gloss paint will make walls shiny. Start with less.
  • The paint layers and sheens will interact in unique ways producing visual depth.
  • Mixing may alter the flat paint color slightly. Test first.

Use a Paint Flattening Agent

Flattening agents like calcium carbonate or silica are additives that reduce the sheen/gloss of paint. Adding some to satin, eggshell, or semi-gloss paint makes it less shiny. The same concept applies to adding sheen to flat paint.


  • Start by determining the amount of sheen desired.
  • Add a small amount of flattening agent to flat paint, starting with 1/8 tsp per gallon.
  • Mix thoroughly and test on a swatch or wall area.
  • Add more flattening agent in 1/8 tsp increments if needed to reach desired sheen.


  • Adds a pearl-like or softened glossy effect.
  • Improves paint flow and coverage.
  • Adding too much flattening agent makes the paint chalky.
  • Start with less for more subtle sheen results.

Incorporate Acrylic Resin into Flat Paint

Acrylic resin is an additive that can adjust paint sheen. Adding some to flat paint imparts a lightly reflective quality.


  • Start by adding 1 oz of acrylic resin per gallon of flat paint.
  • Mix thoroughly to disperse evenly.
  • Test on swatch cards, adding more resin for higher sheen if desired.


  • Adds a satin-like finish when mixed with flat paint.
  • Too much acrylic resin makes the paint prone to sagging.
  • Adding resin without extra pigment reduces hiding power and coverage.
  • Improves flow and durability of the paint.

Mix Interior Flat Paint with a Semi-Gloss Sheen Paint

For a more pronounced sheen, flat wall paint can be blended with a semi-gloss sheen paint. This combines the benefits of both paints’ characteristics.


  • Pour about half of the flat paint into a separate container.
  • Add the preferred amount of semi-gloss paint and mix thoroughly.
  • Start with a smaller ratio of semi-gloss to flat and adjust as needed.


  • Can create egg, satin, or semi-gloss finishes depending on gloss paint ratio.
  • Provides subtle visual texture and depth.
  • Semi-gloss is more durable and washable than flat.
  • Color may be slightly altered depending on original paint colors.

Apply Polyurethane as a Top Coat Over Flat Paint

Water-based polyurethane has a light amber tint that adds warm tone while providing a shiny topcoat over flat wall paint.


  • Lightly sand and prepare the flat painted surface.
  • Apply two coats of water-based poly, following manufacturer directions.
  • If higher sheen is desired, apply an additional 1-2 coats.


  • Polyurethane is highly durable and moisture resistant.
  • It dries to a medium gloss finish, lending noticeable sheen.
  • Oil-based polyurethane will yellow over time.
  • Too many coats create an overly plastic-like look.

5 Key Factors When Adding Sheen to Flat Paint

Successfully transforming flat paint involves considering several important factors for the best results:

1. Sheen Level

  • The amount of gloss additive or paint impacts the final sheen level. Start with less and gradually increase for subtle sheen.

2. Paint Alteration

  • Adding gloss paint, resin, or topcoats interacts uniquely with the original flat paint, altering appearance, texture, and potentially color.

3. Coverage

  • High resin levels reduce hiding power. Added flattening agents improve coverage.

4. Application Method

  • Topcoats, mixing, and additives each create different finishes requiring proper techniques.

5. Test First

  • Always test on swatch cards, sample areas, or practice surfaces before applying to walls.

Understanding these key factors allows for predictable outcomes when modifying flat paint for a custom sheen. Testing first is especially crucial to achieve the desired appearance while avoiding any undesirable results.

Frequently Asked Questions About Adding Sheen to Flat Paint

Many common questions arise when considering whether and how to add sheen to flat interior wall paint. Here are answers to some of the major ones.

Can I simply apply polyurethane over flat paint to add sheen?

Yes, applying 1-2 coats of water-based or oil-based polyurethane will add a glossy top layer over your existing flat painted walls. This is an easy way to create sheen without needing to repaint. Just ensure proper prep and application for proper adhesion.

What ratio should I mix semi-gloss and flat paint to create an eggshell finish?

To achieve an eggshell sheen, start by mixing the two paints in approximately a 1:4 ratio of semi-gloss to flat. Mix thoroughly and test on a sample board or inconspicuous area. Adjust by adding a bit more semi-gloss incrementally until reaching the desired eggshell appearance.

Should I use calcium carbonate or silica as paint flattening agents?

Both work well but calcium carbonate is preferred for slightly glossy finishes. It disperses better and creates a pearlescent effect. Silica provides an extreme flat finish, so opt for calcium carbonate when adding subtle sheen to flat paint.

Can I use acrylic resin in latex paint?

Yes, acrylic resin can be incorporated into water-based latex paint to increase sheen. Start by adding 1 oz resin per gallon paint. Mix thoroughly and test coverage on a swatch before applying. Add another 1/2 to 1 oz if more sheen is desired.

How much gloss paint should I add to flat to create a satin look?

A good starting point is a gloss paint ratio of 1:8 into the flat paint. Mix well and test on samples, adding more gloss in 1/4 increments until achieving the desired satin sheen. Too much will appear shiny, so increase gloss amounts gradually.

Will adding sheen to flat wall paint help it stand up to cleaning?

Yes, introducing gloss paint or polyurethane into a flat finish will improve its durability and washability. The higher the sheen, the more resistant the cured paint will be to marking, scuffing, and cleaning. Satin or semi-gloss mixes are easiest to wipe down.

Can I apply a water-based polyurethane over latex flat paint?

Absolutely. Water-based polyurethanes are designed to adhere well to cured latex paints. Simply prepare the surface properly by cleaning and lightly sanding, then apply two coats according to the manufacturer instructions for excellent sheen and protection.

How do I get an even gloss finish when brush painting over flat paint?

Applying glossy topcoats requires taking care to get an even coat without visible brush marks. Use a premium-quality synthetic-bristle brush and maintain a wet edge. Apply in parallel strokes while gently smoothing out brush marks as you go. Avoid over-brushing.

Will the sheen level remain permanent once I’ve modified flat paint?

The finish will maintain its modified sheen level as long as the surface remains intact. However, high-traffic areas may gradually lose sheen and gloss over time through natural wear. Higher sheen holds up better. Proper prep and topcoating helps maximize durability.

Achieving the Perfect Custom Sheen Finish

With so many options for adding sheen to flat latex wall paint, you can achieve virtually any desired finish look from subtle pearl tones to a full semi-gloss. Carefully test ratios and techniques to hone in on the perfect customized sheen for any space.

Understand the factors involved, follow product directions, and implement proper practices for gorgeous results. With creativity and the methods in this article, you can transform dull flat paint into the ideal sleek, lightly reflective wall finish.

Your home’s interior paint is meant to be enjoyed, not tolerated. By learning how to tweak flat paint’s sheen you gain immense freedom to modify your wall finishes. No longer limited to matte flatness or needing to repaint entirely, you can quickly and easily breathe new life into any room through a simple sheen makeover process. So revive those flat walls and unlock your paint’s full potential today!

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