There are various finishes of emulsion paint available in the UK. You can buy matt, eggshell, mid-sheen and silk. In this blog, I’m going to talk about matt Vs silk paint, go through the pros and cons of each, and explain which I think is better. I’ll even give you my recommendations on the best products available. I hope you find it useful.
Silk Paint is Out of Favour
I’ve been a Professional Decorator for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve seen silk emulsion go from relatively popular, to being very unpopular. This is for a few reasons. For starters, having a very shiny emulsion on your walls or ceilings will show every imperfection. It looks OK on embossed wallpaper, but on a smooth wall, silk will show every brush and roller mark, every dent and scrape in the plaster, and even flash or picture frame.
It looks outdated too. Sometimes you do need an emulsion with a bit of sheen for durability reasons. Maybe you’re painting a bathroom, or a kitchen and you want silk because you know it will cope with condensation. But when it’s practical, matt looks a lot more contemporary, especially in newer homes.
Silk causes other issues too. It’s very polymer rich, meaning it is very flexible. If you have silk on your walls already and you apply a matt emulsion, there is a chance your silk will expand and then contract, which can cause cracking and crazing in your less flexible matt emulsion, or worse, bubbling and blistering in your silk.
Is Matt Emulsion Paint Better?
There are no two ways about it, in the conversation of matt Vs silk, matt is better in many ways. Providing you use a good quality trade matt emulsion, imperfections in the plaster will be much less visible and you will not experience as many defects in the paint. No horrible brush or roller marks, no flashing, and a much more desirable finish.
Homeowners have moved from silk to matt over the past couple of decades and I can see why. I’m hardly ever asked to paint with silk anymore, and when I am, I explain the problems that silk emulsion can cause. I bet it has been 2 or 3 years since I last painted a wall with silk (thank goodness).
The Alternative to Silk Emulsion
So, silk is out of favour, looks dated, and can cause problems. I think it’s probably useful if I explained the alternatives.
Vinyl Matt Review
Vinyl Matt is the most popular choice when it comes to emulsion paint. It’s a great product for most rooms in your home, including bedrooms, lounges, dining rooms, and some hallways. However, it isn’t particularly durable, so you might want to avoid vinyl matt if you have pets or small children. Also, you shouldn’t use vinyl matt in high traffic areas, bathrooms, and kitchens.
Vinyl matt is generally reasonably priced, but as a Decorator, I’d still advise choosing a good quality trade product over a cheap retail paint. You will achieve better results in less coats.
I think the best standard trade vinyl matt emulsion is Armstead. Opacity is good, it’s easy to use, and the finish is spot on. When ordering online, you can get it mixed into any colour from any brand. This is a paint I love and use a lot of. It’s nothing fancy, but for quality Vs price, I think it’s up there as one of the best.
However, if you don’t mind paying a little bit more money for a top-quality emulsion, then you won’t find better than Johnstone’s Perfect Matt. This paint was developed to out-perform the luxury brands like Little Greene and Zofeny. Opacity is fantastic, and the ultra-low sheen means you’re left with a gorgeous deep matt which is very desirable.
Moreover, because of the quality of Johnstone’s Perfect Matt, it is very forgiving. You don’t need the best rollers in the world, or the best brushes to achieve a great finish. Anyone can do it. I know Perfect Matt is expensive, but you will genuinely notice the difference when you walk into your room. This is a paint I fully recommend.
Durable Matt Emulsion Review
Durable matt emulsion is matt emulsion with more polymer in it (or a slightly different type of polymer, most durable matt products contain acrylic rather than vinyl). Regardless of how they make it, durable matt is basically a waterproof version of vinyl matt.
It’s still nowhere near as durable as silk. The pitted surface of any matt emulsion can hold onto stains and isn’t as easily cleaned as silk. However, durable matt will cope with the conditions in high traffic areas of your house, most kitchens, and some bathrooms.
If durable matt emulsion is the way you’d like to go, then one of the best is the newly formulated Dulux Diamond Matt. It isn’t the cheapest paint on the market, but it is easy to use, great opacity in colours (sometimes white needs an extra coat), it has an extremely low sheen, and the finish is gorgeous!
You’ll see no defects like brush and roller marks, and the flow is brilliant. This is one of the best matt emulsion paint products on the market in my opinion. Plus, when buying it online, they will match any colour from any other brand.
Acrylic Eggshell Review
If you need something more durable and more waterproof than durable matt, but you still want to avoid the issues that come with silk, then acrylic eggshell is probably your best bet. The sheen level of eggshell is around 20%, which is more than double that of matt, but a lot less than silk. It does contain a lot of polymers and will remain relatively flexible, but not enough to cause problems like silk does.
Eggshell is the ultimate compromise between matt and silk in my view. The sheen means it will cope in commercial settings, any kitchen, and any bathroom. The only downside is you don’t get that true matt finish.
That said, you still avoid a lot of the defects like flashing and heavy brush marks.
If I had to choose just one acrylic eggshell over all others, then it would be Crown Clean Extreme, simply because of its overall appearance once applied and its durability. I like the whole Clean Extreme range to be fair.
You’ll find this eggshell emulsion easy to apply, great opacity (especially in colours), and it’s easy to avoid defects. A lot of acrylic eggshell emulsion paints have a cheap plasticky feel to them, but Crown Clean Extreme looks good.
Is it Possible to Paint Matt Over Silk?
As mentioned in a previous section of the blog, if you already have silk emulsion on your walls, then you may encounter problems when you come to paint over it. There are steps you can take to avoid these. If you are painting over silk with acrylic eggshell, then it should go smoothly. Simply give the silk a light sand to aid adhesion, but not too much so you break the silk down, as this can cause more problems (you don’t need to sand embossed paper if you’re painting over that). Then wipe with a damp cloth and clean water and apply your eggshell. Dead easy.
Painting matt over silk is a little trickier as matt isn’t flexible enough to deal with the expanding and contracting silk. Still give your silk a light sand, wipe off, then apply your matt. Avoid using contract matt or cheap retail emulsion. Providing you don’t over-sand, and you use a quality matt paint, then 9 times out of 10 you won’t have a problem.
However, sometimes surface tension on your matt can cause crazing, or mud cracking, which is basically hundreds of tiny cracks on your matt emulsion.
Don’t worry though because there is an easy fix. All you need to do is buy yourself a tin of Zinsser Peel Stop.
This does a couple of things: it acts as a barrier between your failed paint and anything you apply over the top, which will prevent future problems. The other thing it will do is fill all the cracks in your crazed matt paint. No extensive sanding and filling, just a quick coat of Zinsser Peel Stop will solve everything for you.
It’s important that if you are painting over silk that you adhere to the recommended recoat times with the products you are using. If you’re painting with Dulux Diamond Matt, then it’s 4 hours between coats. Never try and rush it, otherwise you’re inviting problems.
OK, you now have my take on the matt Vs silk paint debate. It isn’t just my opinion, the overwhelming opinion in the market is the same. Silk emulsion looks dated at best, leave it in the 90’s and move on. Even if your aim is the “dated look”, then the problems silk causes just aren’t worth it.
If you have silk on your walls now and you’re due to redecorate, then bite the bullet and go with matt. If for whatever reason matt isn’t suitable, then eggshell is a great alternative.
I thought I’d finish the blog off by asking other Professional Decorators how they advise their customers when they’re asked to apply silk emulsion. Their comments are below.
Matt Vs Silk Paint – Which is Better – by Mike Gregory
How Decorators Advise Their Clients
I hate the look of silk; I’ve also never found one that flows nicely, and they regularly picture frame when applying it on warm days.
When I ask the client why they want silk they normally say ‘because we want it to be scrubbable’, so after a little input on modern paints and how much they’ve transformed over the years people tend to choose Matt.
That said, I’ll still use silk if that’s what they want.
Try and talk them out of it & opt for a durable matt. If they insist on silk, I use a mid-sheen instead, but let them know that it will show defects if the walls if they aren’t perfect. In the matt Vs silk paint debate, there are very few reasons to choose silk.
Silk needs to be banned. I’m currently doing a whole house previously painted all in silk and it’s a nightmare. So many issues!
I find most clients want silk because marks can be wiped off. A quick discussion about modern durable matt paints and they go with that. Had one client recently who insisted on cotton white silk to cover dark grey walls. When she questioned why I insisted lining the walls I told her it would be quicker/cheaper than painting 20 coats of silk and save everyone a lot of grief.
I advise against silk; highlighting all blemishes, it attracts dust and chips easily. Matt or silk paints were really the only two options a few years ago. People wanted silk mainly because they could wipe it. Now we have matt paints with scrub ratings. Silk needs to disappear like magnolia and glitter walls.
I would try to steer them away from using silk as I think it’s a very dated product. It wasn’t great before we had the choices we have now. I don’t think in all the years where I had no choice but to use silk I ever looked at a finished job done in silk and thought ‘that looks good.’ More like, I hope they’re satisfied with that. There are so many choices now that work better that I think silk will become obsolete in a few years.
All our house is silk. Half of my customers want silk too. With pets it is far less of a faff to keep the walls clean.
Try and convince them to use something else but if they still want it then just crack on 🤷🏻♀️. I don’t even go into the whole matt Vs silk paint thing.
I normally ask them what the reason is for wanting silk. They all say the same thing “so I can wipe it easily”. I then advise on the great durable matt paints that are now available.
9/10 they agree and go with it.
The clients choice is down to them. I’d steer them away from silk as much as possible. I don’t think I’ve used silk in the last 5 years or more.