The Difference Between Matt and Silk Paint

Updated Mar 31, 2024 | Posted Mar 23, 2024 | Product Advice, Professional insight | 0 comments

The difference between matt and silk paint isn’t as obvious as you might think. Yes, the sheen level is different, but the way each paint product behaves also differs. As a Painter and Decorator, I use matt on a regular basis, and silk occasionally, so I thought I’d sit down and explain things from my point of view.


The Difference in Sheen Level Between Matt and Silk Paint


The most obvious difference between matt and silk paint is that silk is a lot shinier. In fact, matt has a sheen level of between 5% and 10% depending on the brand, whereas silk has a sheen level of closer to 50%, so it’s a huge difference.

A shiny silk finish was once popular with homeowners, but things are a little different now.


The Difference in Finish Between Matt and Silk


So, we’ve already established that silk is a lot shinier than matt, but what does that mean for your walls and ceilings? Well, the high sheen level of silk highlights imperfections on your plaster for one. This isn’t a problem when painting over embossed wallpaper or Artex, but it isn’t ideal if your walls are completely flat.

There are other defects that occur when you use silk. It’s like there’s too much polymer in the paint which stops it from ‘settling down’. This leads to the following two problems, neither of which you encounter when using matt paint. Paint conditioners can help, but the problem is still apparent.

  • Flashing – The paint has a slightly different texture on each roller stroke, which you can see when the light hits it.
  • Picture framing – When you can see your brush work around the edges of a wall.

This coupled with the fact that silk looks cheap and tacky means it isn’t used very often now. As a Decorator, I used silk regulally when I started out 20 years ago. Now I’m rarely asked to apply it, and when I am, I strongly advise them to go for a different paint. Matt is far more desirable.


The Problems That Come With Silk Emulsion


I know I’m hating on silk paint, but I’m only just getting warmed up. Another difference between matt and silk paint is that matt doesn’t cause problems further down the line, but silk does.

Say you paint your walls with silk emulsion. You’re happy with the finish, it’s durable, and you live with it for a while. Then you come to paint over it with matt. The silk on your walls is very flexible because of all the polymer in it. However, the matt paint is not.

As you paint your matt onto the silk, the silk starts to expand, and carries on expanding after your matt has dried. Because the matt paint is not as flexible as the silk, it cracks. This is called crazing, and it can also occur as the silk contracts again a day or so later.

Your newly painted walls are left looking like a dried-up river bed with hundreds of tiny cracks in it! There is a quick and easy solution to fix crazing, but that isn’t the point. This problem is caused by silk paint.


The Best Alternatives to Silk Paint


Now you know the difference between matt and silk paint. As I haven’t ‘painted’ silk in a good light, you may be looking for alternatives.

There were once only two paint choices for walls and ceilings, silk, and matt. Silk was shiny but durable. Matt was chalky but no good for kitchens, bathrooms, or high traffic areas due to a lack of durability.

Paint has moved on somewhat since then. We now have durable matt emulsion which achieves a desirable finish but without the problems. Always opt for a trade paint. I’ll list a couple of my favourites below.

Crown Clean Extreme Scrubbable Matt

You’ll find Clean Extreme very easy to use, easy to avoid defects, and you will be left with a rich finish. The sheen level is on the high side for a matt paint, but way less than silk.

The durability of this paint is second to none, which makes it a favourite with tradesmen.

Crown Clean Extreme Scrubbable matt emulsion

Dulux Trade Diamond Matt

Dulux Diamond Matt was reformulated recently and is now very low-sheen paint (as matt as matt can be). The result is a very luxurious depth that I absolutely love! The paint applied by brush always blends perfectly with that by roller too.

It isn’t quite as durable as Crown Clean Extreme, but the finish is genuinely gorgeous.

Dulux Diamond Matt - a durable emulsion paint

If you do want a little bit of sheen on your paint, then the best alternative to silk is probably acrylic eggshell. The sheen level is around 20% and it has the same sort of smooth finish as silk. However, it looks better, and you avoid the defects.

Armstead Acrylic Eggshell

Armstead is my favourite acrylic eggshell right now. It’s reasonably priced, performs well, and looks good. Crown Clean Extreme is also worth looking at if you don’t mind paying a bit more.

Armstead is made by AkzoNobel, who is the same company that make Dulux paint. But for some reason, Armstead seems to go under the radar a little bit. It’s a good, hardworking paint brand.

Armstead Eggshell is a good paint finish for bathrooms

How to Paint Matt Over Silk


If you already have silk paint on your walls or ceiling and you’d like to change to matt, as already alluded to, you may encounter problems. There are steps you can take to avoid these problems.

The first is to use a good quality vinyl or durable matt emulsion. This gives you the best chance of achieving a good finish.

The next is to abrade your silk walls slightly with some aluminium oxide (sandpaper). This creates a ‘key’ (thousands of tiny scratches for your matt paint to grip to). Do not over abrade! If you sand the silk too much, you’ll cause it to soften and there is more of a chance you’ll encounter crazing.

Then, some Decorators I know apply a ‘barrier coat. This coat of flexible emulsion like acrylic eggshell that copes with the movement of the silk and makes a barrier between silk and matt.

However, I don’t apply a barrier coat. If you’re careful, problems with painting matt over silk only occur maybe 1 in 10 times, and there’s an easy fix when they do.

The other important step when painting matt over silk is to allow plenty of drying time in between coats. If your matt emulsion recommends 4-hours between coats, go for 6. Let the silk expand and contract as is wants to before applying more paint.




What is the best finish of paint for walls?

By far the most popular finish on walls is matt. This is because matt doesn’t highlight imperfections on walls, it’s easier to avoid defects, and a lot of modern matt paints are even durable.


Why is my silk paint not covering?

Silk contains quite a lot of crude polymers, which seems to change the opacity of the paint. It’s like there’s too much plastic and not enough base (you can tell I’m not a paint chemist). Strong colours in silk are a nightmare to cover. You should block the wall with a similar colour to the silk before starting.


Does silk paint show imperfections?

Yes! Silk paint looks horrid! You’ll see every blemish on your plaster, plus defects like flashing and picture framing. Just avoid it!


Why is my silk paint peeling?

Silk paint peeling is usually caused by adhesion issues (the silk isn’t sticking to the surface underneath). This might be because the plaster wasn’t mist coated, or you’re painting over a cheap contract matt or you might just be using a really cheap silk paint that will always give you problems.


Why does silk paint bubble?

Silk paint expands with moisture, causing it to bubble sometimes. Some of the time these bubbles contract and you don’t have an issue. Other times you need to scrape them off, seal with Zinsser Peel Stop, then paint again. The best tip I can give you is to allow every coat of paint to dry fully before applying another.


Why does Matt paint rub off walls?

If this is happening, then you’re using a very cheap matt emulsion like contract matt or retail matt. My advice would be to stick with good quality trade products. You might spend a little bit more on paint, but the results will be far better.


The difference between matt and silk paint – by Mike Gregory

Updated Mar 31, 2024 | Posted Mar 23, 2024 | 0 comments


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