When it comes time to paint kitchen cabinets, there are a lot of things to consider. You obviously want the best finish for your kitchen cabinets. You may want to ask yourself what fittings you want. Do you want to use oil-based paint or a latex-based paint? Is oil-based paint more long-lasting compared to latex-based paint? What will your kitchen cabinets look like?
Whether you're going for lasting durability, an appealing aesthetic, or somewhere between the two, your painted kitchen cabinet can dramatically affect the design of a kitchen and how big the space feels. And because it makes such a crucial difference, you want the best paint finish for kitchen cabinets. You can also learn how to paint your kitchen cabinet hardware yourself to save money!
As home improvement enthusiasts, we're going to take a look and evaluate the 3 most common finishes when painting a kitchen cabinet – gloss, matte, and satin. You can also learn more about how to paint laminate cabinets. We will also compare satin vs semi-gloss cabinets, as well as matte finish, and which suits your kitchen cabinets the best.
High-Gloss Finish (100% Gloss Finish)
Sometimes called 100% gloss, high gloss is sleek and shiny, designed to reflect light around the room and turn your kitchen cabinets into statement pieces of their own. This style of kitchen finish became very popular in the 1970s and continues to be featured in modern kitchens today and is considered one of the best paint finishes for kitchen cabinets.
Pros of Gloss
This glossy style of paint finish has many advantages.
- First of all, after trying this finish, it's brilliant if you're working with a small space, as the glossy surfaces reflect light all around the room, helping the space to feel bright and airy even if it's relatively small.
- This is one of the best finishes for kitchen cabinets because it has a similar effect to hanging a mirror in a small room – the reflection of light makes the space feel larger than it is.
You'll notice it as soon as the first coat is dry!
White gloss kitchen cabinets are the most popular tried and tested of all the gloss colors because they maximize the amount of light being reflected around the room. In fact, more than 40% of homeowners prefer white kitchen cabinets. 100% gloss paint finishes are very common in contemporary designs, having an almost futuristic quality to them depending on the design.
If you really want your kitchen to stand out as a shiny, impressive room that feels large, light, and airy, then high gloss is the best option for your painted cabinets. It's undoubtedly the most striking and impressive-looking finish for kitchen cabinets if done correctly with nice lighting and colors.
Cons of Gloss
While a high gloss paint finish is very pretty and shiny, some cons include that:
- It shows dirt very easily (especially white gloss) and is susceptible to chipping, breaking, and getting damaged a lot more easily than some other types of finishes. So if you're living with small children or pets, gloss cabinets are disasters just waiting to happen
- Imperfections and scratches will be very visible on gloss-painted cabinets, whether you used water-based or oil-based gloss paint.
- They're also quite difficult to clean without damaging the effect of the paint, so this paint finish is certainly not ideal if you're looking for low-maintenance kitchen cabinet designs.
- Also, keep in mind that high-gloss paints can be on the more expensive side.
If you've got children or pets, gloss cabinets could still be used on higher-up cabinets away from their prying hands and paws. Nonetheless, just be careful because gloss kitchen cabinets can look tacky and overly artificial if you do them wrong.
You want your kitchen to look like a kitchen, not a spaceship from the year 3000!
Should I use gloss for my kitchen cabinets?
Gloss-paint finish kitchen cabinets are ideal for single people or couples who don't have messy pets and children to worry about. If you want your kitchen to look bright, spacious, and impressive, then gloss can be a brilliant choice. However, if you have wood veneer and cleaning and maintenance are an issue for you, try something with a much flatter finish to be on the safe side. And some homeowners make their decision based on the contrast of the cabinets with their kitchen cookware, considering if the gloss finish will pair well with their best nonstick pans since they are out all the time.
Matte Finish (Matt Finish)
Called matte or matt finish depending on where you're from, this style of finish is known for being flat and dull – not reflecting light. Just because this finish absorbs light doesn't mean that it looks drab and boring – lots of modern and transitional kitchen cabinets use pastel-colored matt paint to great effect.
Pros of Matte
- First of all, matte paints give you more freedom to experiment and mix up your colors when you put paint on kitchen cabinets. If maple cabinets and wood colors aren't your thing, try mixing together pastel blues with pastel pinks for a vibrant look that doesn't feel too over-the-top.
- The flatness of matte paint makes it easy to have a colorful kitchen without assaulting your eyeballs!
- As one of the best finishes for kitchen cabinets, matte finishes are great for traditional, country-style, and transitional kitchens.
- Whether they're oil-based or latex-based, these wood paints have a lot of versatility to them. Scratches, marks, and dirt are less visible with matte finishes, making them ideal for high foot-traffic areas or for homes with small children and pets.
- Matte finishes just kind of give your kitchen a feeling of calmness and serenity. They give a new spin to the whole interior design of your house.
If you want to make the space feel warm and cozy, these paint finishes can be used to great effect, especially in larger kitchens.
Cons of Matte
- If you're not careful, matte finishes can look really dull and boring. If you just painted all your kitchen cabinet doors with two coats of matte paint in the same color, it could look really drab and lifeless. The key to mattes is playing around with and try different colors and styles to find the right balance.
- Matte finishes can also make kitchens feel smaller if they're already small to begin with. Though you may be going for a cozy feel, making your kitchen look tiny isn't a great way to advertise your home when it comes time to sell in the future. Two coats of matt paint could make your kitchen feel cramped.
- If you're working with primarily flat kitchen cabinets, matte can look VERY drab. One way around this is to use matt paint on Shaker-style cabinets with recesses on the wooden surface that create natural lights and shadows on the cabinet door. For a complete guide line, check the best wood for painting cabinets on our blog.
- Finally, just bear in mind that matt paint tends to be less smooth than gloss paint, so it could be tricky to clean.
Should I use matte paint for my kitchen cabinets?
What is the best finish for kitchen cabinets? If you want to play around with color, you want your kitchen to feel cozy, or you want low-maintenance cabinets around pets and children, then matte cabinet paints are perfect for you. Matte cabinet painting can be used to great effect if you know what you're doing.
Satin Finish (Eggshell)
Sometimes called eggshell, satin is a slightly-shiny finish that is similar to matte. Essentially, satin paint has a silky smooth appearance with a slight pearl-like sheen reminiscent of an eggshell (hence the other name). You can give your kitchen cabinet set a really unique, regal look so your kitchen remodels can make your old cabinets look like new cabinets.
Pros of Satin
- Satin paint finishes reflect more light than matte kitchen cabinets do, so they're a good way to have a fairly flat-feeling paint design without making the room feel too drab.
- Satin paint reflects a small amount of light, so it helps to give the kitchen cabinets a slight feel of dimension without making it obvious or going OTT.
- These finishes are great for homes that have children and animals, kitchens that get messy easily, or kitchens which have a lot of foot traffic all the time. The partially-glossy aesthetic of satin paint is normally reserved for walls, but satin can make a great finish for kitchen cabinets if paired with the right handles and fittings for the room.
- When it comes to eggshell finishes, the slight sheen is a simple but effective way to liven up your kitchen space and make it feel slightly bigger without making the cabinetry super shiny.
We've tried it and it'll leave the best sheen for kitchen cabinets!
Cons of Satin
- One of the main downsides of satin paint is that it needs to be applied PERFECTLY or it will look kind of awful. The pearl-like sheen of satin paint is designed for an elegant, opulent look. If this paint is applied poorly, the visible streaks or rough spots will look 1,000 times worse than if the paint was matte, for instance.
- As such, it's essential to have eggshell finish paints applied by professional painters who know how to paint your kitchen cabinet doors accurately and without any blemishes. After all, you wouldn't risk having brush marks on your cabinet!
- Because of the elegant nature of these paint finishes, they're also not ideal if your kitchen is messy or you have small children and pets to deal with.
Should I use satin paint for my kitchen cabinet set?
Satin is the best finish for painting kitchen cabinets if you want to play with color but you want to keep a sense of elegance and liveliness in the space. However, if you've got children or you can't afford a professional painter, you're best going with a natural wood finish or something else.
Semi Gloss Paint Finish
When you're looking to paint kitchen cabinets and the best kitchen cabinet finish, semi-gloss paint is quite possibly the #1 most popular choice you'll see in kitchens of all different styles. This half-shiny half-flat paint is a brilliant middle-ground paint that reflects light and makes the space feel bigger without being overly shiny and tacky-looking.
Pros of Semi-Gloss
- It has some light-reflecting qualities, so it can help to make a space feel bigger and lighter without going too overboard and assaulting your eyes. It's a good choice if you want to make a space feel bigger but you also want to experiment with vibrant color palettes that might look gaudy and tacky in 100% gloss. Shiny wood cabinets can be a bit… much.
- Because gloss paint reflects the light on your kitchen cabinets to a lesser degree, it helps to keep the color and lighting consistent throughout your kitchen. In other words, your custom kitchen cabinets aren't reflecting light sources in very different ways (which could make the space seem off-putting).
- Whether it's water-based or oil-based paint, one of the biggest advantages of it is that they're massively popular. It has been a popular kitchen cabinet coat for decades and shows no signs of slowing down.
- If you want to sell your home in the near future, it's wise to go for a coat as it won't date your home quickly when trends inevitably change.
Cons of Semi-Gloss
- Although gloss cabinets are very popular in kitchens, that's also to their detriment. These cabinets are a very “safe” style, so if you want your home to stand out when you come to sell it, these probably won't blow anyone's socks off. We've gotta be honest here!
- Generally speaking, you can create much more dramatic looks with glossy or flat finishes on your cabinets but semi-gloss just kind of pleases everyone and creates a very safe, palatable look. Maybe consider a couple of coats of this paint if your home is already very vibrant and you want to tone down your kitchen area.
- Also bear in mind that it is still a little bit shiny, so if you've got small children and/or pets to contest with, it's not ideal for your oak cabinets or wood cabinets (especially if they're lower down). It will show dirt and imperfections quite easily, so it's not the easiest to clean and maintain out of the bunch.
Should I use semi-gloss paint for my wood cabinets?
If you want to create a well-balanced, safe aesthetic that will withstand changing trends, then it is a great “best of both worlds” finish for wood cabinets. However, it won't ever be very “dramatic” and eye-catching, so keep that in mind and find other ways to pull focus with your home.
Best Clear Coat For Kitchen Cabinets
So now we've evaluated the best finish for kitchen cabinets, but what about the best clear coat?
For those who don't know, a clear coat is a type of paint, lacquer, or polyurethane that is designed to protect painted wood cabinets, make them more durable, and give them a lasting sheen. There are so many different types of clear coat, but the most common are usually polyurethane, lacquer, and clear coat paint.
Oil-based polyurethane is one of the most popular clear base coats for kitchen cabinet work. While it takes a long time to dry (trust us, we've tried it), oil-based paint or polyurethane is relatively cheap and protects the painted wood cabinets for years and years to come.
Oil-based paint or polyurethane is crystal-clear, incredibly tough, and brilliant for protecting wood paint that may be on the weaker side. Below-average paint jobs can often be saved by a decent polyurethane topcoat.
A term that is often confused in the woodworking industry, lacquer is essentially a tough hi-gloss protective finish for cabinets. Lacquer is particularly useful for wood cabinet designs – it helps to make the solid wood cabinets look very shiny and “healthy”, for lack of a better word.
Lacquering a whole bunch of wood cabinets could look amazing or could look very tacky, so use this clear coat sparingly and make sure it's appropriate for the type of wood you're using.
Clear Coat Paint
Sometimes you'll see paint products called “clear coat” or “clear coat paint”. Essentially, this is a transparent paint that protects the wood cabinets from UV rays and damage, helping to make the original finish last much longer. It's similar to the stuff they use on cars to help them keep their color in the UV rays of the sun.
Clear coats usually have a fairly glossy finish which makes them perfect for a wide range of kitchen styles. If you're prone to a messy kitchen, clear coats can also help you to buff out small scratches and imperfections in your cabinets when cleaning.
Is There a Clear Decision for Clear Coat?
Ultimately, you have to choose the best clear coat for the type of kitchen that you're designing. Take into account the type of paint and wood used, as well as the intended finish and whether it needs to be easy to clean or not.
Hopefully, this has given you some pointers on the best clear coat for your kitchen cabinets!
Video: Best Kitchen Cabinet Paint Finishes
Benefits of a High Quality Finish
There are various benefits of using a high-quality finish for your kitchen cabinets. A durable, attractive finish can protect the surface from scratches, stains, and general wear and tear. It also provides an extra layer of protection against moisture and humidity, which can cause cabinet panels to warp or peel over time. Furthermore, a smooth and even finish allows for easy cleaning and maintenance of the cabinets.
How to Choose the Right Finish
When selecting a finish for your kitchen cabinets, it is important to consider how it will look within the space as well as how long it will last. The two most common types of finishes are varnishes and lacquers. Varnishes provide protection while creating an attractive glossy sheen. Lacquers are usually more durable and provide a smooth, even finish that is easy to clean and maintain.
Tips and Considerations When Applying a Finish
When applying the finish to your kitchen cabinets, be sure to take into account the environment of the space. This includes temperature, humidity levels, and airflow in order to ensure that the finish cures properly. Additionally, using the correct tools such as brushes or spray guns will help create even coverage and prevent streaks or runs from forming on finished surfaces.
Maintenance and Cleaning of Finished Cabinets
Maintaining a high-quality finish for your kitchen cabinets does not require any special cleaning products or materials. Regular dusting with a microfiber cloth is usually enough to keep the cabinets looking like new. If necessary, mild soaps and warm water can be used to remove any dirt or debris from the surface of the cabinet. Be sure to avoid harsh abrasives or chemicals as they may damage the finish over time. Additionally, using furniture polish periodically will help extend the life of your kitchen cabinets and keep them looking brand new.
FAQs about The Best Finishes for Kitchen Cabinets
Which is the best finish for kitchen cabinets between satin vs semi gloss cabinets?
Satin vs semi-gloss cabinets is probably two of the best paint finish for kitchen cabinets.
There is no right answer here!
If you're looking for a luxurious finish that makes your kitchen feel cozy, then the eggshell finish is the best paint finish for kitchen cabinets. It is also easier to clean and can better hide scratches and dirt.
However, if you want a safe finish that makes the kitchen space seem larger, then semi-gloss is your friend. Just remember that semi-gloss will reflect light and show dirt/imperfections more easily.
It all comes down to cabinet color, cabinet style, utility, and your personal preferences when you are going for a cabinet color change!
What is the most durable paint for kitchen cabinets?
Generally speaking, the finish of the paint does not affect its durability of the paint. It all depends on the formula of the paint you use (oil-based, water-based, latex-based, etc.), the quality, the manufacturer, how many coats you use, and whether you use a clear coat or polyurethane to make the cabinet paint more durable.
A couple of coats of decent paint might not cut it!
On the whole, oil-based paint is the most durable regardless of its finish. Oil-based paint takes a lot longer to dry than its water-based equivalents, but it is incredibly tough when it does dry. If you can afford it and you have the time spare to wait for the drying, I'd highly recommend that you use oil-based paints.
To make them last even longer, use a coat of oil-based polyurethane to really seal the deal.
Are there any tips for applying the finish to kitchen cabinets?
It is important to always use a high-quality brush and extra-fine sandpaper when applying the finish. Be sure to do a light, even coat over the entire surface of the cabinet, making sure to get into all nooks and crannies. Allow each coat to dry fully before applying another.
How can I ensure a professional-looking finish on my kitchen cabinets?
Using a quality paintbrush with an ultra-smooth finish will ensure that your cabinets look professional. Also, make sure to sand between coats for best results. Use extra fine grit sandpaper when sanding to achieve optimal smoothness.
How often should the finish on my kitchen cabinets be reapplied?
The frequency depends on the quality of the finish and how much wear and tear your cabinets experience. Generally, it is recommended to reapply for a finish every few years.
Is it possible to apply a glossy finish to kitchen cabinets?
Yes! A high-gloss finish can be achieved with multiple layers of water- or oil-based polyurethane, which will give your kitchen cabinets an attractive gleam. However, keep in mind that glossier finishes are more prone to showing imperfections or fingerprints than other finishes.
What about the most durable-looking paint?
While oil-based paints are very durable, they might not necessarily LOOK durable. If you've got pets, small children, or messy spouses to contest with, you should maybe use oil paint with a finish that isn't too glossy or shiny.
Glossy and shiny kitchen cabinet paint shows their imperfections and dirt very easily, while matte and satin finishes don't draw attention to grime and scratches because they don't reflect as much light.
So if you want kitchen cabinet paint that is durable and doesn't show imperfections easily, use oil-based matte and satin finishes. Semi-gloss could work for you too.
Just avoid hi-gloss like the plague!
Which Kitchen Cabinet Paint Finishing Style Is the Best?
Alas, there is no “best finish” for your kitchen cabinets – it all depends on the style you want, how durable you need the cabinets to be, and whether your cabinets will get dirty easily.
Nonetheless, I hope that this guide has helped you choose which paint to use between Glossy, Matte, Satin, and Semi-Glossy finishes so you can find the perfect aesthetic for your brand-new (or old) kitchen cabinet set. And if you need more help in this arena read our 12-tip guide for choosing the right cabinets.
Whatever type of kitchen finishing you decide upon, remember to prep your cabinets properly, follow all the safety advice, and have fun!