Best Finish For Kitchen Cabinets | 4 Paint Finishes Compared

kitchen cabinet finish

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When it comes time to paint your kitchen cabinets, there’s a lot of things to consider. What fittings do you want? Do you want to use oil-based paint or latex-based paint? What will your kitchen cabinets look like?

In addition to all of these design choices, you must also land on a paint job for your cabinet doors project.

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.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the 3 most common finishes when painting a kitchen cabinet – gloss, matte, and satin. This Kitchen Infinity blog will compare their pros and cons, giving you a feel for the best finish for your kitchen cabinets.

Let’s get to it!

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.

Pros of Gloss

This glossy style of finish has many advantages. First of all, 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. It’s 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 of all the gloss colors because they maximize the amount of light being reflected around the room. 100% gloss paint finishes are very common in contemporary designs, having almost futuristic quality to them depending on the design.

If you really want your kitchen to stand out as a shiny, impressive room which feels large, light, and airy, then high gloss is the best options 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 high gloss is very pretty and shiny, 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. Even if you apply top coat! 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.

Kids and gloss don’t mix.

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 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, trying something with a much flatter finish to be on the safe side.

kitchen cabinet finish
Gloss Finish by Kitchen Infinity

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, matt 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 matt paint makes it easy to have a colorful kitchen without assaulting your eyeballs!

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 matt 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 cabinets doors with two coats of matte paint in the same color, it could look really drab and lifeless. The key to matts is playing around with different colors and styles to find the right balance.

It all comes with experience!

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 in the wooden surface that create natural lights and shadows on the cabinet door.

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?

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.

grey matte finish for cabinets
Matte Photo Credit: StudioHausInc

 

Satin Finish (Eggshell)

Sometimes called eggshell, satin is a slightly-shiny finish which is similar to matt. 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 remodel can make your old cabinets look like new cabinets.

Pros of Satin

Satin paint finishes reflect more light that matt 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.

Don’t dismiss a coat of this versatile paint!

These finishes are great for homes that have children and animals, kitchens which 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.

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.

Yikes!

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 to 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.

eggshell finish for cabinets
Satin / Eggshell finish by Kitchen Infinity

 

Semi-Gloss Finish

When you’re looking for the best kitchen cabinet finish, semi-gloss 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 assualting 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.

Too much shiny wood 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 more 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, 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 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 kitchen cabinet?

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.

semi gloss finish for kitchen cabinets
Semi-Gloss Finish for Cherry Cabinets by Kitchen Infinity

Best Clear Coat For Kitchen Cabinets

So now we’ve looked at different finishes for your cabinets, but what about the best clear coat?

For those who don’t know, clear coat is a type of paint, lacquer, or polyurethane which is designed to protect painted wood, make it more durable, and give it a lasting sheen. There are so many different types of clear coat, but the most common are usually polyurethane, lacquer, and clear coat paint.

Polyurethane

Oil-based polyurethane is one of the most popular clear base coat for kitchen cabinet work. While it takes a long time to dry, oil-based polyurethane is relatively cheap and protects the painted wood for years and years to come.

Oil-based polyurethane is crystal-clear, incredibly tough, and is brilliant for protecting wood paint that may be on the weaker side. Below-average paint jobs can often by saved by a decent polyurethane topcoat.

Lacquer

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 wood look very shiny and “healthy”, for lack of a better word.

Lacquering a whole bunch of wooden kitchen 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 transparent paint that protects the wood cabinetry 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!

FAQs about The Best Finishes for Kitchen Cabinets

Is Satin or Semi-Gloss Better For Kitchen Cabinets?

Satin and semi-gloss are probably the two most popular kitchen cabinet finishes on this list, so it’s common that people want a definitive “best” from the two of them.

There is no right answer here!

If you’re looking for a luxurious finish that makes your kitchen feel cozy, then eggshell finish is the best. It is also easier to clean and can better hide scratches and dirt.

However, if you want a safe finish which 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!

What is the Most Durable Paint For Kitchen Cabinets?

Generally speaking, the finish of the paint does not affect the 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 coats of decent paint might not cut it!

On the whole, oil-based paints are the most durable regardless of their finish. Oil paints take a lot longer to dry than their water-based equivalents, but they’re incredibly tough when they do 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.

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 an oil paint with a finish that isn’t too glossy or shiny.

Glossy and shiny finishes show 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 a kitchen cabinet paint which 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!

Conclusion: Which 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!

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