Glossary of Terms

As a facility manager creating work scopes, reviewing vendor bids and implementing maintenance strategies, you cannot afford to ‘gloss over’ the details of paint and color.

By John Fairclough

A facility manager has the often difficult task of purchasing services without the benefit of hands-on experience in such a service, relying on trusted relationships and a healthy vendor supply chain to provide the expertise where needed.

Listed below are some technical details regarding paint and color to support facility managers as they create work scopes, review vendor bids and implement maintenance strategies related to their stores or restaurants. Granted, a facility manager may never be an expert painting contractor; however, he/she can be an expert buyer of painting contracts.

Describing Film Thickness

How many coats? It’s no secret that proper coverage is critical for any successful paint project. However, simply specifying the number of coats for a project may not guar antee the intended outcome. A good question to ask from your contractor is: “What is the final dry film thickness?”

Paints dry in films measured in ‘mils’ (1 mil = 1/1,000th of an inch) and all manufacturers use the same math to calculate; 1 mil of 100% solids = 1,604 square feet of coverage per gallon. Sound confusing? It’s not. To calculate the final film thickness of a project and compare it to the product requirements is actually pretty easy — all you need to know is the following:

• How many gallons of each color were used: A

• What is the total surface area of the painted surface for each color: B

• What is the percentage of solids of the paint used (found on the product data sheet): C

• 1 mil of 100% solids = 1,604 square feet of coverage per gallon: K

So, let’s say that 8 gallons (A) of ACME Acrylic Semigloss were used to color 1,100 square feet (B) of exterior walls. According to ACME paints, the product data sheet says it is 48% solids (C). (K*C) 1 gallon of ACME paint yields 770 square feet (1,604 x 48%). A*(K*C) 8 gallons were used, totaling a maximum potential yield of 6,160 square feet. ((A*(K*C) / B) 6,160 square feet of 1 mil film was applied over 1,100 square feet, resulting in 5.6 mil thickness.

color wheelDescribing Color


Put simply, a tint is a lighter variation of a color. Tints are created by adding white to colors. For example, pink is a tint of red. A commonly held meaning of this word is to add color to something (blue-tinted hair), so it’s important to be clear with clients that the color-theory meaning is quite different.


A color made darker by adding black to it. Navy is a shade of blue. This word is routinely used to describe any variation of color, even much lighter ones — take for example the 1960s song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” — so some clients may not understand that shades are darker than the base color.


If gray is added to a color, a tone of that color is created. Tones are generally more muted versions of colors. Clients sometimes refer to grayer versions of colors as “tints” or “shades,” a distinction not widely known outside the art and design communities.


This term describes the lightness or darkness of a color. Colors with more white (tints) have higher value, and darker colors (shades) have lower value. It’s a very helpful term when describing the possibilities of color, but you’ll want to explain it clearly to clients.


The purity or intensity of a color is called saturation. The most-saturated colors are vivid and strong, where less-saturated colors can appear washed out or muted. Gray has zero saturation. The quality of light can affect saturation; for example, a painted wall’s color can appear more saturated during the day and less so as the light fades, and different types of artificial light can enhance or diminish saturation. (SOURCE:

Describing Gloss

Gloss is a qualitative term used to describe the luster of paint films. As with all visible matter, light, texture, gloss and color all play a role in what the viewer sees. Gloss levels are as much a part of a paint film as are color and resin. Though gloss is not a color, the same color is viewed differently as gloss levels change. Gloss refers to the intensity of reflected light, independent of color. Quantitatively, gloss is measured in units ranging from 0 (dull) to 100 (mirror-like) when measured from an angle of 60° from perpendicular for all films; low gloss films often site a second viewing angle of 85°. (See gloss terminology diagram in this article.)

gloss terms

Instead of citing gloss units when describing paints, manufacturers have chosen terms that refer to gloss measurements between a given range. These terms are then used when describing a product. If you look at a paint film up close, you will realize that surface roughness leads to duller films. This surface roughness is created by pigment and fillers distributed in the paint film that collect near the surface. Low gloss coatings have less resin at the surface than necessary to completely encapsulate the pigment. As a result, this pigment will cause light to reflect at obtuse angles, reducing its shine. This explains why flat coatings are not scrubbable — any disturbance to the surface of the film will cause a shifting in the loose pigment particles, much like rubbing your hand along a velvet or suede textile. High gloss coatings have an abundance of resin at the surface to encapsulate all pigment and filler, providing a film that can be washed and scrubbed without experiencing a change in appearance.


— John Fairclough is CEO of Resicom. Email the author at

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