Understanding the Five Levels of Drywall Finish

Drywall finishing is the process of applying a thin layer of joint compound over the joints and screw heads to hide the seams and provide a smooth surface for painting. The process involves five levels of drywall finish that dictate the amount of coating and the level of smoothness required for a finished wall or ceiling. Understanding the differences between these levels is essential to achieve a professional-looking finish.


Level 0 is the lowest level of drywall finish and refers to unfinished drywall. It is typically used in areas where the drywall will not be seen, such as attics or behind cabinets. Level 0 has no tape, joint compound, or finishing.

Level 1: Taped

Level 1 is the next level of drywall finish, and it involves applying tape to the joints to provide reinforcement. The tape is embedded in joint compound and then allowed to dry. Level 1 is typically used in areas that will be covered with wallpaper or paneling.

Level 2: Skim Coat

Level 2 involves applying a thin coat of joint compound over the taped joints and screw heads. The purpose of Level 2 is to provide a uniform surface without any noticeable ridges or tool marks. Level 2 is often used in garages, workshops, or other areas that will be painted but not scrutinized for perfection.

Level 3: Smooth Coat

Level 3 requires two coats of joint compound, with the second coat being wider than the first. The goal of Level 3 is to provide a smooth and uniform surface that is ready for paint. Level 3 is typically used in living spaces, such as bedrooms or living rooms, where a higher level of finish is expected.

Level 4: Final Coat

Level 4 involves a skim coat of joint compound over the entire surface to even out any remaining imperfections. The goal of Level 4 is to provide a surface that is free from any visible blemishes when viewed under normal lighting conditions. Level 4 is often used in areas where the lighting will accentuate any imperfections, such as dining rooms or formal living rooms.

Level 5: Skim Coat with Sanding

Level 5 is the highest level of drywall finish and requires a skim coat of joint compound followed by sanding with fine grit sandpaper. The sanding process helps to remove any tool marks, ridges, or bumps, resulting in a glass-like finish. Level 5 is typically used in areas with high-end finishes, such as commercial buildings or high-end residential homes.

Choosing the Right Level of Drywall Finish

Selecting the appropriate level of drywall finish depends on various factors, including the desired appearance, the purpose of the space, and your budget. Consider the following when choosing the right level for your project:

  1. Purpose of the space: Utility spaces or areas where appearance is not crucial may only require a level 0 or 1 finish. Living spaces and areas where aesthetics are essential may need a higher level of finish, such as level 3, 4, or 5.
  2. Budget: The cost of drywall finishing increases with each level. Balance your desire for a high-quality finish with your budgetary constraints.
  3. Lighting conditions: In areas with critical lighting conditions, a level 5 finish is recommended to eliminate surface imperfections that may become more visible under such conditions.
  4. Texture preferences: If you prefer textured walls, opt for a level 4 finish. For smooth walls, consider a level 3 or 5 finish, depending on your budget and desired level of perfection.

Common Drywall Finishing Mistakes to Avoid

To ensure a high-quality drywall finish, avoid the following common mistakes:

  1. Inadequate surface preparation: Properly clean and prepare the drywall surface before applying joint compound or texture. Remove dust, dirt, and debris to ensure a strong bond between the compound and the drywall.
  2. Over-sanding: Over-sanding can damage the drywall surface, making it difficult to achieve a smooth finish. Use a light touch when sanding and switch to a finer grit sandpaper as you progress.
  3. Insufficient drying time: Allow each coat of joint compound to dry thoroughly before applying the next coat or sanding. Rushing the process can result in uneven surfaces and compromised adhesion.
  4. Improper application of joint compound: Apply joint compound in thin, even layers, feathering the edges to prevent visible lines or ridges.
  5. Ignoring manufacturer’s instructions: Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for mixing, applying, and drying joint compound and texture materials.

Mastering the Art of Drywall Finishes

Understanding the five levels of drywall finish is crucial for both homeowners and contractors. Each level serves a different purpose, and choosing the appropriate finish depends on the project’s requirements, budget, and desired appearance. By following best practices and avoiding common mistakes, you can achieve a high-quality drywall finish that enhances the aesthetics and functionality of your space.

At Armada Design & Build, we take pride in offering top-notch construction services that cater to all your drywall needs. Our team of skilled professionals is dedicated to delivering exceptional quality and craftsmanship, ensuring your project is completed to the highest standards. Whether you require a simple level 1 finish or a luxurious level 5 finish, our expertise in drywall finishing guarantees a seamless and aesthetically pleasing result. Let us elevate your space and enhance its functionality with our unparalleled construction services. Contact Armada Design & Build today and experience the difference that our dedication to excellence can make for your project.