What is a Level 5 drywall finish? A look at the different finishing levels

Jun 26, 2019
level 5 finish

For the most part drywall installation is a relatively straightforward process. However there is some nuance when it comes to the drywall finishing process. Drywall finishing is where things can become a bit more complex and time-consuming, as it’s the true final step in every project.

Depending on the location the finish may not be as complicated, however any tool marks or depressions missed during the finishing process will be visible once the project ends. You need to make sure you’re ending up with a clean smooth wall surface as the final result. This will make priming and painting that much easier.

Becoming skilled at drywall finishing includes knowing which level of drywall finish to utilize. There are five levels of finishing that were developed by the Gypsum Association to help standardize how walls are constructed and sealed as part of the building process. In fact there are six finishing levels if you count Level 0. Each of these levels has its own uses and characteristics. Here’s a breakdown of each to help ensure you know which is right for your project.


Level 0

Level 0 is an unfinished look where you can still see the gypsum board and joint fasteners. This type of finish is mostly used in temporary spaces or in spaces where all final decoration decisions have not yet been made.

Level 1

In a Level 1 finish, the drywall joint tape has been embedded in drywall compound – also known as drywall mud. That’s the only finishing work that’s been done. Level 1 is used in spaces not often used by the public, such as attics or service entrances.

Level 2

A Level 2 finish means you’ve applied a thin skim coat of joint compound over the tape and covered the drywall fastener heads. If you’re going to be covering the drywall with tile, Level 2 is an appropriate finish to utilize.

Level 3

A Level 3 finish occurs when you apply a coat of joint compound to both the tape and the screws. Walls that will eventually receive a heavy texture or that will feature commercial-grade wall coverings can make use of a Level 3 finish.

Level 4

Level 4 is the classic drywall finish. It is used in everyday residential settings where flat paints, semi-gloss paints or light textures will be applied. To achieve a Level 4 finish, you’ll apply another coat of joint compound to the tape and screws and then sand the surface once it dries.

Level 5

A Level 5 finish is a premium finish, and the highest degree of quality in drywall. It requires all aspects of a Level 4 finish and an additional skim coat of joint compound to cover the entire surface.

A Level 5 finish provides a uniformly smooth surface that is obvious in the most severe lighting conditions. Level 5 finish is also recommended if you plan on using high gloss paint and want it to look the absolute best. This will also minimize the possibility of any unattractive joint or fastener issues.

How to apply a skim coat

There are three different ways to apply a skim coat when applying a Level 5 finish.

Use a roller – Thin out the joint compound and then roll it onto the wall using a thick-nap roller. Scrape off immediately for best results.

Use a taping knife – Apply a series of dabs of mud and then immediately smooth the mixture across the surface before scraping off.

Use a sprayer – Some choose to apply the joint compound by using spray equipment that can be found at rental yards or hardware stores.

When to use a Level 5 finish

Not every application calls for a Level 5 setting, and since it requires additional time and cost, you should be sure it’s necessary before applying. A Level 5 finish is best-suited for settings where an abundance of natural light or a specialized paint treatment will be utilized, such as:

  • Interior public spaces
  • Office spaces
  • Luxury housing
  • Art galleries

Lesser finishes are typically appropriate depending on setting. For instance, a Level 1 finish works well in garages and other spaces that will remain unfinished. Rooms with walls that will be mostly covered by things like cabinetry don’t need a Level 5 finish, as there’s no need to apply a Level 5 to a surface that won’t be seen.

A Level 5 finish is more expensive and demanding, but can provide the high-quality look needed for more elegant spaces.

Finish your next job with help from the experts at Al’s

Al’s Taping Tools has provided high-quality drywall tools and expertise to our customers for more than 30 years. Shop our products today or give us a call for a hand in finishing your next job.


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