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Discover five levels of gypsum board finish

Aug 22, 2022

Our guide to the Gypsum Association’s GA-214 “Levels of Finish for Gypsum Panel Products”

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Before finishing the drywall on any project, it’s critical to understand the desired aesthetic of the room and how it corresponds with the five levels of finish you can achieve with gypsum board surfaces before final decoration.

Joint Compound Drying Times Chart

Determining the appropriate gypsum board finish level is important to plan for the products, crew and time needed to complete the project in compliance with the Gypsum Association’s GA-214 “Levels of Finish for Gypsum Panel Products.”

Prior to specification and installation, make sure you refer to the joint compound dry time chart in the ProForm Finishing Products Construction Guide. This will help ensure you have the correct amount of time allotted for the project.

What are the five gypsum board finish levels?

Level 0

This level of drywall finishing is typically specified in temporary construction or whenever the final decoration has yet to be determined. In Level 0, gypsum boards are simply left as installed with no tape, finishing or accessories required.

Level 1

This level is typically specified for joint treatment in smoke barrier applications and areas that are not open to public view. In Level 1, all joints and interior angles have tape embedded in the joint compound. Excess compound and tool marks are acceptable, fasteners do not need to be covered and accessories are optional unless specified in project documents.

Level 2

This level of drywall finishing is typically specified for applications where gypsum panel products are used as a substrate for tile. This finish may be used in garages, warehouses, storage or other similar areas where surface appearance is not a concern.

As with Level 1, this level of finish requires all joints and interior angles to have tape embedded in the joint compound. Some tool marks are acceptable. Follow these steps:

  • Wipe joints with a joint knife, leaving a thin layer of compound over all joints and interior angles.
  • Cover fastener heads and accessories with one layer of joint compound.
  • Make sure the surface is free of excess joint compound.
5 Levels

Level 3

This gypsum board finish is typically specified in appearance areas that will receive heavy or medium texture finishes before final painting or in areas where heavy-duty commercial-grade wallcoverings will be applied as the final decoration. Level 3 is not recommended for smooth wall designs or applications where light textures, non-continuous textures or lightweight wallcoverings will be applied.

  • After wiping joints with a joint knife, leaving a thin layer of compound over all joints and interior angles, add a separate coat of joint compound over all joints and interior angles.
  • Cover fastener heads and accessories with two layers of joint compound.
  • Make sure the surface is smooth and free of tool marks.

Level 4

Finish Level 4 is typically specified in appearance areas where smooth wall designs are going to be decorated with flat paints, light textures or non-continuous textures or where wallcoverings will be applied. This level of finish is not recommended in spaces where non-flat or dark/deep-tone paints are going to be applied. As in previous levels, all joints and interior angles have tape embedded in the joint compound.

  • After wiping joints with a joint knife, leaving a thin layer of compound over all joints, add two coats of joint compound over all flat joints.
  • After wiping interior angles with a joint knife, leaving a thin layer of compound, add one separate coat of joint compound over interior angles.
  • Cover fastener heads and accessories with three layers of joint compound.
  • Make sure the surface is smooth and free of tool marks.
  • If finishing glass mat or fiber-reinforced gypsum panels, check with the manufacturer for finishing recommendations.

Level 5

Gypsum board finishing Level 5 is typically specified in appearance areas where smooth wall designs are decorated with non-flat paints, glossy or decorative finishes, or dark/deep-tone paints or where critical lighting conditions occur. Level 5 provides a uniform surface and minimizes the possibility of joint photographing and/or fasteners showing through the final decoration.

In Level 5, all joints and interior angles have tape embedded in the joint compound. All joints are then wiped with a joint knife, leaving a thin layer of compound over all joints and interior angles.

  • Add two coats of joint compound over all flat joints.
  • Add one coat of joint compound over interior angles.
  • Cover fastener heads and accessories with three coats of joint compound.
  • Apply a skim coat of joint compound or material manufactured for this purpose to the entire surface.
  • Make sure the surface is smooth and free of tool marks.
  • If finishing glass mat or fiber-reinforced gypsum panels, check with the manufacturer for finishing instructions.

Download our quick-reference guide, Five Levels of Finish for Gypsum Board or watch the How-To video.

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