As an prospective Aussie homeowner, you may have heard terms like ‘level 4 finish’ or ‘level 5 finish’ thrown around, but what do they actually mean?

Choosing the right level of finish for your plasterboard comes down to balancing your budget, the complexity of your design, and the overall look you want to achieve. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the different levels of plasterboard finish, what’s required for each, and how to choose the best option for your home reno.

The good news is, unless you specify otherwise, a simple level 4 finish is typically the default and will work for most standard installations. But if you’ve got an architecturally designed space or want to use semi gloss or gloss paints, you’ll need to opt for a higher level of finish.

Ready to finally understand the different levels of plasterboard finish so you can get the walls you really want? Let’s dive in.

Understanding Plasterboard Levels of Finish

The level of finish refers to the amount of jointing compound and taping required to cover plasterboard joints, corners and screw fixings.

The default level in wet areas in residential homes is level 3. This provides a neat finish with visible joints and screw fixings filled and taped. It’s suitable for most wet areas like, bathroom, ensuite and laundries where surfaces are to be tiled over.

For a seamless surface ready to paint, level 4 is the default standard. It involves applying three separate coats of jointing compound, 500mm wide over sheet butt joints, 250mm wide tapered edge joints, 250mm external corner angle joints, 100mm internal angles, each coat sanded smooth before the next is applied. This extra effort provides a durable, professional-looking finish ideal for feature walls.

In high-visibility areas, or where semi/high gloss paints are to be used, or dark/colourful paint schemes will be used, level 5 is best. It uses jointing compound and mesh tape to reinforce joints and applying a skim coat of compound over the entire wall for maximum protection.

The level of finish for your plasterboard ultimately comes down to your needs, the house design (glancing light/light sources and type), timeline and budget. But for most homes, opting for level 4 in general living areas and level 3 or 4 in wet areas is a smart choice to ensure performance, appearance and value for your investment. Carefully consider each room and how the finish may impact the space to achieve your desired result.

When to Use Each Level of Plasterboard Finish

When it comes to finishing off your plasterboard walls and ceilings, you've got options. The level of finish you choose depends on how smooth you want the surface and how visible imperfections will be.

The Australian Standard AS/NZS 2589:2017 'Gypsum linings - Application and finishing' defines three levels of finish for plasterboard walls and ceilings. These are named Level 3 to Level 5, with Level 5 being the highest standard.

Level 3

For a surface ready to paint, Level 2 is a good mid-range choice. It provides a smooth finish by coating the entire surface. Minor imperfections like hairline cracks may still show through, but joints and screws are concealed.

Level 4

The second highest level, Level 4, is the default level finish for residential house construction. It requires sanding between paint coats and dusting to ensure good paint adhesion and paint build up. A 10-13mm nap roller should be used in conjunction with backrolling (if spraying is permitted) to produce the correct paint build up for each applied coat.

Level 5

The highest level of finish (when specified) for plasterboard lining where the desired outcome is to have a finished surface that is as free as possible from surface defects and visual blemishes. Level 5 finish does not however mean that the surface is without texture variation.

Design Tips to Enhance Plasterboard Performance

When designing your home, keep these tips in mind to help your plasterboard perform at its best.

Choose a Higher Level of Finish

For high-traffic areas like living rooms or hallways, opt for a Level 4 or 5 plasterboard finish. These provide an ultra-smooth surface that stands up well to wear and tear. Level 3 is suitable for wet areas that will be tiled. The higher the level of finish, the more work both in plastering and painting required (time and cost) to achieve to outcome.

Extra Effort Required

It is much easier to achieve higher levels of finish by rolling (or back rolling) tinted sealers, base and top coats. Most painters spray for speed and efficiency so back rolling with the correct nap roller, typically a 10mm to 13mm nap is best for achieving the desired build up for each layer of the coating system. Ensuring each coat has sufficient time to dry is also very important to achieving higher finish outcomes. Finally, sanding between coats is essential to remove imperfections as well as help each paint layer bond to the last.

Consider Moisture Resistance

In bathrooms, laundries or kitchens, use moisture-resistant plasterboard. It contains water-repellent additives to prevent sagging or crumbling if exposed to high humidity or occasional splashes. For full wet areas like showers, use water-resistant or waterproof boards. Remember that stud adhesive should not be used in wet areas. Board is only fixed with screws or nails per the manufacturers installation details. When doing full height wall tiling, additional wall fixing (additional screws) is required to ensure the wall is resistant to the weight of the tiles to be applied to it.

Consider the Framing

The plasterboard finish can only be as level and good as the framing behind it. For the best results, ensure wall framing members are evenly spaced and at a maximum of 600mm centres (450mm is better but uses more timber = +$Cost), securely fixed and provide a flat surface (3mm or less straightness) before the plasterboard is installed.

Additionally, using furring channels (resilient mounts can also be used) on ceilings installed with a laser level to ensure that timber variations (ceiling joists/truss cord) are levelled out to provide a flat mounting surface.


As you have read, achieving higher levels of plasterboard finish involves more than just applying plasterboard and painting it. The chosen level of finish significantly influences the aesthetic appeal and functionality of your walls and ceilings.

Typically, a level 4 finish is the standard choice, offering substantial smoothness and durability. However, for areas like feature walls, walls that will be painted with semi-gloss or gloss paint, or sections exposed to glancing light, considering a level 5 finish can yield superior results.

Ultimately, selecting the right level of finish depends on your specific needs, budget, and the design goals for your home. There is no universal solution for paint and plasterboard finishing levels. Factors such as your home's design, the types of lighting sources used, and the nature of indoor lighting, as well as the associated costs, should all be taken into account to determine the most suitable level of finish for your new home.