Complete Guide to Paint Sheen & Finishes

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You’ve selected your color and you’re ready to paint, but what about the paint sheen? Choosing the right paint sheen is just as important as the color. Let me help you make the best decision with this guide to paint sheen and finishes.

I had no idea what paint sheen was when I painted a room for the first time. We purchased an old and small townhouse in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. and it needed work. This was back in the early 2000’s where every room was a different color and we didn’t have the budget to hire a painter.

My excitement was overwhelming as this was our first house. I carefully chose each color for every room and couldn’t wait to get started decorating. When I walked up to the paint counter and ordered my color the guy asked what sheen or finish I wanted. What? I had no idea. I thought paint was paint…I had a lot to learn!

Fast forward fifteen years and I’ve learned a ton about paint colors, paint sheens and what finish to use in design and in which space. Let me help guide you through.

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cane back chair in the corner of the dining room next to window with round gold mirror above chair

Sherwin Williams Passive with Benjamin Moore White Dove

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What is Paint Sheen or Finish?

Paint sheen is the glossiness of a paint finish; how much shine the paint has. Light reflects off of glossy paints more while light diffuses flat paints. There is a range of finishes from flat to high gloss and other sheens in between.

You can usually find different sheens for any color. The higher the sheen the more enamel the paint contains, making it harder, easier to clean, and more resistant to scratching and staining. It’s easy to clean. Lower sheens are less shiny and are gorgeous in a room without being distracting. Paint finish for walls tend to be less shiny.

round table and chairs in a white kitchen with vase of greenery on the table

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Does paint sheen really matter in your overall design? For sure it does! Choosing the right paint color for your space is important, but the sheen can be equally important on how the entire space comes together.

Each paint finishes do different jobs and it’s best to chose the right finish for the room. Getting it right the first time means you don’t have have to paint the space again which saves time and money.

Different Types of Paint Sheens

These are the common paint sheens that are used across the paint industry. Some paint stores might have different labels but there are five common paint sheens and finishes across the painting world that you might use.

One paint company might refer to paint sheens differently. Some paint companies do offer more sheens in the low luster category although some may have the same amount just with different terminology.

“Eggshell paint finish is a low luster paint and it could be called “satin” at another company. Some paint companies offer more low luster paint sheens and some offer one. Consider if “eggshell” and “satin” are the same sheen or if there is a slight difference. Satin usually has more shin than eggshell. Normally “flat” and “matte” are used interchangeably.

Paint Sheens/Finishes Explained

Let’s break down each finish before jumping into where each of them might be used.

  • Gloss/High Gloss – shiniest of the finishes since it has the most enamel. It is has maximum shine and is durable. Can be a little more expensive than other sheens.
  • Semi Gloss – While still shiny it’s not as shiny as gloss. It offers a nice touch of shine without being too overwhelming.
  • Satin – A common finish because of its low level of shine and versatility. lovely on walls and easy to wipe clean.
  • Eggshell – flat sheen (no-shine) with little luster. Think the finish and feel of a chicken’s egg. This sheen offers more of a soft glow than shine and is durable and cleanable.
  • Flat Enamel – completely matte with no shine. formulated to dry with a thin film making it more durable than plain flat finish
  • Flat/Matte – No shine whatsoever, making it appear flat or dull with a chalk feel.

Here’s a handy paint sheen chart to print or save for later:

Complete Guide to Paint Sheen & Finishes

The finish or sheen of paint does not change the color of the paint; however it can affect how color is perceived in a space. Gloss or high gloss will make a dark color seem even darker than if you were to use flat or even eggshell. A lighter color will appear brighter if they have a glossy sheen.

For example: I have Benjamin Moore White Dove in our home; the walls are eggshell and the trim is semi-gloss. Even though they are the same color the trim appears more saturated in color than the walls. There is a slight variation due to the glossy paint and can even look like a different shade depending on the light.

Complete Guide to Paint Sheen & Finishes

Eggshell Sheen Finish used on Walls, Semi-Gloss used on trim

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Where to Use Different Paint Sheens/Finishes

Now that you understand sheens and finishes what is the best sheen to use in each space or for certain jobs?

You can chose whatever paint sheen you want, but there are some interior decor guidelines that might make selecting your finish easier and help you create the look you desire.

Gloss and High Gloss Paint

Provides a more durable finish that is great for higher traffic areas such as kitchen cabinets, front doors, furniture, trim and molding. Due to its high sheen this paint is very easy to clean. NOTE: This sheen is very shiny so use it carefully. The higher the gloss the more imperfections will be visible and the darker the color the more imperfections will be more visible.

Semi Gloss Paint

Not as shiny as gloss but adds a little bit of luster. This finish is very useful in a different variety of spaces. This sheen is good for spaces that take lot of abuse, deal with moisture, or high traffic spaces. This is also ideal for trim, doors and furniture. Best paint finish in bathrooms, kitchens, bathroom cabinets, garage doors, and metal gutters. Easy to clean and will still show imperfections in the paint and wall.

blue painted bathroom cabinet with semi gloss paint sheen

Semi-Gloss Paint Sheen used on bathroom cabinet

blue painted cabinets paint sheen

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Satin Paint

Satin paint finish is very versatile and still durable and cleanable. Satin finish paint is perfect in kids’ rooms, bathrooms, playrooms, laundry rooms, back hallways and trim if you want less sheen than semi-gloss.

Eggshell Paint

Eggshell paint can also be considered flat in some paint brands. This sheen has a little shine but hides perfections well. Use this finish in low-traffic areas such as the dining room adult bedroom, living room or home office. This sheen is not easy to clean as satin would be. Eggshell paint is preferred sheen for most walls.

Flat or Matte Paint

Flat has completely no shine finish at all. It adds a soft look to walls and hides imperfections incredibly well. Flat finish paint is not easy to clean so best if used in low traffic areas or adult spaces such as a home office, primary bedrooms, formal sitting rooms and on ceilings. Flat paint is best used for ceilings.

door opened to home office with desk, bookcase, rug and pictures on the wall.

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How to Chose the Right Paint Sheen or Finish

What are you trying to accomplish with your design? That will determine the amount of glass you want in your paint. My husband and I don’t like a lot of shine so we tend to lean toward eggshell for walls and semi-gloss for trim with satin sheen in the bathrooms that have showers/tubs.

You can use different sheens in different areas of your home and different paint sheens in the same room such as eggshell and semi-gloss. Chose what works for the space and for your taste. In the pantry, mudroom and back hallway we prefer a satin for easy cleaning, but like eggshell in the living room and bedrooms all with semi-gloss trim. It’s alright have a variety of different sheens.

When we painted our brick fireplace we did not want it to be shiny at all but rather blend in with the walls. Since a glossy paint offers more durability I questioned what sheen to use. Instead of selecting a glossy paint I chose a higher grade paint with less sheen so it would be durable and used eggshell finish. It has held up wonderfully!

White brick fireplace with wood mantel and gold arched mirror

Paint Finish Guide

Paint finish can set the tone for the design you are going for but paint finishes are not just for looks, they serve a purpose as well.

Here is a great guide to Pin for later to keep it handy when you are selecting a paint sheen.

Paint finish guide chart

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Final Thoughts on Paint Sheen

Keep in mind, as noted above, the more sheen the easier to clean and more durable. On the flip side the higher the sheen and darker the color the more imperfections are visible.

No matter what paint sheen you select use the guide provided in this post to help as you make paint sheen decisions for each and every room of your home! Happy Painting!!!

Complete Guide to Paint Sheen & Finishes

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