In this post: Selecting the right paint finish is often a difficult decision, but it doesn’t need to be! Learn how to find the right paint finish for your walls here.


Choosing the right paint finish can be confusing, especially when you are choosing between the different sheen levels available. Here we’re breaking down the differences between matte, eggshell, gloss, semigloss, and high-gloss paint finishes. Find out which sheen level is best for your next project and why it matters which one you choose.

Oversized Lake Painting in Gold Frame in Neutral Living Room

We’ve painted many, many rooms in our time as homeowners – bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and hallways. And we didn’t always know what we know now. This is why I want to share this post with you. So you can avoid some of the common mistakes we – and others – made. 

Paint’s Light Reflective or Reflectance Value

LRV or Light Reflective Value refers to the percentage of light a color will reflect. Experts use this to determine how light or dark a color will appear. 

LRV is measured on a scale from 0% to 100% – with 0% being black with no light reflection and 100% being white and reflecting all light. 

Light reflective scale image

If you want to know more about LRV see this post

Paint Finishes Affect How We See Color

LRV matters with paint finish because the glossiness (or lack thereof) of a paint finish affects how we see color. Flat or matte paint doesn’t reflect a lot of light, while gloss paint finishes reflect a lot of light. 

If you’re not a professional, it can be really hard to understand the difference in paint finishes. Here are some basic things to consider when selecting paint sheen: 

  • The right paint finish can help hide imperfections on your walls and trim.
  • Some paint finishes are easier to wipe and wash than others. 
  • The glossier the paint finish, the more durable it tends to be. Although with advances in paint technology in recent years, flatter finishes are getting more and more durable too. 
shannon behind paint fandeck

6 Types of Paint Finishes

Gloss Paint Finish

Gloss paint is shiny, and sort of looks like glass when dry. It is the most durable and easy-to-clean paint finish and works well in high-use areas. Gloss paint reflects the light around and can make a small space look larger. However, it is not generally good for interior walls as it’s too shiny and will show every bump, lump, and imperfection. 

What it’s best for: 

  • doors
  • trim
  • banisters and railings
  • floors 

Semi-Gloss Paint Finish

Semi-gloss paint is durable and can be mold and mildew-resistant. It’s reflective and good for higher-humidity rooms like bathrooms and kitchens where drips and splashes may be hard on the surfaces. 

What it’s best for: 

  • walls and cabinets in bathrooms and kitchens
  • doors
  • utility rooms (mudrooms, furnace rooms, laundry rooms)
  • cabinets
  • built-ins
  • trim

Satin Finish Paint

Satin finish paint has a softer finish that is almost pearl-like or velvety. Unfortunately, this also shows application flaws like brush or roller marks. It is slightly more glossy than an eggshell finish. 

What it’s best for: 

  • casing
  • doors
  • trim
  • ceilings
  • walls in living rooms, hallways, dining areas, kids’ rooms, bathrooms

Eggshell Paint Finish

Eggshell falls between satin and flat or matte paints and still feels soft to the touch but is a little more durable than flat or matte paint. Think of it just like an eggshell with very little sheen or reflection. Eggshell paint covers imperfections well and is somewhat durable. 

What it’s best for: 

  • walls in living rooms and dining rooms
  • ceilings
  • lower dirt and traffic areas

Matte Finish Paint

Matte paint is almost as shine-free as flat paint – and the terms are often used interchangeably. It has medium durability and high coverage, so it works well in low-traffic areas with many imperfections. 

What it’s best for: 

  • ceilings
  • adult bedrooms
  • lower traffic areas

Flat Paint Finish

Flat paint has no sheen at all and absorbs rather than reflects light. This allows more of the color pigment to show, making it great for coverage and hiding flaws and imperfections. It is not as durable as other paint finishes though. 

What it’s best for: 

  • ceilings
  • low-traffic areas

How to Choose the Right Types of Paint Finishes

  1. Consider the Surface – what are you painting? Walls, cabinets, trim?
  2. Consider the Activity for that Room – how much activity does that room have? Is it a high-traffic area or a low-traffic area? How durable do you need the paint to be?
  3. Consider the Lighting – artificial lighting will reflect light differently than a well-lit room with plenty of natural lighting. 
  4. Consider the Color of the Paint – if your paint is dark and rich in color, it will be shinier because of the additional pigments. Darker paints will show more imperfections, so choose your finish wisely. 

Paint Sheen Quick Tips:

Gloss paint is shinier making it a great choice for showing off doors and cabinets. 
Semi-gloss is very washable making it perfect for bathrooms and kitchens. 
Satin or eggshell paints are good at hiding imperfections, whilst still being durable making them perfect for higher-traffic areas like hallways. 
Matte or flat paints are not very durable making them best for areas that have little traffic and don’t require much cleaning. 

Tips For Picking the Best Types of Paint Finishes

Best Paint Finish for Walls

In general, the best paint finishes for walls are satin, eggshell, or matte. Depending on traffic and the level of durability needed. 

Best Paint Finish for Bedroom

Master bedrooms can be painted with matte or eggshell paint. While kid’s rooms probably should be painted with a more durable finish like satin paint. 

Best Paint Finish for Living Room

Living rooms tend to do best with eggshell paint because it’s still somewhat wipeable and durable, but also hides imperfections well. 

Best Paint Finish for Kitchen

If you have drywall or sheet rock (as opposed to tile or another kitchen wall finish) near the stove or sink, semi-gloss should be used in a kitchen because it will resist moisture better than a paint with lesser sheen. 

Best Paint Sheen for Bathroom

Much like the kitchen, semi-gloss is a great paint finish for bathrooms because it will resist drips and moisture. 

Best Paint Finish for Ceilings

Because ceilings are pretty much traffic-free, matte or flat paints are perfect for ceilings. Flat or matte paints tend to be cheaper options which makes the ceiling a good place to save some money on paint. 

Best Paint Finish for Cabinets and Trim

Semi-gloss is perfect for cabinets and trim. Although you can technically use gloss paint too, it will probably be too shiny for most people. 

Tips for painting

Painting is still one of the cheapest ways to give a space or a piece of furniture a fresh look. And with a few tips, it can be really simple and easy too. 

Take your time with surface preparation, taping, and masking

I know it’s not fun. But unless you are AMAZING at cutting in and not spilling, it’s important to tape off and protect your space. 

Also, make sure to fill in any holes or imperfections and then properly sand them when they’re dry. I’ve skipped this step many times and I always regret it after the fact. So do as I say and not as I do!

Prime your walls

If you’re not using a paint and primer in one (some are way better quality than others), you may want to consider priming your walls before painting. If you’re making a drastic color change, you may even need a tinted primer. It may seem like a waste of time and money, but I assure you it will save both and give you the color you want. 

FAQs

What are the 4 types of paint finishes?

There are actually five most common types of paint finishes. They are: 

  1. Flat/Matte
  2. Eggshell
  3. Satin
  4. Semi-gloss
  5. Gloss

Is eggshell or satin better for walls?

That depends. Satin will give you a slightly more durable finish than eggshell. So if you’re painting higher traffic areas, go with satin. 

What paint finish hides imperfections the best?

Flat paint will hide the most imperfections because it won’t bounce the light around and it’s highly pigmented. But it isn’t as durable as shinier paints. So be sure to read the info above about what to consider when choosing a paint finish. 

What paint finishes are the best for trim?

Semi-gloss is the best paint finish for trim. It is highly wipeable and durable but less shiny than full gloss paint. 

What is the difference between paint sheens and paint finishes?

Paint sheens and paint finishes are the same things. So you can use either interchangeably. 

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