Paint sheen or paint finish refers to how much light reflects off a paint. In other words, it’s referring to the shine or glossiness of paint.
The sheen scale ranges from flat to high gloss. There are typically 5 paint sheens: flat (sometimes used interchangeably with matte), eggshell, satin, semi gloss, and high gloss.
Is there a right or wrong paint sheen to use when painting a house interior? Yes and no. There are recommendations for some areas of your home, however, most of the time, it comes down to your personal preference.
When budgeting for your project, keep in mind that high sheen paints cost more.
Another thing to consider is how the paint sheen will affect how the color is perceived. In the example above, the owner used the same white paint color in a matte and semi gloss to create a striped pattern.
Depending on the brand, flat and matte paints are sometimes used interchangeably (which is how they are referred to in this article). Some brands have both options separately, while others only offer one or the other. And there are some brands that list them together as one sheen option (listed as flat/matte).
For brands that offer them as separate options, matte would have a glossier look than flat. The important thing to remember is that both of these sheens have low luster.
One of the greatest things about flat or matte paint is that they are exceptionally good at covering existing blemishes. Patched or unpatched small holes and scuffs are easily camouflaged with a flat finish, and quick fixes blend well, which is why flat/matte paints are commonly used in rental properties and by builders.
Because they lack a glossy sheen, they are great to use to compliment walls with metal or shiny décor. However, the biggest drawback to flat paints is that they do not wash well.
An eggshell finish is still considered low sheen paint, but you can see how it reflects a little bit of light from the window in the picture above.
As the name suggests, think of the sheen level like you would a chicken’s egg- not dull, but definitely not glossy. The slight gloss level will also add dimension to your walls with its light luster.
One of the best benefits of eggshell paint is that it still hides imperfections and it is easier to clean, making it slightly more durable. You can lightly wash eggshell paints, something that is not recommended for flat finishes.
Overall, eggshell is an excellent paint to use throughout your home.
A satin finish is a middle option in our paint sheen levels. In the picture above, the glossiness in this finish really starts to show with direct light from two windows and overhead lighting.
A higher gloss level makes satin finishes more durable than eggshell and matte sheens.
With a more luxurious feel, satin finishes are another great option to use throughout your home and for things like accent walls and wainscoting.
As we already stated, one of the drawbacks of higher sheen paints is that they are more likely to show existing blemishes in the walls, such as cracks and patches.
Can’t decide which to use? Learn more about eggshell versus satin.
With its higher sheen, semi gloss paint is easier to clean and more durable than the previous paint sheens. It also handles moisture better than other sheens.
Semi gloss paint is best for and commonly used for furniture, trim, cabinets, and interior doors.
There is no reason that you couldn’t use semi gloss on walls throughout your house. You wouldn’t run into issues functionally, but it is uncommon.
On the glossier end of our scale, these do not hide blemishes well. Also, paying for a semi gloss paint for an entire house can add up quickly.
A high gloss finish has a glass like sheen. It is excellent at resisting stains, is very durable, and cleans easily. Although it’s used less than a semi gloss, these paints are also well suited for things like interior doors, trim, furniture, and window frames.
High gloss paints will show lots of surface imperfections so it’s important that you apply it carefully to avoid things like brush strokes.
Because they are not commonly used, high gloss paint finishes can be a little tricky to find at your local hardware store. Some stores only carry through semi gloss.
For a bold and trendy look, high gloss paint finishes for built-in shelves or accent walls are becoming more popular. Make sure the area you are painting is free of surface imperfections.
Whether you’re using a flat paint or a high gloss with a brilliant shine, when it comes down to it, personal preference is likely going to be your deciding factor.
Typically, the lower the sheen, the better it is at hiding imperfections. The higher the sheen, the more durable the paint and less effective at hiding flaws.
Flat paints are perfect for rental properties and touch-ups between renters. However, you can’t go wrong with using an eggshell or satin throughout a home. A semi gloss will give your cabinets the durability you’re looking for, and a high gloss is great for small projects.