What’s the Difference Between Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Paint Finish?

Paul Pogue
Written by Paul Pogue
Updated June 7, 2022
A couple looks at paint options in their new apartment
Photo: gpointstudio / Adobe Stock


  • Satin paint is flexible for all your high-traffic areas

  • Semi-gloss paint is highly durable and easy to clean

  • Both satin and semi-gloss are great multi-use paints for your home

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When starting a new home project, it’s exciting to sort through paint color ideas and try to find the perfect hue. While you’re deciding how to paint your kitchen cabinets or walls, we recommend keeping paint sheen in mind. Often overlooked, paint sheen is the amount of light reflected off the surface of your paint. 

Deciding whether to use satin vs. semi-gloss paint sheen is often a tossup. While satin and semi-gloss finishes look close enough to cause some confusion, the differences are still there—and we’re here to walk you through which paint finish is ideal for your next project.  

Satin Paint Sheen Pros and Cons

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Satin paint finishes are the perfect all-around paint projects. For a look that isn’t too flat but is still flexible, home experts and DIYers alike rely on satin finish paints for well-rounded projects. 

Available in either oil-based or modern latex paints, satin finishes can give your room a subtle shine that you might miss out on with matte finishes. Knowing both the pros and cons of a satin finish paint can help you make the best decisions for your home. 


  • Best all-around paint for high-traffic areas like hallways, living rooms, and doorways

  • Excellent all-purpose paint for furniture and DIY projects

  • Reflects light without being overwhelming

  • Hides imperfections of existing architectural defects, dents, and dings

  • The pigment is close to the original color, but shinier than matte finishes

  • More forgiving of streaks or brush strokes during the painting process

  • Holds up to wear and tear over time 

  • Looks good on almost any surface or space throughout your home


  • Less durable than semi-gloss paint 

  • Harder to deep-clean or sterilize if needed

  • Can show dirt or scuffs more clearly

  • Less temperature- and moisture-resistant

Semi-Gloss Sheen Pros and Cons

A couple in a kitchen doing a DIY project on light blue cabinets
Photo: DragonImages / Adobe Stock

A semi-gloss can be a heavy-hitting paint for your most high-touch areas. It looks fantastic in darker spaces, bouncing light and making small spaces feel bigger. A semi-gloss finish draws the eye and can withstand repeated wipe downs. These powerhouse paints have many pros, but they still have drawbacks. 


  • Great for high-touch areas like bathrooms, kids' bedrooms, and kitchens cabinets

  • More moisture-resistant and better at withstanding changes in temperature

  • Resists dirt, stains, mold, and mildew

  • Easy to wipe clean or even sterilize if needed

  • Holds up to heavier wear and tear 

  • Highly reflective and ideal for drawing the eye to molding and trim

  • Brightens up your darker spaces by bouncing light around


  • Paint color can look darker than a satin or matte finish 

  • Highlight imperfections to existing architectural defects, dents, and dings

  • Texture can be on the sticky side 

  • Can be harder to apply and show streaks or brush strokes

  • Paint damage is more noticeable on semi-gloss

  • Sleek finish can make it harder to re-paint

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Paint 

These two paints both have a lot to offer in many high-traffic areas in your home. The paint you pick for each area comes down to what suits your personality and lifestyle. We’ll break down the difference across several categories to help you find the finish with the best fit. 


When it comes to satin and semi-gloss finishes, both are winners in the appearance department. Most homeowners choose a satin finish for larger spaces or spaces with a higher amount of light. Semi-gloss paint is highly reflective and perfect for giving molding and trim an extra sparkle or making your cabinets the star of the kitchen. Though these two paints can seem startlingly similar, they look their best when you choose their location carefully.

Best appearance: Tie


Though the texture of these two paint types are close, semi-gloss paints contain more binding agents which can sometimes leave paint looking sticky. Satin paints contain fewer binding agents overall. This allows the pigment to sit closer to the surface giving this paint a more even application. 

To achieve a smooth look with semi-gloss or gloss paints, we recommend learning how to use a paint sprayer. When in doubt, we suggest hiring a professional painter.  

Best texture: Satin


Though both of these paints pass the durability test, semi-gloss or gloss paints are the popular pick when it comes to durability. Families with children sometimes choose a semi-gloss for kids' bedrooms, playrooms, or other spaces likely to experience minor mishaps. Semi-gloss paints also hold up to the wear and tear in high-use rooms like kitchens and bathrooms.  

Most durable: Semi-Gloss


Depending on the project, the cost of these two paints can be very close. Most cans are within a few dollars of each other, so choosing the best paint finish can be challenging. The cost difference starts to matter when you move away from molding and trim and start painting large spaces. If you’re considering painting a few rooms with semi-gloss, the price difference becomes more apparent. 

 Most cost-effective: Satin

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