The Ultimate Guide to the 5 Types of Paint Finishes

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated May 10, 2023
Flat interior with gray wall and wooden floor
Photo: / Adobe Stock

Make your way to the finish line with these paints

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Maybe you have an eye for color, making choosing a paint for your home an easy and fun way to show off your creative skills. But one element that anyone can easily overlook is the types of paint finishes that are right for a project. Finishes come in different levels of sheen, or the amount of light your paint reflects or absorbs, and play a major role in your room’s appearance.

If the differences between flat, satin, and semi-gloss paint make your head spin, we'll walk you through how to choose the best paint sheen for your project.

1. Flat/Matte Paint Finishes

With the lowest luster level on the list, flat paint is a cost-effective sheen that excels at covering large areas of your home. This paint finish barely reflects light, but it allows for beautiful, even coverage of your chosen pigment that skillfully hides imperfections. 

Flat paint is ideal for low-traffic areas like bedrooms and walls with blemishes. Given its wallet-friendliness, it’s also the perfect sheen choice for anyone on a tight budget. However, keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid using flat/matte paint finishes in areas that get dirty, scuffed, or damaged easily. This paint finish can be challenging to clean, so maintenance in high-traffic rooms will be a bit more of a chore if you paint them with a satin finish.

For inspiration:

2. Eggshell Paint Finishes

As the name suggests, an eggshell has a finish that looks like, you guessed it, an eggshell. This sheen is popular because it’s a happy middle ground between satin and flat paint. Though this finish doesn’t have the strong pigment of flat paint, eggshell still hides all those little imperfections on the wall, giving your home that flawless finish you’ve always wanted. It’s also easier to clean compared to matte paint. 

Cleaning eggshell walls is slightly easier than cleaning flat/matte paint, but with eggshell, you don’t have to compromise on that soft hint of reflection that gives your room a little bit of a sheen. Still, eggshell has a lower durability than some of the other types of paint finishes. Therefore, you should choose this finish for bedrooms, offices, and other areas with medium traffic. 

For inspiration:

3. Satin Paint Finishes

Moving up the sheen scale, satin paint sports an elegant balance between all the types of paint finishes, perfectly cementing itself between high-gloss and matte. However, a higher gloss level means you'll see more imperfections during the application of the paint and on your walls. This paint can be tricky to apply with a smooth roller or brush, leaving visible streaks. However, you can easily wipe down walls with satin paint finishes by using a wet rag and some soap and water if you need to clean off some rogue spaghetti sauce.

Satin paint is ideal for high-traffic rooms where messes are commonplace, like kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, entryways, and living rooms. This finish offers higher moisture resistance and durability than matte and eggshell finishes, but if your walls have many imperfections, you may want to go with a paint that has a lower sheen level to hide damaged sections.

For inspiration: 

4. Semi-Gloss Paint Finishes

The higher the gloss, the higher the durability, so by the time you get to semi-gloss paint, you’ll notice your paint has a better ability to stand strong in the face of scratches, dings, and moisture issues. This paint is also easier to clean thanks to its smoother surface. 

Semi-gloss paint may just be one of your local interior painters’ best-kept secrets. Using semi-gloss paint on trims, doors, and cabinets adds a reflective pop to a room otherwise painted in satin or eggshell. This paint finish is a solid choice for bathrooms and kitchens where you’re likely to worry about splashes, condensation, and high moisture. Just keep in mind that you may need to up your primer game to hide old paint, dings, scratches, and other wall inconsistencies.

For inspiration:

5. High-Gloss Paint Finishes

Painting wooden door with roller
PHoto: Dragana Gordic / Adobe Stock

Of all the main types of paint finishes, the glossiest is, unsurprisingly, high-gloss. These paints have a high sheen level, are tough against damage, and are very resistant to humidity, but they’re not so great at hiding old paint colors and existing damage. 

As a result, designers typically save high-gloss paint for heavily used rooms that experience a lot of heat and moisture, like kitchens and bathrooms. In most cases, the shine is too intense to cover an entire wall, but drawers, trim, kitchen cabinets, and doorframes love high-gloss paint’s toughness, and you’ll love how easy it is to keep it clean.

For inspiration:

Ginny Bartolone contributed to this piece.

5 types of paint finishes compared, with satin being ideal for kitchens, bathrooms, and entryways
Photo: Artjafara / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images, Mint Images / Mint Images RF / Getty Images, chuckcollier / E+ / Getty Images, and Tony Anderson / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Frequently Asked Questions

Most glossy paints are enamel paint made from oils, which gives them that hard, shiny surface with higher durability levels. Less durable matte finishes tend to come as acrylic, milk paint, or chalk paint. So if you’re looking for durable paint, go for one with a higher sheen, as it will be easier to clean and ideal for spaces that are subject to damage.

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