From Matte to High-Gloss: The Rundown on Paint Sheen Levels

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated November 29, 2021
Flat interior with gray wall and wooden floor
Photographee.eu / stock.adobe.com

Sure, the shiniest option is often the best, but in this case, choosing a paint sheen requires a bit more finesse

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 Painting a room in your home is a chance to flex your creative muscles. We love to sort through paint swatches, paint sample colors on the walls, and even research the most calming paint hues for a peaceful home. 

But your paint's sheen—the amount of light the paint reflects or absorbs—plays an equally large role in the look of a room as the paint color. If the differences between matte, satin, and semi-gloss paint make your head spin, we'll walk you through how to choose the best paint sheen for your project.

Why Does Paint Sheen Matter?

So what's the point? Why do we need to consider paint sheen levels? Well, for one, high-gloss paints are more durable. They're also easier to clean if your four-year-old colors a masterpiece on their bedroom wall. High-gloss paints stand up against moisture and temperature changes, making them ideal in bathrooms and kitchens.

But there's a trade-off. Higher gloss paints show off imperfections on the wall itself. More light means more attention, which is not always a good thing, especially in an older home with bumpy drywall from years of repairs.

Low-luster paints hide these imperfections a bit better, but they're trickier to clean if they get stained. Cleaning an eggshell wall takes a bit more delicacy than simply wiping down a kitchen covered in high-gloss paint.

If you're curious about the science of it all, it comes down to the paint ingredients. The higher the gloss, the more resin in the mix. The resin acts as a binding material, creating better durability as well as the signature reflective shine. Flat paints have higher pigment levels and lower binding levels, making for a richer color but less durability.

How Does the Type of Paint Sheen Affect the Price?

Paint sheen also affects the cost of a gallon of paint. High-gloss paints typically cost more than those with a low sheen due to their durability. Flat paint, for example, will cost as low as $13 per gallon, while the price of high gloss falls around $35 per gallon. Mid-sheen paints fall in the middle around $17 per gallon. The price of paint depends on the brand and can cost upwards of $100 for custom varieties.

Types of Paint Sheen Levels

As we mentioned above, paint sheen, also known as paint finish, describes the level of light that the paint reflects. High-gloss paint finishes have a reflective quality, meaning that they highlight an area and send light bouncing around a room. Matte and flat finishes are on the other side of the spectrum. They have little-to-no sheen, shine, or reflective properties.

Matte or Flat

Flat paint, commonly called matte paint, is a cost-effective, go-to sheen for covering large areas inside your home. With the lowest level of luster in our list, the paint barely reflects light but handles pigment beautifully. Its rich coverage also hides imperfections on the walls, which is ideal for areas with damage.

Matte paint is:

  • Not reflective

  • Ideal for low-traffic rooms

  • Great at covering up wall inconsistencies

  • Budget-friendly, especially when covering large spaces

  • Not very durable against scuffs and scratches

  • Tough to clean when stained

Eggshell

Eggshell is a popular sheen choice because it's the happy middle ground between satin and flat paint. It spreads color like a champ and still hides all those imperfections on your walls. But it is slightly easier to clean than flat paint and it has a soft hint of reflection—a bit like an eggshell.

Eggshell paint is:

  • Lightly reflective

  • Ideal for low-to-mid traffic rooms

  • Great at masking wall inconsistencies

  • A bit more durable and easier to clean than matte paint

Satin

Moving up the sheen scale, satin paint is a homeowner's favorite due to its elegant balance between shine and matte finish. The slightly higher gloss level means you'll see more imperfections in the application and on your walls. On the other hand, you can easily wipe the wall down with a wet rag if you need to clean off some rogue spaghetti sauce.

Satin paint is:

  • Reflective without a high gloss

  • Durable in high-traffic rooms

  • Resilient against moisture

  • Prone to highlight paint and wall inconsistencies

  • Durable and easy to clean

Semi-Gloss

Once you get into the high-gloss categories, you gain the benefits of the paint's durability against scratches, dings, and moisture. Semi-gloss paint is excellent in bathrooms and kitchens where you have to worry about drips of condensation. Interior designers like to add this to trim, doors, and cabinets for a reflective pop in a room otherwise painted in satin or eggshell.

Semi-gloss paint is:

  • Highly reflective

  • Ideal for high-traffic rooms

  • Great in rooms that are prone to humidity

  • Difficult for hiding paint or wall inconsistencies

  • One of the more expensive paint varieties

  • Very easy to clean

High-Gloss

Painting wooden door with roller
Dragana Gordic / stock.adobe.com

At last, the glossiest of the high-sheen paints. Designers typically save high-gloss paint for well-trafficked rooms that take a lot of heat and moisture like the kitchen and the bathroom. In most cases, the shine is too high to cover an entire wall, but drawers, trim, and doorframes love its cleanability and toughness.

High-gloss paint is:

  • As reflective as it gets

  • Best for high-traffic room accents

  • Tough against humidity

  • Not great at hiding paint and wall inconsistencies

  • Easy to clean

Room-by-Room Paint Sheen Guide

Embarking on an interior painting project is always unique. You may not even choose just one of these paint sheens for each room. As we noted above, glossier sheens work well on trim and accents. Flat paint is often the top pick for ceilings—since you don't have to worry about scuffs—while a middle-ground option like eggshell or satin typically makes it on the walls.

Living and Dining Rooms

Eggshell is often the sheen of choice for living rooms and dining rooms. It's great at covering large areas with color, but you can also wipe it down when it gets dirty. If you have young children or messy adults in the house, err on the side of caution with a high-sheen paint like satin for more durability.

Bedroom

An adult or guest bedroom handles flat or matte paint perfectly well, especially if you're not worried about kids bumping into the walls. Add a layer of semi-gloss to the trim or crown molding for a reflective accent.

Children's Bedroom

Bright bedroom for kids with toys on shelves
Pixel-Shot / stock.adobe.com

Satin paint is best in a kid's bedroom that’s prone to markers, juice splatters, and general playtime silliness. Save yourself a lot of trouble by choosing an easy-to-clean variety without having to use the highest gloss.

Kitchen

In the kitchen, opt for semi-gloss paint for the walls and ceiling and high-gloss paint for accent areas. Both options are easy to clean when you need to sanitize the room or clean up splashes from the stove.

Bathroom

Your bathroom paint needs to be able to handle the steam of a hot shower and the constant in-and-out traffic. Similar to the kitchen, semi-gloss is best for the walls and high-gloss for easy-to-clean trim.

As a sheen expert, you can now head to the paint store with confidence—both on whether to choose eggshell or satin and whether you want the color Dusty Sand or Warm Sunset. Whenever it's in question, call in the painting pros for their experience and keen judgment.

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