Quick Guide to Interior Paint Finishes: How to Choose the Right Sheen for Any Room

Brian Hogan
Oct 16, 2021 8:30:00 AM

No matter which room you’re remodeling, selecting the right paint colors for your walls, trim, and ceilings can be a challenging task: finding the perfect combination of hues has the power to transform your entire space, but there are countless options to choose from. 

Interior wall painting in process. Color Rose Pink

But the vast sea of color and shade choices isn’t the only thing you have to wade through when picking out paint; you’ve also got to consider your various finish options — from matte to glossy and every sheen in between. 

A paint’s finish, or sheen factor, helps determine its durability, reflective value, and color depth. In fact, just a slight change in sheen can make a major difference in how a paint looks as well as how long it lasts. Here’s what you should know.

Flat, Matte, and Eggshell

These three interior finishes are on the lower end of the sheen spectrum. Although they’re slightly less durable than high-sheen and glossy finishes, they’re a whole lot more forgiving of surface imperfections.  


Known as the concealer of interior finishes, flat paint contains more pigments and provides more uniform coverage than higher sheen finishes. Because it doesn’t reflect light, it’s ideal for flawed surfaces that lack uniformity. 


Flat paint is a pigment-rich, nonreflective finish that’s very forgiving of surface inconsistencies. It’s great at hiding the kinds of bumps and undulations you might find along older interior walls.   


With medium-low durability, flat finishes are more difficult to clean. In fact, if you’re not gentle, you may scrub away some of the paint when you try to erase small spots or dings.  


Ceilings; walls in low-traffic rooms with a lot of natural light, such as a study, sitting room, or guest bedroom.


Matte and flat finishes are similar in terms of pigmentation, coverability, and appearance, but a matte finish offers enhanced durability that makes it useful for a wider range of applications.


A matte finish is just as pigmented as a flat finish, but instead of being totally non-reflective, it’s minimally reflective with a very slight sheen. The matte paint sheen is so slight that it still makes an excellent concealer. 


Medium durability; matte paint can withstand heavier cleaning and more frequent washing than flat-finish paint.


Ceilings; walls in low-to-mid-traffic areas like living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms.  


A little further on the sheen scale — but still far from the glossy end of the spectrum — is eggshell, so named because it’s essentially a matte, no-shine finish with a little luster, much like a bird’s egg.  


When the light hits an eggshell finish, there’s a slight glimmer that gives it a soft, ultra-smooth appearance. Neither flat nor shiny, this perennial favorite has a soft sheen that casts colors beautifully.    


Medium-high durability; eggshell finishes hide imperfections almost as well as flat and matte finishes, but they’re much easier to keep clean.  


Perfect for walls in almost any room of the house, including high-traffic, everyday spaces like hallways, kitchens, and bathrooms.

Pearl and Satin

Right in the middle of the sheen spectrum, pearl and satin finishes offer the best of both worlds: moderate sheen and definition along with enhanced stain resistance and durability. Despite their names, these comparable finishes are commonly described as “velvety.” 


Pearl and satin are similar interior finishes that sit midway between flat and high gloss. With their distinctive luster, they lend dimension to trim and impart just enough sheen on walls to create a reflective, hue-enhancing glow.  


High durability; pearl and satin finishes are often ranked as “best all-around” in this category because they’re long-lasting, more stain and mildew resistant than lower sheens, and very easy to clean.


Suitable for trim, doors, and cabinets; makes a great choice for walls in high-traffic areas like the foyer, mudroom, family room, kid’s rooms, and hallways, as well as high-humidity spaces like the bathroom.   

Living room with wood beam vaulted ceilings, stone fireplace and built-in cabinetry. Featuring a painted mural.

Semi-Gloss and High Gloss

On the higher end of the sheen spectrum, these two interior finishes are known for their radiance and exceptional durability. Because of their strong sheen factor, semi-gloss and high gloss finishes are best for defining architectural details or covering smooth, uniform surfaces. 


A luminous semi-gloss finish is sleek and easy to live with. Considerably more reflective than a satin or pearl finish, semi-gloss paint complements other finishes well when used as an accent.   


With its heightened sheen factor, high-gloss paint is made to impart high-durability shine, definition, and dimension. As a shinier finish, it tends to highlight flaws and inconsistencies rather than conceal them. 


Very high durability; as one of the finishes on the top end of the sheen scale, semi-gloss is resistant to stains, mildew, and scratches; it’s also exceptionally easy to clean. 


Semi-gloss paint is perfectly suited for trim, doors, cabinets, and wainscotting; it’s also a good choice for kitchen and bathroom walls that are affected by grease stains and moisture.  

High gloss

Light-reflective high gloss paint is the most durable finish and a real statement maker. Interior designers and adventurous homeowners like to experiment with high gloss paint in unexpected areas — it’s been applied with great effect on accent walls and even ceilings.  


With its mirror-like finish, high gloss paint sits at the top of the sheen scale. Because it has a glamorous, glass-like effect, it’s often treated (and used) as a specialty finish. Achieving a flawless finish with high gloss paint requires careful preparation and application.


As the most durable paint type available, high gloss finishes offer exceptional longevity and stain resistance. As you’d expect, they’re tough and super easy to keep clean.   


Ideal for woodwork and architectural details; best for design features and elements that you’d really like to stand out, like doors, cabinets, or built-ins.  

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