Pick the Best Paint Sheen for Every Job

Before you start any paint project, you’ve probably put some time and thought into what you want the end result to be. You’ve considered color schemes, how natural and artificial light affect the colors you choose, and how to create flow between rooms using color, but have you picked a paint sheen or finish?

Keep reading to learn which finish works best in particular applications: flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss or gloss.

Why Does Paint Sheen Matter?

Paint sheen is basically the surface texture the paint creates and a measurement of how much light bounces off the painted surface. As you may have learned in the project How Light Affects Paint Color, the effect from light bouncing off of the wall’s surface can change the perception of color. So a potential paint’s finish and color, and the to-be-painted surface, need to be considered before painting. Personal preference also comes into play when choosing a finish, as does the amount of wear and tear a room sees. In the end, some sheens work better than others on certain surfaces.

A Certified Color Expert at your local True Value hardware store can help you choose the correct color and finish for the particular surface on which you’re working. Here is a general overview:

  • Flat – Provides a smooth look and hides surface imperfections. An ideal choice for living rooms, dining rooms, dens and home offices.
  • Eggshell – Has a soft, washable sheen that looks great in living rooms, dining rooms, dens and home offices. Should not be used for exteriors.
  • Satin – Offers a slightly shiny appearance that holds well to washing. Use in heavily trafficked areas, such as hallways, kid’s bedrooms and playrooms.
  • Semi-Gloss – Has a higher sheen level than satin, but not as shiny as gloss. Use in kitchens and bathrooms or on trim and windows.
  • Gloss – Highest sheen level. Perfect for use on doors, cabinets and trim areas that are washed often.

Flat Finishes

Flat or matte sheens get their name from the lack of reflection from the painted surface. Flat finishes absorb more light and so reflect it less. This lack of reflection is one of the benefits of a matte finish. The flat sheen is good at hiding surface imperfections, such as dents, nail holes, patches and other surface flaws in new construction. It is also a good choice for ceiling painting. Flat finishes often require fewer coats than semi-gloss and gloss paints. They are also easier to touch up; there is less contrast between the touch-up paint and the rest of the painted surface. On interior walls, flat finishes are ideal for low-traffic areas such as formal dining rooms and master bedrooms. For exterior applications, they are good for painting older vinyl and aluminum siding.

Flat finishes are not very washable. They often absorb more dirt than other finishes and so dirt and scuffs begin to show more over time. They are also not as durable. Flat sheens are not good choices for bathrooms or kitchens, because of the high levels of humidity and direct water contact in these rooms.

Eggshell and Satin Finishes

Eggshell finishes are low-gloss, but more reflective than flat sheens. This finish gets its name from its distinctive effect that gives a painted surface the texture of an eggshell when viewed at an angle in the light. Eggshell is more easily cleaned than a flat finish and is more durable. It is good for general-purpose rooms, such as living rooms, family rooms and hallways.

Satin finish paints are probably the most commonly used finish, on both interior and exterior surfaces. The term “satin” sheen is often used interchangeably with eggshell. However, satin finishes are typically more glossy than eggshell. As with eggshell, this finish is good for high-traffic areas like kids’ rooms, hallways and family rooms. They resist mildew effectively and are easier to clean than flat or eggshell finishes, and can be wiped down or scrubbed lightly. On exterior surfaces, satins are ideal for painting siding that is in good to excellent condition. Outside surfaces painted with satin paint also shed water effectively and don’t fade quickly from the sun. They are also a good choice for painting trim and shutters.

Semi-Gloss and Gloss Finishes

Semi-gloss and gloss finishes provide walls with a shiny appearance and brighten a room’s appearance. Off-whites and pale shades of lighter colors are punched up and made brighter by the glossy effect created with these finishes. They are ideal for use in areas with high humidity such as bathrooms and kitchens, particularly semi-gloss, because of a high moisture resistance. They are also the easiest to clean, compared to other finishes, with light scrubbing or wiping.

The downside to a gloss finish is that it shows almost every imperfection on a wall or ceiling. Gloss finishes are best used on trim, molding and other woodwork, cabinets, doors and in the kitchen or bath, where surfaces may require frequent cleaning. Outside, gloss is good for door jambs, window casings and shutters.

The advantage of semi-gloss, compared to gloss, is that this finish often can be used on walls in high-traffic areas, but also is a good choice for the same surfaces as gloss: woodwork, cabinets or in the kitchen.

Helpful Tip

Semi-gloss and gloss sheens often require more coats than less glossy paint finishes and they often require more preparation, such as sanding.

Always Prime

When it comes to getting the best results out of your paint’s finish, priming the surface is essential. Not only does it help ensure that you will get the look you want, it also makes your paint job as durable and long-lasting as it can be.

Primers lay the foundation for a successful paint job. Whether you’re painting interior or exterior surfaces, primers ensure that the painting surface has an ideal, uniform texture (slightly coarse) so that paint adheres effectively. In addition, primers seal up porous surfaces and prevent stains and previous colors from showing up underneath your paint job. They also help even out walls after you’ve spot patched and made repairs.

Interior primer seals, increases adhesion and creates a uniform surface for walls. Exterior primers minimize paint cracking and mildew growth. For interior walls, use True Value EasyCare Ultra Premium Interior Primer/Sealer. Exterior surfaces should be primed with True Value EasyCare Ultra Premium Exterior Primer/Sealer.

That’s it! Now you’re armed with the knowledge to better choose which paint sheen works best for your rooms.

Project Shopping List

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