Paint Sheen Guide

When it comes to choosing paint sheens (or paint finishes), many times home owners pick the wrong one! Then they end up having to put more money into a project/space. Well, worry no more! I’ve put together this guide to take all the guesswork out of your next paint job. 

To understand it easily, paint sheens have this rule of thumb we often refer to that is the higher the sheen of your paint, the higher the shine. For example, if you choose flat paint which is most often used to paint ceilings, there is 0% shine. If you choose a high gloss sheen or a lacquer, such as what you may choose for a kitchen cabinet, you’ll find that it has the most shine. 

Image from The Home Depot

Flat Paint

Flat paint, also referred to as matte paint, is best for walls that you want the eyes to ignore. In other words, if you want a wall to be hidden, this is your best option because it absorbs light and has no reflection, sometimes just a very subtle glow. This sheen is also the least durable because it doesn’t tolerate stains well. The best places to use this paint are on ceilings and in living rooms or bedrooms where you don’t have to worry about it lasting through wear and tear. 

Flat paint on the ceiling; Eggshell on the walls. Photo: Cortney Dani Photography

Satin & Eggshell

Both satin and eggshell finishes are very similar to each other. But when comparing the two, you’ll see that satin is just slightly shinier than eggshell. For that reason and because it is a little more durable, some use satin finish on wall trim. It varies between paint brands whether both eggshell and satin are offered, otherwise think of the finish as a step above flat paint. It reflects a little bit of light. One thing to consider when using these sheens is their tendency to highlight any wall imperfections, so they take more prep time and effort. Satin and eggshell sheens are most often used for bedrooms, living rooms, entryways, and hallways. 


Semi-gloss is one of the toughest of paint finishes. Just like satin or eggshell, you’ll want to ensure your walls are free of debri that may be accented with this paint. Semi-gloss reflects light really well and has a pretty shiny look to it. This is the best finish to resist moisture, making it a great option for bathrooms and kitchens. You may consider this for wall and window trim as well because of its shine. 

Semi-gloss on Kitchen Cabinets. Photo: Cortney Dani Photography


High-gloss paint has the most shine and reflects light the best of all the sheens. It is the most durable and resistant finish. However, because of its shine and how it appears on the wall, it requires the most prep work. You want to make sure the wall is free of nicks or dust and primed really well for the best result. Something to remember here is that high-gloss is not the same as lacquer. High-gloss paint can be rolled or brushed on and it doesn’t harden like a lacquer finish.  A lacquer paint finish involves a slightly more complex process. The wall must be sanded, primed, and sealed before beginning the application. Hiring someone to lacquer a wall is recommended because of its long process of applying & polishing several times over. It’s not the most cost-effective option but the end result is stunning. High-gloss and lacquer finishes are used most often on cabinetry, trim & molding, and doors. However, many designers love a look of a glossy wall to really bring a bold and chic look to a space. It is a great way to add a dramatic touch to your space.


A higher sheen of paint typically means a higher cost. It is common to use a less shiny finish when you’re using a darker color. The stronger pigment in the dark color reflects more light, whereas a lighter color absorbs more light, which is why you want to choose a paint that is a level down from glossy. Also consider the wall that you’re painting. If it is older and has more imperfections than normal, a higher gloss paint will accentuate them. 

I hope this guide helps your paint project become easier! A good painting contractor will be able to advise you should you be lucky enough to hire one. If you’re still unsure, tell me about your project in the comments and maybe I can help figure out which sheen is best for you! xo!


  1. Lauren says:

    Susie, this is so helpful! I never knew that the different sheens were better for certain places in my house.

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