How to Pick the Perfect Paint Finish

From matte to semi-gloss, experts give us the information we need to select just the right sheen.

best living room paint 2019
Photo: Courtesy of Farrow & Ball

You've finally chosen the dream color palette for your space—it must be time to start painting, right? Not quite. More often than not, people don't give enough thought to what paint finish to use, even though it plays a major role in the final look of a room. Choosing a high-gloss finish, for instance, to cover a wall with existing nicks and bumps can actually magnify imperfections. You may have also heard that different sheens can be better for a specific room than others. What finish is best in high-moisture areas like the bathroom or kitchen? What about on trims and doorways?

We asked the experts to help us break down the different sheen options, the best rooms to use each in, and what to know before choosing one.

Understand What Sheen Means

When it comes to picking out a paint sheen, the most common mistake people make is not actually knowing what "sheen" means in the first place, says Charlotte Cosby, head of creative at Farrow & Ball. "A very simplistic way of thinking about sheen is how shiny a paint is," Crosby tells us. "Sheen is measured on a scale with 100 percent giving off the highest shine and one percent being super matte. The higher the sheen of a paint the more hard-wearing it is—anything above 40 percent should be able to withstand most things your typical house can throw at it." In other words, if you're painting a high-traffic area that's more susceptible to wear-and-tear, you may want to avoid flat and matte sheens at all cost (but more on this below).

Know the Different Types

There are six main sheen varieties, according to Jessica Barr, paint expert at Behr. In order from matte to very shiny, they are: flat, matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss. Not only does each sheen have a different look, but they vary greatly in durability levels. Matte, for instance, is great at hiding imperfections and is a good choice for low to moderate-traffic areas around your home, like bedrooms. Eggshell is also helpful for hiding minor nicks and scratches, durable, and easy to clean, which equals a great choice in moderate traffic areas, like living rooms and offices.

Further down the sheen scale is satin, which holds up well to cleaning and light scrubbing. This makes satin ideal for moderate to high-traffic areas with especially high exposures to moisture, such as kitchens and bathrooms. Even more durable and scrub-friendly? Semi-gloss, a good choice for cabinets, trims, doors, windows, kitchens, and bathrooms—any area that may be more prone to everyday dirt, grime, and stains. Lastly, and the most durable, is the high-gloss sheen which not only has a glass-like finishing look (and can make a space truly pop!), but is your best bet for a high-use surface, such as furniture crown moldings, trims, and wainscoting or wall paneling. The downside, however, is that because it reflects light so well, this sheen can also highlight any surface imperfections such as nicks, bumps, and holes. If you plan on using a high-gloss finish, make sure your surface is properly prepped and smooth.

Consider Your Room

In order to choose the perfect paint sheen-and avoid wasting time and money—Ashley Banbury, senior color designer at Pratt & Lambert says to always consider the function of the room. "One mistake I always see is a homeowner not thinking about how they use the room day-to-day and considering the durability and or 'scrubbability' of their paint," she tells us. A rule of thumb: more durable paints typically come in higher sheens.

For your lowest traffic areas and ceilings, Banbury says a flat sheen is usually the go-to. "This sheen has also grown in popularity over the years and has been used because of its soft, matte-like qualities." Depending on the use of your dining rooms, family rooms, foyers, and hallways, she suggests working up to eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss as these are both durable and offer a clean and smooth finish. "They are also easy to clean for anyone with busy families and lifestyles."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles