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The ultimate guide to paint sheens

Trying to decide what paint sheen is right for your next project? Let’s talk about the different paint sheen types and what they each are best for!

So, you finally picked the perfect paint color for your home. But you get to the paint counter and they ask – what sheen?

Wait, what?!

Each color and each brand of paint comes in a lot of different sheens of paint. Today we are going to de-mistify paint sheens for you.

I actually have some hot takes on paint sheen that aren’t what you traditionally hear! So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

paint sheens the ultimate guide

The ultimate guide to paint sheens

Paint sheen is the glossiness, or lack of gloss, that a particular paint has.

Paint sheens in order from least to most shiny are:

  • Flat
  • Matte
  • Eggshell
  • Satin
  • Semi-Gloss
  • High Gloss

How is sheen measured?

Sheen is actual a numerical measurement!

Light is reflected off of dry paint at an angle. That light bounces into a receptor which provides a score representing the proportion of the light shone onto the paint that bounces back.

Paints with a high reflectivity are considered glossy while a low reflectivity means that they are flat or matte.

Paint sheen levels

SheenReflection Score
Flat0-3%
Matte3-10%
Eggshell10-25%
Satin25-35%
Semi Gloss35-60%
High Gloss60-100%
Painting the half bath Sherwin Williams Watery - Charleston Crafted

Paint sheen options

Here are the paint finish options and the pros and cons of each.

Flat

Flat paint has no sheen to it. It is as non-reflective as is possible.

Flat paint is great because it covers imperfections on your paint surface really well. If you have textured walls or walls with a lot of bumps or damage, flat paint is best for covering surface imperfections.

If you want a luxe, suede-like look to your walls, flat is a good option. It can look really rich and expensive – especially with darker colors.

Personally, the feel of running my hands on flat paint feels like a chalk board and gives me the heebie jeebies. So, I don’t use it in my home. But, it looks great and is a good choice for walls for most people!

The traditional negative of flat paint is that it is “hard to clean”. Traditionally, the thing that makes paint glossy also keeps stains from absorbing and makes it easy to clean.

Here’s my hot take: with modern technology, most wall paint – definitely that by well known brands – is made to be a high, scrubbable quality. Most flat paint cleans right up with a magic eraser or cloth and water.

Flat paint is also best if you have to do touchups, since the touch up paint is nearly invisible and blends right in.

The one time that I will ALWAYS use flat paint is on a ceiling. Anything else reflects light and looks really strange.

lots of samples of green behr wall paint

Matte

Matte paint has an ever so slight sheen to it, but is really mostly flat. Most wall paint brands that I have seen offer flat, but not matte, as an option.

So, for the purpose of this article, I would assume that if you like the matte look, you should go with flat.

Eggshell

Eggshell is ever so slightly less than matte. Honestly, head on, it looks matte, but from an angle, it does bounce some light and have a slight reflection. The darker the paint color, the more you will notice the glare.

Eggshell is my paint sheen of choice for interior walls. I like the slight sheen and that it feels smooth to the touch. But, it covers imperfections well and does not appear glossy whatsoever. The perfect type of paint finish in my book!

Satin

Satin is trying the be glossy without being glossy. Honestly, it’s the worst. I would never use satin paint.

The general idea of satin paint is that it’s good for high traffic areas because it’s “wipeable” without being as glossy as semi gloss and high gloss paints.

But, let’s get real. It’s shiny enough that it shows every bump, imperfection, or pore in your wall. The gleam/glare is distracting. It looks… off.

Plus, as I’ve said, modern paint is all wipeable and washable. You don’t need satin paint.

how to paint a color block wall

Semi-gloss

Semi gloss paint is my go-to for doors and trim work. It works in these places because they are usually smooth and not textured like walls.

You can absolutely paint the trim the same finish as your walls (flat, matte, or eggshell, please), but if you want the trim to contrast, semi-gloss is a good option.

High Gloss

High gloss paint will really shine. It reflects a LOT of paint. Honestly, most wall paints do not come in high gloss sheens.

High gloss should be reserved for furniture, in my opinion. Furniture that you want to look lacquered. I can only imagine a high gloss wall. *shudders*

Paint sheen chart

Click here to get your free printable paint sheen flow chart to help you to decide the perfect paint sheen for your next project!

 
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