What Are the Five Types of Paint Finishes and Why Are They Important?

Living Room and Kitchen with Flat Paint Finish

Choosing a paint color is the first thing most people think of when they think of painting. But did you know the paint finish is just as important – maybe more so – than the color? Here are the five finishes and why it’s important to pick the right one.

What’s a Paint Finish?

Before we jump into the finishes, themselves, let’s talk about what a finish is. A finish is the paint’s texture after it dries, and how much light it reflects off the wall. These can both impact the way you perceive the color (and can accentuate or hide imperfections in the finish).

The Five Paint Finishes

If you’re in the process choosing a paint finish, knowing the full menu of options can help. Here are the five paint finishes:

  • Flat (or Matte)
  • Eggshell
  • Satin
  • Semigloss
  • Gloss

Flat paint gives your walls a uniformly smooth appearance. This paint finish is perfect for areas where you want to minimize reflection of the paint’s surface, like living rooms and dining rooms. Flat paint helps mask any less-than-smooth areas in the walls, like nail holes, patches or nail pops. It’s also a natural for ceilings. Low-sheen paints require fewer coats than higher-sheen paints, because there’s less contrast between the touch-up and the rest of the paint job.

Eggshell is a great option for almost any room because it has a soft look of an eggshell. While the finish is low gloss, it’s more reflective than flat paint. Because of its slightly higher sheen, it’s also easier to clean and more durable than flat.

Satin finishes are the most commonly used finish. They reflect more light than eggshell and flat and are good for high-traffic areas like halls and kids’ rooms. They’re even easier to clean than their less shiny counterparts.

Semigloss is more reflective than satin, giving rooms a slightly shiny look. This can make darker rooms brighter, especially when used in light tones like white, cream and other neutrals. While the glossy surface shows more imperfections, it’s good for high-humidity rooms like bathrooms because it resists moisture. Easy to clean, semigloss makes a good option for trim and doors.

Gloss finish is the diva of the group with the highest level of reflectivity. Most commonly used on cabinets, molding and doors, gloss requires more coats than its more matte cousins, but it also cleans up easiest.

Where To Use Each Finish

  • Flat paint is best used in living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms or offices – any place you want minimal light reflected in the room.
  • Eggshell can be used in any room in the house, though because it’s more susceptible to humidity, steer clear of eggshell in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Satin is the most commonly used finish and can be used in any room.
  • Semigloss is great in high-humidity areas like kitchens and baths. It also works on doors and trim.
  • Gloss is used primarily on doors and trim, but some designers use it to achieve a high impact, mirrorlike appearance on walls.

Have more questions about paint finishes? Contact our color consultants. Did you know we’ll mail you free 8″ x 8″ paint samples? Learn more


Kelley Rebori

Kelley Rebori has written for national brands like Paintzen, HGTV, the DIY Network and Trulia for more than a decade. She loves home renovation projects, chocolate icing and small poodles. She and her husband split the year between their homes in Tennessee and Italy.