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Differences In Paint Finishes and Sheens


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Photo credit: mazaletel / Flickr


So you’re ready to give your home a makeover by doing some much-needed interior painting. Choosing the new color for each room was the fun part; you’ve brought home tons of swatches with names like Seafoam, Phantom Mist and Periwinkle, and finally found the perfect shade for each room.

But what type of sheen and finish to select when buying the paint can be a little more confusing. Does sheen/finish selection really matter? Does it depend upon what room is being painted?

Experts at home improvement and paint stores like Home Depot and Sherwin-Williams say yes: the paint sheen and finish selection definitely does matter. HouseLogic, a site run by the National Association of Realtors, recommends the following choices based upon the room being painted:

Kitchen/bathroom. High-gloss or semi-gloss for kitchens and bathrooms is ideal, as these finishes are durable and easy to clean. They also withstand moisture and hold their color very well over time.

Dining room. For your dining room, consider an eggshell finish. It is less durable than gloss finishes, but covers wall imperfections very well.

Family room/living room. HouseLogic explains that a satin finish is a great choice for family rooms, as this finish will clean up well and can withstand the high traffic that most family rooms endure.

Bedrooms. As for the bedrooms, a high-pigment flat or matte finish works well. Flat has little to no sheen at all, and is fine for rooms that see fairly low-key activity. Flat and matte finishes tend to be more affordable, too, so you can save a few dollars when painting these rooms.

What else do you need to know about paint sheens and finishes?

Design Considerations

You should also be aware of aesthetic effect when making your choice. Sheens and finishes differ due to the amount of light that they diffuse or reflect off the dried paint. Light bounces off flat and matte paint finishes in a lot of different directions, leaving little to no shine.

Glossy and semi-gloss sheens reflect more light, creating a bit of a shine on the surface. Each finish can change the character of a room. Here are some design considerations for your home:


  • Provides a smooth, elegant look;
  • Less reflectiveness makes the room light more subdued;
  • Absorbs dirt and grease and can be difficult to clean; keep the leftover paint for touching up any scuffs that occur.


  • Offers visual depth and warmth;
  • Creates a soft, velvety finish;
  • Is slightly reflective;
  • More stain-resistant than flat or matte finishes.


  • Has a slight shimmer;
  • About midway in sheen between flat and high gloss;
  • Withstands moisture fairly well.

Semi-gloss /glossy

  • Brilliant and reflective;
  • Creates a bright, shiny, look; can raise the energy of the room;
  • Easy to wipe clean;
  • Shows imperfections in drywall surfaces;
  • Ideal for kitchens, bathrooms and ceilings as well as highlighting trim, molding, railings, shutters.

Ultimately, none of these guidelines are written in stone. According to Sherwin-Williams, the higher the sheen, the more the finish will withstand cleaning or scrubbing. While this is an important consideration, you should consider your own lifestyle and design preferences as well.

Perhaps you live alone, have no pets and don’t feel your living room will be a high traffic area needing a lot of cleaning; in that case, a flat or matte finish should work fine. However, if you have small children, two dogs and a husband that tends to throw things when the football game doesn’t go his way, a semi-gloss might be a better choice.