Picking the perfect paint finish is all about learning the pros and cons of each one and then exercising your right to choose. In other words, it’s one part knowledge and one part personal preference. Here’s a little rundown of paint finish possibilities along with a few facts about each one to help you hone in on the one that’s right for you.
Flat paint: This is a great choice for hiding imperfections in your walls and it’s by far the easiest to touch up. The cons are that many people say that it shows more wear than its more wipe-able counterparts (like eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and gloss) but we have found that with a Magic Eraser and sometimes just a kitchen sponge there are a surprising amount of scrapes and marks that come right out. Paint quality is getting better and better, so non-durable and easily marred flat paint of the ’80s is a thing of the past. Plus because it’s the easiest finish to touch up without any telltale signs of a patch job, those few stains that can’t be wiped off can easily be eliminated with a smidge of fresh paint.
Where we used it: We actually chose flat paint for all of our rooms except for the nursery, the kitchen, and the bathrooms since it provides such a smooth and even look (hiding all those dings and cracks that are much more obvious when the paint is more glossy). Oh and all of our ceilings (save for the ones in the bathrooms) are painted in a flat finish as well. Update: in our new house we use satin on all walls except for the kitchen and bathrooms since we have a mobile kiddo and like that it’s slightly more wipeable and durable.
Eggshell paint: This is a slightly less matte version of paint with a tiny bit of sheen added to introduce a bit of wipe-able protection that is a tad better at holding up to fingerprints and other wear and tear than flat paint is. It definitely still looks pretty matte on the walls (nothing glaring or shiny) but it does add a nice little buffer of protection. Although the hint of sheen makes it a bit harder to touch up than flat paint, it’s still definitely possible.
Where we used it: Nowhere. Now this isn’t because it’s a bad choice- we’re simple people, so sticking with the few finishes helps us keep track of what’s what (if every room were a different finish it would be hard to keep it all straight).
Satin paint: This is ever so slightly more glossy than eggshell but still not as shiny as semi-gloss. In fact it’s a lot closer to a flat or an eggshell look than a glossy one. As you may guess it’s therefore even easier to wipe down but also a bit harder (although still not impossible) to touch up due to the shine factor. It’s a nice elegant choice in a more formal space where you’d like a bit of shimmer without going overboard into super shiny territory (like a candle-lit dining room for example) and many people go with satin for their bathroom and kitchen walls as well.
Where we used it: We went with satin for the nursery because we reasoned that it would provide a little more wipe-ability while still hiding the majority of our wall’s imperfections since it’s far from the shiny texture of semi-gloss or gloss (which emphasizes any dings or dents as opposed to hiding them). It still went on very smooth and was a nice “compromise” when it came to adding a bit of kid-friendly function to the space. Update: in our new house we use satin on all walls except for the kitchen and bathrooms since we have a mobile kiddo and like that it’s slightly more wipeable and durable.
Semi-gloss paint: This is a great choice for areas that are exposed to more water and grease than the average room (ie: bathrooms and kitchens). Some people fear that semi-gloss paint is a bit too shiny for their liking and opt to go eggshell or satin in their kitchens or bathrooms, but for unparalleled protection and wipe-ability, semi-gloss really is the more thorough choice. Of course it’s not as easy to touch up but the durability that it offers is a great perk. We actually painted our kitchen backsplash in semi-gloss paint (along with the rest of the room) and 2+ years later it’s still in perfect condition (even with grease and other cooking side-effects working against it).
Where we used it: Both of our bathrooms are semi-gloss (including the ceilings) along with the kitchen (but the ceiling is flat in there since there’s less steam & moisture). We also opted to paint all of our interior and exterior doors in semi-gloss paint along with all of our home’s molding and trim (it’s so much more wipe-able and easy to maintain). And as a side note, for some reason while semi-gloss paint is hard to touch up on the walls without getting that telltale “ring” around the newly painted area, trim can easily be touched up time and time again without any issue – which is always a good thing.
Gloss or high-gloss paint: This finish provides the shiniest, most lacquer-like effect. As you can imagine, it’s super wipe-able and durable (it has a lot of flex in it) but it highlights imperfections in a major way (a small ding in the wall that would virtually disappear when covered in flat paint would look a lot deeper and more pronounced when covered with gloss instead). It’s also extremely difficult to touch up without creating a noticeable “ring” where the new paint is applied. So it’s best to repaint an entire wall with glossy paint when you need to refresh it (instead of applying spot touch ups which can be easily detected).
Where we used it: Nowhere, but again it doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice. Some people think it can be a bit overpowering on the walls (especially in a modestly sized house like ours) but that’s really a personal preference thing. We’ve seen small rooms look like glittering jewel boxes with dramatic glossy paint jobs- and it’s always a great choice for painting furniture (it really gives you that lacquered look). Even doors and trim throughout a house could look glamorous and sleek painted in a high gloss finish instead of the standard semi-gloss one.
So what about you guys? Do you have any finishes that you prefer for certain jobs? Any nightmarishly bad finish decisions that you had to redo (we painted all of our house’s trim with flat paint before realizing that was a terrible idea- talk about a major project to take on twice!).
Psst- Got more paint questions? Check out the top of our How To page for all of the answers that you seek.
Katelyn Likes This says
I’ve never really thought much about paint finishes. I’ve only ever gone with Eggshell or Flat, and semi-gloss for trims and doors, although only once. I just don’t like the look of a glossy paint. I’ve always preferred flat though, the matte look just gives the walls some softness and depth somehow that Eggshell just doesn’t do. I don’t have children, so I’ve never really had an issue with having to wipe walls frequently so I could be biased!
Thanks for the run-down on the different paint options. I wish I had read this before I tried to touch-up our semi-glossy bathroom walls. Ugh.
Wow new follower and I love how you give so much info. I never new the real difference between paint or what to use it for! This is definitely going to help when we paint one of our rooms when we move.
thanks so much!!
Thanks for this interesting post. We have flat paint in our basement. After living with it for 4 years, I will NEVER paint with flat paint. It shows every little mark . . . and with three small children, there can be a lot of marks and finger prints on the wall. I will go after it with a magic eraser, but it doesn’t take everything off. I will be repainting in the next few months, but I’m considering just wrapping the whole house in plastic wrap . . . do you think that would be tacky?
Even though I actaully read the post, it just reminded me of what a wonderful home you have. And how lucky you are to raise you little one in it :) Have a nice day.
[email protected] Hand Me Down House says
Thank you so much for these explanations! (I may have to print them off and keep them as a reference when I go to get paint next time). I learned from our paint expert recently that if you absolutely have to touch up a wall that is semi-gloss you can water down the paint ever so slightly (in a separate container) and it is less noticeable. I tried it when I touched up our bathroom and it worked like a charm.
Ooh, thanks for sharing this tip! It would sure be nice not to have to repaint the entire wall just for a touch-up.
Benjamin Moore claims their Aura ($$) flat paint is scrubbable. Because of the “less than smooth” plaster walls in our house, I only use flat paint. The Aura in our bathroom has scrubbed flawlessly, even after two years.
Gloss has its place with your trim. Window trim, door casings, doors, crown and base – all can benefit from a gloss paint.
Just a warning for those eraser cleaning sponges and paint – I used one all through my house on flat paint and it darkened the color everywhere I used it! Ack! I had to go back through the house and paint over every spot. So spot check first before you go to town like I did.
The paint company I use has 5 sheen levels: flat, velvet, low sheen, semi-gloss, and gloss. I usually use velvet. It has all of the benefits of low sheen with no shine. Love it. And you can totally touch up the paint without causing it to look funky.
Cassie Campbell says
I’m a hot chocolate lover! I can even drink it in the summer, it is just so comforting
Posts like these are so helpful– and why I check your blog daily! My husband and I are remodeling our entire house (bought a fixer upper a year ago) and we wouldn’t know much if it weren’t for you guys :)
Flat paint is beautiful. We live in Texas, and the builders here love heavy texture. I really don’t want to see the “moon-like” texture glaring at me behind paint with gloss in it. We used Behr New Chestnut in flat in our living room (which is open to the rest of the house), and we love it. It’s gorgeous. All of the trim is semi-gloss I believe. It looks gorgeous.
Also, I’m a bit confused as to why no one knows how to pick paint finishes. Every paint store has a handout that tells you which type is best for each room in your house, and there is usually a single color painted in each finish on the same handout. If you don’t see one of these in the store, ask the paint salesperson. Don’t be afraid to buy paint samples either. It’s much better to spend $3 to figure out if you like a particular color/finish, than it is to paint an entire room and realize you hate it.
FYI – Benjamin Moore actually makes a Matte paint which looks like Flat but is more wipe-able like the eggshell if that helps anyone…
What brand is your couch? I love it.
Elizabeth – Our sofa in the den is from Pottery Barn and the sofa in the living room is from Rowe. Hope it helps!
Shauna – Here’s a link on that very subject: https://www.younghouselove.com/2009/04/email-answer-match-point/
I am definitely a fan of flat paint on the walls and ceilings. I love how clean it looks, especially when you have tons of accessories. If you are trying to make a feature wall with paint, then I would definitely recommend something with a little more gloss. And I definitely agree, semi-gloss on trim, bathrooms, and kitchen! It gets too darn messy in those rooms! Great informational post!
Diana S. says
thanks a-lot for this post. i had always wondered what the difference was between all the finishes. im so glad i saw this post or i might have just painted my whole house semi-gloss ahhh!!! now i know better. im glad you guys still post about helpul info on home improvement.
I’d love to know what you think about different wood stain colours in the same room…are there principles that one should follow for good decorating?
Melissa D says
Y’all better start prepping a post about coffee tables, because that one in your living room is a kid accident waiting to happen! (I’d say you have about 9 months to find a great, non-glassed replacement, based on my own 3 kids’ mobility). :-)
Sara Caulder says
Perfect timing! Just signed a new lease yesterday and for the first time ever I get to paint! Thankfully its a dull white right now so its a blank canvas. I dreamed all last night what color and even thought about all the different finishes but I didn’t understand them! This is so helpful! Thanks!
I’m a satin person all the way on walls and semi gloss on trim. Flat just looks to dull to me.
Very helpful post. Question for you- what finish did you use on the furniture you’ve painted? Any recommendations for furniture painting finishes? Thanks!
Here’s a post all about how we paint furniture (including info on finishes and even more info in the comment section). Hope it helps!
Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this! I never knew what finish to get when buying paint. Every person I asked always said, “Get semi-gloss. Flat just looks cheap.” No one ever explained why — and I certainly don’t think your walls look cheaply done!
As a matter of fact, our guest bedroom walls could certainly be fixed with flat paint. We had intended to have a nice, relaxing green. Instead, we wound up with a much more … energetic color. The glossy finish only adds to the brightness. Thank goodness our bedding is almost entirely white. We just went with muted colors in the rest of the room since I didn’t want to have to paint the whole thing again.
I’ll keep this post in mind next time I buy paint!
Laura, try using GooGone or Oops on a rag to remove the adhesive from your ceiling. Don’t saturate the rag, just dampen it and gently rub the spots. The sticky spots should rub right off.
What a timely post! We are totally renovating our bathroom and you had some great tips about the moisture that I had never considered. I’ll remember them next week when I should be ready to paint. :)
I love the color of your bathroom (Your posts about your bathroom renovation have been so helpful!). I’d like to try it, but my bedroom is also going to have to be painted. What is the best way to choose a good color to flow smoothly, since the rooms are attached? Any tips?
Thanks for sharing everything and encouraging us to try new projects. :)
Here’s a post all about keeping things cohesive with paint: https://www.younghouselove.com/2010/02/our-homes-recently-expanded-color-palette/
Hope it helps!
This couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m buying a house, closing tomorrow actually!! and tonight I was picking up a million paint samples from Lowes or Home Depot, wherever I was, and was trying to figure out what type of paint to use for what rooms. The whole house is covered in wood paneling.. some rooms have three walls of dark paneling and one of light even. I’m not sure if they were trying to achieve that accent wall look or what, but it’s all gotta go!
Great post! We used eggshell on all of the walls in our house. You can see the sheen a bit more on darker colors (only in our navy blue half bath). Not at all noticeable on the neutral yellow/tan walls. Our painter gave me a good tip on touching up when he fixed some nail pops – paint flat on the touch up spot first then paint the eggshell color. Definitely a lot less noticeable – particularly after a few weeks when it really cures.
jen @ decor junkie says
This was such a helpful post! Thank you so much for sharing. I always get confused about which finishes to use where, and this really cleared things up for me. We used an eggshell finish in our kitchen on the backsplash, and I have been wanting to redo it for about a year now — it just does not hold up well to being wiped down continually. Now I know why! Thanks again!
Tiffini S. says
GREAT paint primer (pun intended). Thanks!
I’d love to see a post about painting trim. We just moved into a new (to us) house and I’d like to paint all the trim white, but my husband is not digging it due to resale value. I think white trim is all the rage and will be for some time, so would actually help when (if) we decide to sell. Thoughts?
I was actually surprised to read you used a lot of flat paint. Every room that I have painted in this house (still three to go) is Behr Satin and I love being able to wash it with 2 kids. I did not realize how different paint was until I matched the color of our very tall stairway, but I used Satin and the other paint that was there was Flat. It really looks tacky to me, but I can’t reach all the way up even with an extender.
Marcy Tate says
This is a fantastic guide to paint sheen, thank you! It was especially helpful when you described which type of sheen you used in your home. Awesome !
I would love to paint my house with the same color as your living room. I specifically went looking for that Glidden paint last weekend and found that it is discontinued. Do you know a close second to your living room paint color?
Paula M. says
Great post to have archived up on your site. No matter how many times I read about the different paint finishes (in books, online, etc.), it’s enough to get my head spinning. Nice to have the info all laid out in a concise fashion.
I like flat or matte paint for the living room, office and bedroom. Nice soft finish, covers well, wears well, and it provides a subtle background for artwork, accessories and drapes. For molding in the living room and office, I used a white semi-gloss to make it “pop” all the more when contrasted with the rest of the wall (which is in Benjamin Moore sepia tan).
I still have to update the paint in the kitchen at some point (ugh, the idea of painting inside those cabinets makes me want to put down the paintbrush and take up the cocktail shaker! LOL), but in any case, when I finally do that, I’ll go with the good advice about using a glossier, more wipe-able paint there. Also, because I have a galley kitchen, I think it helps to have a glossier paint in that room to help bounce the light around and brighten things up (yep, it’s white paint for me in the kitchen).
Andrea P says
Do you have any recommendations for a gorgeous yet neutral blue-gray paint color?
PS – excited for the latest office progress today :)
I’m sure you’ve mentioned this in the past but I’m a Young House Love newbie (and quickly becoming a super fan!) – where did you get your living room rug?
Sue- It’s the Moorish Tile rug from Pottery Barn. They no longer sell it but we’ve seen it on ebay a lot. Happy hunting!
Andrea P- We love Benjamin Moore’s Quiet Moments. Hope it helps!
Rhonda- They actually have the formula in the computer and can look it up for you and whip you up a gallon or two. We haven’t found anything similar in the line that Glidden now offers, but Water Chestnut is a nice neutral so that’s another option.
Tiffani S- We have actually heard real estate agents in our area (and on TV) encouraging people to paint wood trim for a more crisp and updated look. Of course it won’t please everyone, but you just need one buyer and apparently more and more people are joining the painted wood trim camp. Hope it helps!
Melissa- Since the floor is so warm we’d suggest picking something a bit cooler to add balance and create a complementary atmosphere. A soft gray-green would be lovely (just pull a bunch of swatches and see which one looks best in the space). Good luck!
Hi Sherry! I just wanted to share a helpful little tip that I learned from my husband (he runs a paint store): high-gloss white paint can be your best friend if you are redoing a tiny, dark closet. Since the high sheen really reflects the light it makes the closet much brighter and makes it seem bigger too. We did this with the smallest closet in our house and it seems huge now! Thought this might be a tip you’d like to share!
Great tip! Thanks so much for sharing!
Wow! Thank you SO much for this post! I have been an avid reader of your blog for a while, but now that I’m buying my first house your tips and ideas have taken on a new level of importance and relevance to my life. We close in three weeks (!!!) so I am brainstorming ideas and gathering inspiration, but I am so glad I read this before I started trying to pick out paint! I knew nothing about paint finishes and I would have been so overwhelmed without all this info! I cannot thank you guys enough!
Nicole Handfield says
I second Pamela on Aura by Benjamin Moore. As first time homeowners three years ago I asked our neighbors what kind of paint they used and I heard Benjamin Moore over and over again. Their Aura paint is really awesome. I love that I can prime and paint all in one coat (with maybe a bit of touch up or just a second coat if I didn’t do a good job with the first one). It is more expensive than other brands of paint, but you use so much less since you get such great coverage in one coat. And you same money by not having to buy primer. All levels of sheen are totally scrubbable. I don’t know about the touch-up-ability of the different sheens, but I know that we’ve used semi-gloss in our bathroom and kitchen and never seen a circle from touch-ups. I just took the awesomeness for granted because we just moved into a house that’s been painted and touched up with cheapo paint and you can see every single place that’s been touched up! YUK! I can’t wait to cover it all with Aura.
I have two large dogs, so being able to wipe down the walls in the house was a must. They have a habit of coming inside from the rain and shaking off ALL OVER the house, and that means mud and rain splatters all over the walls. Since we had to repaint literally every surface in our house when we moved in last October, we decided to use satin paint throughout because it fulfilled our wipe down requirement but it wasn’t as shiny and reflective as semi-gloss. I can’t say we have regretted it for one second, especially on those rainy days when our four legged friends decide to shower the walls down for us.
What kind of paint do you suggest for exterior trim? Our trim is vinyl siding, if that makes a difference. We’re stuck between flat and semi-gloss. Thanks.
Hmm, we’re not sure if you can paint vinyl siding for a long term result – definitely check with the pros at your local home improvement center to see what they recommend. As for the sheen, an exterior semi-gloss or flat look could both work (it’s all personal preference so if you want something shiny go semi-gloss and if you want something less so, go flat). Good luck!
What is your thought on eggshell for ceilings? I’m doing eggshell on the walls in my greatroom and will be cutting down the color for the ceiling. I’ve read mixed things about eggshell on the ceiling – some people say it is fine others say to use flat.
If you’re using the same eggshell color or cutting it down it should look just fine on the ceiling. We say go for it unless your ceiling is full of imperfections!
Thanks for breaking this all down. When we first moved into our home we painted our whole home with a flat paint. At the time our 1st son was only about 10 months old. Wellll….now my 1st son is 3 and my 2nd son is 1 1/2 and between fingerprints and crayon marks, it’s definitely time for a new coat. So my question is regarding mixing paint finishes. Our kitchen, kitchette area and family room is one long area broken up with angles in the walls. I’d like to paint my kitchen/kitchenette area semi-gloss in one color and the family room area satin or eggshell in another color. Do you think having two different finishes in one area is too much? Do you think it would look bad.
Thanks for the GREAT advice and sorry this is so long :-?
We actually wouldn’t recommend using two different finishes in a seamless space (since halfway down one wall you’d suddenly see more sheen where you decided to change paint finishes) but since your spaces are broken up with angles in the wall it should be easier to change from semi-gloss paint to satin or eggshell for the family room. It shouldn’t be too detectable that way and you’ll get maximum function in the kitchen by having that semi-gloss on the wall. Good luck!
Every time I see a photos of your living room, I desperately covet your glass coffee table. It has such clean lines. Where did you get it?
We actually found it at a thrift store for 35 bucks or so! But we’ve seen similar things on potterybarn.com. Hope it helps!
This is a really great summary of when to use what! I remembered reading it before and just came back to reference it before buying paint today. I looked for it in the projects tab but it wasn’t there! Luckily your search option is great and it was the first result that came up! You should definitely consider linking it from the projects page though, you guys do great work!!
So sorry Kate! Thanks for the heads up!
This is a bit off topic, but still seems relative… My kitchen is painted a lovely dark terra cotta color in an eggshell or satin finish (can’t remember which). I’ve tried touching up a few bangs and scrapes (thanks to the 1-yr-old), but keep ending up with the “ring” you mentioned above. Any tips on touching up a dark color without the ring problem? I’m hating the thought of repainting the entire wall…
Your best bet would be to put some more paint on there really lightly and feather the edges waaaay out (like a two foot radius) so it’s very thin and soft. Hopefully it’ll dry without the ring!
Is it okay to paint walls with one finish, and trim with another (eggshell walls, flat trim) or would you keep both finishes the same?
Yes! We do trim in semi-gloss and walls in flat or satin. Totally recommended!
I’d love to know your thought process behind painting the trim white. Is there a reason for it? I’m currently wrestling with this idea of leaving my skirting boards and door frames wood because my husband prefers it that way, but then I wondered what the finish would look like, I wondered if having wooden floors and wooden trim would look too wooden.
It’s totally personal preference! It’s not something that’s easily reversed, so just think long and hard about what you both love and hopefully come to an agreement that you both prefer. We’ve definitely seen wood trim with wood floors look lovely as well as white trim with wood floors, so you really can’t go wrong either way!
Question: Our house is 1400sf and the walls are all white…we are in the process of getting ready to sell the house but need to paint first. Should we just repaint them white or go with a neutral? Also, can you paint satin over semi-gloss? (As a potential buyer, what do you or anyone reading this think?)
Thanks in advance…
You probably can’t go wrong leaving it white, but if you want to warm things up and add something a bit less stark, a soft gray, beige, cream, or light sandy tan can’t hurt at all. And yes, you can paint any finish over any finish for the most part- as long as you’re not trying to put latex paint over oil-based paint (which usually isn’t a worry these days). Good luck!
So I accidentally mixed the SW semigloss paint I had for trim/doors the bedroom color I wanted!!! The kitchen and bath have just been painted. What do I do with this paint? Can I use it in a bedroom or is that strange?
Oh yes, I think you can. It should be just fine!
Ok I’ll give it a try. I was worried that the extra gloss would make it look strange. Thanks!
I love the woven wooden blinds you have in your living room. I’ve been trying to find the right ones for my kitchen. Can you tell me what brand they are?
Those were from Walmart a while back!
I know this is an old post, so I am crossing my fingers you see this. I painted our staircase wall and hallways a lighter color in Glidden eggshell. It gets indirect light so whenever I am walking down the stairs I can see all the roller marks and looks irregular. I did think coats. Do I need to do more coats?
Hmm, I would try one more very very thin and even coat. Try to move quickly over the wall so you’re not going over partially dry parts (that can make those roller marks). Hope it helps!