The Difference in Paint Sheens

When you walk into a paint or home improvement store with the intentions of sprucing up your home with a new paint color, you are going to find that picking out the color is just the beginning. Most likely, an employee is going to ask you “What sheen do you want this color in?” If you are totally baffled by this question, this post is for you! Interior paint comes in a variety of sheens or finishes, all serving specific purposes and giving off different looks. Also, on a side note, if you are like me and have a hard time making final decisions when it comes to paint colors, I advise contacting a company in your area that offers free color consultations or visiting a paint store that has an in-house designer. Now on to paint sheens!

Matte or Flat

Matte paint, also known as flat paint, is easy to remember. It absorbs light rather than reflecting it, giving it no shine. Without shine, the walls have little to no depth, hence the term “flat”.  Since flat paint has no depth, it’s often used to hide dents or imperfections on walls. The downside to using a matte finish is it is hard to clean dirt, stains and other marks off the walls. Knowing this, we advise you to not use flat paint in high traffic areas, such as banisters and children’s rooms. Instead, use it in areas that see almost no daily contact, such as ceilings.


An eggshell finish is one step up from flat or matte. It has a slight shine to it, but not much. It is named “eggshell” because the sheen it provides is comparable to the surface of an egg. This finish is often used by people who prefer a more matte look, but still want to be able to clean off scuffs and dirt with more ease compared to a truly flat paint.


Satin paints reflect more light than they absorb, causing the final finish to be shiner. This shine is particularly popular for everyday rooms such as bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and hallways. It is excellent at resisting stains and mildew and is much easier to clean if dirt does accumulate on the walls. Satin paint can also withstand a certain level of moisture, making it the ideal sheen for bathrooms and kitchens.


Gloss paint provides just what it sounds like: a glossy finish! While some people dislike a glossy finish because of it’s tendency to look like plastic when used on large smooth surfaces, it has it’s time and place. Gloss is extremely durable and very easy to clean, making it a great option for places that see a lot of daily wear and tear. These places include: trim, woodwork, baseboards, banisters, etc. Since all of these areas are reasonable small, the glossy finish is subtle and chic, not overwhelming and cheap.

While everyone has their personal paint preferences, my advice is to stick to flat/matte paint on the ceilings, eggshell or satin on the main interior walls, and gloss on all the baseboards and trim. I find this combination has just the right balance of shine and provides stunning results!

This article was written by Allison Smith on behalf of Walls by Design, a Denver painting contractor who specializes in interior painting, murals and faux and decorative painting.