It is difficult for most to understand the difference between all the paint finishes unless you have experience as an interior decorator or are an interior designer or professional painter.  If you have been wondering what exactly is a paint finish or sheen or what is the difference between each of them then read on.

If starting your own DIY painting project or if you have hired a painting company to do the work for you, the painter will ask what you choose for a paint finish and if you haven’t then they should be able to make a recommendation on which is the best paint finish to use for painting every room.

samples of different paint finish and sheens

What Are The Different Paint Finishes

The most commonly used paint finishes for interior painting are Flat, Matte, Eggshell, Semi-Gloss and High-Gloss.  There are other types like Pearl, Satin, Gloss and Ultra-Matte but they are not as frequently or commonly used.

Paint finishes help deflect any drywall imperfections that may not have been remedied in the prep work before starting to paint the walls or ceilings.  Choosing the right paint finish makes all the difference in its washability and durability.  The glossier the finish the more washable and durable it will be.

Other noticeable differences in the different paint finishes also known as sheens is which is the best finish to use in the different rooms.  Let us take for example if you are painting the kitchen or bathroom you will want to use at best either an eggshell or semi-gloss.  The semi-gloss paint finish will give you a higher shine reflection depending on the lighting it is very durable and washes easily even if rubbed with extra power and elbow grease, whereas the eggshell will give you less shine but can easily show the marks of where you have had to wash and clean it.

interior painting of walls that have been washed leaving marks on eggshell paint finish

What Is A Paint Finish

A paint finish is the level of shine or gloss of the paint once painted on the walls.  The most commonly used ones are  flat, satin, matte, eggshell, semi-gloss, gloss and high gloss for interior painting of walls, baseboards, trim, doors and crown molding.  Flat paint on ceilings is most often recommended as it is the best finish to hide all imperfections.   Let’s break down the different types and what the best use for them is.

The Difference Between All Paint Finishes

The difference between all paint finishes is ultimately how much shine is reflected once painted on walls, ceilings and any trim or baseboards.  How shiny you want the walls to look as well as how durable and easily maintained they are makes a difference for rooms like the bathroom or kitchen where higher levels of moisture can build.  Painting bathrooms or kitchens requires not only the right finish or sheen but the highest quality paints that will make the biggest impact on preventing mold and mildew in these high humidity spaces.

Note that the higher the gloss a paint is the harder and tougher the finish.  In other words when choosing a flat paint finish which is more porous and traps dirt particles easily, it will be a weaker paint and not withstand much scrubbing or washing without you noticing the streaks or paint rubbing off  as opposed to painting with a gloss or high gloss that are the most durable and can take on the extra scrubbing and washing.   Here are our recommendations to help guide you for your next painting project.

Flat Paint Finish

A flat paint sheen or finish helps to conceal flaws and imperfections to the drywall and as the name suggests it has absolutely no shine.  A flat paint finish is best used on surfaces that require little to no washing.  Best in low traffic rooms such as dining rooms and living rooms, closets and bedrooms.   A flat paint sheen is also perfect for painting walls in older area homes because of its ability to hide the imperfections.  Flat like a matte finish does not reflect light and will provide the most coverage

A friend to walls that have something to hide, flat paint finish soaks up, rather than reflects, light. It has the most pigment and will provide the most coverage, which translates to time and money savings. However, it’s tough to clean without taking paint off with the grime.

Matte Paint Finish

Just like a flat finish the matte paint finish is ideal in a low traffic area like dining room or bedroom.  With hardly any shine or gloss to it, it hides many surface imperfections.  Worth noting is that both the matte and flat paint sheens are less durable in the washing or scrubbing department.

These types of finishes can be washed with a soft cloth but know that the area will dis-colour and you will definitely notice it once it is dry.  This is why you would not want to paint rooms that are busy like the family room in these types of finishes.

interior painting of walls with flat paint finish and sheen by PG PAINT & DESIGN Ottawa House Painters

Satin Paint Finish

A Satin Paint Finish is similar to the eggshell where there is just a hint of a shine but not too glossy.  It can be thought of as a step up from the eggshell due to the extra resistance to washing and scrubbing.  It is easy to keep clean with just a damp cloth and can also handle soap if required, making it ideal for any room.   Satin paint finishes will give a slight more reflective finish than the eggshell at the same time giving the look of a glowing and silky finish.

Eggshell Paint Finish

Eggshell paint finish is an easy maintenance paint sheen.   It has a slight shine to it but not enough to call is glossy.  It is a durable paint that can take on more of the washing and scrubbing than a flat paint might.  A simple wiping up of most fingerprints or dirt with just a damp cloth does it for this paint finish.  Eggshell paint finishes are perfect for living rooms, bedrooms and family rooms.

interior painting of wall with eggshell paint finish by PG PAINT & DESIGN house painters in Ottawa

Semi-Gloss Paint Finish

A semi-gloss paint sheen or finish does has a slightly more visible shine than the flat, satin, eggshell or matte and will definitely show most wall imperfections.  It does take it up a notch in the durability department as it very washable and scrubbable.  Semi-gloss paint finishes are recommended for painting rooms such as the bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms as they have a higher level of humidity and moisture and a semi-gloss paint is a stronger sheen for these spaces.

Semi gloss is ideal for painting trim, baseboards, crown molding and woodwork.  When painting kitchen and bathrooms, make sure to ask for a mildew resistant formula for these high moisture areas to help prevent mold from building.  We recommend using a high quality paint like the Benjamin Moore Aura Bath & Spa Paint .

Gloss Paint Finish or High Gloss Paint Sheen

A gloss paint is a very shiny yet durable product, that can withstand more dirt and stains.  A high gloss paint is at the highest level of shine and is almost mirror like.  Both the gloss paint and the high gloss paint are equal in durability and ease of maintenance as they both can withstand washing and scrubbing without leaving streaks or marks.  You will however want to note that because of the higher shine it will reflect all imperfections on the interior walls you are painting.

It is best used for painting trim, baseboards, doors, crown molding and other architectural woodwork elements, as it easy to wipe or scrub away any scuff marks or stains.  These finishes can easily be washed or scrubbed with soap and water and extra elbow grease.  Be cautious of using abrasive cleaners as they may leave scratches.

interior painting of kitchen with red high gloss paint finish by PG PAINT & DESIGN painters in Ottawa


If you are tackling your own DIY Painting project always refer to product labels.  Paint manufacturers provide detailed instructions for all their products.

As professional painters our choice of paint products is the Benjamin Moore Paints .  If tackling a painting project on your own is not something you want to get started with we offer interior and exterior house painting services in Ottawa.  If you need guidance on what paint finish to choose our consultation services can help you make the decision.

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This post was originally published on Oct 22, 2014 @ 08:00 and updated on Mar 03, 2020 at 19:17