What is Sheen Anyway?

Choosing the Right Wall Finish for Your Interior Paint Job

What exactly do paint manufacturers mean when they label their paint a Semi-Gloss, Eggshell or Flat finish? Finish types such as these refer to the term known as sheen –the amount of shine or gloss that a paint contains.  The type of sheen directly impact how a paint color looks. Generally speaking, the more sheen or gloss that a paint contains, the deeper the color appears when it’s on the walls.  As you can imagine, the type of sheen you choose makes all the difference in the appearance of your interior painting job. What you might not know, is that the sheen also plays a functionality role that should be considered when picking out your paint.

When selecting paint colors for your next interior painting project, it is important that you understand the difference between each sheen, and the qualities that each sheen possesses. This can be a critical aspect when deciding to paint your home. To help you pick the right sheen for the areas you’re painting while keeping personal preference in mind, use this insight and the chart at the bottom to differentiate the qualities and advantages of each sheen type:

Flat Interior Paint Finish

A flat finish has little to no sheen. Paints with flat finishes are great for hiding surface imperfections on the walls for two reasons. They do not reflect light, making it harder to notice those flaws in your home’s interior.  Flat finishes also have superior touch-up capabilities. A flat paint will touch-up much less noticeably than any other sheen.  Flat paints are often used on ceilings, but can be used on the walls of almost any room in your house. However, since paints with a higher sheen are more durable, flat paints are usually recommended for lower traffic areas. If you have pets or children that could mark up the walls, you might want to consider using a higher, more durable sheen.
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Matte Interior Paint Finish

Matte is a very low sheen finish, with just a bit more shine than flat paints. A matte finish provides the ability to help hide surface imperfections due to its low-sheen qualities. Yet, matte paints are also more washable and stain resistance than paints with less sheen. Matte finishes are a great option if you’re looking for some degree of durability, for example in your bathroom, but you don’t like the very shiny appearance that you would get with a high-gloss paint.  Matte finishes offer a low-sheen appearance, with adequate durability and washability. Paints with a matte finish are suitable for any room in your house.
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Eggshell Interior Paint Finish

Eggshell has a balanced amount of sheen and can be referred to as a middle of the road finish between flat and semi-gloss sheens. Eggshell is one of the most versatile sheens. You can paint with eggshell finishes in almost any room in the house. If your walls tend to get scuffed, the eggshell finish gives you the ability to wash scuff marks away most of the time. Because of this washability factor, eggshell is a very good option for your kitchen and bathrooms, especially if a semi-gloss paint is a little too shiny for your taste. But it also has a nice appearance in rooms like living rooms or bedrooms when a flat or matte finish doesn’t satisfy your shine preferences.
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Semi-gloss Interior Paint Finish

Semi-gloss finishes are high sheen, with just a little less shine than a full gloss paint. The high shine quality of semi-gloss finishes, mean high durability as well. Semi-gloss paints are ideal for high traffic areas, woodwork or trim. This finish is extremely washable and scrubbable, also making it a common choice in bathrooms or kitchens. However, semi-gloss will show some wall imperfections as its shine will reflect light. Semi-gloss paint is not typically used on walls of living rooms or bedrooms where critical lighting and light reflectance occurs.
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Gloss Interior Paint Finish

A gloss paint has the highest reflective appearance and most shine of all the sheens. Gloss paints are the most durable finish and easiest to clean. For this reason, gloss paints are a popular option for the highest traffic areas and are commonly used on hand railings or doorways. Gloss is often selected for any other areas that you want to highlight, such as architectural features, due to its high shine. A downfall of the gloss finish is that it will highlight surface imperfections due to its high reflective quality. However, if you’re looking for a really shiny appearance on those unique areas or high-use areas, a gloss finish is the way to go.
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Room Recommended Sheen Benefit
Ceilings Flat Hides surface imperfections
Living / Dining Room Matte Hiding & Washability
Kitchen Semi-Gloss Easy stain removal
Bathroom Semi-Gloss Easy stain removal
Doors / Trim Semi-Gloss / Gloss Strong and durable
Bedrooms Flat / Matte Helps hide imperfections
Hallways Matte / Eggshell Washability