How to Choose The Right Interior Paint Finish

A flat finish or a gloss finish? Which is better for what part of your home?

So you've decided it's time to tackle that paint project. It's been on your list for a while. Whether it's a bathroom, a living room, a kitchen, or a bedroom, the first two questions you ask are always the same. What color do I want and what finish do I want? The color part is up to you. The best finish does tend to depend on other factors outside of personal preference. No worries, we've laid it all out for you.

Flat

Flat paint provides the least amount of sheen of any of the interior finish options. It’s completely non-reflective, which makes it a fantastic choice for imperfect walls. Imperfect walls are damaged walls. They have lots of bumps, dings, or scratches, and the non-reflective nature of flat paint conceals these imperfections, which is why it is commonly called "concealer" paint.

Flat paint has three downsides though. It is difficult to clean, it chips easily, and it is not resistant to moisture. We recommend not using it in high traffic areas that expose the walls to potential damage, like kitchens, and places where it is vulnerable to moisture damage, like bathrooms. This lack of durability makes flat paint hard to wash without damaging it. It won’t stand up to hard scrubbing. However, it is easy to touch-up without the work being obvious because of the lack of shine.

Matte

The term “matte” is often used interchangeably with flat paint, but there can some small variance between the two. While flat paint has minimal sheen, matte paint does have a slightly larger amount of sheen, which is still a very small amount. This will allow it to be a little easier to clean than flat.

It’s worth noting here that there isn’t an industry standard for paint finishes, so what one company considers matte may be called flat by another company. They are very similar finishes, and some places won’t even acknowledge the difference.

Eggshell

Eggshell is a good middle of the road option between the super shiny high-gloss paints and the totally flat varieties. It has slightly more sheen to it than a flat finish, which gives a subtle shine that is pretty but not overwhelming. It’s also a much more washable finish than flat. It won’t chip from some scrubbing like flat or matte, which makes it easier to keep clean.

The downside of eggshell, which will reappear with other shinier finishes, is that it is difficult to touch-up well. The shine of the paint brings out imperfections in the wall, and touching up the wall can create unevenness that will be more apparent with eggshell than with a matte or flat finish.

Satin

Satin paint offers a smooth finish that is a step up in sheen from that of eggshell. It, like eggshell, is a popular choice on account of its moderateness. Satin is easy to scrub and clean without any fear of scrubbing off the finish itself. It’s shiny, but not so shiny that it is overwhelming or annoying.

As you increase the sheen of your finish though, you’ll bee highlighting the imperfections of your wall more and more. That most definitely applies with satin paint, so you’ll want to be aware of this before deciding on satin. Because it stands up well to cleaning, satin shouldn't need touch-ups very often. Touch-ups create unevenness in the wall that becomes apparent with shiny paint, so it's best to avoid when possible. Satin is great in rooms like the kitchen and family room, where it has the potential to get dirty but not as much to wear heavily.

Semi-gloss

Now we’re really getting up there in the shininess. Semi-gloss is like satin paint on steroids. It’s shinier, even easier to clean, more stain-resistant, and even worse about highlighting those imperfections. Painting an entire interior wall with semi-gloss can sometimes require a bit of prep work beforehand to minimize dents and other imperfections.

It’s a great finish option for walls that see a lot of grime and dirt, such as a kids' playroom or a bathroom. While deciding between satin and semi-gloss is mostly up to personal preference, semi-gloss is typically a little less popular on account of its increased sheen. Some feel it is too shiny to have in large quantities in a home and opt to use it only as an accent.

High-gloss

High-gloss is at the very top of the sheen spectrum. It’s extremely shiny and will announce every little imperfection in the wall, no matter how small. High-gloss is probably not a great option for rooms you spend a significant amount of time in, as the sheen can be overwhelming. However, it’s a wonderful tool to accent less shiny coats in your home.

High-gloss looks great around windows and on doors. It can make those parts of your house really pop and look great. Door and window frames don’t typically have as many imperfections as an interior wall (unless you damage them somehow). High-gloss can also work well in a bathroom.

Lonnie Hagen

Guest Blogger, Accent Roofing

Lonnie Hagen has over 30 years experience in residential and commercial roofing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.