Know Your Sheens

Sheen affects the appearance of your paint. Know the various types, and when to use them.

By Diane Franklin

Flat, eggshell, semi-gloss, gloss: You’ve likely encountered all these names of sheens on the paint store shelf. You may wonder which sheen works best for which surface or which room in your house. Here are some guidelines that will help you decide.

General Sheen Information

The first thing to know is that the higher the sheen, the easier it is to clean—and the more durable it will be. However, higher sheens also draw attention to wall imperfections.

Higher sheens usually come with a step-up in price as well. Darker colors also carry a bit more sheen than lighter colors, so if you’re thinking of a dark color in a semi-gloss, you actually might be happier with an eggshell or satin.

Flat or Matte Paints

Flats have the lowest gloss level of all paints, meaning they provide virtually no reflectivity and cover up imperfections in the wall very well. However, the paint itself is less durable and offers less scrubbability than higher-gloss paints. Flat paints also are less expensive, making them an attractive option for people on a budget.

Where to Use: Low-traffic areas, such as guest bedrooms, dining rooms or home offices

Eggshell Paints

Just like the eggshell for which they’re named, this sheen has a low-level reflectivity that is subtly elegant. Some might describe the finish as velvety, and the sheen is more obvious when viewed at an angle. Easier to clean and more durable than a flat finish, eggshell finishes are higher-priced than flats.

Where to Use: Moderate-traffic areas, such as living rooms, dining rooms, hallways, and bedrooms—but not bathrooms or kitchens

Satin Paints

Satin paints give walls and ceilings an attractive pearlescent sheen that is more noticeable than the velvety sheen of an eggshell finish. Satins are fairly easy to clean, but they don’t hide wall imperfections as well as eggshell or flat paints. They have moderate durability, and the price is comparable to that of an eggshell.

Where to use: Moderate- to high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms as well as bedrooms, dining rooms, living rooms and family rooms

Semi-Gloss Paints

Semi-glosses provide a glossy, reflective sheen and are very easy to clean. They can be used on doors, trim and cabinets but also in high-traffic areas, such as kitchens and baths. Semi-glosses clean up easily, making them a nice solution for areas in which dirt or grease are a problem. The price is a little higher, but keep in mind that semi-gloss paint will show the imperfections in the wall, so it may not be the best choice for older walls or those that have been patched or repaired.

Where to use: Moderate to heavy-traffic areas susceptible to grease or dirt such as kitchens and bathrooms

Gloss Paints

Gloss paints offer the highest reflectivity of any paint sheen. They are ultra-shiny, making them highly durable and easy to clean. Gloss paints are higher-priced but often bought in smaller quantities because the coverage area is more limited.

Where to use: Doors, trims, and cabinets

Get Painting

So now that you know your sheens, it’s time to get painting. Know what room you want to paint, the condition of your walls, the importance of cleanability and durability as well as your price point, and you should have no trouble picking the most appropriate sheen level for your project.

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