How to Choose the Right Paint Sheen For Your Room

Posted by: on June 11th, 2014 | 13 Comments
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How to Choose the Right Paint Sheen For Your Room


So you’ve been wanting to tackle that painting project in the kitchen or the bedroom for months now and you’ve finally found the right color for your room. So what sheen should you go with for the kitchen? The bedroom? Does it even matter?

Yes, the sheen of the paint can make a huge difference in your room or project! So here’s a quick guide to picking the right paint sheen for your next painting project.

Paints are available in a number of different sheens. Before you select the sheen that you will use for your room, it’s important to understand the qualities that each one has to offer.  Paints without a shine or sheen are referred to as flat or matte finishes. They diffuse the light reflecting off the paint– that is, the light bounces off the paint in many different directions, with little or no shine. A semi-gloss or glossy sheen reflects light more directly, much as a mirror reflects light, which will create a slight shine off the surface.

Nearly every sheen can be used in any room of the house, but some are better suited for high-traffic areas than others. If the sheen you want falls somewhere in between two styles, you can always mix them together to find a finish that falls somewhere in the middle.

No- and Low-Gloss Sheens (Flat, Matte and Eggshell)
Flat, or matte, finish is frequently used in new construction and on ceilings because it hides flaws extremely well. Because it doesn’t reflect light directly, imperfections in walls and ceilings are much less noticeable. Flat finishes are ideal for use on new drywall that has an imperfect taping job or where porous joint compound has been applied.

Eggshell, or low-luster, finishes are so named because the slight sheen they provide is similar in appearance to the surface of an egg. This slight sheen creates a soft, velvety finish. Satin sheens provide a slightly more reflective surface and are excellent at resisting mildew, dirt and stains, making them better suited to more frequently used rooms. They can withstand cleaning and light scrubbing better than flat or eggshell finishes.

  • Flat/matte paint provides a smooth, elegant finish
  • Flat sheens tend to absorb dirt and may be somewhat difficult to clean
  • Keep extra paint on hand to touch up nicks and scratches in flat sheens
  • Eggshell finishes are easier to wash than flat finishes and resist stains and scuffs
  • Eggshell and satin finishes offer more depth and warmth
  • Satin finishes can withstand moisture, making them ideal for kitchens and bathrooms

Semi-gloss and Glossy Sheens
Unlike lower-gloss sheens, semi-gloss and glossy sheens create a bright, shiny look. They are both durable and aesthetically pleasing. Glossy sheens do, however, show nearly every imperfection in a wall or ceiling’s surface, meaning it’s best to use them on walls with unmarred surfaces.

Semi-gloss finishes offer high resistance to moisture, though they may suffer a little from sticking. High-gloss sheens are brilliant, reflective finishes that are ideal for highlighting trim, railings, shutters and molding. Glossier finishes may be used on ceilings, but be sure the ceiling has no imperfections prior to applying.

  • Sheens with higher glosses brighten rooms
  • Semi-gloss and glossy sheens can be scrubbed and are easy to clean
  • Both sheens require more prep work and sanding to ensure smooth application
  • Semi-gloss sheens may be used in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Glossy sheens provide a look similar to plastic or enamel
Sheen Things to Consider Suggested Rooms
Flat/Matte Provides a smooth, subtle finish
Camouflages imperfections
Ideal for low-traffic areas
Diffuses light
Holds dirt and is more difficult to clean
Rubbing with cleanser may burnish the finish
Living room
Dining room
Family room
Eggshell/Low-Lustre Offers an elegant low-sheen finish
Best for low-traffic areas
Smooth surface
More washable than flat sheens
Living room
Dining room
Family room
Satin Can be wiped clean
Provides an elegant finish
Ideal for more active rooms
Extremely versatile
May be used indoors or outdoors
Family room
Laundry room
Guest bathroom
Dining room
Children’s bedroom
Semi-Gloss Can be scrubbed clean with ease
Smooth sheen reflects light directly to create shine
Ideal for high-traffic areas
Easy to wash
May be used indoors or outdoors
Gloss Can be scrubbed clean with ease
Offers a smooth, high-shine finish
Ideal for surfaces that require frequent washing


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  1. Thom says:

    We want to paint our interior wood railings gloss black, over the existing BEHR Premium Hi-gloss white. What primer should we use and can it be tinted black, or close to it? Should we use BEHR Ultra or the Premium?

  2. Tonia says:

    I painted my metal garage door with a satin paint. I intend to also paint the walk in door. My husband thinks the paint should have some shine to it. So my question is, can I paint over this with a semi gloss paint of the same color?

  3. Thanks for making the differences so clear. I was under the impression that “eggshell” was a color–an off-white tone–rather than a sheen. Reposting this article to my followers on Twitter.

  4. [...] There are 3 basic paint sheens: [...]

  5. [...] Its also important to know which sheen you will want. Learn more about that here. [...]

  6. Kevin Davies says:

    I think the statement that “[p]aints without a shine or sheen [...] absorb light while paints with a semi-gloss or glossy sheen reflect light” is incorrect. Gloss has to do with how surfaces reflect light — specular vs. diffuse — not whether they reflect light or not. If a surface absorbs light, it appears black. See

    • Craig Allen says:

      Good point. I made some changes to the text to reflect (no pun intended) your observation.

      Thanks for pointing that out, Kevin.

      -Craig, from The Home Depot

  7. [...] Here’s a helpful guide that breaks down the pros and cons of sheens and finishes to help you decide which paint to choose. [...]

  8. Candy says:

    If i want to paint my closet over, do I have to sand it? and what type of paint?

  9. Doris Aument says:

    I want to take down the popcorn ceilings in my house and put a textured ceiling up. I’m sure the reason that popcorn ceilings were put up were to hide any dings in the ceiling. How can I repaint the ceilings so they look nice but not from the 70′s?

    • Sarah says:

      If you want to get rid of your popcorn ceiling it’s very easy. All you have to do is put some water in a spray bottle and squirt the ceiling. Then scrape all the popcorn off. You might want to try to paint a base like kiltz, before painting it the color you want. I would pick a matte color to make it look modern and professional.

  10. Joyce Epperson says:

    I purchased Baer semi gloss cream color to paint over an almond semi gloss applied by the builder. It’s not covering well and I’ll need at least 2 coats and I’m disgusted with the poor coverage and work that this small great room will take. Let alone the cost. No vaulted ceilings. The paint specialist said it would cover well.

    • Darren Ryan says:

      Joyce, I’m sorry you aren’thappy with your purchase of BEHR Paint. Did you purchase BEHR Ultra which is paint and primer in one? If not, a coat of primer will do your projects and your budget wonders. I have learned that sometimes you can get away without priming or using an all-in-one paint like BEHR Ultra, but when I don’t necessarily know what the base paint is other than sheen, I always have to end up priming. Not always, but in my case the builder used a very poor grade of paint to begin with so that made for a bit of a struggle on my first couple of painting projects.

      I know that you are frustrated but please take the paint back to your store and talk with your paint specialist and/or manager. Explain to them in detail what the problems you are seeing are, what tools you are using, etc. I bet they can help you figure out how to get the coverage you want and how to make it easier for you!

      Keep me posted?

      Thanks for sharing Joyce and I hope we can help you get this resolved!