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The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes

Last week, we went over how to narrow down your paint choices. Once you know the color you want, it’s time to choose the one with the right sheen. There’s not that many types of different paint finishes but it can still be confusing when choosing the right one! What’s the difference between satin and flat? Does it really matter? Do paints with an eggshell-finish have eggshell in them? Read on to learn more.

Why Paint Finishes Matter

The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes | WPL Interior Design
Photo by Jay Greene Photography

If you’re not familiar with buying paint, seeing all the different paint finishes can seem a bit overwhelming and confusing. After all, you probably just spent a lot of time trying to choose the perfect color. When looking at different paint finishes, you’ll want to consider the durability of the paint and the aesthetic. Some paint finishes are easier to wipe or clean but will be more reflective and glossy. Other types of paint will blend into your home better but may scuff more easily in a high-traffic area. So when it comes to choosing the right paint finish, you’ll want to find one with the right balance of durability and shine.

The Different Types of Paint Finishes

Paint companies may use a variety of terms for their different paint finishes. But generally, these are the ones you’ll see when you buy paint.

Matte and flat paint

Paints with a matte and flat finish are the best type of paint to hide imperfections on a surface. It hides bumps and scuffs well because this type of finish doesn’t reflect light, it absorbs it. You’ll also find that flat paint offers more coverage and is easier to touch up than glossier finishes because of its high pigment. However, flat paint doesn’t wipe easily, making it more difficult to clean. It’s best reserved for blemished surfaces that are in low-traffic areas.

Where to use it: Ceilings, closets, textured surfaces, low-traffic rooms

The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes | WPL Interior Design
Photo by Jay Greene Photography


Eggshell paints have a slightly higher sheen than flat paint, making it a little bit more durable. These paints are also easier to clean than flat paint; you can lightly wipe it down if you need but don’t scrub too hard! It’s less flexible when touching up as you’ll be able to tell where the new paint touches the old paint. If you end up with a scuff, you’ll get better results re-painting the whole wall.

Where to use it: Dining rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, medium-traffic rooms

The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes | WPL Interior Design
Photo by Jay Greene Photography


Satin and eggshell are sometimes used interchangeably, but if you see a paint company offer both eggshell and satin, the satin finish will be more durable. Paints with a satin finish are the perfect balance between matte and glossy. This means it won’t make imperfections on your surface obvious while still being able to handle the occasional wipe-down without damaging the paint. Use satin-finished paints in high-traffic rooms or rooms that get steamy or humid.

Where to use it: Bathrooms, laundry rooms, basements, high-traffic rooms, rooms with moisture

The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes | WPL Interior Design
Photo with Jay Greene Photography

Semi-gloss paint

Semi-gloss paint will start to have a higher sheen compared to flat, matte, eggshell, and satin finishes. It’s very durable and you can wipe away dirt and oil off it instead of having to touch it up or repaint. So why not use this type of finish for an entire wall? Because of its shine and gloss, which reflects light more harshly. Paint that is more reflective will also start to show more flaws on the surface it’s used on.

Where to use it: Woodwork, cabinetry, subtle finishes

High-gloss or full-gloss paint

High-gloss paint, as the name suggests, has the most shine out of all the paint. As the most reflective finish, it easily shows any imperfections on a surface. But it’s also the most durable and is best used in areas that get touched a lot or easily collect dirt, like kitchen cabinets and exterior doors. It’s also ideal for trim and those small areas that encounter a lot of foot traffic. 

Where to use it: Exterior doors, trim, molding, furniture, finishing touches

The Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes | WPL Interior Design
Photo by Andy Dean Photography

More Tips on Choosing the Right Paint Sheen

These recommendations on when to use which paint finishes are what is most common, but sometimes there may be special considerations. For instance, if you have kids who are active in your home, you may want to choose a paint finish that is more easily wipeable. That may mean using a satin finish instead of an eggshell or flat paint in a playroom or child’s bedroom. Another example is when using darker colors; darker shades tend to reflect light more than lighter colors, so you may want to choose a finish with less shine when using darker paint colors.

So when it comes to painting, there’s a lot to think about when choosing both the color and the finish. Keeping track of all the details, from what colors will match your existing furniture to which types of paint will last the longest, is what WPL Interior Design does best. Our design team will help you find the best painting selection to fit your design needs and lifestyle. 

To get started on your next painting project, contact WPL Interior Design today at 215-592-9570 or fill out our online design form!

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