Each paint manufacturer has their own terms and some have a few more sheens, but I am highlighting the most common options to make it easier to decide. I always recommend using good quality paint. It will give better coverage, truer color, and more durability than budget gallons of paint.

Matte or Flat Paint Sheen

Matte, also known as flat by some paint companies is the lowest sheen and reflects the least amount of light off the surface. It is great for hiding flaws and slight imperfections in the surface you are painting. If your drywall or lathe and plaster surface has many imperfections, this finish will cover well and downplay those. This beauty comes at a cost however. Matte paint is the least scrubbable of all of the finishes.

Used for:

Best uses: large wall surfaces in lower traffic areas. Great for living rooms, ceilings, home offices, dens.

Eggshell Paint Sheen

The next step down the sheen ladder is eggshell. Named for its slightly dimply texture (like an eggshell), it is close to flat but has an almost imperceptible sheen. What this means is you get a bit more wipe ability while still getting the elegance of a low-sheen finish.


Eggshell is a terrific option for all of those places where you would like the soft elegance of a matte finish but want it to be practical and withstand cleaning. Best for moderate traffic areas like dining rooms, bedrooms, hallways and entryways.

Satin Paint Sheen

Stepping down from there is satin. Satin is a versatile option with a subtle sheen and improved wipe ability.


Windows, shutters, trim, interior doors, kitchens, and high traffic bathrooms.

Semi Gloss Paint Sheen

Semi gloss, just like it sounds has a noticeable sheen. Perfectly suited to highlight architectural details in your home. It is wipe able and durable.


Millwork, trim , doors, kitchen cabinets.

High Gloss Paint Sheen

High gloss, has a full-on reflective sheen. It offers maximum durability and cleanability. It brings elegant gloss to anything it is used on, but be aware that it will highlight imperfections in any surface. Proper prepping of surfaces will help it look its best.


Doors, trim, high traffic kitchen, or any furniture or application where you want high drama (see first image).

So there you have it. These are not strict rules but guidelines to help you decide. Knowing when to break the “rules” is an art unto itself so these are good general guidelines to help avoid costly mistakes.

Here’s a Pin cheat-sheet for you to save for future reference.

what paint sheen to use