How to Choose the Best Paint Finishes for Your Home

Once you’ve decided on the best paint colors for your home, you still have a decision to make: What’s the best paint finish for your project? A paint’s finish, or paint sheen, is the term for how much light is reflected off its surface. Paint finishes range from matte to high gloss with several options in between.

The right paint sheen will enhance the look of a surface, while the wrong sheen can affect performance and make imperfections stand out. Designers use different paint finishes to make colors appear more saturated, highlight architectural details, or add a touch of glamor to a space. Read on for more details about the different types of paint sheens and how to use them!

Why Use Different Paint Finishes in Your Home?

Most of us think of painting as a decorating decision since we use color to anchor the design of a space. However, painting also serves a functional purpose by protecting surfaces, hiding imperfections, and making them easier to clean. Different types of paint finishes offer various levels of durability and performance. The sheen also affects how colors appear, enhances plain surfaces and adds dimension to architectural details. Paint finishes range on a scale from flat (matte, non-reflective finishes) to high gloss (shiny, light-reflecting finishes). 

Benjamin Moore Paint Sheens, left to right: Flat, Eggshell and Semi-Gloss

In general, flatter paint finishes provide better coverage per gallon and are easier to apply, but they don’t stand up to scrubbing well. Glossy finishes are much easier to clean, but the shine will highlight any surface imperfections. Achieving a smooth finish with glossy paint also takes more skill.

In between flat and glossy, paint manufacturers offer additional finishes with various levels of gloss, coverage and durability. (Not all companies use the same terminology, but most offer versions of matte, low-luster, low-gloss and high-gloss finishes). 

A paint’s sheen affects how we see the depth of a color. Light colors appear brighter and more saturated with a high-gloss sheen, while dark colors appear even darker. Matte or flat finishes help colors recede into the background.

For example, this living room is painted entirely with Benjamin Moore Deep Ocean 2058-30 for a stunning design statement. Different sheens were used to create layering and depth: Eggshell on the walls, High Gloss on the trim, and Semi-Gloss on the ceiling.

Types of Paint Finishes & Where to Use Them

As long as you choose correctly between interior and exterior paint, you can technically use any paint finish on any surface. However, painters and decorators do have their “rules” about what should go where, and they have good reason! 

High-traffic areas like hallways, stairwells and kids’ rooms do best with scrubbable paint finishes. Uneven, patched walls will look better in a matte finish. Cabinetry and interior trim is usually finished in a glossier sheen – not only because it highlights the woodwork, but because it’s easier to keep clean. So when a professional says you must paint your trim with semi-gloss or your bathroom walls in satin, listen to their expertise. Here’s breakdown of where each paint finish is typically used:

Comparison chart of best places in the home to use different finishes

Benjamin Moore’s extensive selection of products includes seven distinct paint finishes. Let’s look more closely at the individual paint sheens and the best place to use each type of finish.

Flat Paint Finish

Flat is a popular paint finish for walls, especially drywall. Flat paint finishes do not reflect light so they actually have no sheen at all. The lack of reflection gives the paint’s pigment a denser appearance. It’s more forgiving of flaws and has excellent hiding ability so it will reliably create a uniform surface. 

Best places to use a flat paint finish

Flat paint is typically used on ceilings throughout a home, and also on walls in low-traffic areas like a bedroom, dining room or closet. Use Flat paint on textured walls like exterior stucco or interior “knockdown” finishes for its excellent coverage. Flat-finish paint isn’t the best choice for any area that may gather fingerprints or dirt; scrubbing Flat-painted walls can leave noticeable “burnishing” marks. However, Flat paint is easier to blend in when you repaint, so it’s perfect for a DIY paint project. 

Matte Paint Finish

A Matte finish paint looks nearly identical to Flat paint but it’s more durable. Like Flat paint, Matte paint is easy to use so it’s an excellent choice if you’re a first-time painter; it’s also high-hiding and has excellent depth of color. 

Best places to use a matte paint finish

Benjamin Moore Regal®Select Interior Matte (548) is one of our favorite options for its easy application and smooth results. Matte finish paint holds up better than Flat paint when washed, so it’s a better choice of paint sheen to use in living rooms.  

While you won’t typically see matte finishes recommended for walls that require frequent cleaning, Benjamin Moore does offer one exception: AURA Bath & Spa. This specialty paint is the only product on the market that offers the smooth even finish of a matte sheen capable of withstanding the constant cleaning a bathroom requires. Get more details in our AURA Bath & Spa Review.

Eggshell Paint Finish

Eggshell finish has a low sheen that appears matte, but has a slight reflectance across the surface – just like the shell of an egg. Eggshell paint’s barely-there glow makes colors richer and is easy to clean. Its low-sheen surface means you can usually wipe off dirt and fingerprints without leaving marks.

Best places to use an eggshell paint finish

It’s quite suitable for DIY application, although you’ll want to pay attention – if it’s applied carelessly you might see lap marks. Because of its low sheen an Eggshell paint finish can accommodate touch ups if needed. Eggshell sheen is an extremely popular finish that’s recommended for use throughout the home.

Pearl Paint Finish

Benjamin Moore’s Pearl paint finish has a slightly shinier surface that offers a soft gleam and higher durability against scuffs. This beautiful and easy-clean finish is ideal for walls in high traffic areas like a foyer, mud room or kitchen that are wiped down more often. 

Best places to use a pearl paint finish

Pearl finish paint should be applied carefully; like any glossy paint it is more likely to show lap marks, brush strokes and other flaws. The glossy sheen adds dimension to wainscoting and trim, but it’s easier to apply than a high-gloss paint and covers well. It’s also mildew-resistant so it’s a good choice for high humidity spaces like bathrooms and laundry rooms. Choose a Pearl sheen for an elegant, rich finish that adds depth and dimension to a space.

Satin Paint Finish

Similar to a Pearl finish, a Satin paint sheen has a higher gloss on the surface to make it more washable and more durable than Eggshell or Flat. It’s a popular choice for walls when an Eggshell finish isn’t durable enough but a Semi-Gloss paint has too much shine. 

Best places to use a satin paint finish

On interior walls, you’ll love stain-resistant Satin sheen paint for the foyer, hallway, kitchen or bathroom. Or create low-key contrast by using Satin on the trim and Eggshell on walls throughout the home. Satin finish paint also adds rich definition to exterior trim around windows and doors. If a glossy front door isn’t your style, a Satin sheen is a low-lustre wall paint to consider. Like any glossy finish, it should be applied with care.

Semi-Gloss Paint Finish

A Semi-Gloss sheen has a noticeably glossier finish that’s ideal for highlighting millwork, trim and doors. Glossy paint finishes call attention to molding and decorative carvings, and make colors appear richer.

Best places to use a semi-gloss paint finish

The Semi-Gloss sheen is available in most Benjamin Moore interior paints but we like their ADVANCE®Interior Semi-Gloss for its smooth, furniture-like finish. To avoid brush marks, apply Semi-Gloss paint to a well-prepared surface with a paint sprayer; or hire a professional painter. A Semi-Gloss finish is a popular choice for kitchen cabinets because it highlights cabinet details, is durable, and is easy to wipe clean. It also provides an elegant, low-maintenance finish for interior woodwork. Combine Semi-Gloss trim and cabinetry with a Matte or Eggshell wall finish for contrast.

High Gloss Paint Finish

Known for its mirror-like finish, a High-Gloss sheen is extremely durable and easy to clean. Like other glossy finishes, it enhances paint colors and adds elegant shine to walls, woodwork and furniture.

Best places to use a high gloss paint finish

High-Gloss paints require careful surface preparation to make sure there are no imperfections; even the slightest bump or dent will stand out once a High-Gloss paint is applied. For this reason we recommend hiring a professional painter to prep the space and using a paint sprayer instead of a brush. High-Gloss finishes are loved by interior designers for their dramatic effect and the way they elevate colors with a glamorous shine. Use a High-Gloss sheen for elegant cabinetry in a library or kitchen; add drama to a powder room or entry; or paint your interior doors a distinctive color.

Benjamin Moore makes different finishes available in their Regal Select, ADVANCE, and AURA interior paints. Knowing whether a paint finish is washable or scrubbable, and whether it cleans up with soap and water, is a big help in making a decision.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a paint finish is the condition of the area you want to paint. If you plan to use semi-gloss or high-gloss paint, the walls or woodwork should be smooth and blemish-free. Light playing across a shiny surface highlights anything that stands out. So fill all dents, caulk all seams, and sand the surface really well to prepare for a glossy finish. If it’s not possible to achieve a perfectly smooth surface, consider using a Satin or Pearl finish paint to achieve a low-lustre gleam instead.

Get Benjamin Moore Paints Delivered to Your Door!

With seven distinct paint sheens and a vast selection of over 3,500 colors, Benjamin Moore paints offer homeowners limitless opportunities for creativity and customization. You can find a wide range of Benjamin Moore products at Ring’s End, including the popular Benjamin Moore Regal Select and AURA paints. Shop in-store or online — we ship anywhere in the U.S! And our color samples make it easy to find the perfect paint colors for your project.

Whether you’re an avid DIY enthusiast or prefer to hire professionals, with the right paint sheen you can feel confident that you’ll love the end result! 

Paint Finishes FAQs

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