Skip to content

Ultimate Paint Finish Guide – What Paint Sheen To Use Where

    This paint sheen guide will help you decide what paint finish is best for your space. Get tips for how to choose interior paint finish, a list of what paint finishes designers use, as well as a breakdown of the most common paint paint sheen types.

    How to choose paint finishes the ultimate guide

    Starting a painting project soon and curious about what paint sheen to use where? Choosing the best paint finish (or sheen) for your specific project is so important.

    Not only do the different paint sheen levels affect the overall finished look, but also the durability of your paint and how it holds up over time.

    There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the perfect sheen for your space.

    This paint finish guide will give you simple guidelines to follow when selecting between the most common interior paint finish options.

    What are the different paint finishes for interior paint?

    There are 5 different paint finish types to choose from when selecting your paint: high-gloss, semi-gloss, satin, eggshell, and matte or flat.

    High-gloss sheen has the most reflective appearance giving it a shiny finish, while flat or matte finishes absorb the most light, making it the least reflective (aka no shine).

    All the other sheens fall somewhere in the middle, each with their own purpose.

    Paint Sheen Levels

    Let’s break down the different interior paint finish options to see which one is best for the room you’re planning to paint.

    1. High-Gloss Sheen

    High-gloss is the most durable sheen, and has the most stain resistance. It’s tough, easy to clean, and provides a bright shiny look that usually makes paint colors appear a bit lighter. 

    So what’s the downside? If they’re so durable, why wouldn’t you use high-gloss for everything?

    Well, high-gloss paint requires more prep-work, and can require more coats of paint to achieve a proper finish. This is because the shiny sheen makes surface imperfections much more visible.

    Durability aside, high-gloss paint does not look good on ceilings, and most people don’t prefer the look in bedrooms, and living areas.

    However, high-gloss is a great choice for cabinets, interior & exterior doors, and other high traffic or high humidity applications like kitchens and bathrooms.

    The bright, high shine finish can also look great on trim, windows, shutters and molding. 

    2. Semi-Gloss Sheen

    Semi-gloss paint retains most of the same durability and stain resistance as high-gloss paint, but with less of the shiny, reflective appearance. 

    Although it’s slightly less durable, the tradeoff can be worth it to improve the look (if you aren’t into the shiny look). Semi-gloss sheen is an excellent compromise between appearance and durability.

    Semi-gloss paint can be used in all the same applications as high-gloss. It’s perfect for cabinets, interior & exterior doors, kitchens, bathrooms, trim, windows, shutters, and molding.

    Related: Best White Paint Colors For Interiors & Exteriors

    3. Satin Sheen

    For rooms where you want to avoid the shiny look but still need some stain resistance and durability, look no further than satin sheen. The satin paint finish is the most popular paint sheen type for interior walls.

    Satin sheen is a good choice for almost any room type. It’s a happy medium that has good durability and acceptable stain resistance without the glossy appearance of the previous two paint finishes.

    Satin sheen is great for dining rooms, kids rooms, hallways, and living areas. 

    If you dislike glossy finishes and are willing to do a bit more scrubbing during cleaning sessions, you can make the satin sheen work in kitchens, bathrooms, on molding, or other high traffic / high humidity applications.

    It’s not really ideal, but it will get the job done as long as you don’t place too high of a demand on the durability of the paint.

    4. Eggshell Sheen

    Eggshell paint finish is one level up from matte (or flat). This makes it almost entirely non-reflective, however, it’s slightly more durable and a little bit easier to clean than matte or flat finishes.

    I generally recommend using a flat paint finish on ceilings, however if you want to keep things simple and use the exact same paint throughout most of your home, eggshell is an excellent option. This is a popular Sherwin-Williams interior paint sheen and is a good choice for the ceilings & walls of nearly every room in your home.

    5. Matte or Flat

    Paint companies offer either matte or flat for their least reflective paint sheen. These are two different labels of the exact same finish.

    Matte and flat finishes are minimally reflective, so they essentially have no shine. Additionally, they excel at at hiding surface imperfections.

    The matte finish absorbs light instead of reflecting it. It’s this non-reflective property that makes matte finishes ideal for hiding imperfect spots on your walls. However, the ability to hide imperfections comes at the cost of durability and stain resistance. 

    With flat paint, you don’t need to be quite as diligent with surface prep, and less coats are needed to achieve a smooth, even finish.

    Another benefit to this interior paint finish is that it’s easy to apply touchup paint on a small section of wall, and it’s usually not noticeable.

    This sheen is perfect for ceilings. I recommend painting all the ceilings in your home with matte or flat paint. It’s also well suited for walls with low durability needs.

    Living rooms, adult bedroom walls, as well as home offices are also good candidates for this paint sheen. 

    Tip: For a sophisticated look, use matte or flat paint finishes wherever the extra durability of glossy finishes are not needed. 

    What is the best paint finish for interior walls?

    Now that we’ve covered the different paint sheen levels, let’s dive into the most common interior paint finishes broken down by each room. Below is a good general-rule-of-thumb for how to choose paint finish for interior walls.

    Best Paint Finish for Living Room

    The most popular paint sheen for living areas including living rooms, family rooms, bonus rooms and sometimes even bedrooms, is eggshell sheen.

    The subtle, non-reflective appearance of the eggshell paint finish gives off a cozy vibe making it the perfect choice for a room where you like to snuggle up on the couch with a good book or catch up on your latest Netflix binge.

    When selecting a paint for your living room, you can’t go wrong with eggshell. (Looking for the next best option? Satin is a close second!)

    Related: Most Popular Gray Paint Colors

    Best Paint Finish for Bedroom Walls

    Generally, eggshell sheen is also going to work really well on bedroom walls. However, if you’re choosing a paint finish for a kids’ bedroom, you mayyy want to go up to a satin or even semi-gloss finish to make it easier to wipe down tiny fingerprints (or crayon marks… #iykyk).

    Don’t have young children living in the home and looking to achieve a more modern & fresh vibe? A matte or flat finish can look really great on adult bedroom walls. It’s soft, forgiving appearance will give the entire room a cozy, peaceful feel. Perfect for catching some zzz’s.

    Psssttt… Need help making your bedroom a place of zen? Check out the post I wrote titled 20 Popular Bedroom Decorating Trends & Ideas.

    Best Paint Finish for Bathrooms

    Here’s where the paint finish type really becomes important. In rooms with lots of moisture & condensation, it’s best to choose a paint sheen with a higher shine & glossier appearance.

    High-gloss and semi-gloss both work really well in bathrooms. My personal preference is semi-gloss on bathroom walls, and high-gloss on bathroom cabinets, trim & moulding.

    Not only will the glossier paint sheens be more durable up against moisture (and steam for all my fellow scalding hot shower takers), but it will make cleaning a breeze! And let’s be honest – anything to make cleaning the bathroom easier is a good thing!

    Best Paint Finish for Kitchens

    Similar to bathrooms, choosing a glossier paint sheen for the kitchen is a wise choice. The best paint sheen for the kitchen is semi-gloss. (High-gloss would work great too!)

    I recently saw a post on Instagram that said something along the lines of…

    "Messy kitchens sometimes get the most done."  

    While that may be true, we still want it to be easy to wipe down that messy kitchen after an epic baking sesh. Am I right?

    That’s why high-gloss and semi-gloss paint finishes are perfect for kitchens. Super durable, high-shine that can easily be wiped down, and holds up well in high humidity. Check, check, check!

    Best Paint Finish for Cabinets & Trim

    When painting cabinets and/or trim, you’ll want to stick to a paint sheen with at least a little bit of shine. High-gloss and semi-gloss are good choices for cabinets since they’re usually found in high humidity applications such as kitchens & bathrooms.

    For baseboards and trim, you can get away with selecting satin paint sheen but you really can’t go wrong with semi-gloss or high-gloss. (See my tip below for choosing a paint sheen if you’re painting the same color on both walls & trim.)

    Interior Paint Finish Quick Guide

    • High-Gloss: Best used for cabinets, interior & exterior doors, and high traffic areas or rooms with high humidity (kitchens, bathrooms, etc.)
    • Semi-Gloss: Best used for cabinets, interior & exterior doors, high traffic or high humidity applications
    • Satin: Best used for dining rooms, kids’ rooms, and hallways
    • Eggshell: Best used for family rooms, living rooms, media rooms (or bonus rooms) and bedrooms
    • Matte or Flat: Best used for ceilings, adult bedrooms or master suite, and home offices

    Tip: When choosing a paint finish for trim & molding, a good rule of thumb is to select a sheen that is one level up in shine than what you chose for your walls. This is especially true if you’re using the same paint color for walls & trim.

    For example, if you chose eggshell finish for your living room walls, satin would make a great choice for the trim & molding in that space.

    Selecting the best paint sheen for your next painting project takes a little more effort than just blindly choosing a Sherwin-Williams interior paint finish at the last second while you checkout at the paint counter. #guilty

    While it can be a little overwhelming mixing paint finishes and colors within your home (all while trying to maintain a cohesive look, my hope is that the paint sheen tips above will give you some simple guidelines to keep in mind when browsing the different interior paint finish options.

    Related: How To Choose The Best Paint Color for Your Space

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Below are a few answers to some commonly asked questions when it comes to interior paint finishes.

    What paint finish do designers use?

    Most interior designers follow the guidelines detailed above when choosing a paint finish, keeping in mind the specific applications for each paint sheen type, yet I’ve found that eggshell & satin paint sheens are most commonly used by interior designers.

    Best type of paint for ceilings?

    Matte (or flat) paint sheen looks best on ceilings, offering a smooth non-reflective finish that also hides imperfections.

    What type of paint for interior walls?

    Eggshell and satin are most common on interior walls when painting a room with low probability of moisture & condensation (i.e. kitchens and bathrooms).

    Is eggshell or satin better for walls?

    Depends on the specific room, and personal preference! Eggshell will offer a slightly more matte finish, while satin gives you a little bit more wipe-ability for keeping walls smudge-free.

    What paint finish do most people use?

    Satin is a common choice for most people when selecting interior paint finishes, with eggshell being a close runner up.

    Do designers use flat or eggshell paint?

    While flat (or matte) paint finishes hide imperfections and offer a soft appearance, eggshell is more often chosen by designers to give their clients a slightly more durable option that is still semi-flat and easy to apply touchup paint when needed.

    Want my A-to-Z blueprint on how to design a room that’s beautiful and stylish?

    Fresh paint is an affordable way to give your space a whole new look. I hope you found this paint sheen guide helpful!

    Let me know if you have any questions on how to choose an interior paint finish for your space. Which paint sheen from the list is your go-to? Do you have a favorite?.

    My Top Painting Tips & Resources

    Helping people create cohesive interior design without breaking the bank is one of my biggest passions. I’ve written several articles to help streamline and take all of the stress out of choosing paint colors for your home. Check all of them out here.

    Pssstttt…a better way to test paint colors in your home 👇🏻

    There’s only one way to really know if a paint color will look good on your walls…actually sampling the color up on your walls.

    Yes, you can go to your local paint store and buy a few tiny cans of sample paint colors, then paint little patches all over your walls. (Don’t forget to paint two coats!)

    BUT…for the easiest, no mess way to test out paint colors in your home, check out these Peel-and-Stick Paint Samples from Samplize. ​

    I love that they’re made with 2 coats of REAL paint and the large 9″ x 14.75″ size gives you a good idea of what the actual color looks like on your walls. Plus it’s big enough to wrap around a corner which can be really helpful depending on the area you’re planning on painting.

    All you need to do is peel and stick. (Or you can tack them up). You can move them from wall to wall and room to room.

    Tip: Be sure to look at the samples both in natural light and with your indoor lights on. Check back throughout the day to see how the undertones look in different natural light as the sun moves across the sky.

    After learning about Samplize, I use their peel-and-stick samples for every painting project and recommend them to anyone that even mentions the idea of painting their home. They have almost every paint color from all of the major paint brands.

    👉🏻 Use my discount code: JOYFULLY5OFF at checkout to receive $5 off your first order.

    Hope this was helpful and gave you some ideas on which paint finish to use where. Happy painting!

    Interior Paint Finish Guide