Everything You Need to Know About Paint Sheen

Often when sifting through paint options, you’ll find many include a description of the paint’s sheen. That’s right — choosing a paint goes beyond just color! So, what exactly is a sheen, and what does it mean for your paint?

What even is a sheen?

By definition, a paint’s sheen is simply its level of glossiness. Typically, the spectrum ranges from glossy (maximum sheen) to matte or flat (no sheen).

Glossy sheens reflect light at more direct angles, creating a shiny or mirror-like appearance; matte sheens reflect light more evenly, so it won’t create any kind of glare.

Between those two extremes are various levels of sheen, from eggshell to satin to semi-gloss.

Sometimes these levels of sheen are also referred to as finishes.

How do different sheens affect the paint?

While the main difference between sheens is how reflective of light they are, the paint’s sheen can affect its finished look in other ways as well. Higher-gloss sheens typically are easier to clean via scrubbing.

More matte sheens, on the other hand, are better at hiding imperfections due to their non-reflective nature.

Which sheen should my paint have for this project?

Which sheen you should choose usually comes down to where the paint is going to be applied and how highly trafficked that area is.

As mentioned earlier, higher sheens will hold up to more cleaning, so they’re ideal for areas like kitchens or family rooms that will be more frequently in use. Lower sheens work better for bedrooms or dining rooms that see less traffic.

Another factor to consider when picking sheen is the paint’s color. Very dark colored paints contain more pigment, which ups the level of sheen it can hold.

If you’re painting black or another dark color, try moving down a notch or two on the sheen scale to keep its reflection from being shinier than you want.

Types of Sheen

As a general guide, here are some different sheen levels from high to low and where they’re best or most frequently used:

  • High Gloss is best for areas that will be touched the most: cabinets, doors, window trim. Its high sheen makes it easier to clean. However, it’s probably too shiny for interior walls, and it will show any imperfections on the surface, so don’t skip the prep work!
  • Semi-Gloss is durable like the high gloss and can be used in a lot of the same areas. It’s good for areas that may face lots of moisture, like kitchens and bathrooms. And it’s a solid choice for trim and chairs.
  • Satin is a lustrous finish that’s easy to clean, ideal for high traffic areas. Touch ups and repairs may be tricky, as satin tends to show flaws clearly—but still a good option for family rooms, foyers, or dining rooms.
  • Eggshell has a subtle luster to it, so it’s a great choice if you don’t want a completely flat sheen. It has great coverage and hides imperfections well, but won’t hold up to constant cleaning, so it’s a good choice for spaces that won’t experience too much traffic or scuffs like dining rooms, adults’ bedrooms, and some living rooms.
  • Flat or matte almost completely absorbs light, so it won’t have a glare that gives away imperfections in the wall. It also tends to be denser in pigment, which can translate to saving money and time applying it. But you’re likely to take off paint as well as grime when trying to clean it, so keep it to low-traffic, low-mess areas.

Picking the right sheen of paint can really add a nice touch to your completed space, so make sure you choose carefully!