Choosing paint can be a difficult and daunting task – of the thousand shades of white, one may be too gray, another too green or too yellow. On many occasions, I’ve walked into a client’s home and found small patches of various shades of paint on the walls where colors are being “tested.” But what clients don’t realize is that the paint finish, or sheen, is just as important as the color they’re meticulously debating.
What is Paint Sheen? (1)
The sheen of any paint refers to the way it does or does not reflect light. Part of what causes a difference in the amount of reflection is the color of the paint. Every color absorbs some light and reflects some light. The exceptions are black and white. Black absorbs all light and white absorbs none, reflecting it instead. Every other color will do some of both.
The other thing that describes how much light a paint color will reflect is called sheen. There are a few different types of sheen: flat/matte, eggshell/stain, semi-gloss and hi-gloss. There are pros and cons to each type. So, which sheen should I use for my space?
► Flat/Matte (2)
Flat paint or matte paint has more pigment than any other finish, which is why it’s also known as concealer paint. It’s completely nonreflective (and therefore has the least amount of sheen), so the paint will soak up any light directed at it.
Flat paint tends to be easier to apply than other finishes, and it also usually a less expensive option.
You should be using flat paint on walls and areas that have a lot of bumps, scratches, or holes. Since it can conceal these blemishes easily, it’ll be the one paint finish you’ll want to be using.
It’s best for low-traffic rooms that have a ton of light like offices and more formal rooms, like dining rooms.
You shouldn’t use flat paint on high-traffic areas, like bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms because it’s the hardest to clean. But, if you’re using a high-quality flat paint, you’ll be able to scrub away any imperfections on the wall after 30 days of painting the surface.
Also important to keep in mind: flat paint is not resistant to moisture, making it the worst choice for a bathroom wall.
► Eggshell/Satin (3)
You can’t really go wrong with eggshell finish on your walls. Sometimes referred to as a satin finish, eggshell has slightly more luster than a flat finish but you won’t be left with shiny walls. It also resists stains better than flat and can be wiped with a wet rag.
Eggshell finishes are used in bathrooms, kitchens, kids’ rooms and other hi-traffic areas but it’s important to remember that satin paint will show any flaws in its application (i.e. brush strokes), so if you’re a first-time DIY painter looking for something durable yet forgiving, consider opting for semigloss instead.
► Semi-Gloss (3)
Semi-gloss is one step down in the realm of shiny (second only to a hi-gloss finish) and is a compromise between easy to clean and easy on the eyes. Tougher than eggshell, it will show a bit less wear. It reflects even more light when dry though, so if there are any imperfections on your walls before you paint, they’ll stand out.
Semigloss stands up the best to water and cleaning, so it’s a good choice for a kids’ bedroom, basement or bathroom. This finish is also often used for trim, doors, cabinetry and furniture.
► Hi-Gloss (1)
This is the top end of the sheen/gloss spectrum and is the shiny, hard surface you see on cabinets, trim, baseboards and even furniture.
It’s really too shiny for walls because it reflects all of the light and leaves a sparkling surface.
Because a glossy sheen is hard, it is very easy to clean…many marks wipe right off. When it comes to practical, with a little pizzazz, you can’t beat glossy.
► Lighting (1)
Another consideration when choosing a paint sheen is the lighting in the room. This is important with both artificial and natural lighting.
Artificial lighting will interplay with the sheen and color of your paint. LED and fluorescent light will give off a cool, bluish tone in the room. Incandescent or halogen bulbs will reflect yellow and golden tones, which will feel warmer.
If you are fortunate to have a space with lots of windows, the effect of the natural light will influence the result of the paint sheen.
For help selecting the right paint colors and paint sheen for your home, contact Talie Jane Interiors at
All images courtesy of Pinterest