What Paint Sheen Should I Choose?

A common question we see when we’re working with customers is what paint sheen should I use for painting x?  There are quite a few available sheens and we’ll explore each one and let you know where, in our experience, we think they are best suited.  The available sheens (in order of least sheen to most sheen) are:

  • flat (no sheen)
  • matte (not available in all products)
  • eg-shel
  • satin (used synonymously with eg-shel)
  • semi-gloss
  • gloss

Before we dive into each, a quick note on color.  The darker the color, the more sheen will be apparent.  Meaning, a dark color such as black even in a flat may show up with some paint sheen.


Where do we use flat:

  • Primer - primer is always flat
  • Interior Ceilings - almost always flat.  Sometimes in bathrooms where humidity/moisture are a concern we’ll use a sheen on the ceiling
  • Interior Walls - flat will hide better, meaning if we’re dealing with imperfections in drywall, flat will cover them and look more uniform
  • Exterior stucco - to get a good match to existing stucco flat can be a great option


Flat hides better than anything with some sheen.  Interior walls painted in flat show less imperfections than those painted with a satin or eg-shel finish.  That’s why we use flat on ceilings, it looks better in the light and shadow.  Flat touches up well too.  Even paint that’s been on the wall for a while will touch up great in a flat sheen.


Flat marks up easy and doesn’t clean well.  Because there is no sheen, flat doesn’t wipe clean easily.


Where do we use matte:

  • Bathrooms - when customers want a flat sheen but are concerned about moisture in their bathrooms, we go to a matte
  • Interior walls - when the requirement is the least amount of sheen but the product is still cleanable
  • Exterior - never.  None of the exterior paints we work with regularly come in a matte sheen.


Matte is a cool sheen.  It only comes in the higher end of suppliers paint lines, so it’s durable and cleanable.  Matte reflects very little light though, so it hides imperfections better than glossier sheens.


Matte only comes in the more expensive coating products, meaning if you want a matte sheen it will add to your overall cost.

Eg-Shel / Satin

Where do we use:

  • Interior walls - most commercial paints we use come in eg-shel sheen.  Products for residential interiors such as Sherwin Williams SuperPaint don’t come in eg-shel, but come in low luster satin which is synonymous with eg-shel.
  • Interior trim - we use satin finish enamel when we’re enameling a stain grade wood.  Satin, being less shiny than semi-gloss hides the wood grain better.
  • Exteriors - everything.  Satin is the most common finish on exterior surfaces


Satin is highly durable and depending on the color is low to medium light reflection when dry.  On exteriors it reflects some light and delays fading.  On interiors in high traffic areas that get touched or marked up, it’s highly scrubbable and cleans well.


Because it reflects more light, imperfects are more visible in a satin finish than in a lower gloss finish.


Where do we use:

  • Interior trim - typically only if the trim is paint grade wood
  • Interior cabinets - typically only when the cabinets are paint grade wood
  • Exterior railings - metal hand rail or surfaces that see lots of hands
  • Metal doors
  • High traffic walls - walls that need to be easy to clean like in a showroom area


Semi gloss is a great option if a customer is looking for a smooth, glassy finish on their trim or cabinets.  We’ve never run semi-gloss on a residential interior on the walls due to it’s high sheen.  Semi-gloss is highly cleanable, meaning it’s great on surfaces that get lots of touches.  This can be important in a commercial paint application on metal doors or metal railings.


Semi-gloss reflects lots of light, so surfaces painted in this sheen will be shiny.  It also doesn’t hide well, so any imperfections in the painted surface will catch the light and be more noticeable.


Where do we use:

  • Residential - rarely on trim, never on walls or ceilings
  • Commercial - occasionally on doors, metal railings, stair stringers/risers, or other metal surfaces


Due to the high glossy sheen, gloss finish wipes clean easiest.


Gloss is really shiny.  It will reflect lots of light.  Normally used on metal surfaces.  If used on drywall, the drywall finish would need to be near perfect or all the small imperfections would be visible.

Hopefully this helps to give you an idea of what’s available in paint sheens and where we normally use them.  Some manufacturers have different words to describe the same paint sheen.  For instance we’ve seen some paints call semi-gloss a pearl finish.  Don’t get hung up on the terminology too much.  Consider what level of light reflection you’re looking for, what colors you’ll choose (dark or light), and how much traffic or touching the painted surfaces will receive and our estimators will be able to help recommend the best finish to suit your needs.

For professional interior and exterior painting services, contact Great Plains today!