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Design + Decorate

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Paint Sheens

Published on:


written by:

Carrie Barker


There are SO many decisions when building a home! SO MANY! One of the decisions that many people have trouble with is paint color. Guess what … it doesn’t end there! Not only do you have to choose a color, but you also have to choose paint sheen. And certain sheens go best in certain areas of your home. Say what?!?!

No worries! I have created a cheat sheet for paint sheens for YOU!

In this post, I’ll break down the different paint sheens, as well as what sheen works best in different parts of your home.

At the end of the post, I’ll tell you what I did in my own home! I have to be honest … I kinda broke the rules and it has worked out just fine!


Simply put, paint sheen refers to the amount of shine in paint. As the sheen goes up, the shine goes up. And as the sheen goes up, the durability of the paint goes up. SO … the shinier the paint, the higher the durability (i.e. the higher the ability to stand up to dirty, sticky fingers touching it).

When choosing paint sheen, you should always consider the amount of traffic the room gets, the level of moisture in the air, and the condition of the wall. A higher shine means more durability, BUT it also means higher light reflection so wall defects will be more obvious.

For paint to hold up well over time, choose a finish that is durable enough for the situation! Example … high sheen (or high shine) paints are typically easier to keep clean so this is a great choice for kitchen cabinets.



Flat sheen (the most basic!) is ideal for hiding wall blemishes because it does NOT reflect light. It is low sheen, non-reflective, and ideal for low-traffic areas and ceilings.

Flat has the most pigment out of all sheens and therefore provides the most coverage. It is also the least expensive paint sheen (price increases as sheen/shine increases), so builders typically choose flat paint to save money and time. Just because it is the most chosen paint by builders doesn’t make it the best option!

It is very difficult to clean fingerprints off of flat paint … typically a damp rag will pull the paint off the wall.

IDEAL USE: Flat paint is best used on ceilings and in low-traffic areas such as living rooms and dining rooms. Flat paint is NOT ideal in rooms with high moisture (like a bathroom).


Eggshell sheen is the perfect medium-durability paint finish. It provides a very soft and minimal shine, but enough that it doesn’t look (blah) like flat paint.

Eggshell is easier to clean than flat paint but isn’t AS easy to clean as the slightly glossier (higher sheen) paint finishes. I personally think it is the perfect paint finish for interior walls!

An eggshell finish WILL show wall imperfections, but there is a remedy for this. I literally (and quite randomly) learned about this remedy WHILE writing this post! I visited a showcase home my builders are working on, and they introduced me to the term ‘level 5 finish’. This is a bit costly, but will hide the wall imperfections and provide a smooth wall surface! You can Google ‘level 5 finish’ to learn more!

IDEAL USE: Eggshell can be used in nearly any room … family room, living room, dining room, bedrooms, and hallways.


Satin sheen is highly durable and easy to clean … which makes it an excellent choice for high-traffic areas and areas with some exposure to moisture (e.g. the bathroom).

Satin is in the middle of the sheen continuum so it can be used in just about any interior room and on trim (e.g. crown molding), BUT it does have a slight shine … enough to reveal paint flaws such as roller or brush strokes. The slight shine in the satin finish also accentuates wall surface imperfections, so make sure to do thorough prep work before painting!

IDEAL USE: Satin is a very versatile paint sheen and is ideal in just about any interior space … walls, trim work, doors, and ceilings.


Semi-gloss sheen is HIGHLY durable and stands up well to repeated cleanings. This makes it a great choice for trim work and cabinets that are touched often (with dirty, grimy kiddo hands)!

Semi-gloss works well in rooms with high moisture and drips (i.e. bathrooms and kitchen). It’s easy to clean and typically is highly stain-resistant. I personally wouldn’t use it on walls, but I imagine some people do in their bathrooms.

It’s higher on the sheen (shine) spectrum, so it does reflect light and therefore highlights surface imperfections. Thorough prep work and smooth surfaces are a MUST when using a semi-gloss finish!

IDEAL USE: Semi-gloss is a great choice for cabinets, doors, bathrooms, and trim work that is at kiddo level (e.g. chair rails).


High-gloss sheen has a brilliant and VERY shiny appearance. It is ultra-shiny and light reflective, so it shows EVERY bump, smudge, and imperfection on the wall!

While it is the most durable and easiest to clean out of all the paint sheens, it has too much shine for interior walls. It works well on areas that (again) sticky, grimy kid fingers will touch … cabinets, doors, and trim work.

IDEAL USE: High-gloss is a great option for cabinets, doors, and trim work … however, it is VERY shiny!


As promised above, here is what sheens I used in my own home … I am NOT a fan of glossy walls or trim work … AT ALL! I used an eggshell finish on all interior walls and ceilings in my home. I used Pearl (virtually the same as Satin) on all trim work and doors. To be honest, I am not positive about my cabinets … they look like semi-gloss??!! Whatever sheen they are, my cabinets are super easy to clean!

There are so many decisions when it comes to building a home, but now you are one step closer to making some paint decisions! Choose from my cheat sheet for paint sheens, then choose a paint color, and you are all set!

You can learn more about choosing the perfect paint color in my ‘Ultimate Paint Guide For Your New Home’ blog post!

  1. Vicki says:

    I am building and was told by my contractor his painter uses Sherwin-Williams, so I have been testing paint samples (which come in Satin) on walls in my current home. We looked at one of our contractors spec homes and I thought the wall paint was probably flat, but then we saw the cans of leftover paint and figured out it was “eg-shel”. It had a rough feel and chalky look I didn’t care for it at all, even though I have used Behr eggshell paint in my current home and love it. Then I looked at my Sherwin-Williams Williams paint deck at the sheen strip and figured out that there is a Low gloss “eg-shel” and a satin/eg-shel. The paint samples I’m testing are supposed to be satin, and I like that finish, but if I understood the salesperson at Sherwin-Williams, they consider satin and eggshell to be the same sheen. I know for a fact that in other brands, there is a definite difference. I don’t want my walls to look shiny, but I also like a nice smooth to the touch surface that is easy to clean. I also want to stick with the same sheen throughout the house to keep to keep it simple (using one light neutral for most of the house, and a different light color in bathrooms and one bedroom). (One sheen for walls and one sheen for all trim, doors and cabinets). I think I would be happy with semi-gloss for cabinets, interior doors and trim, but am now confused about what wall sheen to go with. Who knows whether the satin finish in the samples will look the same as the “real” paint, and I don’t even know which of the sub-brands of Sherwin-Williams paint they will be using. (Guessing Pro-Mar or Pro-Classic). Why is it so complicated? It’s one thing to be painting one room when I’m doing the labor with paint from Lowe’s or Home Depot, but quite another when you are paying someone to do the whole house walls and trim with the expensive stuff. Help!

    • Hi Vicki! There should definitely be a difference between eggshell and satin. I’m not familiar with ‘eg-shel’. That seems a little odd, but I just don’t have experience with that. I would ask your contractor to use actual eggshell on the walls. Sherwin Williams should have an eggshell finish. I used satin on all of my trim work because it gives enough of a shine to be easy to clean, but it isn’t as shiny as semi-gloss. Good luck!

  2. Sandra Crosby says:

    Hi Carolyn,
    We have a lot of painting to do and I love shades of white. I looked in your blog but I can’t seem to see the shades. Could you tell me exactly where to find them?

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I designed my own custom home from the ground up, inside and out. A home that is cozy, comfy, laid out perfectly for the way my family lives, and makes us happy every single day. Oh, and did I mention I did this all without blowing the budget?! 

Yep, it’s true. I’ve been there, done that, and actually lived through it … and you will too. Pinkie promise!

a.k.a. Caroline on Design

I’m Carrie Barker.

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