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A Basic Paint Sheen Guide for Interior and Exterior Surfaces

Choosing and purchasing a paint color is arguably one of the more fun tasks of renovating a home, but there’s a little more to choosing the best option than just the color. Understanding which paint sheen works best for which surfaces is key to maintaining a beautiful home inside and out.

If you’ve ever purchased paint, you may have been scratching your head when you were asked which paint sheen you prefer. There are several different options, and they can all run together if you are new to painting.

If it took a long time for you to choose your paint color, it can be pretty frustrating to have to make, yet, another decision before you start painting! Once you’ve found the perfect color, there’s still one more step! You need to figure out the right finish for your job. But don’t worry – we’ll break it all down for you in today’s article. 

This paint sheen guide contains affiliate links, but nothing that I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend anyway! Read my full disclosure here.

About the Levels of Paint Sheen

Simply put, the paint sheen is the level of “shine” your paint will have. Kind of like the “top coat” to the paint, but it’s all mixed in. 

Navigate the world of paint finishes effortlessly with expert insights.

What paint sheen should I use?

Coatings range from flat to gloss. If you aren’t familiar with the terms flat, matte, eggshell, semi-gloss, and gloss, you will be at the end of this paint sheen guide!

Typically, when you purchase the paint, the person mixing the paint behind the counter will ask what sheen you prefer. So before you go into the home improvement store to order your paint, you need to figure out exactly what type of sheen you’ll be using for each paint color. 

To put it simply:

Interior Paint Sheens

  • eggshell is typically best for walls
  • semi-gloss for trim and doors
  • flat/matte for ceilings

Exterior Paint Sheens

  • satin is recommended for siding
  • semi-gloss for trim and doors

But it’s really a matter of style and intention for the room. High-traffic areas will usually require a different paint sheen than low-traffic areas. 

Are all paint company sheens the same?

We use almost exclusively BEHR Paint in our home, so those are the paint sheens that we’re referring to here. However, other paint manufacturers use similar language so this is more than just an article with BEHR paint sheens.

A few things to note: 

  • Some Sherwin-Williams paint lines don’t offer an “eggshell” paint sheen. 
  • Sherwin-Williams is the most “complicated” brand when it comes to paint sheens – with over 13 options! Whew!
  • For the most part, flat and matte can be used interchangeably – but when you see a brand that has both a “flat” and a “matte” (like BEHR Paint), the matte has a little bit more shine than flat – which should have no shine. 
  • Both Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore also have “Pearl”, which has a medium shine (a little more than eggshell). 
  • BEHR Paint doesn’t have an “eggshell” option for exterior paints – it jumps from Flat to Satin 
From matte to glossy, find your paint sheen soulmate with our help in this guide. Top down view of can of white paint  on top of a step ladder with angeled paint brush sitting on top of the edge

When you are choosing the paint finish, there are a few questions to keep in mind:

  • What’s your style?
  • Are you painting inside or outside?
  • Where will the paint be applied?
  • How durable does the paint need to be (ie: how often do you expect to clean it)? 
  • Are there surface imperfections on the surface? 

The bottom line is that there are different sheens for different rooms, locations, purposes, and applications, and it’s important to understand the best option. If not, you could be in for re-doing the job, which is never fun!

Graphic guide to explain paint finishes. At the top of the ranking is a bubble labeled with flat/matte paint sheen, which says it is best for ceilings, in the middle is eggshell best for walls and semi-gloss is best for doors and trim . There are arrows on the side showing the scale of more shiny and less shiny and easy to clean and hard to clean

Paint Sheens for Interiors

When you are considering paint colors and sheens for your home, think about your lifestyle and how “lived in” your home is.

  • Are there imperfections on the surface you want to hide?
  • Do you have small children? (hello, sticky fingers!)
  • What about pets? 
  • Do you strive to have a really spic and span home? 

There is good and bad to all paint sheens. For example, gloss paint is extremely durable (in fact, it is the most durable paint sheen), but it highlights imperfections. However, a matte sheen hides imperfections really well but can be difficult to clean. Whatever you choose, it has to work for you and your family!

Just like there’s an order to painting a room, there’s an order for paint sheen, too! A good rule of thumb for interior painting is to start with the shiniest sheen near the floor, then work your way up to a flat paint for the ceiling. The surfaces at the bottom of the walls (like baseboards) tend to get the most wear and tear. 

Interior paint sheens: at-a-glance 

To simplify, here’s a quick guide for the best paint sheens for interiors: 

  • Flat or matte: for low-traffic areas that don’t get touched – like ceilings 
  • Eggshell: for walls in most rooms – like adult bedrooms, dining rooms, home office, family rooms,  
  • Satin: for rooms that need more cleaning or high-traffic areas – like hallways, laundry rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, or kids’ rooms 
  • Semi-Gloss: for surfaces that take a beating – trim work, window frames millwork, doors, etc. 
Modern barn door with x shaped design with blanks and black hardware looking into modern bathroom with marble tile and black shower doors. In this article you'll get the lowdown on paint sheens to help you transform your space like a pro.
Love this barn door we made for our bathroom – learn how to make it here!

Trim & Doors

For interior trim and doors, a semi-gloss is the best option. It’s a little shinier than eggshell, which makes them much easier to clean. This is a great option for trim, cabinets, doors, baseboards, and crown molding.

Door frames and baseboards take a real beating in a home! Because of that, having a coating that is easily wiped clean is essential to maintaining the appearance. 

Bedroom and bathroom doors take a lot of abuse, too. Think about how many times a day we touch a bedroom or bathroom door! Little fingerprints and grim can easily be wiped clean from a semi-gloss sheen.

Also, bathroom doors are subjected to a lot of humidity, moisture, and overspray from products like aerosol hairsprays and perfumes. Over time, the “debris” will collect and become another thing that needs to be cleaned, so make this chore easy on yourself with a semi-gloss for interior doors that can be wiped clean!

Further reading: learn how to paint a door here!

Unveil the secrets to selecting the best paint sheen for any room - from the walls to the ceiling.

Walls

If you’re going to be painting interior walls, an eggshell or matte coating are the best options. This recommendation goes for bedrooms, bathrooms, and any other interior living area.

Eggshell isn’t as shiny as semi-gloss, but it’s a good balance between appearance and practicality. Generally, it’s an easy coating to wipe clean if needed. It’s also a great option for accent walls.

A matte sheen for walls is another popular option. Obviously, it’s a flat appearance with zero shine. Many people go for this option because of its smooth, velvety appearance, but this coating can be hard to clean. I recommend sticking with an eggshell coating if you have a house full of small children and pets.

For kitchens, we typically recommend a semi-gloss. This coating is much shinier than an eggshell or matte finish, but the durability is great for areas with heavy-duty messes. Just wipe clean!

It might seem obvious to choose a higher sheen for all walls because of the durability, but higher glosses can look a little “off” if they are too shiny, especially for interior walls. Also, they are super reflective which isn’t my style.

Man rolling white paint onto ceiling with paint roller

Ceilings

Wondering what is the best paint sheen for ceilings? When painting a ceiling, always choose a flat or ultra flat sheen. Typically, the right paint for ceiling paint is labeled as such. We use this “Flat Ceiling Paint” in white for every ceiling. 

The flatness, without any shine, hides imperfections, so if you aren’t an expert at cutting into a ceiling or keeping those straight edges, your secret will be safe!

Further reading: check out these fun accent ceilings!

Exterior of a home with freshly painted with dark hunter green paint and white trim. Learn what types of paint sheens you should be using for exterior paint projects.

Paint Sheens for Exteriors

When painting the exterior of your home, you want to be sure your paint can endure the harshest weather conditions in your area. If you’re going to attempt to paint your exterior, you’ll probably be wondering what sheen to use for exterior paint. Keep reading for all the details! 

Exterior paint sheens: at-a-glance 

To simplify, here’s a quick guide for the best paint sheens for exteriors: 

  • Flat: we don’t recommend flat paint for exteriors, it just isn’t durable enough in our opinion
  • Satin sheen: for siding (wood, vinyl or masonry)
  • Semi-Gloss: for trim (around windows and doors), exterior doors, garage doors 

Note: BEHR Paint doesn’t have an “eggshell” option for exterior paints – it jumps from Flat to Satin.

Siding, window sills, overhangs and more

A satin finish is perfect for use on a variety of areas such as siding, porch ceilings, overhangs, window sills, and more. 

Because it is slightly shiny, it does highlight imperfections more than a flat; however, this highly durable paint is much easier to clean and resists dirt, peeling, and mildew. That’s why it is our recommended sheen for exterior paint. 

Further reading: you’ll love these exterior home remodel ideas!

Light green painted with In The Moment by Behr Paint front door with white trim and hunter green paint on exterior siding
Man rolling white paint onto exterior porch posts with paint roller

Front door, trim and garage doors

For painting the front door, outside trim, and garage doors, semi-gloss paint is an ideal choice. 

Semi-gloss gives the surface a visible shine, which looks beautiful on small details. This coating is extremely durable and is a good choice for surfaces that require frequent cleaning.  

While it can withstand pressure washing and the harshest weather conditions, it’s not recommended if you need to hide chips, cracks, or other imperfections on your painted surface.

Further reading: learn how to paint a door here!

Before you begin your next paint job, make sure you understand the best finishes for the room you are renovating. By using this basic paint sheen guide, you’ll be armed and ready! 

To sum things up, for interiors you can use flat or matte on the ceiling, but you’ll want to go with paint with eggshell finishes for the walls. For high traffic areas, you can upgrade the durability by using satin paint on the walls in some spaces. We recommend semi gloss sheens for doors, baseboards and trim.

When tackling an exterior paint project, paint with satin finishes is recommended for your siding. You’ll want to use something with a more durable finish – like semi-gloss – for doors and trim.

We hope you enjoyed this beginner’s guide to paint sheens. Using the info here, you can find the right paint sheen for your next interior or exterior painting project!

What other questions do you have about paint?

Let us know in the comments below!

Elevate your painting game by mastering the art of paint sheens with this beginner's guide to paint sheens!

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