How to Choose the Right Interior Paint Finish

Understanding the Most Popular Paint Finishes

paint swatches

The Spruce / Michelle Becker

Even after you've chosen the perfect color for a room, there's another very important decision to make: the finish. With five or six different paint finishes for walls to choose from, there are a lot of options—even within a single color. And with them come several questions you'll need to answer.

Here are the uses and benefits of common paint finishes for walls to help you determine the right one for your job.

The Chemistry of Paint Finish

Paint glossiness is determined by the chemistry of the paint. High-gloss paints have more resins and less pigment. Flat paints, on the other hand, have more pigment and less resins. This explains why painting with glossier paints often requires multiple coats while flatter paints can cover adequately with a single coat.

Paint finishes are available in both latex and oil-based. For most people, latex paints are the better choice because they offer easier cleanup and lower fumes than oil-based paints.

The Different Types of Paint Finishes

Each paint finish has advantages for different applications:

Flat

Whether called flat or simply "wall paint," this paint finish has a completely matte surface with no shine. The surface can have a slightly chalky feel to it. This finish is usually used on interior walls and ceilings. It's especially good if you have to camouflage small wall bumps, cracks, or other imperfections that might be highlighted with a shinier finish. While some flat paints are now advertised as washable, it's often more effective to touch up scratches or marks by covering them with a bit more paint. So be sure to keep some on hand after you've finished painting.

Flat Enamel (Matte)

Flat enamel is a paint with a durable flat, matte finish. Its chemistry is such that it forms a slight film as it dries. It's an acceptable choice for powder rooms or guest bedrooms, as it holds up to occasional cleaning. Some manufacturers market this as "matte" paint to distinguish it from their flat finish paints.

Eggshell

If you can picture the very low sheen of an eggshell, you have an idea of how an eggshell paint finish looks. With only a slight hint of gloss, it's good for most walls and holds up better to cleaning than a flat or flat enamel finish. Eggshell finishes are an extremely popular choice for walls in homes with kids, as they combine good washability with the ability to hide flaws.

Satin

Satin finish paint has a smooth, velvety look with a bit more gloss than eggshell. It is most often used for windows, doors, trim, or ceilings, but it can also be used as wall paint. This is particularly suitable for kids' rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas that get a lot of traffic. Paint with a satin finish is formulated to hold up to cleaning and light scrubbing.

Semigloss

Semigloss paint is most often used on doors, trim, and cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms. It is easily cleaned and has a nice subtle shine without being too glitzy. However, you must make sure walls are smooth prior to painting, as poorly prepared surfaces can be noticeable when highlighted by a semigloss paint.

Gloss

High-gloss paints have an almost reflective quality, as their shiny finish mimics the look of enamel or plastic. Although not widely used in home interiors, the finish is becoming more popular for a dramatic look on cabinets, trim, and furniture, especially in formal and contemporary settings. This finish will magnify any surface imperfections, so careful preparation is essential before painting with high-gloss paints.

The different types of paint finish and how to choose one

The Spruce / Ellen Lindner

Factors to Consider

When choosing paint finishes, it's important to think about your individual needs and design preferences. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Durability: Most manufacturers say all of their paint finishes are able to be cleaned. But a general rule is that the shinier the paint finish, the better it will stand up to scuffs, dings, wiping, and scrubbing.
  • Rustic style: If you're going for a rustic or vintage look, use flat paint. However, if durability is an issue as well, consider flat enamel for trim and eggshell for walls.
  • High-gloss style: Rather than choosing a high-gloss paint for a whole room, use it sparingly in select locations, such as doors, trim, or an accent wall. A room with too much glossy paint can sometimes appear a bit cold and uninviting.
  • Ceiling finishes: Using a glossier finish on ceilings can help to reflect light in a space. Make sure to use a quality paint that will wear well and not crack. The gloss will make any blemishes more noticeable, and it's typically not easy to touch up ceilings.