Semi-Gloss vs Satin Paint: What's the Difference?

paint brush in paint tin

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So, you've finally nailed down the perfect paint color to give your home a refresh. Now it's time to determine which sheen to spring for. Both satin and semi-gloss are popular options, touting impressive durability with an appearance that's neither matte nor shiny. We've broken down the differences between satin and semi-gloss paint to help you decide which sheen is best for your painting project.

Satin and Semi-Gloss Paint: Major Differences

While satin and semi-gloss sit next to one another on the paint sheen scale, there are some major differences between the two options.

What Is Satin Paint?

Satin paint is paint with a sheen that reflects an average amount of light. It is shinier than pearl, eggshell, and matte, yet flatter than semi-gloss and high gloss.

In most professionals' opinions, satin is the glossiest sheen that should be used on walls. In fact, most walls are finished with eggshell or matte, as these sheens hide imperfections incredibly well.

However, because satin is more durable and easier to clean than matte and eggshell, it remains a popular wall finish for kitchens and bathrooms, as these spaces see more moisture and grime and require more frequent wipe-downs.

  • Can be used on walls without showing too many imperfections

  • Durable, good for areas that take abuse

  • Can stand up to frequent cleaning, good for kitchens and bathrooms

  • Will show more imperfections than eggshell, matte, and flat

  • Not as durable as semi-gloss, shouldn't be used on high abuse areas like baseboards in a playroom

What Is Semi-Gloss Paint?

Semi-gloss paint is paint with a sheen that reflects an above-average amount of light. It is shinier than satin, pearl, and eggshell, yet flatter than high gloss.

Unlike satin, semi-gloss is rarely ever used on walls. Because of its higher light reflectivity, it shows every imperfection, highlights brushstrokes, and can appear slightly darker than the same color in a different finish.

Instead, semi-gloss paint is reserved for trim, doors, and cabinets, as it's highly durable, shows off millwork details, and can hold up to frequent cleaning.

  • High sheen that shows details, great for millwork

  • It's glossiness makes it highly durable

  • Perfect for high impact areas like baseboards and doors

  • Easy to clean

  • Too shiny for walls, shows every imperfection

  • Shows more brushstrokes

  • May take on an "orange peel" look if not rolled properly on a prepped surface


Semi-gloss paint reflects more light than satin paint. Satin and semi-gloss are quite different in appearance.

Semi-Gloss Paint

Semi-gloss's higher reflectivity tends to reveal far more imperfections in large, flat wall surfaces. However, this same quality is what makes semi-gloss the preferred sheen for trim, as it calls attention to millwork details.

Satin Paint

Satin is preferred for painting walls, as it hides imperfections much better than semi-gloss paint. The flatter the paint, the more hidden imperfections are, but durability is sacrificed by going too flat.


If you've already chosen your paint color but you're still deciding between satin and semi-gloss, you should consider getting samples in each sheen and applying them throughout your space. Sometimes, a given paint color can vary slightly between sheens, which is especially noticeable once it's applied to the wall and fully dried.


Semi-gloss paint is more durable than satin paint. Generally, the higher a paint's sheen, the more durable it is.

Semi-Gloss Paint

For this reason, semi-gloss paint is more durable than satin paint. This is another reason semi-gloss is great for trim like baseboards, which see a lot of wear and frequent scrubbing.

Satin Paint

That said, satin paint is still highly durable and is a great wall paint for areas that see a lot of wear or frequent cleaning, such as bathrooms and kitchens. However, in the average room, a flatter sheen like pearl, eggshell, or even matte is plenty durable and may offer a better appearance.


Semi-gloss has more texture than satin paint. A surface painted with satin paint is noticeably smoother to the touch.

Semi-Gloss Paint

Semi-gloss paint has additional components such as resins and urethanes that give it its higher sheen, leading to a slightly tacky feel. The reflectivity combined with the tackiness can give the paint an "orange peel" look when rolled and reveal brushstrokes when brushed on.


To lessen the chance of an "orange peel" look when rolling, use a high-quality roller with a short nap and avoid letting the roller get too dry.

Satin Paint

Satin paint leaves walls with a smooth surface. It may seem strange that a paint that is less shiny would have a smoother texture, but this is the case with satin and semi-gloss.


Semi-gloss paint costs slightly more than satin paint. You may have heard that the glossier the paint, the higher its price. While this is generally true, the difference in cost likely isn't worth influencing your decision.

Semi-Gloss Paint

Semi-gloss paint has a higher resin count than satin paint, which leads to a slightly higher price point.

Satin Paint

By choosing satin rather than semi-gloss, you can expect to save around $3 or more per gallon when comparing the same brand and type of paint. In reality, the amount you'll save by choosing satin won't justify the long-term compromise if semi-gloss is what you want and need.

  • Is satin paint too shiny for walls?

    In most cases, satin paint isn't too shiny for walls. In fact, satin is likely the glossiest sheen that will work on walls. However, if you're looking to hide imperfections on your walls, opting for a flatter finish will be better.

  • What is semi-gloss paint used for?

    Generally, semi-gloss paint is used for baseboards, door and window casings, crown molding, cabinets, and doors. Its high sheen allows it to reflect more light, which highlights details in trim, while its durability makes it a good candidate for surfaces that see a lot of wear and frequent cleaning.

  • Are glossier paints harder to apply?

    The application process of glossier paints like satin and semi-gloss doesn't differ from that of other paint sheens. However, because higher sheens reflect more light, they call attention to surface imperfections, which requires a more detailed prep process to remove imperfections.

Article Sources
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  2. Pick the Perfect Paint Finish for Every Room. Consumer Reports.

  3. What Paint Finish Fits Best With Your Design Aesthetic? The American Institute of Architects.