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What are the Different Types of Interior Paint Finishes?

J. Beam
J. Beam

Interior paints come in a range of different finishes, also sometimes called “sheens,” that impact how well the paint will reflect light. Flat or matte finishes typically absorb a lot of light and tend to be good for covering up blemishes and uneven spots. This sort of paint is usually pretty foolproof to apply, but it may be difficult to clean. High-gloss paints represent the other extreme. These typically reflect a lot of light and are super durable, but can be somewhat unforgiving and often dry showing every brushstroke. Eggshell, satin, and semi-gloss finishes fall in between.

Flat and Matte

Orange paint with a matte finish.
Orange paint with a matte finish.

A “flat” finish is, as its name might suggest, a paint that has very little shine and doesn’t reflect much light at all. It’s usually considered one of the most basic finishes available. Beginners often have good luck using flat paint since it tends to have a very dense, uniform color that spreads evenly, and many people find that it hides small surface imperfections like bumps or small holes. Brush and roller marks tend to disappear during application, and when dry this finish usually looks even and smooth even if some areas have more paint than others.

Supplies for painting.
Supplies for painting.

Some manufacturers sell this sort of finish under the “matte” name. There isn’t usually much of a practical difference between flat and matte; both are high density, low shine, and easy to apply. They aren’t always very durable, though, and even if they’re sold as washable many homeowners find that cleaning their walls without removing the paint can be tough. Small blemishes or spills can often be sponged off, but larger messes or regular traffic and abuse can make things harder. Most people choose flat or matte paint for guest bedrooms, studies, or other rooms that don’t get a lot of wear and tear.


Paint with a matte finish.
Paint with a matte finish.

Eggshell finishes are often described as “matte plus,” since they tend to look a lot like matte paints, but they have a little bit of sheen and are slightly more durable. Paints in this category reflect some light and are usually easier to spot clean; they also holds up to more wear and tear while still generally being forgiving on the painter. People often choose eggshell for living rooms and dining rooms — places that get regular use but aren’t likely to need the sort of regular care a kitchen or child’s bedroom might require.


Paint and a paint brush.
Paint and a paint brush.

Paints with a satin finish are better choices for walls or furniture that needs more constant upkeep. They often have a silky, shiny surface that reflects light well and tends to be very durable, which means that it will stand up to a lot of bumps and dings and should be relatively easy to spot clean. Its bright sheen often means that brushstrokes and drips will stand out more, though, which means that people need to be more careful and spend a little bit more time getting the application right.


A trowel may be required to achieve the desired visual effect of textured paint.
A trowel may be required to achieve the desired visual effect of textured paint.

There are typically two choices when it comes to glossy paint finishes, semi-gloss and high gloss. Semi-gloss tends to be really bright and has a smooth, even surface that can usually take a lot of abuse and still look new. It’s a popular option for baseboards, doors, and walls in small rooms like kitchens and bathrooms. It’s usually really easy to clean and will withstand even serious scrubbing, and also tends to resist moisture and humidity.

High gloss paints have many of these same characteristics, but are in most cases even more durable and more reflective. Most decorators don’t recommend using high gloss finishes on walls since the effect can be overpowering. It’s much more common for furniture, cabinets, and decorative trim.

Decorative and “Faux” Finishes

Many manufacturers also make a number of specialty paint finishes for accent walls and other specialty projects. A chalkboard finish, for instance, will transform a wall into a surface that can be marked and erased over and over again; a textured finish will add interest and tactile elements, while a watercolor finish will lend a softer, more muted look to a room.

It isn’t always necessary to buy decorative paint, however. Creative homeowners sometimes use sponges or other tools to mix paints to get a more unique look, a process known in many places as “faux finishing.” Faux finishes often give the appearance of being very elaborate or expensive without actually requiring a lot of effort.

Ceiling Paint

Most people paint their ceilings separately from their walls, and in some cases it makes sense to use a different finish for this area. Most experts recommend using matte or eggshell. A ceiling that reflects light can actually work to make a room look smaller, and glossier paints are often harder to apply evenly. Getting even strokes without drips is tough enough as it is; using unforgiving sheens usually only gets good results on ceilings that are free of lumps, bumps, and blemishes, and with painters who are very experienced. Even the most expert strokes will often serve to highlight oddities, which is rarely what homeowners want.

Color and Price Considerations

It’s usually possible to buy paint in any finish since most manufacturers make their colors available in every sheen. People usually start by choosing their color, then they determine which finish is best for their particular project Finding the right one is usually just a matter of carefully reading the packaging, though in some shops paint technicians will help customers by actually mixing the paint to order..

The final price of most paint is determined at least in part according to sheen. Flat and matte are usually the most economical and high gloss paints tend to be the costliest. A lot of this has to do with how expensive it is to include light reflecting pigments; the materials that make these paints so durable also tend to make them more expensive.

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Discussion Comments


I am painting over vinyl kitchen cabinets. I have primed them with a spray primer. What is the best spray paint to use?


What is costura paint finish?


What are the uses for the different types of finishes?


I'm going to paint my room black. I was thinking of painting the ceiling black as well, to try and give it a more spacious feel. Do you think this will work?


I`m painting over panel in my small bathroom. Would you, just paint it, sponge it or what? Remember it's small.


Faux finishes are going out of style, aren't they?


If I get a bid to "faux" paint a room what should I expect to get in number of coats? on an average bedroom of 12X12 how many hours would that take to faux the walls? The ceiling is off white and no faux.


There are also many types of faux finishes that are good for interior decor. Sponging and ragging or ragrolling involve applying a base coat of paint, then another color or a glaze, either applying it with a sponge or a rag or taking it off a little at a time with the sponge or the rag.

Combing, antiquing, woodgraining, and tortoiseshelling are other faux finishes that provide a unique effect in a room. These are all really fun to perform and make a room look unique.

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    • Orange paint with a matte finish.
      By: mearicon
      Orange paint with a matte finish.
    • Supplies for painting.
      By: Scanrail
      Supplies for painting.
    • Paint with a matte finish.
      By: .shock
      Paint with a matte finish.
    • Paint and a paint brush.
      By: Jiri Hera
      Paint and a paint brush.
    • A trowel may be required to achieve the desired visual effect of textured paint.
      By: Petr Malyshev
      A trowel may be required to achieve the desired visual effect of textured paint.