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A fresh coat of paint can certainly do wonders for a home’s interior—it’s an inexpensive and impactful way to transform a room without taking on a major renovation. And, while selecting a new color palette is certainly part of the fun, choosing the right paint finish, or sheen, is key to achieving a polished, long-lasting result.

A paint’s sheen indicates the level of gloss in the formula, and how light reflective the paint will be. Keeping this in mind, different sheens will yield different results depending on various factors in a room.

From flat to eggshell to glossy to semigloss, we’ve gathered the best tips to help you navigate the ins and outs of selecting the right finish.

The Types of Paint Finishes

Generally, the shinier the finish, the more durable and cleanable it will be. Conversely, the flatter the finish, the more porous and more challenging to clean it will be. But there are trade-offs: Higher sheen finishes emphasize imperfections and don’t accept touch-ups as well as lower sheen finishes do.

So, if a higher sheen finish needs touch-ups, the entire expanse of wall will require painting. The durability and look of finishes vary, and ultimately the choice will come down to personal preference, taking into account the functionality of the area and surface being painted.

Paint finishes have their own glossary of terms and it’s important to know the differences before making your purchase.

  • Flat: Low sheen with a non-reflective finish that touches up well and hides minor surface imperfections. It’s ideal for low-traffic areas, and especially no-traffic areas like ceilings.
  • Matte: Low-luster, lightly reflective finish that is durable, easy to clean, touches up well, and hides minor surface imperfections. Slightly shinier than matte and somewhat easier to clean. It’s great for low-to-moderate-traffic areas like hallways or bedrooms.
  • Eggshell: Offers up a soft, velvety appearance with a bit more luster and stain resistance than matte. A popular choice for areas with moderate to high traffic, like kitchens, bathrooms, and kids’ bedrooms, where durability and cleanability are key.
  • Satin: Provides a pearl-like appearance and is ideal for painting moderate to high-traffic areas or areas that have some exposure to moisture, such as kitchens and kids’ bedrooms.
  • Semigloss: Provides a sleek, radiant sheen that’s great for cabinets and trim, high-traffic areas and high-moisture areas like bathrooms or crown molding/trim.
  • High Gloss: Creates a brilliant, shiny appearance with a glass-like finish. Great for added vibrance on surfaces like cabinets, doors, and trim.

How to Decide on the Right Paint Finish

To decide on the right finish for the walls of a room, consider the function of the area you’re painting. Will this room need to stand up to a lot of humidity and moisture, such as in a bathroom? Or is it a high-traffic spot for my family and pets, such as an entranceway or mud room?

In either case, an easily cleanable, moisture resistant choice, like eggshell, would be a smart pick. Satin is another popular choice for busy rooms such as a child’s bedroom, as it also cleans easily, while adding a soft finish that reflects light well.

Consider a Paint Finish for the Ceiling

Once you’ve settled on the right color and finish for your walls, it’s time think about the wall you look up to most: the ceiling. Typically, professionals prefer a flat finish for the ceiling, which is common among ceiling paint selections.

This helps to give the ceiling a non-reflective finish and typically splatter as much during application. In addition, a flat finish can help maintain the acoustical properties in a room or space. However, that’s not to say another sheen such as semi-gloss can’t be used if your goal is to add a touch of drama an interest to a room.

Give the Finishing Touch

And while the type of finish you select for a room’s walls is key, so too is the finish for the trim. It is, after all, what frames the room and polishes it off. However, the trim often gets beat-up, so it is important to factor this in as well. For these reasons, an eggshell finish for trim is typically the go-to for the pros. It has a light shine and will stand up to scuffs and dings from say the vacuum or children playing. Plus, it is easy to scrub clean.

With that said, a semigloss and even a high gloss can be considered if the room is more of a showplace and won’t see as much foot traffic. If that is the case, a glossier finish can help an interesting trim, such as crown molding pop.