What Paint Sheen Should I Use?

So you’ve selected a paint color! You’ve even done your research on what brand of paint to buy that will keep your home healthy! (Check out my last blog post “What's in Your Paint?”) But now you've got another decision to make, what sheen to use. You pull out the little chart that shows the gloss levels increasing, but where to start? A quick Google search will tell you to never paint your walls in high traffic areas with anything less than semi gloss. So you decide that semi gloss is durable, and buy enough for your walls, ceiling, and moldings, one easy decision - right?

YIKES - this is a disaster waiting to happen. You’re going to end up with a shiny, reflective envelope full of imperfections. I guarantee you will not be happy with this choice.

I see this dilemma far too often with home owners. Choosing the right finish the first time can save you time, money and headaches.

Many factors go into selecting the perfect sheen for your application. First, let’s review the basics of sheen. Keep in mind, every paint company will have a different version of these terms and the order of increasing sheen intensity may vary.

The Basics of Paint Sheen

Flat Paint/Matte Paint - No Shine

Flat paint provides a rich depth of color and is great for less than perfect surfaces. Flat paint has the most pigment and will provide the most coverage. Since there is no shine, the light is absorbed rather than reflected. Matte paint is one step up in sheen from flat, but still very low luster. Typically, Flat or Matte finish is the least cleanable option and not good for high traffic areas.

Eggshell - Slight Luster

Not surprisingly, this finish is similar to egg shells. Eggshell offers a real depth of color with a soft and polished look. Good quality Eggshell paint is easy to clean, covers wall imperfections nicely, and is good for moderate to high traffic areas.

Satin - Velvety Luster

Satin is easy to clean, great for high traffic areas, but shows imperfections on flat surfaces. Can be used on walls of high traffic areas or on wood elements.

Semi Gloss - Subtle Shine

Semi Gloss is durable and stands up to repeated cleanings. This finish is often recommended for molding and trims, but can easily show imperfections on flat surfaces.

High Gloss - The Most Shine

High Gloss paint offers a durable finish. It is typically the most easy to clean out of all the paint finishes. High Gloss paint is super shiny and light reflecting. It’s often used for wood elements like cabinets, trims, and doors. Be careful with high gloss though, as it will show all imperfections! While it can be a beautiful look if your walls or ceilings are prepped correctly, it can turn into a disaster very quickly. Surfaces that take high gloss must be perfectly flat with zero imperfections. High Gloss paint requires preparation and a lot of labor to create the perfect end product.

Designer Secrets

A good rule of thumb is that the higher the sheen, the higher the shine and the easier the surface will be to clean. But many advancements in paint technology today allow for lower sheens to be just as durable and cleanable as their shiny counterparts. I’m going to share some tricks of the trade and what I typically use on my client home projects.



For ceilings, I always use flat paint. Since there is no sheen, it hides imperfections and has a beautiful depth of color. Ceilings tend to be uneven and a flat paint will hide those problem areas and will make the surface look uniform. My absolute favorite product for ceilings is Benjamin Moore Ultra Flat Water Borne Ceiling Paint. It provides a flawless finish and is the flattest finish offered by Benjamin Moore. It is Zero VOC and Engineered with Gennex® Color Technology. Check out my previous post “What’s in Your Paint” for more information on selecting a paint for a healthy home.



For the walls, I like to use an eggshell finish. It allows for easier clean-ability, but is not too shiny. For walls, I love to use Benjamin Moore Aura in Eggshell finish. It’s a rich and thick paint that provides full coverage, and a beautiful finish with great durability. Good for high traffic areas and it can stand up to repeated washing with no color rub off. It’s a paint and primer in one, mildew resistant, and Zero VOC.

Doors, Baseboards, Trims, Casings, Moldings

I like a satin finish for these wood elements. It’s very durable so it will hold up to normal every day wear and tear. My favorite product for this is Benjamin Moore Aura in a Satin Finish. It’s also great for high traffic areas and it can stand up to repeated washing with no color rub off. It’s also a paint and primer in one, mildew resistant, and Zero VOC.



Painting a bathroom can be tricky, especially if you don’t want to use a glossy finish everywhere to avoid mildew! Benjamin Moore has a wonderful line of paint called Aura Bath and Spa in a Matte finish. It’s specially formulated for high humidity environments and is mildew resistant. It can stand up to repeated washing with no color rub off. I use this paint on both ceilings and walls in bathrooms for crisp low sheen look.



Painting kitchen cabinets is a very technical skill and requires proper preparation. Kitchen cabinets are one of the most commonly touched surfaces and get the most wear. Cabinets must be prepped properly by an experienced painter, primed twice, and then painted. Advance by Benjamin Moore is my “go to” for cabinet painting. As for finish, a paint with some shine is the way to go for durability, so I would avoid Flat paint for this application.


Need More Help with Paint?

Not all paint is the same. Make a conscious effort for your families health by choosing a high quality paint and doing your research on it’s environmental impact. Need help selecting paint colors, finishes, or environmentally friendly products? Schedule a consultation with Sarah Jacquelyn Interiors today! No project too big or small, I love helping my clients specify the perfect paint for their home!