Buyer’s Guide to Paint Finishes


November 27, 2019
Buyers guide to paint finishes

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When it comes time to paint an area of your house, color isn’t the only choice you’ll have to make. It’s also important to consider the finish, as choosing the wrong one could highlight imperfections, attract mildew or lead to various other unwanted consequences. In this guide, we’ll discuss the different types of paint finishes and provide tips on choosing the best one for your application.

Types of Paint Finishes

Paint finishes are categorized in terms of their glossiness, which is determined by their chemistry. “High-gloss” paints have more resins and fewer pigments, whereas flat paints, which are the least glossy, are higher in pigments and lower in resins. 

types of paint finishes

Flat paints reflect little light and high-gloss paints reflect a lot. Below is the typical list of paint finish types in order of most-reflective to least-reflective:

  • High-Gloss
  • Gloss
  • Semi-Gloss 
  • Satin
  • Eggshell (low-sheen)
  • Flat (matte)

Here is a look at the different paint finishes in detail.

1. High-Gloss


High-gloss finish provides the greatest reflection level and is commonly used for accents. Although it can be used on walls, many homeowners prefer it more for woodwork due to its shininess. Keep in mind, however, that high-gloss paint brings attention to all of a surface’s imperfections.

High-gloss finishes tend to require more coats than lower-sheen finishes and usually involve more preparation, like sanding the surface. High-gloss paints also require more time to dry, which means you’ll have to allow several hours for drying time in between coats. You can use a fan to speed up the drying process. 

A high-gloss finish is a popular choice for the following interior areas of your house: 

  • Trim
  • Furniture
  • Molding
  • Cabinets
  • Interior doors
  • High-traffic areas
  • Almost anywhere you’d like a distinctive atmosphere

The high-gloss finish is also used on the exteriors of homes. As it is highly durable and low-maintenance, some homeowners are tempted to use it for their entire exteriors, but we do not encourage this. Painting your entire home exterior using a high-gloss finish will give it a “plastic” look and draw attention to imperfections on the surface. 

High-gloss finishes are better suited for highlighting intricate architectural details. Here are some exterior features where a high-gloss finish can be applied: 

  • Decorative fixtures
  • Shutters
  • Front doors
  • Accent trim
  • Metal railings, if black
  • Window frames
  • Any other items that you regularly touch

2. Semi-Gloss

Semi-gloss finishes are shinier than satin but less shiny than high-gloss. Just like high-gloss finishes, semi-gloss finishes also give walls a shiny look and are known to brighten up rooms. They’re especially effective at brightening up paler shades of light colors and off-whites. However, their shininess also makes them more suitable for trim than walls. One benefit that semi-gloss offers over high-gloss is that semi-gloss paint can usually cover your surface adequately with just one coat. 

Semi-gloss finishes are known for their moisture resistance, making them perhaps the best paint finish for bathrooms, kitchens and other humid places. To clean surfaces that have a semi-gloss finish, all you have to do is wipe or lightly scrub them, which makes them easier to clean than surfaces with other finishes. The primary disadvantage of semi-gloss finishes is that they, like high-gloss finishes, show most imperfections on ceilings and walls. 

Semi-gloss finishes tend to work well for the following interior areas: 

  • Windows
  • Doors
  • Trim
  • Kids rooms, if you happen to like the shiny look
  • Kitchens and bathrooms, once again, depending on your tastes

When it comes to home exteriors, semi-gloss finishes provide homes with a visible shine and are best suited for areas that need to be cleaned frequently. They can also withstand harsh weather and large amounts of moisture. However, although it is a good option for trim detail, a semi-gloss finish isn’t recommended if you want to hide chips, cracks or other imperfections on a surface. 

Semi-gloss finishes are most suitable for the following exterior features: 

  • Front doors
  • Garage doors 
  • Trim 
  • Shutters 
  • Gutters 
  • Railings 
  • Lamp posts 
  • Window sills

3. Satin

A satin finish provides a surface with a soft, low sheen and is one of the best finish types for interior and exterior applications. It has a strong resistance to mildew and can be cleaned with just a light scrubbing or wiping, making it a good choice for surfaces you’ll need to regularly clean. However, as is the case with glossier finishes, you should avoid using satin paint on surfaces with lots of imperfections as it will make them stand out more. 

Satin finishes work well in the same areas as eggshell finishes, which include high-traffic areas like living rooms, hallways, bedrooms and family rooms. However, since it is harder-wearing than an eggshell finish, it is also one of the best paint finishes for areas such as: 

  • Basements
  • Kitchens
  • Children’s bedrooms
  • Dining rooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Trim, if the satin finish is sufficiently tough

As for your exterior, a satin finish is a good choice for homes in sunny, hot climates because it has a higher amount of UV protectant. It’s also good for humid climates since it resists mildew. This finish works best on areas that you use or touch often, but keep in mind that a satin finish tends to bring out imperfections such as dings, dents, ridges and cratering in wood siding and trim that is older. That means it is best to use it on siding that is new or in decent condition. Satin finishes are also ideal for areas like: 

  • Soffits
  • Eaves
  • Trim boards
  • Door frames
  • Porch ceilings
  • Window sills 
  • Shutters

4. Eggshell

The eggshell finish provides surfaces with a soft and washable appearance that looks great in family rooms, hallways and living rooms. Its name comes from the unique texture it gives to a surface, which resembles that of an eggshell if viewed from certain angles in the light. 

Eggshell finishes have a very subtle shine that lacks the smoothness of satin finishes. This means it doesn’t bring out imperfections as much as satin, making it a more appropriate finish for interior walls. It’s also more durable and easier to clean than a surface with a flat finish.

An eggshell paint finish is the best for: 

  • Bedrooms
  • Living rooms
  • Family rooms
  • Hallways

Eggshell paint also works well on a wide variety of exterior siding types, including horizontal wood, stucco and various others. In fact, it’s the most common exterior finish for bodies of homes. It can be washed easily with a power washing and is also effective at concealing minor imperfections beneath the coating. This finish can also offer protection from rain, snow and seasonal changes in the weather. 

It coats surfaces very nicely as well, meaning you can’t see any roller edges, spray marks or brush strokes after it’s applied. If you’re going to repaint the siding on your home and would like a finish that has low-reflectivity and hides small imperfections, you will want to consider an eggshell finish. It’s also good for subtly bringing out details in the trim.

5. Flat/Matte

Flat finishes, also known as matte finishes, provide a uniform, smooth appearance and are the most popular choice for painting interior walls. Deriving their name from their complete lack of shininess, they are excellent options for older ceilings and walls with imperfections that you want to hide, including nail holes, patches and dents. Applying flat finishes is easy and can be done with a roller or brush. 

One of the biggest cons of flat finishes is that they’re easy to mark up. While you can remove some marks using a wet cloth, you will need to regularly retouch walls with a matte finish.

Flat finishes work best in spaces that are more formal, including: 

  • Living rooms
  • Dining rooms
  • Ceilings 
  • Bedrooms
  • Any place where you’re not too concerned about messing up the paint

While flat finishes were once commonly used on exteriors, this is no longer the case today. This is because flat finish is porous, matte and prone to mildew issues and fading. If you’re like most customers, you’ll probably want an exterior paint finish that’s more durable and shinier, but this doesn’t mean you have to rule out flat paint completely. Due to its lack of shininess, it’s often a great choice for hiding imperfections on older houses. However, we only recommend this finish for walls, not frequently touched places like railings, doors and windows.

Things to Consider

Before shopping for a finish, give some thought to the kind of room you’re painting and how durable you need it to be. Some other considerations include: 

  • Opt for higher-quality paints if your budget allows. Paints that are high-quality generally have higher pigment levels. This allows the paints to more thoroughly cover surfaces with fewer coats. High-quality paints also contain higher amounts of resins, which make the paint more durable. 
  • Consider how easy it is to clean. The glossier your paint, the easier the cleaning will be.
  • Remember that different surface types require different sheens. If you’re having trouble deciding between satin and semi-gloss, keep in mind that lower-gloss finishes, like satin or eggshell, are most suitable for walls, whereas higher-gloss finishes are recommended for accents. 
  • Test it out. For peace of mind, test out the color and sheen you’re considering. Pick out a sample and apply it to a small area of the surface to make sure you’re choosing the right paint for your application. 
  • Don’t forget about the colorant and tint base. The colorant determines the degree to which the paint fades over time. White and brown, for instance, generally fade less quickly than yellows and bright greens. The tint base serves to form a color’s foundation and helps to determine the toughness of the paint as well as its resistance to stains and dirt. It also determines its ability to hold up when scrubbed.

Water-Based or Oil-Based?

Another decision you’ll have to make is whether you want water- or oil-based paint.

Water-Based Paints

Most wall paints on the market today are water-based, mainly because they’re easier to use. If you’re planning to use a water-based product on a surface where an oil-based paint was previously applied, the water-based product might not be able to adhere properly. In this case, we recommend that you wash your surface and then roughen it using sandpaper that is medium or smooth grit. This will prevent the new coat from peeling. 

water-based paints are easy to use

For times when oil-based products would be traditionally preferable but you’d like to use water-based paint instead, you can take advantage of “waterborne alkyds” or “waterborne enamels,” which several companies have developed just for this purpose. These products contain excellent leveling qualities and behave very similarly to oil-based paints. 

Some pros of water-based products include the following: 

  • No pre-treatment is required. 
  • Mildew won’t grow on them. 
  • Toxic emission levels are low. 
  • The cleanup is easy. 
  • It dries quickly. 
  • Their flexible, elastic finish makes them crack-resistant. 
  • They can be used on most surface types. 
  • They don’t fade in the sunlight. 

Oil-Based Paints

Paints that are oil-based can be applied to most surfaces and are known for their rich finish and durability. However, use caution when working with oil-based paints, as they release fumes that are strong and sometimes overwhelming. You can’t wash them with water and instead must use turpentine or another solvent to wash brushes and other painting materials. 

Benefits of oil-based products include: 

  • They have a visually appealing gloss. 
  • They’re a good choice for kitchens, bathrooms and other spaces with high levels of moisture. 
  • They take longer to dry, which allows you to make fixes.
  • They form a durable, hard finish. 

Have Your Home Professionally Painted by Shoreline Painting & Drywall, Inc.


Have you been putting off painting your home’s interior or exterior? Let our experienced team of painters take care of it for you.

Shoreline Painting & Drywall, has proudly been providing interior and exterior painting services to Fairfield County, Westchester County and the surrounding communities for the past 35 years. We transform houses into world-class homes by using cutting-edge tools, eco-friendly materials and the right mix of painters and artisans.

If you have any questions about our services or would like to receive a quote, get in touch us using our contact form.

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