You’ve spent weeks agonizing over the colors to paint your walls. Every room boasts streaks of test paint in almost identical shades. Your study is overflowing with swatches and test pots.

You finally decide on your palette, and then… Your paint supplier says something you never even considered. “What paint finishes are you thinking about?”

The finish you choose can make or break a room—even more than the color you choose. When it comes to the finish, everything from the windowsills to the walls to the cornices needs careful consideration.

If you’re ready to learn where to paint a matte versus satin finish in your home or understand the difference between eggshell and semi-gloss, read on.

What Does “Paint Finish” Even Mean?

You’re probably already familiar with pigments, the ingredients in paint that give it its color. The finish is another of the many components that go into making paint. The finish affects the sheen of the paint—how much the paint reflects the light.

There are two categories of finish: specular (high sheen) and diffuse (low to no sheen).

Factors to consider when choosing the right finish for a room include:

  • The amount of natural or artificial light in a room
  • The overall color palette of the room
  • Room use (how much wear-and-tear on the room)
  • Whether there’s water use in the room

For example, using a high gloss finish in a room with a lot of natural light will create too much glare. Or a matte finish in a mudroom will be impossible to keep clean.


gray elegant bathroom with white trim and cabinet

Which Paint Finishes Suit Which Rooms?

Do you know how to tell your eggshell from your satin finish? Though many interior paint finishes look similar to the untrained eye, it’s crucial to match them to the use of the room they’re going in.

Flat or Matte Finish

Flat or matte finish paint is highly diffuse, meaning it has high porosity and a low sheen. Because of this, it can’t be used in areas of the home that see a lot of moisture, nor do you want to use it anywhere prone to staining since this finish is difficult to wipe clean.

Consider using it in low-traffic areas only, like dens, formal dining rooms, or bedrooms. You can also use it on your ceilings. Since matte finish paint absorbs light, it’s also great for spaces you want to reduce glare, such as media rooms or rooms that get all-day sunlight.

Velvet Finish

A velvet finish sits on the diffuse end of the finish spectrum, meaning it absorbs light more than it reflects. However, it is closer to the center of the range, offering minor reflection.

This can be useful if you want to boost the amount of natural light a room gets without worrying about glare. It’s also great for covering up surface imperfections caused by badly plastering or dents.

Since velvet finish paints are somewhat porous, they’re not considered easily washable. Therefore, they should be used in rooms with low to no exposure to water, like bedrooms, hallways, and living rooms.

Satin and Eggshell Finish

This finish goes by a few different names, including satin, eggshell, low-sheen, or pearl. It’s enduringly popular with homeowners and home decorators alike because of its cleanability, mild sheen, stain resistance, and general durability.

Paint in this finish is perfect for kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, hallways, and millwork.

Like other specular finishes, a satin finish paint is notoriously tricky for a novice painter to apply. If applied to a poorly prepared wall, it will show wall imperfections and debris. If you’re planning to apply paint in this finish in most areas of your home, hire professional painters.

Semi-Gloss Finish

Semi-gloss paint is one of the most popular choices for active areas of the home because it’s highly durable and easy to clean.

It falls on the specular end of the finish spectrum, meaning it reflects light into a room—in other words, it looks a bit shiny. Because of this, the semi-gloss finish can be wiped with a damp cloth and is highly stain resistant. It shows imperfections, so walls need to be prepared carefully before painting.

Use a paint with a semi-gloss finish in high traffic areas with water, like kitchens and bathrooms, and trim around doors, windows, and walls.

Gloss (or Glossy) Finish

Gloss—also known as glossy—finish paint has many benefits in the home. This specular finish is the most durable of all the finishes: it’s easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth, highly moisture resistant, and difficult to dent.

However, since it’s so reflective, it’s not suitable to use on the walls of a room—unless you want to make a design statement. It causes glare and enhances surface defects. Instead, gloss finish paint is used on millwork: wainscoting, crown molding, window treatments, trim, and, occasionally, doors.

living room with white walls and wood feature wall

Paint Finishes Matter More Than You Think

So there you have it!

We hope our quick reference guide to the most common types of paint finishes and where they’re best suited gives you more confidence when picking out the best paint for your home renovation project or new build. When picking the finish, keeping the use of the room in mind is vital.

If you’re stuck on where to paint what in your home, schedule a free estimate with the painting experts at SurePro. We have years of experience servicing the Austin, TX, area—from interior and exterior painting to popcorn ceiling removal and deck staining.