The right paint sheens can make or break your interior or exterior home paint project. But there are so many different paint sheen types, it can be a little overwhelming choosing the right one.
It’s no surprise, then, that the most frequent question we get from our blog subscribers and color consultation clients is which sheen to use. That’s where this paint sheen guide comes in.
Navigating paint sheen levels doesn’t have to be complicated. Think of it this way – start with the shiniest sheen near the floor, and work your way to a flat ceiling. Flat sheens hide imperfections better than glossy sheens, so if your walls are not perfect, choose a sheen that is less shiny.
Let’s dive into the world of paint sheens. Our goal will be to try to create order from chaos in this paint sheen guide. This article was originally written in 2019. We’ve added more details and clarity since then to answer questions from our readers and clients.
Commonly Asked Questions About Paint Sheen Types
What Are the Most Common Paint Sheens in Order?
The most common sheens in order from the lowest to highest level of luster include:
- Flat enamel
The order in which you use these sheens generally moves from the ground up, like we mentioned above. While your baseboards and trim might be painted with a semi-gloss or gloss paint, your walls will likely be eggshell or some version of flat. Ceilings are typically painted with the flattest paint sheen.
Are There Paint Sheen Differences Between Companies?
Yes, there are! One of the most confusing issues that we see is that there is no standardization of sheens between paint companies. Some companies – such as Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams – even change sheen names between their product lines.
- Benjamin Moore eggshell = Sherwin Williams satin.
- For interior trim colors, Benjamin Moore Regal pearl = Benjamin Moore Advance satin = Sherwin-Williams semi-gloss.
- Benjamin Moore matte is almost flat and Sherwin Williams matte is almost semi-gloss.
- and so on……
It’s important to keep these differences in mind when choosing paint colors for your home and when communicating with professional painters.
What Paint Sheen Hides Imperfections?
If you have kids or pets or simply don’t want to add regularly cleaning your walls to your to-do list, then this question probably resonates with you. No one wants to be stuck looking at scuffed up walls or smudged handprints all the time.
When it comes to hiding imperfections, a flatter sheen – like eggshell – is definitely the way to go for your walls. A higher gloss sheen may look nice at first, but it will quickly highlight any imperfections, scuffs or dirt.
Now that we’ve gotten some questions out of the way, let’s take a look at the best paint finish types for interior and exterior spaces in your home.
Best Sheens for Interiors
The simplest way to think about sheens for interiors is that finishes go from shiniest to flat, from bottom to top (except for crown molding, which is painted the same as the base molding). Trim, doors, millwork and cabinets are the shiniest sheen. Walls are mid-sheen and ceilings are generally flat.
Paint Sheen for Ceilings – Flat Sheen
Ceilings should have a flat or ultra flat sheen because it hides imperfections and they tend to have more imperfections than other surfaces. Plus, contractors aren’t as careful because most people don’t look at the ceilings regularly.
Years ago, standard practice was bathroom ceilings with semi-gloss or glossy paint because of the high humidity. Modern bathrooms have better ventilation, and modern paint chemistries are much stronger today. We can get away with flat sheens without issues.
Paint Sheen for Walls – Mid-Sheens
We recommend an intermediate sheen such as eggshell because it offers the best balance between practicality and looks. An eggshell sheen can look like jewelry for your walls.
Flat paint hides imperfections and glossy paint shows everything. But, a glossy sheen is easier to clean than a flat sheen. Still, if your walls are too shiny they won’t look right…and most people never wipe their walls anyway. Just saying.
If you have kids and pets, you should pick an eggshell sheen (the Sherwin-Williams equivalent is Satin). If you are empty nesters with an immaculate home, I like flat because it looks so velvety, but most people pick eggshell.
Remember: there are paint sheen differences between brands. Most manufacturers call their medium sheen Eggshell. The only exception is Sherwin Williams, which calls their medium sheen Satin. When we mean a medium sheen, we say eggshell.
Paint Sheen for Accent Walls
Accent walls are great with an eggshell (satin for Sherwin) sheen, but you can use flat too. The color of an accent wall makes a statement all on its own – you don’t need to go with a different sheen too.
Paint Sheen for Bathroom
In some cases we specify the same color and sheen for the ceiling and walls. In the master bath below, the ceiling and walls are Benjamin Moore Pale Oak with an eggshell sheen. The ceiling looks much different because of the horizontal surface.
In the old days, people painted the bathroom walls and ceilings glossy sheens to make them more resistant to humidity. But as long as you use a good quality paint such as Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams, you don’t need a glossy sheen. Instead, an eggshell sheen or even flat sheen can work on bathroom ceilings.
If we are painting a bathroom ceiling white, we often use a flat sheen, especially if the bathroom is larger and has good ventilation.
Paint Sheen for Kitchen Walls and Ceilings
We prefer to paint kitchen walls with an eggshell sheen to make them easier to wipe. While glossier sheens are easier to clean and might have been recommended for kitchen walls in the past, you don’t need to go any shinier than eggshell because today’s paints are of higher quality.
We almost always specify flat sheens for the ceiling, unless the home cook splatters on the ceilings (no judgement here!). In those cases we recommend an eggshell sheen for the kitchen ceiling.
Other areas of the kitchen, however, require different paint finishes. For example, the sheen for painted kitchen cabinets is typically glossier. We recommend a Satin or Semi-Gloss sheen for cabinets.
Paint Sheen for Trim, Cabinets, Doors, Baseboards, Crown Molding and Millwork
Where possible, keep your trim and woodwork the same sheen. For an updated look, we always recommend a shiner trim, with slightly more gloss than eggshell.
Shinier sheens highlight architectural details and are perfect for trim. This not only provides a clear distinction between the walls and the trim, it’s also much easier to clean (which is especially important when choosing a finish for cabinets!).
Please note that Benjamin Moore calls this level sheen Satin. For Sherwin-Williams, use Semi-Gloss. We never use Glossy sheens.
Paint Sheen for Monochromatic Color Palettes
If you are painting the same color for trim, walls and ceiling it can look beautiful. Just be sure to mix up your paint sheen levels throughout the space.
Paint trim satin (BM) or semi-gloss (SW), walls eggshell and ceilings flat. Since the light is reflected by the sheens, each surface will look different. This is one of my favorite looks!
We especially love the modern look of a white paint color with shifting sheens. Trim, doors and cabinets are the shiniest sheen, walls are eggshell and ceilings are flat.
The photo below shows what this looks like. The subtle shift between surfaces is beautiful. You can learn more about this specific project in our White Dove Color Review.
You can also use this technique with a monochromatic and colorful color scheme. Learn more about this project in the Granite Peak Color Review.
Note: The highest cost of a paint job is in the labor, especially cutting in the corners such as the ceilings. You can save money on a monochromatic color scheme by painting the walls and ceilings a matte sheen.
Best Paint Sheens for Exteriors
Our paint sheen guide would not be complete without a tour of exterior paint sheen options. Take a look at the recommendations below to learn more about choosing the right finish for your next outdoor paint project.
Need help choosing your exterior paint color combinations? Check out our ultimate guide – complete with color palette examples!
Paint Sheen for Siding and Trim
I recommend a mid-sheen for exterior trim, garage doors, siding and wall shingles for durability with a good high or mid-grade paint. We painted our house with Benjamin Moore BEN exterior paint. It looks pristine seven years later even though the weather conditions are extreme in Boulder, CO.
Pick Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams Low Lustre sheen for exteriors. We rarely specify flat paint for an exterior because it’s not durable enough, and glossy sheens don’t look right.
Paint Sheen for Exterior Doors, Handrails
We love the look of a shiny exterior front door! Our ideal sheen in Semi-Gloss, however, consider the condition of your door before you decide on a finish.
Shinier finishes show every architectural feature of the door but also every defect. Low shine finishes hide imperfections better.
Exterior front doors and back doors look amazing with Satin or Semi-Gloss sheen if you have a new or recently refurbished front door. Consider a Low Luster sheen if your door is older and has imperfections. Don’t paint your front door with a flat sheen – it will look dull and listless.
Handrails and other surfaces that get touched a lot should have a shiner sheen such as Soft Gloss because they’re much easier to clean.
Paint Sheen for Shutters
Paint the shutters the same sheen as the front door, a soft gloss or satin sheen. This will help them remain durable and looking their best longer, and it helps them stand out against the rest of the house.
Paint Sheen for Brick
Painted brick should be treated a little bit differently from painted siding and other exterior surfaces. While we typically recommend a mid-sheen paint for siding and trim, when you paint brick the sheen should be flat. Using a good masonry primer is also key for painted brick.
The right sheen choice will make or break a paint project, so make sure to refer back to this paint sheen guide when making your color choices.
For interiors, use flat for ceilings, medium sheens for walls, and satin for a modern look with trim and doors. Use Semi-Gloss for interior trim and doors in traditional homes.
ALWAYS test your paint colors. We recommend using Samplize to get a good understanding of how a paint will look on your wall (without the work of painting multiple swatches).
For exterior trim, siding and brick use a mid-level sheen such as BEN or Benjamin Moore Regal Select Exterior Low Lustre. Sherwin Williams Duration also has a mid-level sheen called Low Lustre.
Front doors should be slightly shiner. For Benjamin Moore exterior paints pick Soft Gloss, and for Sherwin Williams choose Satin sheen.
Don’t forget to test your paint colors! Check out “Learn to Test Paint Colors Like a Pro“.
Benjamin Moore vs Sherwin Williams Sheens
Use these charts to help you choose the right sheen for every project – whether you’re using Benjamin Moore paints or Sherwin-Williams paints.
Benjamin Moore Paint Finishes
Sherwin-Williams Paint Finishes
Online Color Consulting