The Best Paint Sheens for Interiors and Exteriors

The right paint sheens can make or break your interior or exterior home paint project.  The most frequent question we get from our blog subscribers and color consultation clients is which paint sheen to use. 

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.

One of the most confusing sheen issues that we see is that there is no standardization of sheens between paint companies.  Some companies change sheen names between their product lines. For example:

  • 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……

Our goal will be to try to create order from paint sheen chaos.  This article was originally written about a year ago.  We added more details and clarity to answer questions from our readers and clients.

Best Sheens for Interiors

Best Interior Paint Sheens

Ceilings – Flat Sheen

 Ceilings should have a flat or ultra flat sheen because it hides imperfections, and some contractors aren’t as careful because most people don’t look at the ceilings regularly.

Dining Room with green ceiling, crown moldings and gray walls
Photo by M. Marceny

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. 

Walls – Mid-Sheens

We recommend an intermediate sheen such as eggshell because of best balance between practicality and looks.  An eggshell sheen can look like jewelry for your walls.

Hearth with Vermont tile and BM Simply White Satin sheen
Walls are Stonington Gray eggshell sheen; Mantle trim is Advance Satin Chantilly Lace – Photo by M. Camilli

Shinier walls are easier to clean, but if they are too shiny they won’t look right.  Flat paint hides imperfections and glossy paint shows everything.  Semi-gloss and high gloss are too shiny for walls, but most people never wipe their walls.  Just saying.

Black den with Paris Prints and puppy.
Den with BM Onyx, Eggshell – Photo by M. Camilli, The Color Concierge

If you have kids and pets, you should pick an eggshell sheen because its easier to clean (SW 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. 

Girl's room with BM Abalone
Girl’s room with BM Abalone, Eggshell. Photo by M. Camilli, The Color Concierge

Most manufacturers call their medium sheen Eggshell.  The only exception is Sherwin Williams, which calls their medium sheen Satin.  When mean a medium sheen, we say eggshell.

Accent Wall Sheens

Accent walls are great with an eggshell (satin for Sherwin) sheen, but you can use flat too.  

Black accent wall painted with Sherwin-Williams Iron Ore
Photo by M. Marceny, Accent wall painted with Sherwin-Williams Iron-Ore, flat sheen

Bathroom Sheens

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 walls and ceilings glossy sheens to make them more resistant to humidity. As long as you use a good quality paint such as Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams, an eggshell sheen should be sufficient.

Monochromatic bathroom with BM Pale Oak ceiling and walls.
Photo by M. Marceny, The Color Concierge

To be fair, if we are painting a bathroom ceiling white, we often use a flat sheen, especially if the bathroom is larger and has good ventilation.

Kitchen Walls and Ceilings

We prefer to paint kitchen walls with an eggshell sheen to make them easier to wipe.  We almost always specify flat sheens for the ceiling, unless the home cook splatters on the ceilings. In those cases we recommend an eggshell sheen for the kitchen ceiling.

Tuxedo kitchen with creamy walls, Simply White upper cabinets and Chelsea Gray lower cabinets
Photo by M. Marceny

Trim, Cabinets, Doors, Baseboards, Crown Molding and Millwork – Shinier

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.  A second choice would be Semi-Gloss, most often for traditional and historic homes.  We never use Glossy sheens.  Please note that Benjamin Moore calls this sheen Satin.  For Sherwin-Williams, use Semi-Gloss.

Classic Kitchen with white painted cabinets
Kitchen Cabinets, satin sheen. Photo by M. Camilli, The Color Concierge

Monochromatic Paint Palettes

If you are painting the same color for trim, walls and ceiling it can look beautiful.  Just 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!

Living room with SW Extra White paint
Trim, walls and paint are all SW Extra White. Photo by M. Camilli, The Color Concierge

Best Sheens for Exteriors

Best paint sheens for exterior and interior paint projects.

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 son’t look right.

Home exterior with BM Ashwood moss and BM Tulsa Twilight
Boulder home with Low Lustre Exterior – Photo by M. Marceny, The Color Concierge

Exterior Doors, Handrails

Exterior front and back doors look amazing with Benjamin Moore Soft Gloss Sheen or Sherwin-Williams Satin sheen. High gloss sheens are too shiny and show imperfections. Handrails and other surfaces that get touched alot should have a shiner sheen such as Soft Gloss.

BM Redstone back door with semi-gloss paint
Back door, BM Redstone, Satin – Photo by M. Marceny, The Color Concierge

Exterior Shutters

Paint the shutters the same sheen as the front door, a soft gloss or satin sheen.

White coastal cottage with gable and dark blue shutters
Photo by Maddie Camilli

The Verdict

The right sheen choice will make or break a paint project. 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.

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“.

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If you still need help with paint colors, check out our Online Color Consulting packages or an In-Person Color Consultation in the Denver Metro area.

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Paint sheen guide.

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Meet Michelle

Driven to help clients fall back in love with their homes with intentional paint color schemes. She started the company based on her passion for color and its ability to make a house a home.

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