The Best Paint Sheens for Interiors and Exteriors

Designer tips for the best paint finishes

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
  • Flat enamel
  • Eggshell
  • Satin
  • Semi-gloss
  • Gloss

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. 

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……

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.

a chart of the best interior paint sheens
Best interior paint sheens

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.

A dining room with flat black paint ceiling
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. 

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. 

A fireplace is shown against a gray wall with eggshell paint sheen
Walls are Stonington Gray eggshell sheen; Mantle trim is Advance Satin Chantilly Lace – Photo by M. Camill

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. 

A girl's bedroom with Sherwin-Williams Abalone in eggshell paint sheen.
Girl’s room with BM Abalone, Eggshell. Photo by M. Camilli, The Color Concierge

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.

A hallway accent wall with dark paint in a flat sheen
Photo by M. Marceny, Accent wall painted with Sherwin-Williams Iron-Ore, flat sheen

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.

A bathroom painted with white paint with eggshell paint sheen and flat paint sheen on the ceiling
Photo by M. Marceny, The Color Concierge

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.

A kitchen with painted cabinets in a semi-gloss paint sheen
Photo by M. Marceny

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.

A kitchen with painted cabinets in white and dark blue paint
Kitchen Cabinets, satin sheen. Photo by M. Camilli, The Color Concierge

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.

A room with all white color palette and different paint sheens
Photo by M. Marceny; All white color palette with varying paint sheens

You can also use this technique with a monochromatic and colorful color scheme. Learn more about this project in the Granite Peak Color Review.

A bedroom painted with granite peak paint on the walls and ceilings
Granite Peak monochromatic palette on walls and ceilings

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!

Best paint sheens for exterior and interior paint projects.
Exterior paint sheens

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.

A Boulder, CO home with dark exterior paint
Boulder home with Low Lustre Exterior – Photo by M. Marceny, The Color Concierge

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.

A bright red front door with exterior paint sheen
Back door, BM Redstone, Satin – Photo by M. Marceny, The Color Concierge

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.

White farmhouse window with blue shutters
Photo by M. Camilli – Blue Shutters (SW Anchors Aweigh)

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.

A large house with painted brick exterior
Photo by M. Marceny; Exterior painted brick with flat paint sheen

The Verdict

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

A chart of Benjamin Moore paint sheens for interior and exterior
Benjamin Moore Paint Sheens for Interior and Exterior

Sherwin-Williams Paint Finishes

A chart of Sherwin-Williams paint sheens for interior and exterior
Sherwin-Williams Paint Sheens for Interior and Exterior

Online Color Consulting

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.

Paint sheen guide.

The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Accent Walls

Our 5 Favorite Benjamin Moore Whites

The Best Exterior Paints for Red Brick Homes

 

 

19 Responses

    1. I love them! They are great for walls and look super velvety. In most situations, I wouldn’t paint them on ceilings except for bathrooms.

  1. I am using Sherwin Wiliams paint, I am told satin would be good for the walls but don’t know if I want my crown molding to be semi gloss. Any suggestions on the crown molding?

    1. Hi Roz,
      The best way to think about this is that sheens go from shiniest to flat, from bottom to top (except for crown molding which is the same as the base molding). Sherwin Williams sheens get a little confusing because their names are different than the rest of the industry. Sherwin Williams Duration Satin is the same as any other manufacturer Eggshell. It is a mid-sheen, which is appropriate for walls. Duration has a Matte finish which is a slightly less shiny finish than their semi-gloss. For most other companies, Matte is between eggshell and flat. The best thing to do is to look at each company’s lineup of sheens. I hope that helps!

  2. Hello – This is a great article. We just painted our staircase and some trim with Sherwin Williams satin. It seemed far more dull than satin sheens we’ve used from other manufacturers. It almost looked like primer. So I went back and got semi-gloss, but now I’m worried it’s too shiny. Do you still think SG is the way to go for woodwork and trim from Sherwin Williams?

    1. Hi Tim,
      This can be pretty tricky because Sherwin-Williams Satin is the same as every other manufacturer’s eggshell. In the article for Trim, Cabinets, Doors, we recommend Semi-Gloss for Sherwin-Williams. Many Sherwin-Williams interior paints are only available in Flat, Satin or Semi-Gloss. The SW Cashmere paint does have a Pearl finish, which is shiner than Satin and less shiny than Semi-Gloss. The trim in my home is actually Sherwin-Williams Satin. I hope that helps!

      Michelle

      1. I’m happy to hear you used SW satin sheen on your trim as I just bought Emerald trim paint in Pure White satin a few days ago for my trim and my stomach dropped as I read this article thinking I made the wrong sheen choice – and maybe I did.
        My walls are SW pure white in duration satin. The girl at the store said the trim paint is a touch glossier between emerald and duration. So I chose satin again.
        Should I have more sheen difference between the wall and trim?

  3. My new go-to for bathrooms is Ben Moore Aura, it’s a matte finish (a slight sheen from flat) and it’s so pretty. You can paint the walls and ceilings in the same paint! Expensive but worth it for a usually small space for the look.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback! I think this will be helpful to other homeowners trying to make a decision.

  4. Are you able to share what paint colors were used on the Boulder home photo? The dark paint with creamier trim.
    Also, do you forsee the dark exterior colors being a trend and in a few years being outdated? I love the dark paint but would love to know the pros and cons of it. Thank you for any insight!

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      If you are asking about the purple and green house with the creamy trim, the colors are BM Ashwood Moss and BM Tulsa Twilight. This house was painted in 2012, and still looks great today. As long as they are done well, I think that dark colors will be around for a long time.

      One more thing… dark colors can fade fast if you use a cheap grade of paint. Invest in the most expensive grade that you can afford and your paint job will last much longer than you would expect.
      Michelle

      1. Thank you for your time replying and the information. May I ask what the creamy/ white trim color is? I am looking at SW Iron Ore or Urbane Bronze for the body color and BM Creamy White for the trim as I have a warm red brick but I really like the colors shown! Looks amazing!

        1. I don’t have the trim color, but it was similar to BM Edgecomb Gray or BM Manchester Tan. These colors would be gorgeous with red brick.
          Good luck!
          Michelle

  5. I wanted satin super paint from sherwin Williams but they are having a shortage of that paint so the guy suggested Matte Duration, did I do right by going with that. I’m painting all the interior of my house and I’m just don’t want to make a huge mistake because it’s a big investment.

  6. Which sheen of Benjamin Moore Regal or Ben paint do you recommend for porch ceilings? We have open gables, so that sheen
    will be on those soffits as well. (I have seen a general recommendation for Satin but don’t have that option in the Regal or Ben line.) We are using new Hardee Board.

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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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