Paint finishes are not as complicated as they might seem. If you’ve made some previous research, you’ve probably encountered lists of over 10 finish types, each with their own pros and cons, which is a lot to take in. But you have to decide on one, so where do you start?

The thing is, while you can get super specific with paint finishes, you don’t really need to. You’re basically going from Flat (or Matte) finish to High Gloss finish, and the inbetweens are just that – inbetweens.

Here, I’ll walk you through the ones you need to know and leave out the “grey areas that would only cloud your judgement. Knowing these, you will be able to make an informed decision – and if you need to get more specific, you can use this guide as a starting point when talking to a professional.

“He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1. Flat

Flat is the least reflective look
Flat is the least reflective look. Source: Nix

Flat is the least reflective finish, also called a Matte finish. It’s great for low-traffic rooms as it offers a smooth and clean look, with the benefit of being better at hiding imperfections on the wall since it creates less shadows and glows. Because of that, it can even be used to cover textured walls if the idea is to hide some of the roughness in there.

The downside is that it’s harder to clean and could easily stain if you’re not careful. Hence why it’s not recommended for high-traffic areas like the kitchen or the bathroom, which you’ll be cleaning quite often. However, it’s perfect for sitting areas and bedrooms because of its cozier aesthetic.

2. Eggshell

Eggshell is one of the most versatile finishes.
Eggshell is one of the most versatile finishes. Source: Nix

It’s worth noting that Eggshell and the next tier of finish below (Satin) are incredibly close and often interchangeable, but they are still considered separate types, so we should talk about them individually.

Eggshell is slightly shinier than Flat, but only slightly. Despite not being in the middle of the pack, Eggshell is probably the most versatile finish when it comes to looks alone – it’s most commonly seen in bedrooms and living rooms.

It retains a matte look but can be used in more high-traffic areas without much problem since it can be wiped with a wet rag, but it’s by no means the easiest to clean so a degree of care is advised. Basically, if all you want is a basic finish that gets the job done, Eggshell is your pick.

3. Satin

Satin is the middle of the road – versatile and good for almost every room
Satin is the middle of the road – versatile and good for almost every room. Source: Country Living

Satin is the official middle of the pack, and it has all the perks that come with it.

Visually, Satin is slightly shinier than Flat and Eggshell, but still not enough to get into “glossy territory. It’s an all around great finish that goes well almost everywhere, especially in high-traffic areas like kitchens and bathrooms that need to be cleaned regularly and therefore demands higher durability.

Eggshell has a slightly more matte look, and Satin has a slightly glossier look. The difference is minor, but noticeable when you see a live comparison – paint stores will often have these at hand to show you. It’s important to note Satin still hides imperfections and bumps fairly well, but again, this is the middle of the pack.

Satin is essentially a compromise on both sides. Not too glossy, not too flat, and goes well in nearly every situation.

4. Semi Gloss

This is where we start entering glossy territory.
This is where we start entering glossy territory. Source: Simply Swank Decor

As the name suggests, this is where we get into “glossy territory. With it comes a sleeker look and higher durability at the cost of not hiding imperfections very well.

But another great advantage is how much easier it is to clean with water when compared to previous tiers, making this an ideal choice for kid’s bedrooms or bathrooms.

5. High Gloss

High gloss is perfect for kitchens or exterior painting
High gloss is perfect for kitchens or exterior painting. Source: HGTV

At last, we’re full on glossy. This is the most reflective, shinier variation of finishes you can get and it comes with the perks you’d expect of this tier – super easy to clean with water and highly durable, making it perfect for bathrooms, kitchens, window and door trims and even furniture.

The downside is that it’s the hardest one to apply perfectly, since any imperfections will be more easily spotted because of the high gloss effect. And since the effect is quite shiny, it’s generally not ideal for entire living room walls. Of course there are exceptions (maybe you want a “glam look) but being such a tricky finish to apply, it tends to show it’s true potential when used to accent details or smaller areas – like trims, furniture or cabinets.

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