Your Ultimate Guide to Paint Finishes: What Type Is Best for Your Walls?

When working with paint, the finish you choose is almost as important as the color. Sheen has a direct impact on how a shade looks, how easy it is to clean and how well it hides imperfections on your walls. With that in mind, it’s crucial to know your options for paint finishes before you get started. Read on to get a sense of the different paint finishes that are available, as well as how to use them.

A matte finish is the most common type for interior walls. Image: Martha O’Hara Interiors

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Matte paint

Matte paint — sometimes also called flat paint — is the most common choice for interior walls and ceilings. It’s popular because it offers little to no shine, letting your other design choices have the focus. A matte finish goes well in just about any room in your home.

Another benefit of matte paint is that it is very good at hiding imperfections like chips or cracks in the walls. For this reason, it’s particularly well-suited for use in older homes, which may have experienced wear and tear over time. On the other hand, the flatness of this paint makes it very hard to clean off handprints and other marks. In fact, it’s often easier just to touch up with another spot of paint, so make sure to keep some on hand if you decide to go this route.

Matte-enamel paint has a matte finish but is much more durable than normal matte paint finishes. Image: Fisher & Paykel

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Matte-enamel paint

As the name suggests, matte-enamel paint is very similar to matte. Just like the option above, it comes with a flat finish and little-to-no shine. However, this finish comes with one more added benefit. The chemical makeup of matte-enamel paint has been altered slightly so that a bit of film forms on the surface as it dries, making it easier to clean.

The extra durability of matte-enamel paint makes it an especially good fit for high-traffic areas like kitchens and bathrooms. If you’re looking for these paints at a local home improvement store, they will most likely be labeled as “washable,” owing to the fact that they’ll stand up to a light scrubbing with mild soap and water.

Eggshell paint is a midpoint between a matte and a gloss. Image: RS Myers Company

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Eggshell paint

Now we start to get into some shine. If you can picture the slight sheen on the outside of an eggshell, you have a pretty good idea of what eggshell paint is going to look like. This type of finish is great for busy family homes because the surface is very easy to clean. Yet, you don’t have to contend with the eye-catching luster that comes with some of the glossier finishes.

If this paint has one downside, it’s that the finish begins to show cracks and other imperfections in the wall over time. Make sure you patch up your walls before using this type of paint. Additionally, always work your brush in the same direction to avoid creating lines as the paint dries.

Satin paints have a more of a shine to them than eggshell finishes. Image: Hilderbrand Interiors

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Satin paint

The next step up from eggshell, stain paint is well-liked because it gives off a warm, almost velvety feel once it’s applied. It’s a particularly good choice for framing elements like doorways, trim and moldings. However, its durability also makes it a good choice for high-traffic areas like hallways, kitchens and bathrooms.

The upside to a satin finish is that it is very easy to clean and it resists chipping and peeling fairly well. The downside is that it’s often possible to see individual brushstrokes. In this case, touch-up painting is no longer an option.

Semi-gloss paint is great for trim work. Image: Jerry Jacobs Design, Inc.

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Semi-gloss paint

Semi-gloss paint is similar to satin. However, the extra sheen guarantees that more light bounces off, making the shade you choose appear darker than it would with a satin finish.

Again, semi-gloss finishes are a good choice for any rooms with walls that need to be frequently cleaned (heads up, parents with kids who like to draw on the walls). The shine of semi-gloss also makes it a perfect fit for any individual design elements that you want to emphasize. Consider using it for things like kitchen cabinets, fireplace mantels or banisters.

Use gloss paint to make a style statement. Image: Archer & Buchanan Architecture, Ltd.

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Gloss paint

Finally, we have gloss (also known as high-gloss) paint. The shiny, reflective surface of this paint makes it a good choice for window and door trim or furniture. However, if you want to really bring a glamorous aesthetic into your interiors, don’t be afraid to go big and put a coat or two on your walls.

Which paint finishes do you prefer in your home? Do you have any tips on how to apply them correctly? Let us know in the comments.