Types of Paint Sheen

handyman applying paint sheen in interior of homeTypes of Paint Sheen and How to Choose

Whether you are painting your home in Baltimore, Ellicott City or Rockville MD, or anywhere up and down the Chesapeake Bay, the sheen of the paint can be just as important as the color.  The sheen will determine the washability and can help create subtle and even dramatic differences.  There are certain rules of thumb about choosing among the different types of paint sheen that can help guide you in improving the look and longevity of the paint. The information I have provided is largely based on experience and knowledge. I have been painting homes for almost 30 years. And like the Farmers commercial “I know a thing or two because we have seen a thing or two”  applies to the over 30,000 homes I’ve painted and the knowledge and experience I’ve gotten along the way.  I’ve also included some short examples of when I picked the wrong sheen to help you avoid those pitfalls as well.

Sheen Durability

Here are the sheens and durability from least to most:

  1. Flat – least washable
  2. Matte
  3. Eggshell (also called Low luster)
  4. Satin
  5. Semi-gloss
  6. Gloss (or High Gloss) – most washable

Do all types of paint sheen clean basically the same?  Back in the day, the answer was always no.  But today with new technology flat and matte finishes have come along way and a small select few very high-end paints have excellent durability and clean-up, but for the most part, as you increase the sheen to a higher more reflective level the durability increases as well. The more reflective or smoother the surface the less dirt can fit in the grooves of the paint.  This is how interior painting and paint sheen was explained to me almost 30 years ago.

If you looked at flat paint under a microscope, it would look similar to a plate of cooked spaghetti noodles without the sauce.  There would be plenty of nooks and crannies for dirt fill in and hard to get it out.  Wiping flat paint off would just of smear the dirt around.

On the other hand, if we looked at a high gloss paint under a microscope it would look like a piece of glass.  And we all know that if you spill something on a glass surface it just wipes right off.  That is the same for gloss paint as well.  They are cleanable.

green paint sheen next to front doorknob

Flat paint

Flat paint has the dullest sheen of all the types of paint sheen and comes in many different grades.  From maintenance paint that would be used in apartments to premium grade flats that would be used at the White House.  Most major paint manufacturers have at least 4 or more lines that fall between the two.    I hate speaking in absolutes but most low-end paints will have poor results in washability and scrubbability.  Some poor paints do actually cover just fine and touch-up easily.  For the purpose of this article,  I will be referring to mid-grade to premium grades.

Advantages of flat paint

  • Least expensive
  • Covers the best
  • Self-priming
  • Touches up perfectly (no need to paint the entire wall)
  • Hides imperfections
  • Best choice if you have removed wallpaper and are repainting.
  • Best choice for ceilings


Why choose a flat paint for the ceiling – most interior house painters will shutter at the thought of painting anything other than flat on the ceilings.  Why?  Because flat paints non-reflective properties it hides subtle imperfections of roller marks and unevenness of surfaces.  We recently painted a home in Parkville MD with flat paint on the walls and ceiling because the house was built in the 1920s and had lots of imperfections in the plaster.  The customer did not have any children or dogs and wanted a clean finish that could be touched up when needed as opposed to cleaning.  Also, flat paint hid so many subtle defects of the plaster.

A second advantage to interior flat paint is it touches up well.  Some customers would prefer to break out a roller and touch up areas as opposed to cleaning the walls.  If so, flat paint is the way to go.  As you will see shortly, one of the disadvantages of using paint with a sheen is it does not touch-up very well.  Flat paint does.  So, if drywall refinish service needs to be done, flat paint can be done in just the repaired areas and the flat paint will blend right in without repainting the entire wall.

I highly recommend using flat paint if you are removing wallpaper.  Wallpaper removal is a service we provide as well.  The reason why you want to use interior flat paint after wallpaper removal has taken place is that of the rough conditions of the walls.  Flat paint will help hide the drywall imperfections better than all other sheens.

interior of home with flat paint walls

Flat Paint Disadvantages

  • Does not have the washability or scrubbability compared to the other sheens.

Recently a customer who we painted for in Columbia MD wanted a highly washable flat paint.  Yes, all paint manufacturers have washable flat paint, but in truth, most are not a true flat.  They need the slightest sheen to some wash-ability.   These premium grade flats paints are definitely more washable than a good grade flat, but they do not have the washability that an eggshell / low sheen paint can handle.  There is a compromise, if you want to wash the walls but desire a minimal sheen than a Matte finish is the best choice.

Is there a difference between scrubbable and washable paint?

Washable refers to the stain’s ability NOT to adhere to the paint.  Stain can easily be washed off with a sponge and mild detergent.

Scrubbable has to do not with a paint’s ability to be cleaned.  In order for a paint to be labeled scrubbable, it needs to be able to scrub with a stiff bristle brush repeatedly and resist erosion.   The stain can still exist, and the paint can be reduced in sheen as well.  But the paint did not come off.

The goal of good quality paint is to handle light-duty cleaning to remove dirt and stains (washability) and not wash the paint off the wall (scrubbability)

Matte Finish

If hiding imperfections on the walls are important but the customer would like some washability as well then a matte finish is a perfect choice.  It is very hard to tell the difference between a flat and matte finish unless you are looking at the wall from an angle.  Matte finish has an ever so slight sheen that they can easily be confused for a flat finish.  But it’s that very slight sheen that its ability to be washed and scrubbed.

I have yet to see mid-grade matte paint but I am sure some manufacturer is working on it.  Maryland Paint in Annapolis has a multitude of premium grade matte paints and I highly recommend you check them out if you are a do-it-yourselfer.  Maryland Paint & Decorating is a full-service independent paint dealer in Annapolis that carries at least 4 different manufacturers of Matte finish paint that all of that exceptional quality.

Matt Paint disadvantages

  • The major disadvantage of a matte finish is it is expensive.
  • Matte paint does not work well on ceilings

Don’t make this mistake

Matte paints are very close to a flat finish but please never confuse the two and apply a Matte finish on a ceiling.  Many years ago, I wanted to apply the best Matte finish paint on the market to make please a painting customer in Bethesda MD.  I painted the ceiling 3 times before I throw in the towel.  Matte paints are impossible to get looking good on a ceiling with lots of light.  I ended up getting a flat ceiling paint that did the trick.   The customer in Bethesda was happy with our painting service and has recommended us to many other neighbors and friends.  Thanks!!

Matte paint advantages

  • It hides imperfections on walls about as good as flat paint. It is an excellent choice for plaster walls.
  • It can be touched up and will blend right into surrounding areas.
  • It is self-priming
  • It has very good washability and scrubbability.

Eggshell Sheen

Eggshell Advantages

  • Eggshell paint has several advantages and is now about as frequently used on walls as flat paint. The advantages are it has subtlety, sophistication, and an elegant sheen.  Eggshell finishes are durable and washable.  Minor scuffs can be easily cleaned with a mild detergent and sponge.  Its soft creamy look gives it a contrast between flat and satin finish.
  • As a rule of thumb, a good grade eggshell will have better washability than a premium matte finish.
  • It is easy to apply

Many homes including this interior painting job in Towson MD used eggshell paint on all the walls.  The eggshell sheen was a great choice and Towson shined just a little brighter.

Long or tall walls with open space will show drywall imperfections. Short walls or walls with a lot of pictures, or windows will help hide the minor imperfections.  Eggshell is the highest finish that slight imperfections will not be that noticeable unless walls are long and open or tall like a 2-story foyer.  Kitchens and bathrooms used to be painted with a semi-gloss sheen.  Most customers have switched to an eggshell finish because it still has the durability without the sheen of s semi-gloss.

Eggshell Disadvantages

Of all the types of paint sheen, Eggshell Interior paint does not touch up well.  Every time an additional coat of paint is applied the product gets a hair shinier.  The results are noticeable, and any professional painting contractor should know that the wall will have to be painted in its entirety.  At Klappenberger & Son, our professional painters are trained to do the following procedure when repairing wall damage to a wall with a sheen other than flat or matte finishes.

  1. Spackle and sand to a smooth finish
  2. Prime spackled area
  3. Paint repaired area only with an eggshell finish
  4. Paint entire wall

Therefore, some professional painting companies in the Maryland areas and elsewhere that charge more for painting with an eggshell sheen or other higher sheens.  Recently, we painted a tall foyer in Clarksville MD and the 20’ high walls were flat paint.  The customer wanted an eggshell paint applied to the walls because of its washability (they have 4 children and 2 large dogs).  But it was also important to the Clarksville family to have the walls look excellent as they liked to entertain.  So, they wanted a professional paint job using durable paint but were also concerned about not showing the imperfections.  Even though the walls looked good with flat paint, new areas of concern will now appear because of the reflection of light bouncing off the walls is more reflective.  The solution is to bring in halogen lights and shine them on the flat walls which will highlight the imperfections prior to applying the eggshell paint.  Klappenberger & Son is a professional painting company in Maryland that follows those best practices.  In other words, if you are switching from flat to eggshell, be prepared to see flaws in the walls that were not noticeable before.

Typical places to use Eggshell Interior Paint

painter applying eggshell finish to walls at the smithsonian

Government painting jobs such as this one at the Smithsonian.  Selvin is applying  Ben Moore Eggshell finish to walls.

  1. Commercial painting business in Maryland: Office buildings are routinely painted in Eggshell to handle the daily scuffs.  Some of the Maryland commercial painting services that we have painted using eggshell paint on the walls include:  Interior painting of schools, churches, Medstar, and assisted living.  Klappenberger & Son is a licensed and insured commercial painting contractor in Maryland that is also an expert on Eggshell finish epoxy paint which we have been using in a High School in Baltimore City.  This epoxy eggshell paint is a remarkable product with amazing durability and washability.  We painted the interior of Coppin State High School Academy in Baltimore several years ago and I had the privilege of returning a year later and cleaning the walls we painted.  The result was amazing! Strong scuff marks wiped off so easily and left no evidence on the walls after the cleaning dried.
  1. Residential places where eggshell is commonly used.

Some of the most common areas where rooms that would benefit from having eggshell paint would be bathrooms, kitchens, and high traffic areas, such as hallways, and laundry rooms.  Also, if you are not concerned about having your walls look perfect and free of small blemishes eggshell is a good choice for any wall.  It has a similar sheen to a stick of butter but with no calories.  Remember, a mid-grade eggshell paint which costs about $25.000 will have better washability than a premium grade flat that would cost a range from 45.00 – 65.00 dollars.   So if you are likely to clean your walls instead of touch-up, eggshell paint is your best bet.

eggshell finish in white hallway with stairs inside home

This Gaithersburg painting home had several small children that will require a highly washable low sheen finish.  The product used was Sherwin Williams Cashmere Low Luster which is the same sheen as an eggshell.

Do you ever wash or clean your walls?

If you don’t wash your walls, why bother getting washable paint?  You are paying for something you won’t benefit from.  It reminds me of when I saw a button in a rental car for seat warmers in Hawaii.  Nice feature but can’t imagine when they will ever be used.

What about rental properties?  I recommend painting a rental property with mid-grade flat paint because it touches up so well.  Just get an extra five-gallon bucket and leave a roller in it.  When tenants leave you may be able to get away with just rolling the areas that need it.  You certainly should not have to edge where the walls and ceiling meet.  If you touch up with an eggshell the areas that were re-coated will look shinier than the areas that were not re-coated causing a patchy look.

Satin finish

Satin finish is certainly the least common sheen used.  Why?  No real reason but it is already visible in your home.  Your kitchen cabinets sheen is a satin finish.  Recently we got a referral from a previous customer who was asked if she knew any house painters in Baltimore who painted kitchen cabinets.  When I meet the customer in Towson I showed them samples of cabinet grade satin finish paint and explained our best practices.  Satin has great durability and washability with a slightly less sheen than semi-gloss.  It is often used in historic restoration work both on the interior and exterior of homes.  The reason is woodwork is often in rough shape on historical homes and the slightly duller finish from a semi-gloss has noticeable differences in hiding dings and dents.  Also, if the walls are flat and the trim is satin finish there is still significant contrast.  Most historical properties have beautiful trim and it does not need a semi-gloss finish to be noticed.

Disadvantages of a satin finish

If you have modest trim and you switch from a semi-gloss finish to a satin finish the paint looks slightly duller as if the painter did not apply enough paint.

If you paint walls a satin finish and the walls are bowed or wavy the work will look horrible.  It may take hours for a professional painter or drywall finisher to make the walls look acceptable.  In some cases, it might not even be possible.  When we were repainting this historical project in Baltimore City the customer viewed the flaws in the plaster as adding character.  These walls didn’t need to talk to show all their character.

bright green satin paint sheen finish inside home

The walls are a satin finish glow in the dark green with jet black semi-gloss and high gloss white trim.  This interior painting job is from a historic property in Baltimore City.

Advantages of a Satin finish:

Satin types of paint sheen finishes can be used on walls, ceilings, and trim but come with the same warnings as eggshell sheen does.  Namely, it will accentuate imperfections if the previous coat was a lesser sheen.

It is great in bathrooms for moisture.  In fact, most bathroom paints have a satin sheen.

Other great places to use a satin finish are painting furniture, kitchen cabinets, and closets.  Yes, closets get all scuffed up and a satin finish is like making it bulletproof.  If you have paintable shelves you can just paint everything in the closet the same color (white is best).   Life is complicated enough, painting your closets white satin from top to bottom just made life a little easier.

What does a satin finish look like?   Furniture and kitchen cabinets are usually satin finishes.

Semi-Gloss Paint

Semi-gloss is most commonly used on woodwork like windows, doors, baseboard, etc.  It’s durability and contrast to eggshell and flat paint make it a nice partnership with walls and trim.  At one time it was very common to paint kitchen and bathroom walls semi-gloss, but its urethane look can leave a cold impression.   Today customers are more likely to just use an eggshell sheen because it has more subtleness to it and does not highlight the imperfections.  Plus if your walls are eggshell and the trim is semi-gloss there is still a contrast.  In my opinion semi-gloss on walls has an institutional look to it.  It is something that I would recommend in a daycare facility or a gym.  But on trim, it is still king at and is the most common choice by far.

painter painting a pool bathroom with blue paint

Right: Dave Perella is painting a pool bathroom in Gaithersburg MD

Semi-gloss the disadvantages

Semi-gloss does not look good on walls unless walls are in great shape.  This may require extensive drywall spackling services.  Drywall services such as skimming walls can double the time and cost of the paint job.  Touching up trim is no problem but touching up walls will often look patchy.  Meaning every additional coat gets a little shinier and will be necessary to repaint the entire wall.  The process is the same as it would be for all the other sheens besides flat and matte finish.  First, prime then paint the primed area, then paint the entire wall.  This is a best practice that all professional painting services in Maryland should follow and is certainly incorporated by Klappenberger & Son.

Semi-gloss the advantages

The advantages of painting the interior of homes in Maryland with a semi-gloss is its durability and also it’s coverage.  This is the highest sheen you can apply that will typically cover in two coats.  Whenever you change colors or sheens it best to figure on 2 coats of paint.  95% of the time semi-gloss will not let you down.

The semi-gloss finish has more washability and scrubbablity than any other sheen except gloss.  Because of those features, it is the best product to apply to doors and door trim.  It is also the most economical product to apply for durability because of its superior coverage to gloss paint.

FYI – Please stay away from any white paint that reads “brilliant white.”  This paint is so white that it does not have enough pigment to cover.  Some customers who want interior painting service in Maryland want their ceilings or trim to be “brilliant white”.  This is a poor choice.  I try to educate the customer and let them know that it will always take multiple coats and lead to additional costs with no real visual difference.  Paint colors like “Extra white, Super white, and just White” will cover and work just fine.  If you buy paint and it says Brilliant White I hope you enjoy painting –a lot!

High Gloss Types of Paint Sheen

Gloss paint looks like glass and just sits on top of the surface.  It can have a very dramatic and powerful feel.  In this historical restoration project in Baltimore City, the owner understood the effect of gloss paint and wanted to maximize its effect.  Gloss paint is difficult to work with and is more susceptible to drips and runs than other sheens.   Once we used gloss paint on walls.  We had to spackle walls all the walls from top to bottom (called a skin coat).  The walls then needed to be sanded and primed and rechecked for further imperfections.  It’s also difficult to apply the paint but that is for another article.  The bottom line is a gloss on walls has a dramatic effect and can look amazing but it very labor-intensive.

clean white toilet surrounded by red glossy walls

This historical restaurant in Baltimore City (The Elephant).  We painted the walls Fire Engine Red and in high gloss.  Talk about dramatic!

High Gloss: the Disadvantages

The disadvantages of gloss paint will become apparent very quickly.

  1. They show every flaw as if it was under a microscope. If glossy paint is applied with a roller it should be backed brushed to knock down the nap of the roller.
  2. The paint runs and drips 10 minutes after you think you are finished.
  3. It typically requires additional coats for coverage. Fine Paints of Europe does make high-quality gloss paints that have exceptional coverage.  SW Emerald does not cover well and is difficult to work with.
  4. It dries more slowly than all other sheens.
  5. It fades quicker when on exterior surfaces.

High Gloss The advantages

You are the king of the sheen!

High Gloss has an amazing effect.  It is very noticeable.

Very durable and has great washability

Best places to use Gloss paint

  1. Mantles
  2. Window sills
  3. Front door interior and exterior
  4. Newel post
  5. Bookcases
  6. Wood shutters on historic homes look great if you don’t mind seeing the imperfections.
  7. Anything you want to show off.

Exterior Types of Paint Sheen

Picking the right types of paint sheens on exterior surfaces has a few more standard rules of thumb.

It is a safe bet that if you are painting your siding, it will be either flat or Eggshell finish.

Satin and semi-gloss sheens have too much of a sheen and are better served to be used on trim, shutters, and doors.

When Maryland customers are in need of a professional painting company they often call Klappenberger & Son Painting for guidance on the pros and cons of choosing the right sheen.  On aluminum and vinyl siding the proper sheen to use is Eggshell.  Why?  When the siding was originally installed it had and an eggshell finish.  As time wears on, the color has faded and the sheen has become dull.  If a flat finish is applied, it will hold pollen and dust that can turn into mildew faster.  Also, as rain splatters mud or dirt on the siding, eggshell would be less likely to stick.  Because eggshell finish has a smoother finish it will clean easier when power washed.  If you skipped eggshell sheen and went straight to a satin finish it will look too shiny.    Once I used an exterior satin finish paint on aluminum siding home and I thought it looked horrible.  It needed to be repainted.  The difference between satin and eggshell sheen is significant when you are seeing the tall gable side of a two-story home.

If you are fortunate enough to own a beautiful historic home such as this one in Annapolis MD.  You will find the rules for exterior paint sheen have some additional options.  When we meet with the customer, we suggested a satin finish on all siding and trim.

This would allow better washability than a flat or eggshell and would let all the character of the siding and trim shine.

Historical homes can be painted just about any sheen including High Gloss. This storefront in historic Annapolis has oil gloss paint applied to its trim and Low sheen paint on the bricks.

exterior sheen paint job on historical building

This Historic storefront in Annapolis has high gloss trim and low sheen on the bricks.

Exterior Sheens Fade But How Fast

The Maryland summers are long and hot and the UV will definitely affect color retention as well as the sheen.  Color retention will fade depending on the color.  Reds and yellows will fade the quickest while taupes and tans will hold their color the longest.  As far as sheen are concerned a quality paint will hold its sheen longer than a lesser grade.  Typically, most sheens will start to show a slight decrease in sheen in 4-6 years.  Hi-gloss paints in full exposure may lose then sheens a bit faster … 3-5 years.  Flats will have hardly changed for about 10 years.

Picking the right sheen takes careful thought and understanding of the pros and cons of each level.  Klappenberger & Son painting consultant’s will be glad to give you a free consolation on all aspects of interior and exterior painting and handyman work.

How to retard the loss of Sheen

Maryland has strong seasonal changes and the hot strong summers are one thing but the dark winters play their own havoc on exterior painting surfaces especially in high wooded areas like this exterior painting job in Columbia Maryland.  The winters are a great time for mildew to spread which means it may need a spring power washing with bleach.  Bleach will reduce sheen.  Chloride is a stripper.  It is an acid and will therefore know the sheen down a notch.  It’s best to use about 10-15% bleach in combination with other milder cleaners to clean homes with as opposed to higher levels of bleach when power washing.

handyman power washing side vinyl of house exterior

Power washing vinyl siding in Towson MD

I’ve included a few other exterior painting projects in Towson, Severna Park, and Potomac MD

Some of the other exterior painting and handyman services that Klappenberger & Son provide include:

  • Power washing
  • Replacing rotten siding and trim
  • Replacing of screen
  • Replacing front doors
  • Replacing Handrails and deck boards

Klappenberger & Son is a residential and commercial painting contractor serving most of Maryland.  Geographical locations that our professional painters’ service would include Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, and Baltimore City, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince Georges County, and Queen Ann’s County.

If you are in need of professional painting services in Maryland but outside of the areas listed above please call us and we may be able to recommend another professional painting company if we are not able to service the area ourselves. Contact us for a free quote! Click here if you are interested in franchise opportunities we have available.

COVID-19 Update: Klappenberger & Son Is Still Open For Business

Klappenberger & Son is still open for business during COVID-19