Choosing Your Paint's Best Sheen

"Durability, abrasion resistance and ease of cleaning are key factors to consider when choosing the sheen of your paint."

The hardest thing about painting is choosing the color, right?

But don’t forget: a paint’s sheen is important, too.

The term “sheen” describes the final gloss level of the paint once dry, and relates to the dried paint film’s performance. Durability, abrasion resistance and ease of cleaning are key factors to consider when choosing the sheen of your paint. We have multiple quality grades of paint to fit your specific specifications or budgets, and are always ready to lead customers through the choices of product, color and sheen that will work best for each of your individual projects. Here’s our guide to six basic sheens available from Benjamin Moore.

Flat (no gloss) is the most basic finish. Its absence of gloss helps the paint hide minor flaws and imperfections. It masks irregular texture, since it doesn’t reflect light nearly as much as higher-gloss paints. Flat is the easiest to apply; it also touches up well. Its downside: the lack of gloss makes it harder to clean. Flat paint can develop a sheen after repeated washing; it can “polish up”, and frequently-washed areas may eventually look different from the surrounding paint (more noticeable with darker colors). Flat sheen is best used on ceilings and in rooms where the walls won’t be touched. Flat is rarely used in bathrooms, kitchens, and high traffic areas due to its more limited durability.

Matte is a super-cleanable flat-type finish, blending the benefits of flat and eggshell without any significant downside. Matte is aesthetically a flat finish with a slight “glow” compared to true flat, yet it cleans well and resists stains; as so it’s very popular, leaning in to the trend toward lower-gloss sheens in home design and furniture. It applies easily and touches up well and is used in all areas of the home, with special matte finishes available for use in high humidity areas like bathrooms. While it looks flat, matte is generally not used on ceilings due to its “glow” except in special situations. Matte is particularly good for tall foyers and great rooms, since it is highly washable and minimizes wall imperfections in large and well-lit areas.

Eggshell is an elegant low-gloss finish that stands up to repeated washings and abuse. Different paint companies have slightly different standards on sheen; Benjamin Moore eggshell falls between flat and satin. While eggshell finish can be used in most areas, it is generally reserved for walls, rather than ceilings or trim. Eggshell is harder to touch up than flat, but wears better because it is more abrasion resistant. Since it reflects light more than flat, a little extra care is needed when applying as it can show both imperfections and roller marks under certain lighting conditions. Some users apply eggshell to trim and doors due to their desire for low-gloss, but it is not recommended as it does not offer the long-term durability needed for these surfaces. Eggshell is still used for ceilings in bathrooms where high humidity can cause flat paint on ceilings to peel.

Satin/Pearl finishes are shinier than eggshell and less than semi-gloss. (Note: This description applies to Benjamin Moore products, and may vary with other manufacturers.) It’s very durable and can take repeated scrubbings without failing, offering a medium-sheen option for trim, doors, cabinets and furniture. Its softer look makes it more forgiving on surfaces that aren’t quite perfect, and its lower sheen can produce a better-looking surface than a traditional semi-gloss. In a shift that also benefits the matte finish, tastes in finishes have turned toward lower sheens, and satin/pearl provides an extremely durable surface with a softer look. While most often used on hard surfaces, it can be effective on walls in areas that really take a pounding, like a mudroom or kid’s bathroom.

Semi-gloss has the highest gloss of the common finishes, a hard and durable sheen used primarily for interior woodwork for many decades on trim, doors and cabinets to withstand repeated scrubbing and abuse. As tastes shift toward lower glosses, more people have opted for pearl/satin finishes where semi-gloss was previously used. Very little semi-gloss is still sold for walls, as its higher sheen can expose surface imperfections.

Gloss provides the shiny wet look of a polished surface in a hard and durable finish. While currently a less frequent choice for woodwork and interior doors, it is primarily used for small accent pieces and furniture. Shelves, picture and mirror frames, and decorative objects are some effective uses of gloss, as well as exterior doors. As it is so shiny, this finish takes more finesse to use, and is not forgiving of surface flaws nor improper application. Gloss is applied in multiple coats, often sanded between coats to flatten out the coating to enable the final look to be smooth and brilliant.

Our service team at Blue Jay Paint and Blinds looks forward to helping you pick the perfect paints for your next home project.

Jay Adams is owner of Blue Jay Paint and Blinds in Lake Zurich, an independent Benjamin Moore dealer. For more information on products and services offered, including Hunter Douglas and Graber window fashions, visit or call 224.677.5334.

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