Understanding Paint Finishes
Will Keep Your Room
From Falling "Flat"

I love flat paint finishes on my walls and ceilings, but adding other finish types throughout the room help liven things up a bit. Picking a paint finish is not as difficult as picking the paint color. Once you've done that, it's just a matter of understanding the finishes and when each is best used.

Finishes provide a level of sheen and durability to your paint. Most paint stores can show you examples of each finish, but which one you choose depends on the type of wall or surface being painted and personal preference. The following descriptions may help.


Flat is a great, all-around finish for most interior walls and ceilings. I prefer flat overall because it has a nice matte or non-reflective quality. Flat is also excellent at hiding defects on your walls, such as small bumps or cracks, since it absorbs light which aids in masking these imperfections.

Touching up minor scratches with flat paint is a breeze because it typically blends in well after it has dried. However, flat can be less forgiving when it gets dirty and it may scuff easily. If you have kids who like to touch the walls, consider eggshell.

Use flat in all rooms of your home.

Flat Black Wall

Tip: Use flat for all your ceilings. The non-reflective quality will eliminate glares from overhead or ceiling mounted lighting.

Frugal Tip Purchasing paint in 5 gallon buckets is an economical approach if you have large areas to cover. Consider using some ready mixed colors straight off your vendor's shelves for ease and convenience.


Eggshell is another multi-purpose paint finish for walls and ceilings. Eggshell has a very light sheen and is a bit more forgivable when cleaning than flat. The sheen is less noticeable with lighter colors such as those in the white family. It is however, a great alternative to flat if you have areas prone to getting dirty.

Use eggshell in all rooms of your home.

Tip: You can do your ceilings in eggshell but the sheen does have some subtle reflective qualities. Consider using flat instead.


Satin has a bit more sheen than eggshell and has a velvety looking finish when dry. Satin is typically used for trim work such as moldings and door or window frames, but can also be used for walls in rooms prone to humidity such as kitchens and baths. The higher sheen allows it to hold up better to cleaning.

Use satin in kitchens, bathrooms, kid's rooms, play rooms, hallways, laundry rooms, mud rooms, on walls, trim, framework, and molding


Semi-gloss is a nice "middle ground" finish that produces a higher sheen than satin. It is typically used to paint trim work and cabinetry and provides a nice contrast to flat, eggshell or satin walls. The light gloss effect provides some definition and visual interest in the details of the room. It resists dirt well and holds up better to mild scrubbing and washing.

Use semi-gloss for trim, framework, molding, cabinetry, chair rail, doors, kid's rooms, play rooms

Semi-Gloss Paint Finish

Tip: Use semi-gloss on a small accent wall, such as the wall area around a doorway into another room. It provides some visual interest and depending on the color used, can play up a room's theme. This is a neat trick when used with a bold color in a modern or contemporary setting.


Gloss produces a high shine and is the most reflective of all the finishes. Though not widely used, it can provide a bold, dramatic impact in the right setting. Consider using it on cabinets or moldings in a modern or contemporary setting.

Use gloss for trim, framework, molding, cabinetry, chair rail

Gloss Black Paint

Hopefully this will give you enough insight as to which paint finish to couple with your paint color choices. If you are still unsure, choose flat or eggshell for your walls and semi-gloss for your trim and wainscoting, if applicable.

When you are ready to start painting, visit the Painting a Room guide.

Return from Paint Finishes to Paint Colors

Return from Paint Finishes to Frugal Interior Design

Frugal HOME