Are you confused about the different types of paint sheens? Oh, good. This is the post for you.  Here’s how to choose the right paint finish for your space.

We talk a lot about paint here.

Maybe because it’s one of my best friends.

We’ve discussed how to pick a paint color and what the best blue paint colors are and discussed this group of amazing neutrals and the one thing you need to do before painting and talked about paint in a zillion other paint posts that you can see here.

And in all that paint talk, I realized something.

I’ve never really gone into detail about which paint sheen works where and if glossy or flat or semi-gloss is what you need.

It’s almost spring friends.  It’s so close.  I can smell it.  If you are under layers of snow or the day looks dreary and exhausting or your toes are cold and you need some fuzzy socks, no worries.

This too shall pass.

And when spring gets here and we all want to spring clean and refresh and paint our spaces?  This post will be your best friend.

Here’s a simple guide on how to choose the right paint finish for your space.

Flat paint

Flat paint is the least glossy of all the paint sheens.

You could probably figure this out already by its name because you, my friend, are brilliant.

It’s chalky and doesn’t really have any finish or sheen at all.  It’s purpose?  To divert light away from the painted surface.

That’s why it’s perfect for ceilings.

Not wall.

Please.  I beg of you.  If you read nothing else here today.  If you only get this far and realize that you have to start your exercise program today and leave at this point in the post to go run five miles, please pay attention to this.


You will regret it.

Flat paint loves dirt.  It loves scuff marks.  It loves to show every scratch that it meets along the way.  Remember that it diverts light?  It won’t reflect light at all so your walls will look flat and lonely and unlighted.

And flat.

edited to add:  I stand corrected.  Truly.  There are so many amazing comments about flat paint in the comments that I feel I need to add flat paint as an option for walls—maybe not just kitchen and bath.

Recap:  this is the right paint finish for ceilings and all rooms that want to look scratchy.

Eggshell or Satin

These paint finishes are almost the same.  Super close.  First cousins.  Eggshell is slightly less shiny than satin.

If you like the look of flat paint on the walls and you want the tiniest of shines, eggshell is the right paint finish for you.

Satin is my go-to choice for walls.

The brilliance of satin is that it’s the perfect combination of flawless and understated.

(total aside:  Those are two words I strive for and have yet to achieve).

Satin is the right finish for walls.

The amazing thing about a satin finish is that covers up most of the flaws on the wall but doesn’t really draw attention to them because it only has a slight shine.

The challenge with a paint finish like semi-gloss on the walls, it reflects light with its shiny self and all the flaws are highlighted.

Recap:  this is the right paint finish for all walls and rooms that want to look flawless.


Ahh.  Semi-gloss.

I have a love-hate relationship with the semi-gloss paint sheen.

There are times when I want it to be shinier.  I want it to be a true gloss.

There are times when I want it to a little more subtle.  I don’t want it drawing attention to all the blobs and cracks and dents that come along with a 110-year-old house.

The good thing about semi-gloss is that typically it comes in a latex paint.

Most of the time it’s used for moldings and door frames and window moldings and crown moldings and basically anything that isn’t a wall or a floor or a ceiling.  When you paint a semi-gloss latex paint instead of a glossy enamel, the moldings tend to stay white.  Glossy enamel can fade over time and have a slightly yellow tinge which presents a challenge when you want to touch up your moldings.

I typically recommend latex semi-gloss over glossy enamel.

It cleans up with water and it doesn’t have the super strong smell of enamel.

One of the paint truisms is that you CANNOT paint latex over enamel unless you prime it first (and even then it’s a little iffy).  It will peel right off.

However, you can paint enamel over latex.

Recap:  semi-gloss is the perfect paint for moldings that need a little shine.


Gloss enamel is seriously the magician of paint.

Typically, gloss comes in enamel.  I’ve seen it used in a latex enamel which is glossier than semi-gloss, but not nearly as glossy as true enamel.

The amazing thing about gloss enamel is that you paint it on with a brush.

Wait a minute.

And the paint levels itself.

It’s so thick that it’s self-leveling, which means that it provides a clean, even coat without brush marks.

It’s mostly used for moldings or doors or window moldings.

It is so pretty if you are looking for a high shine with your moldings.


Stinkly mcstinky.

And it’s hard to clean up.

I don’t usually recommend it because sometimes it can be too glossy and too shiny.  It’s like your moldings will be shouting out for the world to hear and the rest of your room may not be able to keep up.

Recap:  this is the right paint finish if you are looking for high shine or over-achieving molding.

If you aren’t painting because you have eight feet of snow on the ground and the Hallmark channel is calling your name?

Here’s a simple guide you can pin from my book, The DIY (Decorate It Yourself) Planner.

It tells you everything you need to know in just a few words.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I have a few more words. 🙂

Want to know how to decorate your home for free?
Click here to get my FIVE BEST secrets.


  1. Image for Cynthia L Rogers Cynthia L Rogers

    I do think flat paint has a place - and it is on horsehair plaster walls. I just love that all those imperfections are not gleaming and shouting - and we go paint right up the walls and over the ceiling with that flat paint as well. Covers like a dream and the Mr. Clean sponge, if needed, is magical too.

  2. Image for Judi V Judi V

    Karianne, I have one question and it’s not about paint. I love your sofa’s and the blue pillows. Please, would you mind sharing where you found your sofas and pillows. Please!!!

  3. Image for Carrie Carrie

    If I ever come back as a paint, I want the personality of a gloss, but in a more semi-gloss /eggshell with a little flat thrown in mold. :) HA!

  4. Image for Jessica Lardinais Jessica Lardinais

    KariAnne, I just LOVE you and think you are a ROCKSTAR. But, I have to say that I actually love flat paint on my walls. We just repainted and I wanted to go satin because that's what one "should" do, but on my test sample, it just bugged me and didn't look right. When I tried it in flat paint, it was so much warmer and super velvety and such a good complement to the high gloss white molding. My paint asked me to tell you it loves you as much as I do and it wants you to love it back. :)

    1. Image for Nadine Nadine

      I agree, Jessica! I love my flat paint - in my living room and master bedroom. I think it looks sophisticated and quite beautiful. But never in a kitchen or bathroom! I also think the key is very good quality paint.

    1. Image for Pam Lane Pam Lane

      It depends whether you want that molding to stand out and be a focus in the room. My thought is (please know, this only my opinion here) to paint any baseboards and trim molding at ceiling in semi gloss, but all other wall molding just satin. The only rooms that I might do semi-gloss would be formal areas like a dining room where you have crystal chandeliers, silver pieces, sparkly tableware, etc where the room is more “glam” or formal. I hope this helps.... I have struggled this for years, back in the day when every piece of trim work was high gloss white.

    2. Image for MellyB MellyB

      I feel you. I live in a 70's built house where paneling was a must in the living room. Arrrgghhh! We moved in and immediately painted it. I have never been happy with the way it looks. I would love to know Karianne's thought on this as well.

  5. Image for Marion Marion

    I actually like flat paint on walls. I agree with Jessica that it is "velvety", I usually call it "powdery". If it is not a traffic or kid area, flat is lovely. I do like eggshell finish in high traffic areas, like hallways and kitchens, and some bathrooms. I agree that a satin finish is just a smidgen shinier. Your choices and your home is so lovely, Karianne. You always create such warm and inviting rooms! Thanks for sharing your insights!

  6. Image for Leslie Watkins Leslie Watkins

    Thank you for this post to remind me. I need to update the color in both my family room and kitchen dining areas. The kitchen and dining rooms need more light so off to the paint swatches and paint samples I go. Wish me luck! I still love the colors I have—just need a fresh new 2019 look!

  7. Image for Shelia P. Shelia P.

    Hi Karianne! Thanks for clearing all that up for me! Even after all these years, I was never sure what sheen to use where. I think I made a huge boo boo last time we painted. I used a high gloss on my trim and it looked so pretty for a few years. Now it has turned the dreaded yellow you mentioned. 😂. Oh well, you live and you learn. So now I know to prime the trim and paint it with a latex semi gloss right? And keep my fingers crossed it doesn’t peel. Eek! Thank you so much for this much needed, very informative public service announcement! What would we do without you? Have a great day! 😊.

  8. Image for Phyllis Phyllis

    Your home is so beautiful, but I could not live with any shine on my walls. I love flat, but I am a senior with no children or pets, so clean up isn't something I worry about. I love how soft flat looks.

  9. Image for Susan Susan

    I too am from the flat paint for walls camp and here is why: touch ups. With flat paint you can touch up a wall and it will look seamless. You can’t do that with eggshell without having blotches with differing sheens that is quite noticeable in certain light. You are left with repainting the entire wall. Karianne your house is pristine so you probably don’t t have many touch ups to do, but they are a regular occurrence in my house.

  10. Image for Nan, Odessa, DE Nan, Odessa, DE

    Which is best for white cabinets in a South facing kitchen? Can I use the same paint on the ceiling? HA! HA! You only thought you answered all the questions.

  11. Image for Kris Kris

    Chuckling at Stinkly McStinky here in my neck of the woods where I could use a laugh, because I am, indeed, "under layers of snow or the day looks dreary and exhausting or your toes are cold and you need some fuzzy socks".

  12. Image for Cora Cora

    I always use Benjamin Moore's Matte finish on walls (which can be washed). I had painters recently make a mistake where they put satin on the walls and I HATED all that shine, and had to repaint it. BM used to make (maybe still do) a Pearl finish that I put in a high traffic mud room, but only there. I guess everyone is different and your house is so beautiful, no matter what finish you use.


    Thanks for all the information!!!!!! I'm with you on the use of the different paints!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Image for Julie Perez Julie Perez

    Karianne, I’m getting ready to paint my front door. What sheen would you recommend? It gets afternoon sun, should I seal it? Thank you!

  15. Image for Lynne Lynne

    Thank you KariAnne, Very clearly explained, very helpful. I feel lazy when I see all the good things you do to your house. This place needs re painting from top to bottom, I just have to find the motivation to do it! Maybe you could do a post about how you start, but I guess its with elbow grease! eg; clean ceiling and walls, prep and two or three coats of paint. Any tips you have discovered? Looks easy typed out! I'm ok once I start, its just getting started, I like the middle bits with the roller, then finishing the job I have trouble with. Could you give us a step by step room paint over the way you do it please, and I might find renewed energy!! (Oh!, I have had the bathroom redone, new everything with a builder and plumber and I repainted, so one thing done!) Thank you, Lynne

  16. Image for Michele M Michele M

    I do SW satin in kitchens and bathrooms - and then I liked it so much (and my painter talked me into) painting it everywhere else. And I am slowly going back to flat because I have high wainscoting - which has semi=gloss....but I actually prefer flat paint on my walls. SO, eventually going back to changing it all back to flat as the energy time and drive allows. I agree with everything you posted though - just not "quite" right for me, but most is/was!! But - it is unforgiving, I grant you. But I like the LOOK so am willing to go back to it and be happier.

  17. Image for Nedra Nedra

    Have you ever used oil based paint? In my largest, most formal home, I painted the living room trim a high gloss white in a oil based paint. My painter called me every name in the book. Told me it would look no different that water based high gloss. I held my ground. Even my mother felt bad for the painter and told me that was a lot to ask. Still, I held my ground. The painter said no more once he started painting. The trim was a stand out. Eventually, he said, you are right! It was worth the effort. When Momma visited she agreed! I truly enjoyed that room and I think it was perhaps one of the nicest I have done. Wish I had taken pictures.

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