Matte Finish vs. Satin and Gloss: A Guide to Paint Finish Types

Paint samples showing the difference between flat, satin, and semi-gloss differences.

What’s the difference between matte, satin, and gloss paint? The amount of light reflected, imperfections shown, and durability. The less light reflected, the less durable the finish; however, fewer imperfections are shown. Matte will reflect little to no light, satin retains a pearl-like sheen, whereas semi-gloss and gloss finishes reflect the most light. Let’s review the pros and cons of each in detail.

What’s the Difference Between Matte, Satin, Flat and Gloss Paint?

Matte and Flat

These paint finishes deliver a smooth, subtle look and show little to no sheen when dry since they absorb light.

  • Pros: Matte and flat finishes cover imperfections in surface and application, making them a great choice for ceilings as well as walls in the bedroom, dining room and living room. You can easily touch up this finish.
  • Cons: In general, they hold dirt and are difficult to clean because cleaning can actually remove the finish. Some manufacturers, such as Behr, Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore, make scrubbable versions that allow for easier cleaning. Do not use in bathrooms, the kitchen or a kid's room.


This silky, smooth paint finish retains its pearl-like sheen when dry.

  • Pros: A satin finish reflects more light than matte and stands up well to washing. Use in high-traffic areas such as bathrooms, the kitchen and a kid's room as well as on trim and molding throughout the house.
  • Cons: This finish does not hide imperfections in surface or application; any touch-ups will stand out.

Semi-gloss and Gloss

When dry, these paint finishes reflect the most light, providing a bright sheen.

  • Pros: Semi-gloss and gloss finishes prove durable and scrubbable, with semi-gloss offering high resistance to moisture. Use in the kitchen and bathrooms as well as on trim and molding throughout the house.
  • Cons: These finishes show every single imperfection in surface and application, requiring additional prep work and sanding to create a smooth surface. Touch-ups of this finish also will stand out because of the difference in sheen.
satin vs matte finish on 3 different shades of blue

Tips for Selecting Paint Finishes

In addition to choosing a paint finish that falls into one of these types, you also can combine types to create the perfect finish. Before meeting with your professional painter, use the guide below for our professional recommendation based on each room in your house:


  • Requirements – Easy to clean and durable paint in a high traffic area
  • Recommendation – Semi-gloss or high gloss paint


  • Requirements – Moisture resistance and easy-to-clean walls
  • Recommendation – Semi-gloss or high gloss paint


  • Requirements – Low traffic area with little light reflection
  • Recommendation – Flat or matte finish


  • Requirements: Easy-to-clean walls that reflect light
  • Recommendation – Semi-gloss of gloss finish

Dining Room

  • Requirements – Clean-looking, smooth-looking, elegant finish
  • Recommendation – Semi-gloss, satin, or eggshell finish

Family Room

  • Requirements – Clean-looking walls that hide imperfections in high-traffic area
  • Recommendation – Semi-gloss or stain finish


  • Requirements – Inexpensive paint that hides imperfections and doesn’t need to be cleaned
  • Recommendation – Flat or matte finish

Interior Trim

  • Requirements – Durable paint that is easy to clean and helps windows pop.
  • Recommendation – High-gloss paint

Other Paint Finish Considerations

  • Matte and flat paint finish have more pigment and often provide more coverage, which can save you money.
  • Do you regularly scrub your walls and perform touch-ups? Some paint finishes make this easy, others not so much. Ask our professionals for advice.

Still Have Questions?

Need help on what finish would be best for your project? Five Star Painting can help you determine not only what finish is needed, but also what to do about surface imperfections before painting. Contact your local Five Star Painting at (888) 261-3633 or request a free estimate online.