Matte vs. Satin vs. Gloss: Guide to Types of Paint Finishes

Close-up of tan marble bathroom countertop and light green painted walls with matte sheen.

If you’re about to embark on a new painting project, you’re probably collecting paint chips and debating over what paint will look best in your space. In addition to the color, there’s another decision you’ll have to make: Which type of paint finish should you choose?

While different manufacturers may offer a slightly different range of options, the basic types of paint finishes are flat or matte, satin, and semi-gloss or gloss.

To help you choose the right finish for your paint project, our paint experts have provided a guide that explains the differences between matte, flat, satin, and gloss finishes:

  • What’s the difference between matte, satin, and gloss paint?
    • Matte and Flat
    • Satin
    • Semi-gloss and Gloss
  • Tips for selecting paint finishes

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

It’s important to note that the less light a paint finish reflects, the less durable the finish, and imperfections will be less visible too! In paint finishes, matte reflects little to no light, satin retains a pearl-like sheen, and semi-gloss and gloss finishes reflect the most light.

Learn about the pros and cons of each one below. 

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 an excellent 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 remove the finish. Some manufacturers, such as Behr, Sherwin-Williams, and Benjamin Moore, make scrubbable versions that allow easier cleaning. Nevertheless, we recommend that you avoid using these finishes in a bathroom, kitchen, or 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. You can use this finish in high-traffic areas such as a bathroom, 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 the surface or application; any touch-ups will stand out.

Semi-gloss and Gloss

When dry, these types of paint 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 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.
Close-up angled view of knockdown textured bathroom wall painted gray blue with satin sheen.

Tips for Selecting Paint Finishes

You can mix and match paint to create the perfect palette or use just one type of paint. Before meeting with your professional painter, use the guide below for our professional recommendations for 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

Children’s Room:

  • Requirements: Easy-to-clean and durable, but not high sheen
  • Recommendation: Satin finish


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

Dining Room:

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

Family Room:

  • Requirements: Clean-looking walls that hide imperfections in high-traffic areas
  • 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, doors, and molding pop
  • Recommendation: Semi-gloss or gloss paint finish

Other paint finish considerations:

  • Matte and flat paint finishes 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. Discover Five Star Painting advice from our residential interior painting from our experts.

Still Have Questions?

While choosing paint colors that fit your style and decor is important, choosing the right paint finish is equally important. Choosing the right paint finish can be the difference between a paint job that lasts for years and one that will need to be redone sooner than you expected. Need help deciding which finish would be best for your project? The painting experts at your local Five Star Painting can help you determine what types of paint you need, and help you with the preparation needed to ensure your paint project is a success. To get started, contact your local Five Star Painting and request a free estimate online today!