Paint Sheen picture


One of the most frequently asked questions we get as reputable painters in the Northern Virginia area relates to paint finishes.  A lot of folks don’t realize that paint comes in multiple finishes often called different things by different manufacturers. You might think the most important (or toughest) decision is what color to use but the finish is equally important – if not more important!

So, how do you select a finish for your paint? Two rules of thumb to consider:

– Lower gloss or sheen: Pros: hides flaws well; Cons: lower durability of paint

– Higher sheens: Pros: greater durability and paint usually looks nicer with some sheen; Cons: Imperfections are more visible, and more surface prep might be needed.

Getting it right can make a big difference, so let’s go through the types of sheens available.

Standard Flat Finish:

Flat paint has no sheen at all, and most builders prefer to use flat. It is the most “forgiving” of finishes because it will best cover up any imperfections in the sheetrock or patchwork. It makes any flaws far less apparent. On the downside: it is less durable and can be tougher to wash without lifting some of the paint. Most interior designers would steer you away from it mostly for aesthetic reasons. Some manufacturers now make washable flats giving you the best of both worlds.

Flat finishes are best used on ceilings, low-traffic areas including rooms with little traffic and anywhere you’d like to hide wall imperfections.


Eggshell (also known as satin or low-luster finish) is one of the most popular because of its versatility. It’s easier to wash, for one thing. Its soft sheen adds a bit more dimension to any paint color. It can usually hide some imperfections in the wall, although not as well as flat. Satin/Eggshell is a compromise or midway point between semi-gloss which has more gloss and flat and is a popular finish with many decorators.

Best places to use satin/eggshell include most anywhere in your home including high traffic areas.

Semi-gloss Finish:

Semi-gloss is the next level up in sheen and holds up well including in humid environments. It reflects light well. It is easy to clean.

Semi-gloss finishes work well on kitchen or other wall cabinets, doors, and wood trim.

High-gloss finish:

High-gloss finish is not very popular for several reasons. It shows everything – both good and bad – and it involves a lot of prep work before painting with it. More prep means added labor costs. It will show any minor imperfections underneath although it’s highly durable. High-gloss finish, like any shiny surface, reflects much more light. Its best uses are for traditionally ornate moldings and trims or cabinets as well and contemporary settings for effect. However it is used, only very skilled painters should work with it because the walls or cabinets need to be exceptionally well-prepped with lots and lots of sanding!

High-gloss finishes are best on trim, moldings, cabinetry and sometimes even walls.
As Northern Virginia painters with years of experience, we know just how finishes can make a difference on a project. Using the wrong finish can mean needing to repaint earlier than anticipated if you’d used the right finish. We’re happy to work with you to discuss what the right finish is for your project. Contact us today.

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