The Importance of Paint Finishes

Types of paint finishes

The Importance of Paint Finishes

Do you know paint finishes well enough to pick the right one for your walls? Paint comes in different finishes. As a long-time painting company in the Sterling, Virginia area, we know that paint finish (also known as paint sheen; we’ll use the names interchangeably in this post). We also know how much it matters to a project. It can even impact how long the paint lasts.

Unfortunately, the names of paint finishes aren’t consistent across the industry, making things more complicated. (Some manufacturers will say eggshell, while others will say low-luster.) While paint color selection is always crucial to a project, so is its finish.

A reputable painter with experience will know the correct finish for your project. We discuss with our clients which sheens to use, where to use them, and why. As you’ll see below, not every sheen is ideal in every space.

Here’s what you should know about the various finishes:

Flat Finish

Flat or matte paint has no sheen at all. Many, if not most, interior designers will steer clients away from it, partly because a flat finish creates the least “depth” to its look. Most manufacturers call it the same thing: flat or matte finish or flat sheen. Builders tend to prefer a flat finish because it’s the most forgiving of all the finishes. It covers or hides any imperfections in the sheetrock, wood, or patchwork well, making surface flaws less apparent.

However, there is a downside to using a standard flat finish. It is less durable than other finishes and can be harder to clean without lifting some of the paint off. A flat finish for high-traffic areas or homes with children might not be the best option in certain rooms. Notably, we have seen the introduction of washable, flat finish paint in recent years. Those might be a reasonable option for some high-traffic spaces.

Eggshell, Low-luster, or Satin 

The next level of sheen or finish is eggshell, also known as satin or low-luster finish. Eggshell is considered a middle ground between semi-gloss and flat. It’s a popular sheen because of its versatility and appearance. It also tends to be a popular choice with many interior designers. Eggshell is easier to wash than flat, with better results. It has a soft sheen, adding more dimension to the paint color. Eggshell or low-luster finish can hide some imperfections in the surface, although not as well as flat finishes.

Semi-gloss Finish

Semi-gloss is the next level up in sheen from eggshell and holds up well, including in humid environments. It reflects light well and adds depth to wall colors. It is also easy to clean. Interior designers use it more selectively than eggshell as it won’t look as well in certain areas.

High-gloss Finish

High-gloss finish is the shiniest of all paint finishes and can look great in specific applications. However, as you might imagine, it’s not very popular for several reasons. It can show all surface imperfections. It involves a lot of detailed prep work, including sanding, to ensure a very smooth surface beneath it. Only highly experienced painters should work with a high-gloss finish. Otherwise, it will show every surface flaw. However, on the plus side, high-gloss finishes are highly durable. Like most shiny surfaces, it reflects a lot of light.


Paint finishes can make a significant difference in a project. Using the wrong one can result in a look you didn’t want or like. And the wrong finish can cost you more. For example, using flat paint on high-traffic areas will likely mean repainting sooner because wall scuffs and marks won’t wash off easily.

Call us if you have any questions about paint finishes and where to use them in your home. Also, contact us to discuss your painting project needs and the right finish for your home or office. We work in the Sterling, Virginia area and across Northern Virginia.

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