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trim and doors in an interior living room painted with enamel

How To Choose The Best Sheen Or Gloss

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Matt Stone

Choosing the right finish for each type of paint in your home in an important step when planning a paint project. The many options available can seem confusing though. Your painter might mention words like matte, eggshell or semi-gloss and you’re not sure what they really mean.

These terms refer to either the gloss or sheen that a paint has. Many painters will call this the “finish” of the paint. This simple guide will explain the basics so you can make an informed decision about which finishes to use in your home.

What Does Gloss or Sheen mean?

Gloss and sheen are two very similar but slightly different concepts. To keep things simple, we will not go into the differences between the two because there are already great articles that explain the difference. (Consider reading this one from Sherwin Williams.) Both gloss and sheen refer to the amount of light that paint will reflect. The higher the gloss the shinier the paint will appear. Flat paint will appear dull; without any shine.

cabinets in a kitchen painted with glossy paint
Glossy cabinets like these reflect a lot of light. They have an almost mirrorlike finish.
cabinets in a kitchen painted with satin paint
These cabinets are painted with a satin finish. This is a less glossy option and gives them a more muted look.

Understanding The Gloss Vocabulary

There are many descriptive words used to refer to different levels of sheen or gloss. It can be hard to remember which types of gloss are actually more or less shiny. The chart below shows the common sheens available from Sherwin Williams in order from the least reflective to the most.

Chart showing the sheens available for Sherwin Williams paint

Keep in mind that not all sheens will be available in every paint type. You can work with your painter to make sure that you choose paints that will give you the look you want. Also, at the bottom of this article, we will include a chart showing which sheens are available in common Sherwin Williams paints.

Choosing The Right Sheen For Each Room

There are two main considerations when choosing a sheen to go into a particular room.

#1 Durability: The glossier a surface is the more durable it will be. The higher the sheen, the more you will be able to wash or scrub the surface without damaging the paint. While this is still an important factor, it is not as critical as it used to be. Today, paint manufacturers are finding ways to make even matte paints that are very durable and washable. As a rule of thumb, if you go with a higher quality paint, you can often lower the sheen without sacrificing durability.

#2 Looks: Some surfaces will just look better with a little bit of shine to them. Part of this is what our eyes are used to seeing. Ceilings are traditionally flat so a high gloss ceiling would look strange to our eyes. Cabinetry has traditionally had a good bit of sheen so flat cabinets might seem “off” to you. It is important to choose sheens that look good to your eye.

Choosing Sheens By Surface

  • Ceilings: Flat is the most traditional sheen for ceilings. If you will use a sheen consider using the lowest sheen available.
  • Walls: Walls typically fall in the mid-range of sheens. The most common sheens are eggshell or satin.
    • (Sherwin Williams spells their eggshell sheen “eg-shel”)
  • Woodwork: This includes doors, trim and cabinetry. These surfaces have traditionally been given higher sheens. Semi-gloss is the most common with gloss used occasionally. Today’s design trends have included using stain or even lower sheens on cabinetry. This “low luster” look can be popular. Because paints today are more durable in lower sheens, this style is a viable option for cabinets.

Choosing Sheens by Room

Sometimes the type of room you are painting will affect your choice of sheen. Here are some things to keep in mind for common rooms.


Kitchens are a very hard-working part of your home. Because they are used for cooking they get more wear and tear and have to be cleaned more often. Consider using higher sheens for these rooms.


Bathrooms are a great place for using mid-level sheens like satin and eggshell.


Bedrooms do not usually receive the wear and tear of other areas of the home. They also need to be relaxing since these are the rooms we go to rest. Choosing a low sheen like eggshell or matte for the walls will help make the room more calming.

chart showing the various paints and sheens available from sherwin williams
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Author: Matt Stone
Matt is the owner of Hometown Painting. He has worked in the painting and construction trades for over 10 years. He has a passion for teaching homeowners so they can make the best paint choices for their homes.

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