How To Pick The Right Paint Sheen

Paint Sheen

Selecting the ideal gloss and sheen for a paint project involves important visual and functional considerations. We all know the walls in kitchens and bathrooms have greater demands than a living room. However, other factors need to be considered. Is the room a high-traffic or low-traffic area?

Choosing a paint finish that you like and fits your application is important

Absorbs light and hides many surface imperfections. Due to this, surface defects tend to disappear behind the finish of a flat paint thus making your walls look rich and luxurious. Flat paints can be easily touched up and recoated. However, this also tends to show dirt easily and does NOT stand up well to cleaning.

Eggshell or Satin
Hides imperfections as well, but reflects light. It is very durable and holds up to washing very well.  This is a very popular sheen. Very silky finish. Highly washable. Best used in kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, kid’s rooms/playrooms


Semi-gloss reflects 35 to 50% of the light that hits it, which most people tend to find too shiny on walls. The shiny appearance not only produces glare but makes every imperfection stand out.  It also makes touch-ups almost impossible without repainting the entire wall. It is perfect for trim, woodwork, cabinets and doors because it has more binder (glue) so it is harder, much more durable and easier to clean. Since Semi-gloss does have a higher percentage of binder, it also has a lower percentage of pigment meaning that it may take more coats to cover the previous coatings.

For very high traffic areas that will accumulate dirt/handprints (such as children’s playrooms), Gloss is a good choice especially on trim, doors windows and other areas that get handled frequently.  A major downside is that it magnifies the slightest wall imperfection and the high shine can be discomforting.  Gloss is great for trim on exterior work because the high binder content allows it to last longer and degrade less in harsh weather, but just like semi-gloss it may take more coats to get satisfactory coverage.

Ultimately Gloss or Sheen choice should be based upon the type of room, what is being painted, lighting, position of windows, traffic, performance expectations, and aesthetic preference. Paints with a lower Gloss/Sheen will hide wall imperfections better than paints with a higher Gloss/Sheen. Paints with a higher Gloss/Sheen will generally be easier to clean.

Because of the complexity of the choice, we always recommend that you speak to your CertaPro Sales Consultant to get recommendations that best suit your needs.  Keep in mind, your CertaPro Sales Consultant is trained to know the characteristics of many types of paints and can propose products like Emerald and Duration Home which provide exceptional wash-ability and coverage at all sheen levels.

One of the most misunderstood characteristics of paint is the gloss and sheen.  Although there are literally dozens of different sheens, the four basic categories are:  Flat, Egg Shell or Satin, Semi-Gloss and Gloss.  Before you can completely understand the advantages and disadvantages of each characteristic, it is important to understand what paint is made of and how it is typically used.

Paint is made of four basic components: Pigment, Binder (Glue), Liquid Carrier and Additives.  For this article we will deal primarily with the first two, pigment and binder.  Pigments are finely ground particles or powders that are dispersed in paints.  The primary pigments are what makes paint white and depending on the quality of the paint are either Titanium Dioxide or white clays called extenders like Kaolin or talc for lower quality paints. Colors are also provided by the various pigments used, but the important part here is that expensive paints have a tendency to use more of the expensive Titanium Dioxide because it does a great job of scattering light so that you cannot see through it – called opacity.

The next key ingredient is the binder or glue used to hold all those pigments together.   Because pigments are solid particles, they need to be “bound” together in the paint film, and the film needs to adhere to the surface being coated. The binder is the component in paint that serves these purposes.  When paint is applied and dries, the binder forms the tough, continuous film that adheres the paint to the surface to which it is applied. A paint with too little binder will perform very poorly in most properties.  The binder is thus a very important ingredient that affects almost all properties of the coating, especially its resistance to scrubbing, chalking and fading.

So how do these affect gloss?  If you were to view flat paint under a microscope it looks a lot like sandpaper.  All of the particles that make up the pigment are on the surface and diffuse the light in all different directions. That is why you cannot see a reflection with flat paint.  See the illustration below:

Flat Paint

To make a semi-gloss the manufacturers simply add more binder (glue) and make the pigment particles smaller.  For gloss it is even more binder and smaller particles

Semi- Gloss Paint

Gloss Paint