Wondering what paint to use? Satin, gloss or matte explained

Wondering what paint to use? Satin, gloss or matte guide.

You’ve spent days or even weeks comparing colour charts, coordinating swatches of fabric with shades of paint with evocative sounding names such as Burnished Thistle or Brindled Ochre and feel your vocabulary has been reduced to the words of the children’s song ‘I Can Sing a Rainbow’ as every conversation revolves around colour choices for your home revamp paint project.Sheenguide1

You’ve settled on the colours now – you hope – so it’s time to tackle the next decision you will need to make which is the finish of the paint itself. There are a number of different finishes such as satin, gloss or matte and whilst many are multi-functional within the home, some are for specific uses or particular rooms so it’s important to know the differences so you don’t make the mistake of using a gloss paint on your walls when you really wanted a light satin.

The finishes really are the amount of ‘sheen’ the paint will give when painted onto the surface. The more sheen, the more the light will reflect off it in different directions to give more or less shine depending on the finish type chosen.

If you don’t know your matte from your flat, don’t worry as here’s a guide to each kind to help as well as the best rooms to use each one in.

Matte and Flat

Whilst other paint finishes reflect light, matte and flat are different. They actually absorb light and so give very little sheen. The finished result is a very smooth and subtle look which makes them suitable for the majority of rooms, but don’t jump in straight away thinking they are the magic answer to your painting needs as there are pros and cons to choosing this finish.

Matte and flat are great for covering up areas where the surface of the prepared area has some slight imperfections. They are perfect for both walls and ceilings and as the surface has little sheen, it’s a great choice for any touch up areas which need work on in the future as there is little evidence of any brushstrokes due to the lack of reflected light. However, the down side is that these finishes can hold onto dirt and aren’t easy to clean although some products are now available with a ‘scrubbable’ texture so some marks can be removed. Due to their poor cleaning aspect, it’s not recommended to use matte or flat finish paints in the kitchen, bathroom or the children’s bedrooms. They are a great choice however for living rooms, family rooms, hallways and other bedrooms.


As indicated by the name, a satin finish paint is smooth and silky looking. When you open the tin, you’ll see it has a pearl-like quality and when it’s on the surface and dry, it retains this same look.

This is a really great choice for families as can be used in high traffic areas such as hallways, kitchens and the bathroom. It’s also perfect for any trims and moldings as it gives a really nice sheen and unlike matte or flat finishes, you can wipe satin paint clean if the surface needs washing.
On the down side, if you need to touch up areas, you’ll need to be very careful as the patches are more likely to stand out due to the finish showing the different directions of brush strokes and because it reflects the light, it will also highlight imperfections if you’re painting directly onto walls or ceilings.

Room-wise, this is the perfect choice if you want to choose just one finish for the whole house.

Semi-gloss and gloss

Both semi-gloss and gloss give a really bright, shiny sheen when dry. These finishes reflect the highest amount of light and are really easy to clean. They are durable and stand up to scrubbing if needed.

Semi –gloss is great for hard-working areas of the home such as bathrooms and kitchens as it repels water more effectively than other finishes where there are areas of high humidity. For trims, moldings, skirting boards, door frames and the doors themselves use a gloss paint.

Semi-gloss and gloss really show imperfections in the painting surface and areas which need re-painting will stand out more than any other finish due to the amount of light the paint reflects. With this in mind, if you’re going to use either on a wall or ceiling, ensure the area is silky smooth before the first stroke of paint is applied.

Paints with specific uses

As well as different finishes, there are some paints which have additional properties with a view to them being used in particular environments or rooms.

For areas with high condensation such as steamy bathrooms or kitchens, there’s the possibility of black mold spores appearing. These are unsightly and rather difficult to remove and will quickly appear again unless you take action when looking to redecorate. The solution is to either use an anti mold additive to your chosen paint or use a pre-mixed anti mold paint. These both really help with the problem as the antimicrobial ingredients work to prevent mold growth but won’t solve it completely if you have a big problem with damp generally. If damp, black areas on the walls and ceiling are a regular occurrence, it may be wise to talk to a mold remediation professional before making any decisions as to the choice of paint.

If you have a room which is very dark even throughout the day, it’s particularly important to choose a colour and finish which brings illumination in as much as possible. You can now buy diffusely light reflection paint which contains tiny particles known as ‘polymer particles’ which reflect light more than a standard finish and the result is a much brighter room due to the interaction of the particles with the paint. Choose your colour carefully though as a bright colour combined with this recent innovation in painting materials will produce such a dazzling result you could end up shielding your eyes rather than enjoying the extra light a softer colour will give you.

It is possible to combine different finishes throughout the home, but if you’re concerned that you may end up with a living room which is too shiny or a previously cosy bedroom now reflecting the light from every corner as you’ve chosen too glossy a finish, talk to a professional painting and decorating company. Chat through your ideas, the rooms, the amount of traffic and the look you want and they will be happy to select the best finishes for the job and then visit to carry out the work for you with a fully trained team of decorators to give you the home of your dreams rather than tackling it as a DIY project and ending up with paint which is so reflective you need sunglasses to just sit in the room.

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