It’s All About the Sheen!


The hardest thing about painting is choosing the color, right? Not so fast! The sheen of the paint that you chose is an important factor in your project as well. The sheen relates to the performance the dried paint has, in terms of cleanability and aesthetics. Let’s talk about the six basic sheens available from Benjamin Moore, what benefits each has, and where to use them.


The most basic finish is flat. Flat has no gloss at all. The benefit of a flat is that the absence of gloss causes it to hide minor flaws and imperfections in the surface really well. It has the ability to mask texture because the finish doesn’t reflect the light as much as a paint with a higher sheen. This also makes flat the easiest to apply due to the fact it can hide mistakes better than other finishes. Flat finishes also touch up well. The downside to flat is that the lack of gloss makes it harder to clean. Flats have a tendency to develop a sheen after they are washed repeatedly in the same area. The paint will actually “polish” up and the area will look different from the surrounding paint and it is more noticeable the darker the color. This finish is used best on ceilings and in rooms where the walls won’t be touched. Flat is rarely used in bathrooms, kitchens, and high traffic areas because of its more limited durability.


Eggshell finish can be complicated by the fact that every paint company has a slightly different standard as to how shiny their paint is. Benjamin Moore eggshell has a gloss between flat and satin. The finish is an elegant low sheen that stands up to repeated washings and abuse. While the eggshell finish can be used in most areas of the home, it is generally reserved for walls and isn’t usually used on ceilings and trim. Eggshell is harder to touch up than lower sheens, but wears better because it is more abrasion resistant. Since this paint will reflect light more than a flat, a little extra care is needed when applying this finish as the sheen can show both imperfections and roller marks under certain lighting conditions. Some users still apply eggshell to the trim and doors due to the desire for a very low sheen, but it is not recommended as it does not offer the long term durability needed for these surfaces. Eggshell is still used for ceilings in bathrooms where high humidity can cause flat paint on ceilings to peel.


The matte finish is a super cleanable flat-type finish. It blends the benefits of flat and eggshell finish with none of the downsides. The matte is aesthetically a flat but has a slight “glow” to the finish as compared to a true flat, but cleans and resists stains like an eggshell. The low sheen finish of matte is very popular for these attributes as well as the trend toward lower sheens in all aspects of home design and furniture. It applies easily and touches up well. This finish is used in all areas of the home, with special matte finishes available for use in high humidity areas like bathrooms. While it looks flat, matte is generally not used on ceilings because of its “glow”, except in special situations. Matte is particularly good for tall foyers and great rooms, since it is highly washable and minimizes wall issues in these large and usually well-lit areas.


Satin/pearl finish is shinier that an eggshell but lower in sheen than a semi-gloss. This description applies to Benjamin Moore products and isn’t necessarily the sheen standard of other manufacturers. The pearl/satin finish is very durable and can take repeated scrubbings without failing. Its medium sheen makes a pleasant lower sheen finish for trim, doors, cabinets, and furniture. The softer look of this sheen makes it more forgiving on surfaces that aren’t quite perfect and that lower sheen can produce a better looking finished surface than a traditional semi-gloss. As with the matte finish, tastes in finishes overall have taken a turn toward lower sheens and the pearl/satin finish gives us an extremely durable surface with a softer look. While this sheen is used primarily for hard surfaces, it can be used on walls in areas that really take a pounding, like mud rooms or kids bathrooms.


Semi-gloss is the highest of the common sheens. This product is traditionally used on trim, doors, and cabinets. Semi-gloss is a hard and durable finish that can withstand repeated scrubbing and abuse. This sheen was used primarily for interior woodwork for many decades. As tastes have changed away from higher glosses, more people have opted to use a pearl/satin finish where a semi-gloss was usually used. Very little is still sold for use on walls, since the higher sheen will really show off imperfections in the wall surface.


Gloss is still available for those that desire the shiny wet look of a polished surface. Gloss is a hard and durable finish. While only a little of this product still is used on woodwork and interior doors, it is primarily used for small accent pieces and furniture. Accent shelves, picture and mirror frames, and decorative objects are some of the surfaces gloss can be used on. It is also still used on exterior doors. Because it is so shiny, this finish takes more finesse to use and is not forgiving of surface flaws nor improper application. Gloss is applied in multiple coats that are often sanded between coats to flatten out the coating so that the final coat is smooth and brilliant.

Durability, abrasion resistance, and cleanability are factors that need to be considered when choosing the sheen of the paint. Benjamin Moore also has multiple quality grades of paint to fit specification or budgetary requirements. Our expertise at Blue Jay Paints and Blinds can help guide you through the choices of product and sheen that is best for your project.