How You Should Pick the Perfect Paint Finish

A living room with a bright paint finish.

There’s a lot more to choosing an interior paint than picking a color. You have to consider the colors of the furniture and flooring, and the amount of light a room gets, too. Picking a paint that’s too shiny can reflect too much light, and one that’s too flat may appear dull.

It’s the paint sheen, or finish, that affects how the color appears. And that depends on whether it absorbs light or reflects it. In addition, for the paint to hold up well over time, it has to be durable enough for the surface and the situation. 

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of different paint sheens and where they work best in a house, plus the six best interior paints from CR’s tests that you can get in any sheen.

At Consumer Reports, we test for how well nontinted base paints (before color is added) cover dark colors and resist stains. The results show whether the paint provides even and thorough coverage and can stand up to wear and tear.

For the coverage test, we apply one consistent coat to cardstock that has been painted black and wait for it to dry. Then we use an instrument called a colorimeter to measure how well the paint covers the black paint. We do this twice per paint sample and average the results.

For stain resistance, our testers apply paint to a plastic panel. After it dries, they apply two lines of soils—coffee and a soot-like substance—and allow them to dry. Then the testers wash the painted panels and use a colorimeter to measure the color of the paint on the rinsed areas. The closer the cleaned portions are to the original coat, the more stain-resistant the paint.

Flat and Matte

Flat paint has a nonreflective finish; matte is low luster. A paint brand usually offers one or the other. Both help hide imperfections on the surface. “But these finishes are the least resistant to stains,” says Rico de Paz, the engineer who oversees CR’s tests of paints and stains. “The other finishes generally performed better.” 

Best for: Ceilings, living rooms, bedrooms, and any place where you don’t have to worry much about wear and tear or messy splatters.

Eggshell and Satin

For one level of sheen up from flat or matte, eggshell and satin are good choices. “Satin is slightly shinier, and both are easier to clean than flat or matte paint,” says de Paz. You’ll find that some paint lines offer both eggshell and satin. These sheens tend to accentuate surface imperfections, so take time to prep and get the walls as smooth as possible. Scrape away cracked or peeling paint with a metal putty knife. And use it to remove bumps, dried-on paint, and the raised edges around nail holes.

Best for Family rooms, living rooms, bedrooms, and hallways. Satin, which is a little more hard-wearing than eggshell, works well in those rooms, too, but also in the kitchen, dining area, children’s bedrooms, and bathrooms. Many satin finishes are tough enough to use on trim as well.

Satin/eggshell paint sheen
Satin/Eggshell: Great for Living Rooms, Bedrooms, and Hallways
A matte/flat paint sheen
Matte/Flat: Great for Sunny Rooms, Bedrooms, and Ceilings
Semi-gloss paint sheen
Semi-gloss: Great for Trim, Doors, and Dark Spaces
Satin/eggshell paint sheen
Satin: Great for Kitchens and Dining Rooms
Semi-gloss paint sheen
Satin: Great for Kitchens and Dining Rooms

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