Satin vs. Gloss Finish | What is Right Paint For You?

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People who don’t paint for a living might find their heads spinning when they try to choose a paint color for their new house. Not only that, but you might be surprised to find that there are different kinds of finishes to choose from, too. Satin and gloss finishes are the two common, but which one should you choose, and how are they different?

Satin and gloss finishes are different in texture, with satin being smoother and slightly matte, while gloss finishes are shiny and highly durable. Semi-gloss is a compromise between the two finishes. Use semi-gloss if neither one is quite what you’re looking for.

In this article, I’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks between satin, gloss, and semi-gloss finishes to help you decide what finish of paint you should put in different rooms of your house.

Satin vs. Gloss Finish: How to Choose the Right Paint Sheen?

Satin vs. Gloss Finish: How to Choose the Right Paint Sheen?

Paint sheen is the level of glossiness in paint, and it’s how you can tell a satin paint from a semi-gloss or gloss paint.  Paint sheen is an important identifying quality in the paint. When you decide what color paint you want, you also need to decide how glossy you want that paint to be.

Gloss is measured as the percentage of light reflected from the paint when dried on a wall.  The level of glossiness of paint affects other qualities it has, like its durability and feel.

This article will discuss these important differences in three of the most popular paint finishes: satin, semi-gloss, and gloss.

What Is a Satin Finish?

A satin finish is slightly matte but not so matte that it flattens the room out. Instead, it has a low-level shine that isn’t too obtrusive. Matte and eggshell finishes are dull and can be nice in quiet rooms like master bedrooms. They’re also generally cheaper than gloss finishes. 

However, satin finishes tend to dull any light that comes into a room, which isn’t ideal in living rooms. They also are easily damaged by chairs and tables and can lead to a scuffed-up kitchen.

Gloss finishes, on the other hand, brighten rooms too much and can be distractingly shiny. For a compromise that looks both finished and subtle, satin finish paints are the most popular option.

What are Benefits of Using Satin Paints?

Here are some of the benefits of satin paints:

  • Durability: When compared to matte or eggshell paints, paints with satin finishes generally have a higher level of durability. They won’t get scuffed up easily.
  • Feel: Satin paints will feel slightly soft and “velvety” to the touch, hence the name. If you aren’t sure whether the paint is eggshell or satin, touch it dried onto a wall. Eggshell paint will feel a little bit rougher to the touch.
  • Color Accuracy: Some paints can reflect differently at different times of day, or depending on how the light hits them. This can be a nice effect, but it’s a little distracting in high-traffic areas and can cause headaches. Satin paints won’t change with the light and will stay true to their color.
  • Hides Imperfections: Again, matte and eggshell paints will hide imperfections slightly better than satin paints, but satin is much more forgiving than glossy paints.

What are Drawbacks of using Satin Paint

While satin paint can look great, there are some drawbacks that you should keep in mind:

  • Not Stain Resistant: If you spill water, wine, or anything else on your wall, you might have a tougher time getting it out of satin paint.
  • Not Moisture Resistant: Mold and mildew are much more likely to collect on satin paint. Glossy paints tend to be more moisture-resistant than paints with matte qualities.
  • Can Be Hard To Touch Up: Satin paint is more densely pigmented than gloss paint and doesn’t blend easily if you’re patching up a hole in your wall. Because of this, satin paint is difficult to touch up. You may have to repaint your whole wall if you end up damaging the wall. 

3 Best Satin Paints I recommend

Here’s a list of 3 best satin paints I recommend:

PRESTIGE Paint and Primer In One, Satin comes in a variety of neutral colors, and being an Acrylic latex paint, you will find it relatively easy to clean.

PRESTIGE Paints Interior Paint and Primer In One, 1-Gallon, Satin, Comparable Match of Benjamin Moore* Revere Pewter*

KILZ TRIBUTE Satin Paint and Primer in One is available in a number of different blue-green hues and offers a lifetime limited warranty.

KILZ TRIBUTE Interior Satin Paint and Primer in One, 1 Gallon, Tropical Escape (TB-56)

Modern Masters Front Door Paint, Satin has more than 20 different color options and is touch-dry in just one hour.

1 qt Modern Masters 275128 Hopeful Front Door Paint Water-Based Exterior Enamel Pack of 1

What Is a Semi-Gloss Finish?

A semi-gloss finish is halfway between a satin finish and a gloss finish. Perfect for kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas where sinks and cooking appliances are kept, it is the perfect compromise between high-gloss paints and the matte of satin finishes.

Think of it this way: the glossier a paint finish is, the more “active” a space it should be in. Gloss finishes, for example, are great for outdoor spaces that might get rained on or scratched up by animals. 

Satin finishes are great for bedrooms and living rooms, places where you might keep satin sheets.

What are Benefits of Using Semi-Gloss Finish?

Here are the benefits of using a semi-gloss finish:

  • More Durable Than Satin: Semi-gloss can handle slightly more wear-and-tear than satin paint and won’t stain quite as easily, either. Kitchens, which are prone to messy mishaps, might stay looking cleaner with a semi-gloss finish.
  • Less Shiny Than Gloss: That said, you don’t want your kitchen to shine so brightly it hurts your eyes! Semi-gloss finishes won’t be quite so distractingly bright as gloss finishes.

What are Drawbacks of Semi-Gloss Paint

Still, you might not like to use a semi-gloss finish in certain circumstances. Here are some of the drawbacks of semi-gloss paint:

  • Not As Accurate as Satin: If color coordination is important to you, and you’re painting a space with a lot of windows, you may decide not to use semi-gloss paint. Semi-gloss paint won’t change quite as dramatically with the light, but it will change slightly, depending on the color.
  • Not As Durable as Gloss: Semi-gloss lacks some of the protective qualities that gloss paint does. If you’re painting a pool area or another outdoor space that will have high exposure to the elements, consider stepping up from semi-gloss to gloss.

3 Best Semi-Gloss Paints I Recommend

Here are my 3 best semi-gloss paints I recommend:

Microblend Interior Paint and Primer, Semi-gloss is a low-odor paint available in various blue shades that boats a stain resistant and “scrubbable” finish.

Microblend Interior Paint and Primer - Blue/Blue Laser, Semi-gloss Sheen, 1-Gallon, Premium Quality, One Coat Hide, Low VOC, Washable, Microblend Blues Family

Rust-Oleum Interior Paint, SemiGloss Finish is a moisture-resistant option that is washable and self-priming.

Rust-Oleum 02761 Perma-White Mold & Mildew Proof Interior Paint, SemiGloss Finish

Diamond Brite Paint Semi Gloss Latex Paint comes in over a dozen pastel colors and is both grease and dirt resistant.

Diamond Brite Paint 21050 5-Gallon Semi Gloss Latex Paint High Hiding White

What Is a Gloss Finish?

Gloss finish, also called high-gloss finish, is a shiny and durable paint finish often used for areas like gymnasiums or restaurants. It’s useful for its ability to reflect just a few overhead lights to brighten a large space and for its high durability.

You don’t often see gloss finish paint in houses’ interior walls because of how shiny it is. 

Turn on a lamp near a wall painted with high-gloss paint, and you’ll see a small halo appear around the lamp. Most people don’t want their living room to be shiny, so gloss is often used outside.

What are Benefits of Using Gloss Paint Finish?

Here are some of the benefits of using a gloss paint finish:

  • Highly Durable: Semi-gloss finish is more durable than a satin finish, and gloss finishes are even more durable than both. They can survive extreme weather and repeated washing and even are used at the bottom of swimming pools.
  • Stain and Moisture Resistant: Glossy paints can withstand liquids of any color, even white paints. It’s often used in pools.
  • Easy To Fix: In contrast to satin paint, gloss paint isn’t very pigmented. Blending it into already-dried paint on a wall might not be noticeable if done well.
  • Easy To Clean: Gloss finish paint is smoother than satin, so you won’t have to scrub too hard to get a stain out.
  • Brightens a Space: High-gloss paint brightens up any room or surface you put it on. If you want your kids’ playroom a place they’ll want to spend a lot of time while also keeping it resistant to messes, high-gloss paint will get the job done.

What are Drawbacks of Gloss-Finish Paint?

There are plenty of reasons that people might avoid using gloss-finish paint in their homes. Here are a few drawbacks to gloss paint:

  • Not Very Color-Accurate: Depending on the time of day, the number of windows in a room, and the size of the room, gloss paint can drastically change its hue. This makes it hard to pair furniture with, and some people find it annoying.
  • Highlights Imperfections: Gloss paint is meant to catch the eye, so if any sections of your wall have been re-stuccoed (or have other imperfections), a coat of this paint will make them all extremely obvious.

3 Best High-Gloss Paints I Recommend

Here are the my best 3 high-gloss paints you should give them a try:

True Value White Gloss Enamel is a durable, one-coat paint that would be perfect for a door frame.

True Value PDL1-HP PD 1/2-Pint White Gloss Enamel

Diamond Brite Paint Latex Gloss Enamel comes in black, white, and almond and will adhere to wood, ceramics, metal, brick, concrete, and stucco.

Diamond Brite Paint 80000 1-Gallon Latex Gloss Enamel, White

Majic Paints Diamond Hard Paint, Gloss is available in eight colors and offers a scuff-free finish that should last years.

Majic Paints 8-1500-4 Diamond Hard Acrylic Enamel High Gloss Paint, Half Pint/8-Ounce, Gloss White

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss vs. Gloss Finish

Now that we’ve taken a look at each of these kinds of paints, let’s compare each type of finish for three of the most important things that people look for when considering their next paint color: reflection, cost, and durability.

Reflection

Reflectiveness in paint is how much the light shines off of it. Paint that has a high sheen is more reflective. You want to avoid too much reflectiveness in small, well-lit spaces, so this is an important quality to think about.

Here’s how satin, semi-gloss, and gloss paints compare:

  • Satin: Least reflective. Satin paint isn’t totally matte and does reflect some light. Most light gets absorbed into it, however.
  • Semi-Gloss: Moderately reflective. Semi-gloss is lustrous but not shiny. It’s smoother than satin but not quite as slick as gloss, and so it will reflect a medium amount of light.
  • Gloss: Most reflective. High-gloss paint will shine the most out of all of these. Gloss paint shines so much that it will change color depending on how much light is on it.

Cost

The first thing you probably did when you decided to paint your house was set a budget. If you are factoring the price into what kind of paint finish you get, you’ll be happy to know that there isn’t much difference between them. You can get most paint finishes for as little as $30 per gallon.

That said, some specialty high-gloss paints will cost a little more than others. Here’s a chart comparing the average cost of all three finishes:

Durability

Here’s how these three paint finishes compare in terms of durability:

  • Satin: Least durable. Satin paint won’t scuff up quite as much as, say, eggshell finish, but it doesn’t take much to leave a mark on satin paint.
  • Semi-gloss: Moderately durable. The reason semi-gloss paint is great for kids’ bedrooms and playrooms is that it’s sturdier than satin paint without being too shiny.
  • Gloss: Most durable. For weather- and wear-proof paint, semi-gloss will do the job. There’s a reason why high-gloss paint is used in gyms and outdoor spaces.

The shinier your paint is, the harder it will be.

Where is Best to Use Satin, Semi Gloss and Gloss?

Satin finishes are best indoors and are usually used in bedrooms, and dining and living areas. Semi-gloss paint should be saved for kitchens, bathrooms, and kids’ play areas. In contrast, gloss paint works best on finishes, such as door frames, kitchen cabinets, and window shutters. 

There are no hard and fast rules to interior decorating, but it’s usually a good idea to take the commonly-held advice: even if a bright, shiny living room sounds good to you, think carefully about using a gloss finish in there. You might find it gives you a headache.

Here are the best places in your home, generally, to use satin, semi-gloss, and gloss paint finishes.

Best Places to Use a Satin Finish

Satin paints are extremely flexible. You can put satin paint in every room in your house if you want.

Bedrooms and dining rooms are great areas to use satin paints. Use a dark color if you want to avoid them getting too bright. Keep in mind that there will be a little bit of reflection during the day if your bedroom is well-lit.

Any area like a hallway or living room is a great candidate for a satin finish. A satin finish is also suitable for high-traffic areas that could use a little more protection than eggshell paint. A satin finish won’t protect against, say, a toy being thrown at a wall, but it can probably handle a chair being scraped up against it.

Best Places to Use a Semi-Gloss Finish

Kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms are great places to paint in a semi-gloss finish. You might not want to use a shiny gloss finish in your kitchen, a room you likely spend a lot of time in, but you probably want something more protective than satin.

For this exact reason, kids’ rooms and playrooms are also great for semi-gloss finishes.

Most people won’t want to use anything shinier than a satin finish in their home’s main areas, like the living or dining room. The sheen can irritate sensitive eyes in bright sunlight and might not look “adult” enough for some people.

Best Places to Use a Gloss Finish

The best places to use a gloss finish are cabinets and bathroom surfaces since these will be exposed to more water than other walls. Do note that a gloss finish isn’t usually used to cover whole walls in interior homes.

You can also find it on doors, shutters, and swimming pools. You can also paint the outside of sheds and barns with high-gloss paint. If you’re painting something that faces outside, you’ll usually want to use a gloss finish paint.

How to Get a Smooth Coat of Paint Regardless of Finish

No matter what kind of paint you’re applying, the way you apply your paint will affect how it looks more than anything. 

Here are some basic painting tips that will apply to nearly every painting project you’ll have:

  • Use a primer. You don’t want your paint to soak into the wood underneath, so you’ll want to invest in a paint primer as well.
  • Do the edges first. Paint your edges with a paintbrush and let them dry first. Then cover them with painter’s tape.
  • Use a roller to paint large sections of the wall. Avoid going too fast, and make sure to roll the paint on in several different directions to achieve full coverage. If you need a paint roller, you may consider using the Bates Paint Roller. It has thicker synthetic filaments than other paint rollers and comes with a tray, paintbrush, and smaller roller.
  • Paint two coats. Your first coat might look like it’s enough, but the second coat will cover any mistakes you can’t see while the paint’s still drying out.

To watch some of these techniques in action, check out this helpful YouTube video from Lowe’s:

Final Thoughts

When picking out the best paints to use, you need to think about the best color and finish for every room in your house. You might not want to bother deciding between satin and gloss finish when there’s so much else to think about. 

However, making the right choice can save you money down the line.

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