Your Complete Guide to Purchasing Interior Paint Finishes and Their Applications

Your Complete Guide to Purchasing Interior Paint Finishes and Their Applications

A trip to any paint store or home improvement retailer will quickly show you just how intimidating the world of paint can be. There are endless sample cards from different brands, and selections of finishes in every color, and an aisle of paint cans that can make anyone’s head spin. Fortunately, with a little education, you can be ready for your trip to the paint store and make decisions like the pros.

In this guide, you will learn the different types, paint finishes and Brands and their most suitable applications. This will help you get a better understanding of paint and how it works, as well as which finishes may be best for certain areas of your home. First, let’s talk about a few terms that you’ll need to know.

Finish: This refers to the appearance of the paint once it dries on the wall or other surface. It’s also sometimes called the sheen, so if you see this term instead, don’t be confused or alarmed.

Types: You will see on labels words like Acrylic, Latex, Waterborne Alkyd and Alkyd. These reflect the composition of the paint, and this is an important choice so consider this information:

Most paints used (90%+) are latex or acrylic and this will be your safe choice for most of your projects. There is distinction between latex and acrylic and in general acrylic is the best choice

Waterborne alkyd are excellent products and can be used for most of your projects, but they tend to be a little pricier and there are often fewer choices in sheen levels.

Latex, acrylic, and waterborne alkyd all have water cleanup.

Alkyds are oil-based products that have a strong odor, are more difficult to apply and have solvent-based cleanup. They do have a purpose (good adhesion, sealing ability, etc) but are generally not going to be your choice of product for an everyday paint job.

Things to consider

Manufacturers and brands present a multi-layered question as each manufacturer has a variety of brands for the same type and finish of paint. This will be another important choice that will affect the project.

Manufacturer: There are three major manufacturers of paint in North America (PPG/Dulux, Sherwin Williams, and Benjamin Moore). Choosing products from these companies is generally a safe bet. It should be noted that there are many great regional producers that could also be chosen and many major retail brands from big-box stores that are produced by these three manufacturers.

Within a manufacturer there are often multiple brands and lines of paints. For the most part they follow a good, better, best format and are priced accordingly. As with most things, picking the middle brand will work great for most projects.

It should also be noted that some manufacturers can have multi-level brands which can expand the Good-Better-Best to Good-Better-Great-Excellent-Best and sometimes more. Again, sticking to the middle ground generally works

There are also commercial grade products that may or may not be a good choice for your project. Without inside knowledge, it’s best to steer clear of these.

Do Different Colors or Brands Come in Different Sheens?

Paint finishes are universal across all brands. Some may use different terms or use certain terms interchangeably, but for the most part, you can trust that when you buy “matte” paint from one brand it will be close to the same as matte paint from another brand in terms of shine and finish. 

Finishes also aren’t limited to colors. Because paint colors are mixed on demand today, you can get literally any color in the finish of your choosing. If you’ve ever purchased paint before, you’re familiar with how they ask you which paint product and finish you want before selecting products and mixing colors. 

Of course, when you work with professional painters, you don’t have to worry about any of this. They’ll do all the paint buying and mixing and make sure that you get a finished space that’s everything you want, regardless of the finish you choose. This can save you a lot of time and confusion, too, which is always a welcomed relief. 

Your Guide on Finish/Sheens

This will help you as you read through this guide and learn more about the different paint finishes that exist today. Generally, a shinier finish means that the paint will be easier to clean and more durable. Flatter finishes tend to be more challenging to clean and they don’t stand up to everyday use as well. 

Higher-sheen finishes are going to be more difficult to touch up because they show paint marks and imperfections much more easily. On the other hand, lower-sheen finishes will require more touch-up and repainting because they’re not as durable. Let’s take a closer look. 

Matte/Flat Finish 

Flat or matte latex or acrylic paint is great for covering up imperfections and light. It comes with the most pigment and provides the most coverage of all paint finishes. This means you will save more time and money on this type of paint. This finish is less durable and requires a delicate touch when it comes to cleaning, however. 

Matte paint should be cleaned with soap and water and a soft sponge. It’s best in low-traffic areas like adult bedrooms, rarely used interior rooms, or homes where kids and pets aren’t present. The durability is rated at medium-low and may not hold up as well as the other finishes. It should be noted that several manufacturers have highly washable matte finishes that will provide high Durability.


Eggshell latex or acrylic paint is named for its similarity to a chicken’s egg. It has no shine but a little luster, covering up imperfections with ease. Eggshell is a great choice for low-traffic areas or mid-traffic areas that don’t see a lot of scuffs, bumps, and wear. It’s most commonly found in living and dining rooms. 

Eggshell paint offers medium durability, which means it’s a little more durable than flat paint, but it is still relatively fragile. Make sure that you clean it with soft materials and avoid harsh chemicals. Clean up spots and scuffs as they happen to prevent difficult cleaning. This is the most used finish for walls.


Satin latex or acrylic paint offers a velvety, smooth finish that has just a bit more shine than an eggshell paint. The surface is easier to clean, so it’s popular for high-traffic areas where people might not want the shine of gloss paint. It shows brush strokes and roller marks, however, so that can make it tricky to apply if you’re not a professional. 

Touch-ups are also difficult because of this. However, if properly applied, this paint can provide plenty of durable use. It’s rated at high durability and ideal for halls and foyers, family rooms, and even kids’ bedrooms where paint can really take a beating. 


Semi-gloss latex or acrylic paint has a bit more of a shine, but it’s still not quite as glossy as gloss paint. It’s good for rooms where there is moisture, as well as areas used in food preparation, areas prone to get stains or grease on the painted surfaces. It’s also often used for trim because of its durability. 

Semi-gloss paint is most often found in bathrooms and kitchens, as well as on baseboards, crown molding, doors, frames and other trim like chair rails. It has high durability and will stand up to a lot of use and abuse. However, you’ll still want to clean it regularly and clean up spills as they happen. 

This paint can be scrubbed more than other finishes, but you’ll still want to use delicate materials and avoid harsh or abrasive cleaners. Touch-ups are more challenging because imperfections show through, but this paint will often last longer than other finishes. 

Gloss/High Gloss

The most durable paint finish that you can buy is gloss or high gloss which is less available in most brands. This finish can be an alkyd paint more often than not. This paint is ultra-shiny, hard, and reflects light. It’s the type of paint they use on appliances, for obvious reasons. High-gloss paint is ideal for cabinets, window trim, doors, bathrooms, and kitchens where there is a lot of traffic and use.

Bear in mind that most professional painters don’t recommend using high-gloss paint on interior walls because of how reflective it is, but it’s great for smaller applications on pieces that get a lot of use. 

This paint can be scrubbed. It can even withstand a little extra cleaning, such as with organic kitchen and bath cleaners that may remove grime and grease better than soap and water alone. It’s rated as very high durability scale and offers plenty of colors to choose from, even though shades of white are the most common. 

Finish Type by Application Area

It may be easier for you to understand how to choose a paint finish by knowing which rooms of the home or items take it best. Take a look at the chart below to get an at-a-glance idea of which finishes belong where.

Living Rooms, Dining Rooms, BedroomsEggshell finish for a smooth look or a satin when you may want a little more durability. For all practicality these two choices can easily be used in all rooms of most people’s homes and businesses
Kitchen, Bathrooms, Laundry roomsSemi-gloss paint that is durable and easy to clean. For maximum durability gloss or high gloss although esthetically less appealing
Living Rooms, Dining Rooms, BedroomsHigh Grade Flat/matte finish paints can essentially be used for any area eggshell or Satin

Best Paint Finish for Walls

Beiges And Light Browns

The most common finish choices for latex or acrylic wall paint are eggshell and semigloss although satin and a high-grade washable matte can also be used. In many cases it is your personal preference on shine that you want. However, when in doubt go eggshell you will not be dissatisfied with the choice

What Paint Finish is Best for Ceilings? 

The application of paint on ceilings is different than on walls. Most professionals recommend a flat finish for ceilings because it prevents light reflection and won’t splatter as much during the painting application. This can also help with the acoustics in rooms, adding another benefit. Of course, you can consider other finishes if you are trying to create a unique or dramatic look. 

If you choose a textured ceiling, a different finish of paint may be required. It’s a good idea to talk to your painting contractor about the project ahead of time so that you can make the best decision. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever use high-gloss paint on a ceiling, but semi-gloss may help you add a dramatic flair. 

Ceilings are considered “low traffic” because they don’t get a lot of interaction from the world around them. They may collect dust and debris, but you’re not constantly touching them, running into them, or spilling things. Therefore, flat paint is usually effective, and you might find that you can go longer in between ceiling paint jobs as opposed to wall painting. 

Best Choice for trim: doors, frames, window trim and baseboards

The product of choice for most contractors is semi-gloss acrylic for its durability and the aesthetic appearance. Satin and a high-grade washable matte can also be used but is significantly less common.

Final Thoughts

A good coat of paint can do wonders for a room or an entire home. The key here is “good” – you have to know what you’re getting into and plan things accordingly. Choosing the paint finish, type and brand is one of the most important parts of your project, so it deserves your attention. If you’re still struggling to figure out what is going to be best, consider asking the experts for assistance. 

The team at Elite Trade Painting has years of experience in all kinds of interior and exterior painting and can help you understand all your options when it comes to your next project. Whether you’re unsure about finishes or you just want the reassurance of an expert, we can take care of it all. 

Plus, we’ll provide you with a prompt, high-quality paint job so that you can get back to your life. Whether you’re painting a single room or your entire home, we’re ready to tackle the project with you. Reach out today and find out how we can take your next painting project to a whole new level. 

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