Paint 101 -- What's the Difference Between Satin, Semi-Gloss, Matte, Latex, Etc.?

By: , Contributor

Published on: Mar 09, 2020

This easy-to-use guide will help you select the right paint type and finish for your next home renovation project.

It can be hard enough for a homeowner to pick a paint color for a room, let alone the right type of paint for a home renovation project. As a former professional painter, I know it's not easy to keep up with all the different kinds of paint options out there on the market. Here's a quick primer on the various paint types and finishes, as well as the best applications for each one.

Paint types

There are two main types of paints used today for most home renovation projects:

Alkyd or oil-based paints and stains

Oil-based paints, as the name implies, contain either an organic or synthetic oil as their base. They're more durable, making them ideally suited for things that get a lot of wear and tear like trim, doors, and flooring as well as raw wood surfaces. However, oil-based paints have several drawbacks, including that they take longer to dry, give off a strong odor when applied, and require mineral spirits for cleanup.

Latex or water-based paints and stains

Latex paints, meanwhile, contain a combination of resins and water. Because they're not as durable as oil-based paint, they're best suited for surfaces like walls and ceilings, though they're fine for trim and doors, too. Water-based paint also offers easy cleanup with soap and water.

Paint finishes

Paints and stains come in five different finishes or sheens:

Flat or matte

Flat or matte paint doesn't reflect light. Because of that, it hides surface defects like nail pops, patches, and seams. That makes it an ideal finish for a ceiling, closet, finished basement, or garage. Some drawbacks, however, are that flat finishes scuff easily and can damage if cleaned with a cleanser.


Eggshell, as the name implies, has a similar sheen to an egg. It's one of the most popular finishes for main living areas such as a hallway, living room, entryway, or family room. Eggshell paints are more washable than flat/matte finishes and also more resistant to stains and scuff marks.


Satin has a bit more sheen than eggshell, similar to that of a pearl. It's the most common type of paint finish used in homes as it works well for home offices, playrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens. Satin finishes resist mildew and fading, making them ideal for outdoor use on things like trim, shutters, and siding. They're also easier to clean than eggshell and flat-matte finishes.


Semi-gloss paint has a bit more sheen than satin. It's also more resistant to moisture than other finishes, making it ideal for areas like bathrooms and kitchens. Semi-gloss is also a good option for trim and molding because it will stand out against walls painted with eggshell or satin finishes. Semi-gloss finishes do, however, have some drawbacks, including showing more blemishes on walls and ceilings as well as requiring more coats.


High-gloss paint is highly reflective, almost glass-like. That makes it ideal for surfaces like doors, cabinets, molding, and trim, as it stands out against walls painted with less glossy finishes like satin. However, like semi-gloss finishes, high-gloss paint shows blemishes and requires more coats than less glossy paints.

Using the right paint will prevent future painting headaches

Painting can be a budget-friendly way to transform your home. However, if you select the wrong type or finish, it could cause problems down the road since some aren't durable enough for certain applications, while others won't look right in some settings. That’s why it pays to know what type and finish are best for each application -- so you don’t waste time and money painting the same project twice.

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