Matte vs. Satin vs. Gloss Sheen Finish Levels Explained

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 05/30/23 • 

If you’re looking for the right sheen level, the main ones are matte, satin, and gloss. The sheen level is determined by the light a finish reflects when applied to a surface. Different sheen levels fit different styles and preferences. In this article, we’ll go through these different sheen levels to help you make an informed decision.

What is Matte Sheen?

A matte sheen finish has the lowest sheen or gloss, which means it does not reflect light. Matte sheen can also be called a flat sheen, although flat is a bit less shiny than matte.

Both matte and flat finishes give a smooth and subtle look. Because of its higher pigment, matte finishes add depth and richness to darker finish colors. Another advantage of matte finishes is they soften vibrant and bright colors, which allows you to explore bolder color palettes.

Light Matte Polyurethane Finish

Light Matte Polyurethane Finish

They are great for covering up imperfections, making them a good option for walls, ceilings, or a living room. However, they can be difficult to clean when they hold dirt, so use them in low-traffic areas. They are also less durable than other sheen levels but easier to touch up or repair.

What is Satin Sheen?

A satin sheen is shinier than matte but not as shiny as semi-gloss. It has a silky or Perl-like appearance that reflects just the right amount of light. It is great for high-traffic rooms because they are easier to clean and maintain. They are also more durable compared to matte finishes.

Claudia box With several coats of shellac and satin varnish

Claudia box With Several Coats of Shellac and Satin Varnish

Satin finishes are good for hallways, kid’s, family rooms, and other higher-traffic areas. Additionally, satin finishes are moisture-resistant, which makes them ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, and other moisture-ridden areas.

The disadvantage of satin finishes is they are harder to apply, have lesser coverage compared to matte finishes, do not have imperfections, and touch-ups will stand out.

What is Gloss Sheen?

Gloss and semi-gloss sheen finish provide the shiest appearance. Gloss has a deep reflective shine, while semi-gloss is bright and vibrant. Both gloss and semi-gloss stand up very well to high-traffic areas, spills, and wear. They are the most durable, toughest, and stain-resistant.

They are excellent choices for use in the bathroom, kitchens, trim pieces, doors, and cabinets. These two sheen levels are good everywhere with high traffic or hand exposure. They are also easier to clean.

3 Coats of Full Gloss Polyurethane

3 Coats of Full Gloss Polyurethane

However, unlike other sheen levels, gloss and semi-gloss will show any blemishes and imperfections on the surface they are applied to. Before applying a semi-gloss or glossy finish, work on surface preparation thoroughly to ensure they are not obvious after painting. Beware that touch-ups are harder to do, and you might have to repaint a whole section.

Matte vs. Satin vs. Gloss

Ease of Application

If you’re looking for an easier finish to apply, matte sheen finishes are your choice. They are easier to apply even for DIYers and do not require much surface preparation.

Gloss and semi-gloss finishes are harder to apply and require the best surface preparation. If the surface preparation is not properly done, gloss and semi-gloss finishes will show any surface imperfections.

Repair and Maintenance

Satin and gloss finishes are easier to maintain and thus recommended for high-traffic areas. Higher traffics areas and areas that receive more hand traffic benefit most from glossy finishes. Playrooms, kitchens, family rooms, and dining rooms could work with satin finishes.

However, remember that although satin and gloss are easier to maintain, they are harder to repair. Matte finishes are easier to repair, and touch-ups are harder to notice. For gloss, you might have to redo a whole section.


Gloss finishes are very durable compared to satin and matte. They are scrubbable, and you can clean dirt and grime off a surface with a gloss finish. Satin finishes are in between but are durable compared to matte finishes. Matte finishes are the least durable finish you can use.

When to Use Each


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