Satin Vs Semi-Gloss Paint Finish: Differences Between Them

Choosing the right paint color can make or break your project. Even if you know what paint color you want, the shade and eggshell paint sheen options vary greatly. 

Satin and semi gloss paint finishes are two of the most popular choices because they have some of the luminosity of a glossy paint finish and some of the rich pigmentation of flat paints. 

Learn about the differences between the two options and determine which one is better for your project in this satin vs semi gloss paint finish comparison guide.  

There are a few important things to consider in the satin vs semi gloss paint debate. First, satin paint is closer to flat paint than to full-gloss, while the opposite is true for semi-gloss paint. 

That means satin paint has less of a space-limiting effect and is easier to apply, while semi-gloss is more damage and moisture-resistant. 

Here are some recommendations for deciding whether satin and semi gloss paint is best for your project, depending on which room of the house you're painting: 

For Walls & Ceilings 

  • Bathroom Walls
    High gloss means better resistance to mildew and moisture, so semi-gloss wins for bathroom walls. You can also wipe them down and wash them more easily. However, keep in mind that you'll still need specialty paint for the inside of the bath or shower.
  • Bedroom Walls
    Areas that see regular traffic like a bedroom need protection from damage and simple cleaning requirements. Both satin and semi gloss varnish offer this, but most homeowners use satin finish  paint for aesthetic reasons.
  • Kitchen Walls
    If you’re concerned about maintenance, then semi-gloss is your choice here. However, keep in mind that your moldings and trim might be semi-gloss already, and the difference between them and satin finish wall surface could be appealing. 
  • Ceilings
    Semi-gloss can appear to suck in space. Most homeowners use satin for their ceilings because it makes the room feel bigger. Light satin ceiling paint scatters natural light better, too.

For Wooden Furniture 

  • Kitchen Cabinets
    You can definitely paint kitchen cabinets using satin paint, but many people prefer semi-gloss to keep their kitchen cabinets in better condition for longer. Lots of hands touch parts of kitchen cabinets to open them, and they often require regular cleaning, so many thin layers of paint can cut down cleaning time and hold a fresh paint job at bay.
  • Wooden Tables
    While semi-gloss is tougher in many scenarios, it also shows scratches better. That makes it the worse choice for a dining room table or any table that gets regular use. Dishes, plates, lamps, and other small furnishings will leave their scuff marks unless you use a strong satin or semi gloss polyurethane or satin polyurethane finish. 
  • Chairs
    Here, your choice is pretty much left up to aesthetics, especially if you’re going to use cushions that protect against scratches from pant buttons. Satin is still a fine choice depending on the look you’re going for.
Kitchen Furniture Painted in White

Floors & Baseboards 

  • Indoor
    Nothing beats semi-gloss for interior trim and baseboards. It lasts longer, and it's far easier to clean - plus right paint sheen bothers you on a big wall, you still might like it on your baseboards where its reflective light won't be as noticeable. Semi-gloss is also great for wood floors because it attracts less dirt than satin and, as we mentioned before, it’s easier to clean. You can also go with satin if your main worry is scratches, though. 
  • Outdoor Decks
    If you’re covering a deck with lots of gloss surface imperfections, reach for the satin finish paint. It’s also a good choice for painting nearby house siding for the same reason. However, if you have a smooth surface, semi-gloss can add a flair to your patio hangout. Just remember if it’s a covered deck that the ceiling should be in satin to avoid semi-gloss’ space-limiting effect.

What Exactly Is Satin Paint? (Pros & Cons)

Satin paint has more binder in it than flat paints does. Binder creates a smoother surface for the matte finish paint, while more pigments create an uneven surface. More light bounces off even surfaces in fewer directions which is what gives satin paint finish the extra gloss. 

Oil-based and water-based paints can both come with a satin finish. Typically, it has between ⅓ and ½ the reflectivity of a full gloss paint. The idea is to give the same feeling of luminosity without giving your walls and furniture the near-reflective treatment you’d find on a car. 

When you coat a surface with satin paint or matte paint, it will reveal scratches and impressions in the surface but not as much as glossier paints do. Matte paint can also handle moisture quite well, making it ideal for painting bathrooms and kitchens. 

Satin paint is subtle shine but not overwhelmingly so. More light does reflect off of it but not glaringly like it will with high-gloss paint. It works on siding, aluminum, drywall, and wood surfaces. 

Homeowners use satin paint in bedrooms and common rooms because it's easier to clean than a flat paint, but it's also harder to apply because you have to maintain a uniform paint sheen. 

Benefits 

  • Easier to clean 
  • Works on many surfaces 
  • Leaves a smooth feeling surface 
  • Handles moisture and mildew well 
  • No space-limiting effect 

Drawbacks 

  • Collects dirt more visibly 
  • Touch-ups stand out 
  • Harder to use 
  • Lasting impact potential from food, crayons, etc. 

What Is Semi-Gloss Paint? (Pros & Cons)

Semi-gloss paint is usually about half as glossy as high-gloss paint but can be as much as 75% as glossy finish. Because of this, every advantage and disadvantage of high gloss compared to satin paints is exacerbated. 

For instance, semi-gloss paint will show all the imperfections in the paint and the surface you're painting. Also, more binders give semi-gloss paint enough paint sheen for some reflection to be visible in the paint, especially in rooms with lots of direct natural light. 

The pigment makes up less of the formula in a semi-gloss paint which means the final color on the finished paint job can be less pronounced than it would be with flat or satin paint.

However, the luminosity is more collected - semi-gloss paint is usually the best choice for homeowners who want to see some light reflected in their walls. 

This gloss level is why most contractors and homeowners use semi-gloss paint to cover large areas like walls and doors, particularly when dark rooms need lightening with a light-shade color.

You can also use it for trim, molding, and cabinets. Semi-gloss is great for high-traffic areas because it doesn’t take damage as easily as flat paint. 

Benefits 

  • More resilient to damage 
  • Highlight architectural features better 
  • Great for lightening dark spaces 
  • Easy to clean once it’s dry 
  • Even more moisture-resistant 

Drawbacks 

  • Must sand before painting 
  • Brushstrokes are highly visible 
  • More sheen makes hue appear darker 
  • Scratches show more easily 

Extra Information On satin and semi gloss Paints 

  • Semi-gloss paint is sometimes harder to apply because you have to go in more careful steps. Overlapping dry paint with wet paint may show through in semi-gloss.  
  • Satin paint’s sheen stays true to splotch once it’s up on the wall. The additional reflection of semi-gloss can make its paint color look darker, while satin might look lighter gives matte finish. 
  • Semi-gloss is more durable and easy to clean, but it shows scratches. 
  • Satin is often slightly less expensive than semi-gloss, though this can change for specialty blends. 
  • Semi-gloss paint is typically the better choice for basement walls because these interior walls can weep water. In other words, water vapor can seep into basement interior walls, and semi-gloss will handle that atmosphere better without showing damage. It's also better able to expand and retract.  
  • Satin paint scatters natural light better, making rooms look brighter and more inviting even when the wall color isn’t a dark hue.  
  • Semi-gloss is a great way to highlight architectural features. You can lead the eye around to crown moldings, window frames, trim, and other accents with a semi-gloss sheen. The reflection of the light won’t be as severe on these smaller areas.  
  • Satin paint finishes tend to dry on better and without the sort of sticky feeling semi-gloss paints can. This is an especially important point for DIY painters who might goop on the semi gloss finishes or apply in a way that makes it feel sticky even when it’s dry. 
Satin Finished Red Door


Satin Vs Semi Gloss Paint FAQs

Should all interior doors be satin or semi-gloss? 

The best choice for interior doors is semi-gloss paint. It can take more kicks, scrapes, and bumps without showing any damage. Doors with a semi gloss finish will be easier to clean. 


Can I paint satin over gloss or not? 

Yes, you can paint satin over gloss or semi-gloss paint as long as you either de-gloss the original paint, sand it down, or use a satin paint with the same base as what was used before. 


Is semi-gloss paint waterproof? 

Not all semi gloss paints are waterproof. They are generally very water-resistant by nature. It is best not to assume that the semi-gloss paint you’ve selected is waterproof unless the label says so beyond the shadow of a doubt.  


How do you tell if paint is gloss or semi-gloss? 

You can tell if paint is gloss or semi gloss just by how light reflects off of it. The semi gloss reflects light, but still diffuse it somewhat compared with the full-gloss paint, which will reflect light almost straight back at its source, creating a kind of reflection on the wall. 


Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has helped you figure out where you stand in the whole satin finish vs semi gloss finish debate. Each one has advantages over the other in certain situations. Don’t be surprised if you wind up using a bit of both on your next DIY painting project.  

Although semi-gloss paint finish is more moisture and stain resistant resistant and easier to clean, satin paint finish diffuses natural light better and tends to make a space feel roomier. 

Trim and other accents really pop with semi gloss finishes on them, while ceilings and wooden furniture frequently look better with satin finishes. Read through this guide to help you decide which paint finish to use on your next project.