The right Sheen for the right place.

What separates gloss from sheen? How are both of them measured? Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to these questions – you wouldn’t be the only one.

Trying to tell the difference between sheen and gloss can be difficult, but it is an important distinction to make. That is because both of them are capable of having a strong effect on finish selection and paint color. The following information can expand your knowledge of sheen and gloss.

Measuring Sheen and Gloss

In the paint sector, sheen and gloss are measured in a unique way. Light needs to be reflected off of certain angles for a measurement to be taken. Gloss gets measured at 60° angles. More specifically, a light beam gets deflected by 60° off of a surface before going back to a receptor. This receptor tells you the gloss unit amount, which starts at zero and goes all the way to 100. Paint will be glossier and shinier the closer it is to a hundred units. Since gloss finishes tend to have high reflective characteristics, a room’s lighting must be heavily considered when gloss levels are being chosen.

Sheen gets measured at 85° angles. The distinctions on sheen surfaces are very apparent when low gloss paint is used. Be mindful that all many products come with either a sheen or gloss value (sometimes even both values). When these values are assessed, you can determine which product will be suitable for your specific project. This will be very important if you are trying to achieve a particular finish.

Choosing the Sheen or Gloss Level

Picking the right sheen and gloss will entail several key considerations, as far as functionality is concerned. That will include a room’s traffic levels, lighting, performance expectations, and window positions.

A low sheen/gloss should be used when:

  • Walls with plenty of imperfections Low sheen and gloss will help conceal flaws – particularly in interiors.
  • There is ample natural light coming into the room. Light and gloss go hand-in-hand. Therefore, rooms that receive a surplus of light may sustain a mirror type of effect – excessive glare – when high gloss paints are involved.
  • Not a lot of attention is needed for the space, whether it be a hallway or ceiling parts.

A high sheen/gloss should be used when:

  • A lot of traffic is coming in and out of the room (which warrants frequent cleaning). High sheen/gloss paint usually produces stain-resistant and tough finishes. That is the reason why you see glossy finishes in high-traffic rooms, children’s rooms, and bathrooms.
  • Some depth is needed for the room. Finish contrasting offers a sense of depth. If you are going for a 3D type of ambiance, think about applying gloss paint to the trim – especially if the room was painted with flat paint or low luster paint. Also, think about using a gloss finish to make architectural features stand out – perhaps entry doors and/or trim surrounding ornate glasswork.

While the industry is in agreement on how sheen and gloss should be measured, descriptions for gloss and finish levels tend to vary per manufacturer. As an example, the gloss offered by one brand might resemble the semi-gloss of another brand.

Sherman Williams simplifies the process for design professionals by sticking to standard definitions:

  • Semi-gloss (medium luster, pearl, semi-gloss) – paint surfaces that create a reflectance ranging from medium to high/low when it is dry.
  • Gloss (high-gloss, gloss) – paint surfaces that create a high amount of reflectance when it is dry.
  • Satin (velvet, low luster, eggshell, high sheen, low sheen, low gloss) – paint surfaces that create a reflectance ranging between low and medium when it is dry.
  • Flat (matte, flat) – paint surfaces that create a reflectance ranging between zero and very low when it is dry.


Ideal for rooms where walls are exposed to grease stains, moisture, and drips. It is also suitable for any trim work areas that take plenty of abuse.

  • Durability: high.
  • Practical application: chair rails, trim, bathrooms, kitchen.

High Gloss

High gloss paints are typically solid, light-reflective, and ultra-shiny. They are the simplest to clean and most durable paint sheen of them all. They are as tough as the paint that you see on appliances.

High gloss will be ideal for areas that dirty fingers make contact with, like doors, cabinets, and trim. However, high gloss will give most interior walls an excessive shine. High-gloss is also capable of exposing various rolls and bumps. As such, prep work is something you should not skimp out on.

  • Durability: significantly high.
  • Practical application: window trim, kitchens, and doors.


In spite of its name, satin is sometimes referred to as “velvety” because of its luster. It is simple to clean, which makes this option ideal for areas that get a lot of traffic. Unfortunately, satin can reveal application imperfections, including brush or roller strokes. That makes future touch-ups somewhat tricky.

  • Durability: high.
  • Practical application: children’s bedrooms, hallways, foyers, and family rooms.


Eggshell is essentially a no-shine (flat) finish with minimal luster. It resembles an egg laid by a chicken, hence the name. Eggshell is capable of covering-up wall imperfections quite well. It’s an ideal finish for spaces that people gather in infrequently (meaning the scuffs and bumps it endures are also minimal).

  • Durability: medium.
  • Practical application: living rooms, dining rooms.

Matte or Flat

When you need to hide something on your walls, matte/flat will soak up light rather than reflect it. It contains the highest pigment amount, and can therefore provide optimal coverage. This translates to money and time savings. With that said, it is difficult to clean, as you could potentially remove paint when you are trying to get rid of grime.

  • Durability: low – medium.
  • Practical application: interior rooms (including adult bedrooms) that will not be abused by children.

Selecting a Suitable Sheen – Some Suggestions

If the color of your paint is rich and dark, but a shiny effect is not what you are going for, try to bring the sheen down by one level. The richer and darker a paint color happens to be, the higher amount of colorants it will contain, which enhances sheen. This is also applicable if you are painting a wall with imperfections, if it has been sun-washed, and/or is just large in general. The more sheen a wall has, the more exposure defects will get.

Adding some sheen can also take its toll on your bank account. That is because it usually costs an extra $2 or so per gallon, depending on how much sheen you are using.