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Satin vs Semi Gloss: Which is Right for Your Paint Job?

As you contemplate DIY painting projects around your home, you’ll have to choose the type of finish you’ll want in your paint. There are five basic paint finishes, all with names based on their level of sheen. Listed here from least sheen to most sheen, those finishes are flat (or matte), eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss.

In this post, we’ll be taking a look at satin vs semi gloss paint, considering which is best for particular DIY projects. Broadly speaking, both finishes can be used in the same kinds of interior and exterior painting, and both can achieve a specific look for your home.

But as you’ll see as we further consider satin vs semi-gloss paint, there are specific applications in which one finish will work better than the other.

blue and yellow paint cans with paint brush indicating satin vs semi gloss sheens

Characteristics of Semi-Gloss Paint

If your goal is to bring a bit of a glow to the room or hallway or whatever else you’re painting, semi-gloss paint is an ideal choice. Its glossiness can range from 40% to nearly 70%, bountifully reflecting light coming into your newly painted space and bringing a slick appearance to it with a lacquer-type sheen.

Semi-gloss paint is also more durable than satin paint, and its color will remain vibrant for longer, both of which can become deciding factors when considering satin vs semi-gloss paint.

Pros of Using Semi-Gloss Paint

An important thing to know about choosing any particular paint sheen, whether satin vs semi-gloss—or matte, eggshell, or high-gloss—is that your personal preferences should be a foremost consideration.

That said, there are a lot of good reasons within the satin vs semi-gloss conundrum for choosing semi-gloss paint for many DIY painting projects. As already mentioned, semi-gloss paint is durable. It’s also the best choice if you’re looking for a traditional finish, as opposed to the modern, flatter-sheened finish of satin paint.

Painting a door white

Additionally, because semi-gloss paint is an acceptable choice for both large surfaces and smaller areas such as doors, windows, and trim, it can bring a unified appearance to redoing a room in your home, making it a preferred choice when balancing the issue of satin vs semi-gloss paint.

Cons of Using Semi-Gloss Paint

Because it reflects more light than satin-finish paint, semi-gloss paint will make imperfections more visible. Also, touching up a semi-gloss paint job can be tricky, with the possibility of creating an uneven sheen across the painted area. This is certainly a drawback in the question of satin vs semi-gloss paint.

Best Places to Use Semi-Gloss Paint

While semi-gloss paint is a perfectly acceptable choice for painting rooms, walls, and hallways, it really shines—pardon the pun—as a durable option for surfaces that get a lot of use and contact from people and pets. If your DIY project involves kitchen or bathroom cabinets, doors, or trim, semi-gloss paint is your best choice for easy cleaning and maintenance when considering satin vs semi-gloss options.

Characteristics of Satin Paint

Located in the middle range of the various paint sheens, satin paint is a popular choice for DIY projects, in part because it can be used for large surfaces like walls and for details like trim and window casings. It’s a good choice for kitchens and bathrooms, but it can also find a place in bedrooms and hallways.

Pros of Using Satin Paint

As noted, satin paint can be used for several purposes, saving both the cost and hassle of switching from one paint sheen to another for any DIY project. Additionally, satin paint is resistant to fading, as well as to damage from scratches and moisture.

New constructions walls getting a coat of paint

Satin paint is a great choice for new walls because it is glossy enough to give them a shine while also reflecting any light coming into the room. It’s also the best option if you’re painting a child’s bedroom or anywhere else in your home where drawing on the walls might be a problem or in areas where pets are likely to roam because it is easy to clean.

Cons of Using Satin Paint

While subtle, the sheen of satin paint will nonetheless show the imperfections of the surface you’re painting, which is certainly something to consider in weighing satin vs semi-gloss options. That makes satin paint a poor choice for projects in older homes, where stains and cracks are present on surfaces and likely will be accentuated without painstaking preparation prior to painting.

Best Places to Use Satin Paint

As its name implies, satin paint imparts a gleaming luxuriousness to the surfaces upon which it is used. That makes it a natural choice for areas in your home where you want to make a bold statement, such as a dining room or formal living area.

Coincidentally, using semi-gloss paint on trim, windows, and doors in rooms where you use satin paint on the walls can enhance that elegant feeling.

Satin paint is a particularly good choice for new homes, where freshly installed walls are free of imperfections and can really show off the paint.

Tips for Painting with Satin Paint

As with any other paint, surface preparation is the key to using satin paint successfully for your DIY project. It’s helpful to sand down the surfaces targeted for painting with very fine-grit sandpaper. As part of sanding, make sure to find and fill in any holes, cracks, or other gaps in the surface, using one of the many fillers available online or from your local hardware, building supply, or home store.

After wiping down the surface and letting it dry, your next step is to apply a primer coat, using a primer specifically designed for the surface you’re painting. Applying satin paint with a roller is perfectly fine if you’re painting a wall. However, if you’re painting kitchen cabinets or doing other fine work, you might want to consider using a brush rather than one of the small rollers designed for cabinet work.

For best results, you should apply two or three coats of satin paint and wipe down each coat after it has dried.

Tips for Painting with Semi-Gloss Paint

Because semi-gloss paint is most routinely used on trim, doors, and other detailed work, the best tip for painting large surfaces such as walls with it is to get a small can from your local paint store or home center and paint a spot on your wall to determine whether you like the sheen it will provide. That way, you won’t waste any time or money weighing a choice of satin vs semi-gloss paint.

If you like the semi-gloss sheen on your walls, you can follow the tips outlined here for painting with satin paint to prepare the wall surface, apply the proper primer, and then apply your paint.

Rolling white paint on a primed wall

In terms of using semi-gloss paint for trim, doors, and other detailed work, you’ll get the best results with a brush, as long as it is sized properly to reach into the nooks and crannies of raised, angled, and lowered surfaces.

Satin vs Semi Gloss Frequently Asked Questions

While this post thus far has covered many of the basics of satin vs semi-gloss paint for your DIY project, you’re certain to have other questions about this important choice in home decor. Read on for answers to a few questions that may have occurred to you in considering satin vs semi-gloss finishes.

Which is easier to clean, satin paint or semi-gloss paint?

The good news in the satin vs semi-gloss arena is that both sheens are easy to clean, but semi-gloss routinely is seen as the easier option in terms of keeping your painted surfaces clean. Briefly, semi-gloss paint is easier to clean because it offers a slicker surface that is more moisture-resistant.

By way of explanation, the slicker surface of semi-gloss paint makes it easier to wipe down with a water-dampened cloth or even a cloth dampened with a mild household cleaner. But even semi-gloss paint is easier to clean than eggshell or matte paints, which are the least durable finishes.

Between satin paint and semi-gloss paint, which is more expensive?

Generally speaking, the higher the gloss level offered by a particular paint, the more expensive it will be, so semi-gloss will routinely be more expensive than satin paint. The reason for the difference is that semi-gloss paint includes more of the resins responsible for giving various paints their particular level of sheen.

In the end, though, the cost difference in satin vs semi-gloss paint will amount to just a few pennies per dollar more for semi-gloss paint. So unless you’re undertaking a massive DIY painting project, cost doesn’t necessarily have to be a factor in your choice.

Which finish is better at hiding surface imperfections?

If the surface you’ll paint for your upcoming DIY project is somewhat rough, a satin-finish paint will be better at hiding dings and scrapes. That’s because satin paint absorbs more light than it reflects, which will help hide surface imperfections.

Painting surface imperfections

Of course, if you’ve decided unequivocally that you want to use semi-gloss paint for your project, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go that route. You should understand that using semi-gloss paint instead of satin paint will require more intense surface preparation, including sanding in problem areas to make your surface more even and, thus, more suited for semi-gloss paint.

Wrapping up Satin vs Semi Gloss Paint

Now that you know something about the characteristics of satin vs semi-gloss paint, and vice versa, you’re more than ready to make the best choice for your DIY painting project. For more information on the different types of paint finishes, check out DIY Painting Tips.