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Choosing the Right Sheen for Exterior Paint: A Comprehensive Guide

It’s fun to think about the colors you’d like for an exterior painting project, but color isn’t the only thing to think about with such a job. You’ll also need to consider the best sheen for exterior paint to ensure a high-quality finished product.

There are five paint sheens from which to choose, each referring to the amount of light reflected by the paint. From lowest to highest reflectivity, or shine, those sheens are matte (or flat), eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high-gloss.

Each sheen can have a role in exterior painting. If you’re painting doors and trim as well as walls, you’ll likely want a mix of sheens. Read on for help with choosing the right sheen for exterior paint for your project.

Exterior of house painted blue with red door showing sheen for exterior paint

Using Flat Paint for Exterior Projects

Particularly if you’re a novice DIY painter, flat paint is a wise choice of sheen for exterior paint. Whether you’re brush-painting a door or roller-painting a wall, flat paint will go on easily and will adhere well through multiple coats. Also, the texture imparted by flat paint means it will hide imperfections like untidy brush strokes or roller overlap marks.

Stylistically, flat paint as a sheen for exterior paint will give your project an elegantly soft look, and its lack of reflectivity means that your final finish will have a deep and rich appearance.

Cons of Flat Paint

Flat paint doesn’t have the resinous layering that gives glossier paint sheens their reflectivity. In addition to reflectivity, the resin in glossier paint sheens serves a protective function, not allowing the paint to absorb dirt as flat sheens do.

As a result, flat sheens are challenging to clean, and attempting to remove dirt that has accumulated on flat-sheened surfaces can sometimes also remove some paint. If you do opt for a flat sheen for exterior paint, your best bet for cleaning is using a power washer on the lowest possible setting with a mild solution of soap and water.

The lack of a protective layer also means flat-sheen paints are subject to chipping and peeling more than brighter-sheened paints. If you choose a flat sheen for exterior paint, be prepared to repaint those surfaces more often than you would have to repaint surfaces painted with other sheens.

Using Eggshell Paint for Exterior Projects

Like flat paint, eggshell is a great choice for novice DIY painters as a sheen for exterior paint because it, too, is very effective in concealing mistakes. Eggshell paint also may be a more appealing choice than flat paint for many DIY projects because it is more durable, meaning it is less likely to sustain damage and will be at least somewhat easier to clean.

In terms of the style that eggshell paint will bring to your project, it is somewhat glossier than flat paint and so will impart a slightly shinier appearance as a sheen for exterior paint. It will, however, still be effective at hiding surface imperfections, and with a touch more elegance than flat paint.

Eggshell paint can be cleaned with a power washer, but just as with flat paint, a low water-flow setting is recommended to avoid any potential for damaging the paint.

Cons of Eggshell Paint

If you’re considering either an eggshell or a flat sheen for exterior paint, you should know that eggshell paint will be the more expensive option, at about $1 to $3 more per gallon than a flat paint. While that may not be much for a small project, it can become a real factor if you’re painting the entire exterior of your home.

Using Satin Paints for Exterior Projects

Moving up the scale of paint sheens, the next sheen for exterior paint is satin. If your plan is to use vivid colors on the exterior of your home, satin is a good choice for a finish that will really make the color come to life.

But, as already noted, moving up the sheen scale also boosts the possibility that any surface imperfections, whether in the surface you’re painting or in your application of the paint, will be more visible. However, a satin finish is also easier to clean than either a flat finish or an eggshell finish.

In short, a satin finish might be the perfect compromise between the vibrancy of the paint color and the ease of maintaining the job to ensure you’re not repainting too often. Also, satin paint has a sheen that makes it suitable for doors and trim as well as walls.

In fact, satin-finish paints are frequently the preferred option of professional painters, which may tell you all you need to know in making your own choice of sheen for exterior paint.

Cons of Satin Paint

While it is glossier and easier to clean than either flat or eggshell paint, any consideration of using satin as a preferred sheen for exterior paintwork should weigh the fact that it is still only moderately durable when compared to gloss-sheen paints. As a result, it may require repainting more frequently than you might like.

Using Gloss Paints for Exterior Projects

Semi-gloss paint or high-gloss paints could technically be used for the full range of exterior paint jobs. However, given their high reflectivity, these two options of sheen for exterior paint will likely be overwhelming, if not outright awkward-looking, if employed across a wall.

Front door painted glossy red with white trim on a blue house

That’s why semi-gloss or high-gloss paints are more typically recommended for doors, windows, and trim. In the end, using semi-gloss or high-gloss paint as the exterior paint sheen for your trim elements will make both the trim and the less-brightly-sheened wall surfaces stand out, each then contributing to a high-quality overall look.

Cons of Gloss Paints

Whether you’re using semi-gloss or high-gloss paint on your exterior project, doing the best job with either of them will mean applying a number of thin coats. And that, of course, means investing both extra money and extra time in the job, either or both of which might influence a decision not to choose semi-gloss or high-gloss sheen.

Choosing the Right Sheen for Your Exterior Paint FAQs

Now that you’ve been introduced to the various paint sheens and how they might work—or not work—for your DIY exterior painting project, you may have some additional questions. Here are the answers to a couple of questions that may have occurred to you.

What sheens are best for various exterior surfaces?

Thus far, this post has mainly dealt with the reflectivity and durability of the various levels of sheen for exterior paint. But what sheens are best for which surfaces? Read on for a look at that issue.


Unless it’s been treated with some sort of glossy finish or sealant, the brick surfaces on the exterior of your home have a flat sheen, and you should maintain that look if you’re choosing to paint over it. Bricks present a porous surface that will soak up paint, so you’ll want to lay down a high-quality primer coat or two before applying your chosen paint color.


Just as with brick, stucco is naturally flat, so painting with a flat-sheened color is your best option. As an additional tip, you should choose acrylic latex paint for exterior stucco because stucco is porous and has to breathe, a need accommodated by acrylic latex paint.

Painting a stucco house with a sprayer

As an additional tip, you’ll need more paint to cover a stucco wall than just figuring out the size of the area you’ll be painting. That’s because stucco is, as already mentioned, a porous material that will soak up paint. It’s also an irregular surface, which increases the amount of paint needed for full coverage.


In the past, it was impossible to paint vinyl siding, because paint generally wouldn’t adhere to it. Today, though, there are acrylic latex paints deemed safe for vinyl. If you choose to paint over your vinyl, use a satin-finish paint, because that sheen will be the closest match for the original vinyl’s appearance.


While any sheen for exterior paint will technically work for a wood-sided house, the best choice for most, if not all, wood siding is either a flat sheen or an eggshell sheen. Currently, an eggshell sheen is the most popular option for painting long sections of walls because it nicely balances appearance and maintenance issues.

If you have an older home, flat paint can be a good option because it can help cover imperfections in the siding.

What factors should be considered in choosing exterior paint colors?

This post has dealt with the best sheen for exterior paint, but the discussion wouldn’t be complete without suggestions for choosing the actual colors for your project.

Of course, personal taste will play a role in color selection. But even if you’re considering a departure from your home’s current exterior color scheme, you might want to consider colors already incorporated into it—shingles, brick walkways, a stone foundation, etc.—as a starting point.

If you’re stuck for ideas, drive around town snapping pictures of homes with appealing color palettes. But be careful not to get stuck considering only current trends in exterior paint, because they may be gone quickly.

We have several posts about choosing exterior paint colors for your home and tips for how to paint different exterior surfaces.

As a final tip, take the size of your home into consideration. If you live in a larger home, darker colors may make it look unwelcoming. And using bright colors to freshen up a smaller home may result in a cartoonish appearance.

Colorful houses

Wrapping up Choosing the Right Sheen for Your Exterior Paint

Choosing the right sheen for exterior paint is as important as choosing the right paint color for your DIY exterior painting project. The sheen or sheens you choose will have a direct bearing on the appearance and durability of your project and deserve careful consideration well before you pick up a paintbrush or roller. For more on exterior painting, including how to paint various exterior surfaces, check out DIY Painting Tips.