Satin vs. Semi Gloss Paint: Differences & How To Decide

Brush and can of blue satin paint against a red background on the left, and a brush and a can of blue semi-gloss paint against a blue background on the right.

With any painting project, the initial enthusiasm you may have had about how wonderful your finished product will look can be tampered when you enter the paint store and are confronted with a vast and confusing array of paint options. 

Paint comes in so many different varieties, from oil-based or water-based options to latex and primer to a wide range of sheen options, including flat, matte, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, gloss, and more.

Deciding what the right paint for the job is can be overwhelming, but with a little knowledge on your side, it’s simple to choose the correct paint.

What’s the difference between sating an semi-gloss paint? Semi-gloss paint has a higher sheen, is easier to clean, is more durable, highlights features better, and offers more stain resistance than satin paint. Satin paint has less sheen, is harder to clean, is less durable, hides imperfections better, and is easier to touch up than semi-gloss paint.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be a paint expert in order to learn about the key differences between satin and semi-gloss paint.

In this article, you will learn the differences between the two in terms of sheen, cleanup, and durability as well as the projects that are best suited for each individual paint.  

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss: Key Differences Explained

Satin and semi-gloss paints are fairly similar in that they both have a finish that is not too shiny and not too flat, can come in oil or water-based varieties, and can be purchased solo or as a paint-and-primer combination.

However, there are differences between the two that make them individually better suited for specific projects. 

Biggest Difference: Sheen

Sheen refers to the glossiness of the paint finish, which is the appearance of the paint once completely dry.

Semi-gloss has slightly more sheen than satin, making it a better choice if you are looking for a more reflective finish.

Satin paint tends to absorb more light than semi-gloss paint, which means that it will tend to appear lighter when dry.  

The winner: Semi-gloss paint

Ease of Cleaning

In general, the glossier the paint, the easier it is to clean.

Glossy paint has a sleeker surface, making it more resistant to water and therefore easier to clean with the application of a little bit of moisture.

It’s easy to remove smudges, hand prints, and random marks from semi-gloss paint.

Satin paint is slightly waterproof, which means that it can be cleaned, but it can’t take the type of vigorous scrubbing that semi-gloss paint can. 

The winner: Semi-gloss paint 

Durability

In general, the glossier the paint, the more durable it is. Semi-gloss paint is very durable, and is a great choice for areas that will see a lot of wear and tear or cleaning.

Semi-gloss paint can be used for areas that will be exposed to the elements and is a good choice for high-moisture areas or spaces that will see a lot of grease or stains. 

Satin paint is also durable and is best cleaned with a dust cloth or a soft rag and soap and water to keep from removing the paint. 

The winner: Semi-gloss paint

Highlights Features

Semi-gloss is reflective while remaining easy on the eye, which makes it a great choice for using on smaller areas such as trim or woodwork that you want to make stand out from the surrounding walls.

Satin paint is flatter and doesn’t have as much shine as semi-gloss paint.

The winner: Semi-gloss paint

Hides Imperfections

Semi-gloss paint is quite shiny, which means that it can sometimes show cracks and imperfections.

Satin paint is slightly more matte, which means that it does a better job at hiding pockmarks, dents, scrapes, and other minor flaws. 

The winner: Satin paint

Surface Feel

Satin paint has a duller, more velvety feel, while semi-gloss paint has a smoother, shinier finish.

Semi-gloss paints tend to show more dents and imperfections than satin paint, meaning that satin paint can offer a more even feel when applied to rougher surfaces.

The winner: Satin paint

Stain Resistance

The same shininess that gives semi-gloss its durability offers superior stain resistance. Semi-gloss paint tends to be more water resistant (and in some cases waterproof) than satin paint.

While satin paint is water resistant, it’s not quite as stain resistant as semi-gloss paint is.

The winner: Semi-gloss paint

Easy To Touch Up

One of the nice things about satin and semi-gloss paints is that they are highly durable, making touch-ups less frequently necessary.

Flat and matte paints are less durable, but they are easier to touch up than paints with higher gloss, such as satin and semi-gloss paints. 

If the area needing a touch-up is very small, you can try using a small brush and as few brush strokes as possible to repaint the section.

However, you may need to consider repainting the entire area. 

Glossier paints are more challenging to touch up, and while satin and semi-gloss paints can both be difficult to effectively touch up, satin paint is less glossy and can be easier to blend a newer patch of color with an older one.

The winner: Satin paint

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss at a Glance

Sheen Semi-gloss paint has a glossier sheen than satin paint.
Ease of Cleaning Semi-gloss paint has a shinier finish than satin paint, making it easier to clean.
Durability Semi-gloss paint is more durable than satin paint. In general, the glossier the paint, the more durable. 
Highlights Features Semi-gloss paint reflects more light than satin paint, making it a good choice for highlighting features. 
Hides Imperfections Satin paint has a slightly flatter finish than semi-gloss paint, which makes it a better choice for painting large areas or more textured or blemished walls.
Surface Feel Satin paint is better able to cover imperfections, creating a more even surface feel. 
Stain Resistance Semi-gloss paint is more durable and easier to clean than satin paint and is better at resisting stains. 
Easy to Touch Up Satin paint is less glossy and easier to touch up.

Satin Paint Benefits

Satin paint resists mildew and fading and is good for using on larger walls.

Satin paint is a versatile paint that is both glossy and smooth and is great for painting high-moisture areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms. 

Satin paint can also be oil- or water-based and can come in low-odor varieties that contain less harmful chemicals than their solvent-based counterparts. 

Satin Paint Drawbacks

While satin paint is scuff resistant, it can still show some marks or flaws. Satin paint can also require multiple coats to hide brush or roller marks. 

You should avoid using satin paint on highly textured or damaged walls as its reflective nature means that it won’t be able to hide all of the imperfections as well as a flat or matte paint can. 

Satin paint is usually not as expensive as more glossy paints, but it does generally cost more than a flat or matte paint.

If you are painting a temporary area or a place that won’t see a lot of use (such as a ceiling), a flat, matte, or eggshell paint might be a more cost-effective option.

Purple paint in a yellow roller tray against a blue background.

Semi-Gloss Paint Benefits

Semi-gloss paint is a paint with a shinier finish that allows light to bounce off its surface, creating a lovely glowing effect. Semi-gloss paint is a durable paint that is easy to clean. 

Semi-gloss paint is a great choice for areas that will see a lot of wear and tear, such as playrooms or children’s rooms. 

Semi-gloss paint is highly durable, and you can easily clean it without having to worry about accidentally scrubbing the paint off when removing dirt or scuffs. 

Semi-Gloss Paint Drawbacks

If you’re looking to avoid glare, semi-gloss is not the paint for you.

If the surface that you are painting has a lot of bumps or imperfections, glossier paint tends to enhance those flaws, so semi-gloss is not a good choice for those conditions.

You’re better off painting with satin paint or a flat, matte, or eggshell paint in that case. 

When To Use Satin Paint

Satin paint can effectively be used in kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, and bathrooms. It’s a good paint for painting large walls as it detracts from flaws. 

Satin paint is a better choice for high-moisture areas, such as kitchens and bathrooms, as matte paint tends to trap moisture.

Satin paint is also the preferred choice when you are painting new walls, especially when they are free from blemishes or imperfections.

When To Use Semi-Gloss Paint 

Semi-gloss paint is a durable paint that is a great choice for high-traffic areas that will see a lot of wear and tear, such as children’s rooms, playrooms, mud rooms, or rooms where you keep pets.

Semi-gloss paint is also a good choice for trim and woodwork, as its shine helps to differentiate it from the walls around it. 

Semi-gloss paint can be used for trim, stair railings, door casings, baseboards, mantels, crown molding, cabinets, and other types of woodwork.

Semi-gloss paint can also be used on garage doors, window sills, exterior trim, and lamp posts as well.

Semi-gloss paint is great for high-moisture areas or places where grease, drips, and stains are common, such as kitchens and bathrooms.

Due to its reflectivity, semi-gloss is a good choice for painting smaller areas, as it reflects light and creates the illusion of space. 

Related Questions:

Which Is Better, Eggshell or Satin?

Eggshell paint has a low-luster finish that is slightly flatter than that of satin paint. Aptly named, eggshell paint resembles an eggshell, and is a great paint for hiding flaws.

Eggshell paint is stain resistant, but it’s not quite as durable as satin paint. 

Eggshell paint is often used on the walls in lower-usage rooms, such as living rooms and dining rooms.

Eggshell paint tends to be less costly than satin paint, but it’s also more challenging to keep clean. 

If you’re looking for a durable paint that is good for use in high traffic areas, satin paint is the choice for you.

What Is the Best Paint Finish for a Bedroom?

Most bedroom walls (unless they make up a children’s room) don’t see a lot of wear and tear, and are therefore good candidates for a high-pigment paint with a flat or matte finish.

If you would like to choose a more durable paint with a more reflective finish, satin paint is a good alternative. 

What’s the Difference Between Matte and Flat Paint?

Flat paint is an excellent choice when it comes to painting textured walls or areas with many imperfections, as it has a no- to low-gloss finish, making it so that the light doesn’t reflect off of bumps or blemishes.

Due to its lack of reflectivity, flat paint is often used for painting ceilings. 

Matte paint has a low- to medium-gloss finish, making it slightly more reflective than flat paint.

Matte paint is also a good choice for covering flaws, with the added benefit of being easier to clean.

Due to its higher gloss content, matte paint is better at resisting moisture than flat paint is, and can be more easily cleaned without running the risk of accidentally scrubbing off the paint.

Matte paint is often used in lower traffic areas, such as adult bedrooms. 

Final Thoughts

Satin paint and semi-gloss paints have many similarities: they both offer higher gloss finishes than flat, matte, or eggshell paints, and they are both durable paints that can be used in a variety of high moisture or higher traffic areas. 

Semi-gloss paint tends to be a better choice for areas that will be exposed to the elements or will see a lot of wear and tear, such as outdoor woodwork or children’s rooms. 

Semi-gloss paint is also a nice choice for trim work, as it reflects light and can help to break up similarly colored walls.

Satin paint is a great choice for large walls or kitchens or bathrooms. 

Semi-gloss paint is shinier than satin paint, making it more durable, more stain resistant, and easier to clean.

Both semi-gloss and satin paints are water resistant, but where semi-gloss paint holds up well to a good scrubbing, satin paint needs a softer touch and does better with a gentle wipe-down so as to avoid removing the paint.

Satin paint tends to show less imperfections than semi-gloss paint does.

Sources:

https://www.bobvila.com/articles/satin-vs-semi-gloss/

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Cara

Cara

I am a writer and an artist taking opportunities every day to transform my dreams into reality. I love learning new things and am always creating and innovating. I worked as an Art Instructor, teaching painting and art techniques to artists of all levels and ages. I have hosted countless paint parties and taught children’s art classes both in my home as well as an art teacher at a Montessori school.