Picking out the colors for your paint project is the fun part. But when you get to the counter, you’ll be faced with another decision: “which finish would you like?” If terms like eggshell, matte, and satin leave you clueless, you’re not alone. This guide will explain everything you need to know to make the best selection for your painting project.
The difference between satin and matte (sometimes called ‘flat’) is the finish’s sheen, or how glossy the paint looks once it’s on the wall. Satin is glossier (or shinier) than matte, reflecting more light. Glossy surfaces are also easier to clean. So, most people use matte for ceilings and low-traffic areas and satin for high-traffic walls.
What is Satin Paint?
Satin paint is a versatile choice with a soft, elegant sheen. In addition, it has a slight, pearl-like shine. Unlike other finish options, satin is more glossy than matte but has less sheen than semi-gloss or gloss.
Manufacturers create paints with different finishes using different formulas and ratios of pigment, resin, and solvent. For example, satin paint typically uses “gluey” resin for a glossier finish. This is because the finished product has more reflective properties and reflects more light.
Because it’s not as shiny as some of the glossy finishes and because it’s not totally flat like matte, satin paint is one of the most popular options. You can use it all over your home, on ceilings or walls, and it’s easy to clean.
Pros of Satin Paint
- Versatile: can use it in any room of the house
- Not too glossy, not completely flat
- Easy to clean
- Holds up in humid rooms like bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens
- Resistant to mildew and fading
- Durable against scuffs
- Good for kids’ rooms
Cons of Satin Paint
- May require more coats
- Can be more expensive
- Doesn’t cover imperfections as well as matte
- May take longer to dry
- Touch-ups won’t blend in well
What is Matte Paint?
Matte paint is also sometimes called “flat,” because it has very little to no sheen. These paints don’t reflect much light, so surfaces don’t look shiny like they do when coated with glossy paints. The result is a smooth-looking finish with a very uniform appearance.
Matte paint typically has more chalky and powdery pigments for a flatter finish. The result is a finished product with less reflective properties. This type of paint also normally has a lot of pigment, resulting in richer colors that go on evenly.
People choose matte paint because it’s easy to apply and does a good job of concealing blemishes and imperfections on surfaces (like nail holes, patches, and touch-ups). It’s also a common choice for ceilings and low-traffic areas, and it’s commonly used in new construction and on drywall.
Pros of Matte Paint
- Smooth, even appearance
- Easy to apply
- Hides imperfections
- Good for textured walls/ceilings
- Easy to touch-up
- More cost effective
- Requires fewer coats
Cons of Matte Paint
- May be harder to clean
- Not as durable
- Not suitable for moisture-rich spaces (bathrooms, kitchens)
- May need to be repainted after a few years
Satin Paint vs. Matte Paint: Key Differences
The first and most obvious difference between satin and matte paints is that they look different. From the time you open the paint can until it dries on your walls, you’ll notice slight differences in the sheen and reflectivity.
Matte paint is formulated to be less reflective, so pigments will absorb more light rather than reflecting it. The result is a flat, uniform look without affecting the color’s appearance.
Satin paint, on the other hand, is formulated to reflect light. As a result, the appearance is shinier or glossier. When light bounces off the pigments, it can sometimes change how the hues appear to our eyes.
Sometimes the appearance of glossy paints can be a lot to take in, especially if you’re in a small space and the paint is a bright color (or bright white).
Matte paints also have more pigment, so the colors appear more rich and saturated. They also look more uniform across the surface without variations in tone or hue.
2. Finish (Gloss)
Finish refers to the paint’s sheen level. Sheen level is how glossy or shiny the paint looks once it’s applied and dry. Paints are typically available in five different finish options, from not glossy at all to very glossy.
Matte paint (also known as ‘flat’) is the lowest sheen level available. For comparison, satin paint is number three of five when ranking the finishes from lowest to highest sheen. So, matte is non-reflective and not glossy at all once it’s completely dry. On the other hand, satin paint does have a slightly glossy finish.
Satin paint provides a soft sheen with an elegant finish. It’s kind of like the amount of shine you see on pearls – not extremely reflective but still with some light glossiness.
Satin is a very popular choice because of its versatility. It’s doesn’t have the very high sheen that you’d get with a high-gloss paint, but there is more reflectivity than you get with a matte finish.
When considering durability, we’re thinking about how well the paint finish holds up to things like everyday traffic, wear and tear, and cleaning. Paints with a satin finish have more binders, which means the paint is more durable against scratches, scrapes, dings, and scrubbing.
That’s one of the reasons that satin finishes are so popular for use across the home, including in kids’ rooms. Paints that are the easiest to clean are those with some glossiness. Matte finishes, on the other hand, can be more challenging to clean because the paint can come off with the debris.
Matte paint is more likely to scratch and chip due to traffic, and it’s also more susceptible to staining. These paints aren’t very resistant to moisture, either, so they’re not ideal choices for bathrooms, kitchens, or laundry rooms.
Over time, you’ll likely start to see fading and wear with your matte paint. The good news is that it’s easier to touch up than satin paint, but you’ll still have to repaint eventually. And you’ll have to do it sooner than you would if you used a satin finish.
4. Ease of Application
When applying the paint to your walls and ceilings, you’ll want it to brush or roll onto the surface smoothly. You don’t want to have to try to blend in roller lines, or have to work hard to get the paint into your wall’s texture.
Matte paint is easier to apply for those reasons. This finish goes on very smoothly, even on textured surfaces. And since the sheen level is lower, you won’t see those lines caused by uneven applications. That makes it easier to work at your own pace and it doesn’t matter if some areas start drying faster than others.
Depending on the color and your painting technique, you may even be able to paint your surface with one coat if you’re using matte paint. Satin paint almost always requires multiple coats to get the good, even coverage you’re looking for.
Matte paint is also easier to touch-up, so if you miss a spot or make a mistake, you can easily fix it without it being too noticeable. That makes it easier to do the job without worrying about getting every brush stroke perfectly lined up. You’ll have to take your time and be more careful while painting with satin paint or any of the other finishes with more sheen.
5. Coverage & Color
Compared to satin, matte paint has more pigment and it goes on smoothly with a uniform appearance. The result is better coverage with less coats. Depending on your painting technique (what kind of tools you’re using) and the paint quality, you may be able to do the job just using a single coat of matte paint. That’s not usually possible with satin paint.
Satin paints have less pigment and more shine. So, you’ll have to do multiple coats to get sufficient coverage, especially if you’re painting over an existing color. Alternatively, you could purchase a specially-formulated satin paint designed to provide one-coat coverage. However, those types of paints typically cost more than standard satin paint.
Another thing to consider with coverage is that you’ll have to apply your satin paint carefully to ensure even coverage that won’t show lines and imperfections.
On average, matte paint costs less than satin paint. When you compare two of the same paint brands, there’s normally about a $5 difference per gallon. However, that may not always be the case depending on the specific brand, retailer, and any special deals that may apply.
If you’re only painting one room or doing a small project, the cost difference won’t be enough to really impact your decision. Many people are willing to pay a little more for paint that will provide better coverage and require fewer coats.
However, if you’re painting your entire home or doing a large project, you may want to consider the total pricing difference to decide whether it’s worth it for the added cost.
It’s a good idea to determine how much paint you’ll need and calculate the cost for the whole project. Don’t forget to think about adding more paint if you go with the satin finish to account for the additional coat(s) the job may require.
Selecting the Right Paint Finish
There are pros and cons to using both satin and matte finishes. Selecting the right one for your project depends on how you intend to use the paint and what are of the home you’re painting. Of course, some of it comes down to personal preference as you can use either paint type in any room in your home.
Where to Use a Satin Finish
Satin finishes are best suited for high-traffic areas or spaces where there’s likely to be moisture in the area. Any wall you want to be able to clean easily is also a good candidate for a satin finish. Here are a few examples:
- Laundry Rooms
- Kids’ Rooms
- Living Rooms
- Family Rooms
- Dining Rooms
Kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms are prone to moisture and steam so you’ll want to use a finish with some sheen. Those are also walls that you’ll want to be able to clean easily. The same goes for kids’ rooms and high-traffic spaces like hallways and entryways.
Family rooms, dining rooms, and living rooms look great with an elegant soft sheen that you’ll get with a satin finish. Using satin paint on trim and moldings is a great way to highlight detailing in your living space.
Where to Use a Matte Finish
Matte finish paints are great in low-traffic spaces where there won’t be a lot of contact with surfaces. For example, adult bedrooms are ideal for matte paint. Unlike your kids’ rooms or playrooms, you won’t have to frequently clean dirty handprints or crayon off the walls.
For formal elegance, matte paint in a rich color is a classic choice. In formal living rooms, offices, or guest bedrooms matte works very well.
Here are some other places to use a matte finish:
- Textured Walls
- Master Bedrooms
- Guest Bedrooms
- Formal Dining Room
- Formal Living Room
If you don’t have kids or pets, you could use a matte finish anywhere if you’d like. If cleaning and durability isn’t a concern, then it really just comes down to which look your prefer. If you don’t enjoy the glossy sheen, you can use a matte finish for a softer feel.
Other Types of Paint Finish
Flat is commonly used interchangeably with matte, as they are essentially the same finish. With low reflective properties, these paints are not glossy. However, flat paint has a slightly lower gloss percentage compared to matte. Still, the difference is negligible.
Flat paint finishes have a sheen or gloss level of less than 5% while matte finishes have a sheen or gloss level of between 5% and 10%. As such, you would not be able to notice a difference between the two in most cases.
Eggshell is one of the most popular finishes available. It’s a very low sheen level and offers a soft and smooth appearance. Eggshell is the finish between matte and satin. So, it’s slightly higher gloss than matte, but slightly lower gloss than satin.
Eggshell is a great alternative if you want something a little easier to clean than matte, but you don’t want the sheen you’d get with satin.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Mix Satin and Matte Paint?
It’s possible to mix satin and matte paint together. The result would be a finish that was slightly more glossy than the matte would be on its own (similar to an eggshell finish). However, it’s not advisable to try to mix the paint yourself with just a stirring stick.
When you purchase paint at the store, they shake it with a machine to ensure the compounds are thoroughly mixed. If you try to mix two paints yourself, you’re most likely going to end up with streaky walls and uneven coloration and coverage.
Can You Make Matte Paint Satin?
While you can’t technically turn your matte paint into satin paint, there are some things you can do to give your surface the kind of finish you’re looking for. If you paint a wall or some other object and decide you’d like it to look a little more glossy, you can purchase a clear coat paint with a satin finish.
Then, you can apply the clear coat on top of your finished surface to get the satin sheen you want without the trouble of trying to put additives into your paint. However, you’ll need to apply the clear coat carefully to prevent streaking and uneven coverage.
Another option is to try to mix glass additives into your matte paint, though this isn’t the easiest way to go about it. Putting these additives in without knowing the proper ratio makes it nearly impossible to know what the result will be. You could end up with a super glossy finish, or it could look streaky and uneven when you were done painting.
Can You Make Satin Paint Matte?
If you unknowingly used satin paint but you were hoping for a matte finish, it doesn’t mean you have to repaint the whole wall. Getting a matte finish is easier than you may think.
All you need to do is purchase a clear coat paint with a matte finish. Then, you can add this clear coat as a topcoat right over your existing satin paint. Since the clear coat is matte paint, it will go on smoothly and evenly, and you should only need one coat to do the job.
Another option is to do some light sanding on the painted surfaces to reduce the sheen level. Of course, this wouldn’t be an ideal solution for a large wall, but if you were just working on something small, it could be sufficient.
Deglossing agents are also options, though these are harsh chemicals that require a lot of safety precautions during use. Be sure to check the label’s instructions and follow them carefully before using deglossing chemicals.
Making Your Selection
When it comes to choosing paint for your project, remember that one finish isn’t necessarily better than the other. And just because most people use glossier paints in certain rooms doesn’t mean that you have to.
Ultimately, the right paint for the job depends on what look you prefer and how you’re using the space. Your needs and preferences will guide your decision when choosing the right paint finish for the job.
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