Satin vs Semi-Gloss Paint — What's the Difference? Our Quick Guide on Which to Choose for DIY

Is there a difference between these paint finishes? Explore the key contrasts between satin paint and semi-gloss to ensure you choose wisely, plus advice on how to make the most of each finish

A light grey and white dining area with banquette seating and dining chairs
(Image credit: R. Brad Knipstein. Design: Susie Novak Interiors)

Do you ever get paint finish paralysis? It's that feeling when you're in a DIY store, ready to order your paint supplies but you're never entirely sure what you should be opting for. Some choices are simple, but some options occupy similar spaces in terms of what they can offer your home.

Satin vs semi gloss is one such decision you might need help on — both have more sheen than their matt paint counterparts. But what's the difference between these paint finishes? And which is the right one to choose for your projects?

We asked the experts to get the low down.

Satin finish

A bathroom in satin paint

(Image credit: Emily Keeney. Studio credit Office of Ordinary Architecture)

The most noticeable difference between satin and semi-gloss paints is the level of glossiness. While it's not the same contrast as matte vs gloss paint, there's still subtle differences in the sheen. Satin offers a moderate sheen, while semi-gloss boasts a higher level of shine. ‘Satin creates a subtle glowing effect which enhances color depth beautifully whilst concealing imperfections better than high-gloss sheens, making satin a smart choice for most interior walls,’ advises Artem Kropovinsky, founder of interior design studio Arsight.

Ruth Mottershead, Creative Director at Little Greene says, ‘Our Intelligent Satin paint is suitable for all household millwork, trim, interior doors and window frames, as well as cabinets and wooden furniture. With a low sheen of 30-35%, it's durable enough to handle the many knocks delivered to kitchen cabinets and items of wooden furniture.’ This provides a low-maintenance future, and a scrubbable finish with real resilience, perfect for busy family kitchens. Plus, if you’re low on natural light, satin is a good option to reflect any daylight that does enter the space.

Semi-gloss finish

A burgundy red kitchem with lots of dark marble and white pendant lighting

(Image credit: Lauren Miller. Design: Twenty-Two Twelve & You Should Stay Here)

Semi-gloss has a higher sheen level than satin, meaning that it is much more reflective. ‘The extra level of luminosity makes it perfectly suited to highlight any architectural details, as it cures to a smooth finish’, Helen Shaw, a color expert at paint brand Benjamin Moore explains. Its glossy look makes a great option for if you want to make a sophisticated statement of certain areas or features.

‘While highlighting flaws more, it gives a sharp, clean style that works nicely on moldings and doors,' interior designer Artem agrees. Its high reflectivity also makes it highly durable and wipeable, and it resists moisture well, so it's great for spaces like kitchens, bathrooms, and trim areas where wetness and frequent cleaning occur. However, semi-gloss creates a very bright, shiny look that really makes colors pop, so it's a little less subtle than the satin option, and closer to the gloss paint finish that is a little more divisive in its popularity than lower-sheen paints.

So which is best?

A large open plan living room in light neutral colors with a corner sofa and coffee table

(Image credit: Lisa Staton Design)

As well as your choice of color, the finish you choose will also have an impact on longevity and on the overall atmosphere created, ‘A semi-gloss finish will give a sophisticated high sheen appearance whilst a satin finish with its lower sheen level will provide a subtle elegance,’ says Ruth.

As much as semi-gloss is said to be the most durable finish, if cracks and dents do occur, which is likely in high-traffic areas, the damage will be much more visible than if it was satin.

Semi-gloss will serve you better for frequently moist areas, also reflecting the most light. If it’s a light filled living space with lamps and lighting options, satin paint will set the best ambiance.

In our opinion, satin is the better option for your everyday painting requirements, as the lower-sheen paint finishes are more widely used, but with a durable edge. Semi-gloss paint's use can be a little more intentional, when you want that extra bit of sheen as part of the design. If semi-gloss is the right paint for your prject, you'll probably already know it.

Be sure to test a sample of each in multiple areas of the room, and take into consideration room function, lighting and your desired style before making that final purchase.

Portia Carroll

Portia Carroll is an interior stylist, writer, and design consultant. With a background in interior architecture and design, she has a plethora of creative experience in the industry working with high end interior brands to capture beautiful spaces and products and enhance their qualities.