What Is Sheen?

Using the most basic explanation, the sheen of a paint describes how shiny the paint is when it’s dry. The industry standard measures the light reflection of a dried paint film at a 60-degree angle. This measurement will result in a number called a gloss unit. The number of gloss units will fall into a range commensurate with terms that consumers will relate to when purchasing paint. You probably won’t care that your kitchen paint measured 55 gloss units in a light reflectivity test, you just wanted to make sure it was a semi-gloss.


High gloss finishes are all around you. From your car to your refrigerator, gloss paints are synonymous with durability, and cleanability. Considering house painting, gloss finishes are usually reserved for high-moisture areas, trim, and doors. Due to its propensity to accentuate flaws, most people choose to avoid gloss paints on walls, especially walls that will be in contact with consistent natural light. Keeping the sheen consistent once the product is dried can be tricky with gloss paints.



For the average consumer, semi-gloss is a very common and recognizable phrase. For most people, any paint that’s not flat is a semi-gloss. Technically, they would be correct, but don’t bring that argument to light with your painter. A semi-gloss is the next step down in shininess from a gloss. Semi-gloss finishes can be used anywhere you would use a gloss, and are popular choices for walls in bathrooms and kitchens.


The next step down on the ladder of shininess is a satin finish. Designed to be about as shiny as the luxurious material, satin can be used anywhere a gloss or semi-gloss is used, with the added benefit of using it on the wall of your choice. For exterior painters, satin is a popular choice because it’s a close match in sheen to factory vinyl and aluminum finishes.

Flat and Low Sheens

Your painting contractor in Atlanta will tell you that the most common sheen applied either inside or outside is a flat or a low sheen. Flats touch-up better than any other sheen and due to their low reflectivity, are popular choices for living rooms and bedrooms. Flats once carried the reputation of being non-durable and non-cleanable without burnishing. A burnished paint shows the area that was rubbed as shiny and marred. With the advent of modern resins, flats and low sheens can be used just about anywhere a gloss or semi-gloss is used with very few differences in overall performance.