Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Finish: What’s the Difference?

Satin vs Semi-Gloss Finish What is the Difference

Are you considering a Satin vs. Semi-gloss finish? This article will look at the differences and similarities of these two types of varnishes. So, let’s talk, What’s the difference between satin and semi-gloss finish?

Here’s what I discovered:

The main difference between satin and gloss finish is texture and sheen. Gloss finish is more shiny and durable, easier to clean, and adds more color to the appearance; The satin finish is a matte finish that is more suitable for wood and is relatively inexpensive. Semi-gloss lies between the two finishes. Satin and glossy finishes are very popular among artists.

KitchenYES YES
Trim & MoldingYESYES 
Cabinets YES 
Doors YES 
Laundry Rooms  YES
Mudrooms  YES
Bathrooms  YES
Child’s Bedrooms YESYES
Paint Sheen Chart for Your Home

What is Satin Finish?

In simple terms, satin polyurethane is a type of finish that contains a more flattening paste. As a result, it comes with low reflective power. This makes it have a duller appearance than many other finishes, especially the semi-gloss and high-gloss finish. This makes it leave you with a medium to a low glossy appearance. You won’t see this finish shine as much as you would see a semi-gloss finish.

Satin Finish

Types of Satin Finish

Generally, a satin finish comes in three formulations: water-based, oil-based, and moisture-cured. The water-based and oil-based finish behave as satin poly finish in that they have mild smells and. Overall, most artists prefer to use oil-based satin because of its easy application on the first layer coating. Besides, it offers a distinct satin finish. 

On the other hand, moisture-cured satin comes with a strong odor and amber and clear tones. Although they dry faster than oil-based, moisture-cured satin poly finish doesn’t match water-based in terms of drying time.    

Highlighted Features

High durability: When it comes to durability, satin comes as an all-around finish. It stays and lasts longer on the surface and won’t flake. It is best for humid regions, including darkrooms, basements, and bathrooms. If your rooms don’t receive a lot of natural light, a satin finish will be the best match to use. 

Hide Imperfections: Another incredible feature of the satin finish is its capacity to hide imperfections on your walls and other surfaces. Your uneven walls won’t show too obviously.

Easy to clean: satin also cleans easily. You won’t have to mix chemicals before you can scrape the satin finish off the wall. Gentle cleaning will work to remove satin from surfaces. 

Soft reflectivity: Although it reflects a low light level compared to semi-gloss, the satin finish shows reflectivity softly. It contains less sheen and is so less reflective.  

Pros & Cons


  • Hide perfections 
  • Durable 
  • Easy to clean
  • Doesn’t flake


  • Less reflective 

What is satin paint used for?

A satin finish is used to paint home furniture. They are perfect on ceilings, windows, and doors. They won’t also disappoint when you apply them to the walls of your bathrooms, kids’ playroom, kitchens, and hallways.

satin paint used for home furniture

Best satin finish: General Finishes High-Performance Satin

If you’re looking for a top-quality polyurethane coat to varnish your painted project, this guy is the perfect pick. This water-based satin finish cleans up quickly from the General Finishes Store and won’t leave behind any artifacts. Besides, it spreads across the painting evenly and fast. 

This is one of the most durable finish options on the market. It sticks permanently on your painting and can’t scrape or scratch off your nail. Although it’s only suitable for interior use, this high-performance satin finish does a great job.   

The polyurethane finish dries to touch within a short time. The average drying time for the coats is between 1 to 2 hours. 


  • Highly durable coat
  • Simple to apply and safe to use
  • Spread evenly and quickly 
  • Cleans up easily 
  • Leaves no artifacts behind


  • Not suitable for exterior use
  • Dried yellowy

What is Semi-Gloss Finish?

It reflects more light, contains less flattening paste, and has more sheen than a satin finish. This means that a semi-gloss finish will reflect the light coming from your room. It is a perfect option for artists who want to add a finish to high-traffic surfaces and areas in the room.

Semi-gloss is a satin-like finish when applied on walls.

Semi-Gloss Finish

If you stay or live in a room that accommodates a lot of stains, a semi-gloss finish should be the ideal pick. Also, if the area or room is vulnerable to drips, debris, or dirt, semi-gloss will make a perfect finish.

Don’t forget, semi-gloss paint will work perfectly in a room where grease or moisture drips. The kitchen and bathroom, for instance, are good places to finish with semi-gloss.

This is because they are high-touch areas where moisture and dirt can easily stay on their walls. 

Types of Semi-gloss Finish

Like its satin kinsfolk, the semi-gloss finish comes in three formulations: They are: 

  • Water-based semi-gloss finish 
  • Moisture-cured semi-gloss finish
  • Oil-based semi-gloss finish. 

The water-based poly finish is the perfect paint for a dry and transparent surface. Of the three categories, the water-based dry fastest. As the name implies, the moisture-based poly finish is cured by moisture. It dries faster than oil-based but slower than water-based. The oil-based finish is the slowest drying of the three formulations. However, they do the same job as you expect from a semi-gloss finish.   

Highlighted Features

Reflectivity: semi-gloss finish is a highly reflective finish. This makes the finish show the imperfections on your room walls, especially with holes. Unlike low-sheen finishes like satin or eggshell, they reflect more light. 

Washability: semi-gloss is easy to clean and remove from the wall if not correctly done. You can go over the finish with a special spray or a clean cloth

Glossy effect: The semi-gloss finish’s glossy and shinier effect makes it a perfect match for use in moist locations or in trimming works.  

Classic appearance: semi-gloss paint comes with a classic look. It also has a slick surface that makes it more resistant to moisture. It draws the eye to excellent architectural design. 

Pricing: semi-gloss may take a few bucks from your bank than a satin finish will do.  

Pros & Cons


  • Highly moisture resistant
  • Easy to clean
  • Perfect on kitchen, bathrooms, trim, and doors
  • Great for high-traffic and high-touch areas
  • Reflects the quality amount of light


  • It doesn’t hide surface imperfections
  • Not suitable for walls with holes 

What is semi-gloss paint used for?

Satin paint is used for painting high-traffic areas in your home. It is the best pick for artists who seek to add a finish to bedrooms and kitchens. It is also perfect for doors and trims.  

semi gloss finish used for bedrooms and kitchens

Best semi-gloss finish: Varathane Water-Based Semi-Gloss Finish

Varathane Water-based Finish is a top-quality semi-gloss finish that will deliver fantastic results on suitable surfaces. Manufactured for minor works, bedrooms, doors, and kitchens, this finish will minimize imperfections found on your walls. 

What’s more, the finish is highly resistant to corrosion and weather. It doesn’t matter whether you apply it on interior or exterior surfaces. This coating will protect masonry, metal, wood, and concrete surfaces.

Varathane semi-gloss finish is highly durable as a water-based coating, offering protective coating and anti-rust protection. It dries to touch in a short time. 


  • Highly durable and weather-resistant
  • Perfect for a wide range of surfaces
  • Works for trims, bedrooms, kitchens, and other high-traffic areas
  • Minimizes surface imperfections
  • Resistant to flaking, abrasion, and chipping.


  • May only ooze but not spray

Differences Between Satin and Semi-Gloss Paint

Discussing satin vs. semi-gloss paint can be confusing sometimes. Knowing the differences will bring closure to the dilemma artists and crafters face in choosing between the two finishes. Here are a few essential things that distinguish satin from a semi-gloss finish.

  • Durability: Satin finish can withstand scrubbing, scraping, and regular surface cleaning. However, semi-gloss is more durable than a satin finish. Essentially, the more the gloss or sheen, the more durable it becomes. 
  • Formulation: Depending on whether you want to make a flat or matte finish, the ingredients in making satin or semi-gloss differ significantly. To get a satin finish, you need gloss or a semi-gloss sheen. 
  • Appearance: Semi-gloss finish is a more lustrous finish that adds extra and richer color to the appearance of the painting.
  • Application: To apply a semi-gloss finish, you’ll need a foam paintbrush. A bristle or lamb’s wool paintbrush is also an alternative. If you want to make your crown moldings pop, semi-gloss will do a great job there. 
  • Drying time: Unlike the satin finish, semi-gloss dries within 24 hours. It is helpful on doors, woodwork, cabinets, and floors. A satin finish is also a fast-drying matte finish. Satin finish works on wood to offer a little subtle gloss. While semi-gloss dries to a sheen between flat and gloss, satin dries to flat.  
  • Price: Generally, the cost of a finish depends on the formula. A satin finish is relatively cheaper than semi-gloss. Whether it is satin or semi-gloss, an oil-based finish is the cheapest of the three types of poly finishes. Water-based finish follows in terms of cost and then moisture-cured. Satin varnish is also cheaper than semi-gloss varnish.      
  • Ease of Cleaning: Because of its formulation, a semi-gloss finish is easier to clean than stain.

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Polyurethane Finish

Generally, polyurethane offers artists two choices: oil-based and water-based. You’ll be opting for rich color without coating when you use an oil-based polyurethane finish. For water-based poly, your painting will have a natural appearance and low smell level. 

In this satin vs. semi-gloss polyurethane comparison, satin poly works better on the hardwood than the semi-gloss polyurethane finish. The sheen of the satin finish ranges from medium to low level. Satin poly can hide dirt and debris better than a semi-gloss poly finish will do.

Its high sheen level gives semi-gloss poly a glossier, shiner, and more lustrous appearance than its satin counterparts. If you finish your wood with satin poly, its imperfections won’t show as much as that of wood that is finished with semi-gloss. Semi-gloss also has less flattening paste than satin poly. 

Satin vs. Gloss Varnish

Comparing satin vs. gloss varnish is a difficult task given that both are great and efficient finishes. The first property that makes satin polyurethane and gloss varnish is their durability.

Both varnishes can last long and will offer an incredible level of protection for your painted project. They will stay on your painting for a long time before needing touch. It doesn’t matter whether the surface is high or low touch. Satin and gloss will work flawlessly without flaking. 

Besides, both polyurethane varnishes are also great for high-traffic surfaces. For instance, you can apply either satin or gloss varnish to the kitchen, even though satin works better.

Satin and gloss are perfect polyurethane varnishes for disguising imperfections. While satin will work well on wood, gloss will help hide the imperfections on the floor.   

Another thing that makes satin and gloss sync is their clarity. Both varnishes are clear coats, and they are excellent varnishing wood or furniture surfaces.  

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Furniture: Which is better? 

Without mincing words, satin is more suitable for furniture than semi-gloss. The science behind this is satin’s low-sheen look. As an efficient paint type, satin reflects a low level of light. This is due to the more flattening paste that satin boasts.

This means that satin will produce a duller, less shiny, and lustrous appearance on your furniture. Your home furniture needs less light and brightness. But semi-gloss reflects more light, features a shinier look, and has less flattening paste.

The other reason you should varnish your furniture with satin polyurethane paint is that it shields the painting inconsistency more than a semi-gloss sheen will do.

Also, satin will not expose errors or imperfections due to poor sanding, stroking, screwing, nailing, or painting. So, if your kid steps on semi-gloss finished furniture with his rubber-soled shoes, the marks and footprints will visibly show.  

Satin vs. Semi-Gloss Exterior Paint: Which is More Suitable?

Generally, semi-gloss is more suitable for exterior painting than satin. No doubt, each semi-gloss and satin paint has its benefits. However, semi-gloss paint produces an incredible visual effect that includes visible brightness and shines when used on home exteriors. If your surface requires constant cleaning, semi-gloss will be the right match. 

Besides, semi-gloss offers more durability. The glossier sheen of the paint makes it possible for semi-gloss to endure long on the wall.

Don’t forget that your home’s exterior won’t require frequent painting being the most touched and used part. Such a part of the home will need a paint type that can last long and semi-gloss answers the call.

In addition, semi-gloss can stand the harshness of the weather and the elements. When moist, semi-gloss paint won’t flake or peel off. It will stay 

Overall, satin and semi-gloss are perfect paints depending on the project you’re handling and the result you seek. 


Is satin finish the same as semi-gloss?

Not exactly. Although they are highly comparable, there are differences between satin and semi-gloss finishes. On the one hand, satin reflects light and is soft. This is why it’s best for bedrooms and living rooms. On the other hand, semi-gloss is slick, glossy, shinier, and perfect for trim and exteriors. 

Is satin paint shinier than semi-gloss?

No. Semi-gloss shines brighter than the satin finish. The reason is simple: the gloss percentage of satin sheen is lower than that of semi-gloss. In the mix, satin only boasts 30 per cent gloss. For surfaces that require constant cleaning, a semi-gloss finish is the best. These surfaces also need to be always shining. 

What is the best paint finish for trim and doors? 

Semi-gloss is the best finish for trim and doors. The reason is that the sheen doesn’t lose its brightness when you scrape or nick the door. Generally, interior surfaces and trim shine more brightly when you use semi-gloss sheen on them. 

Should interior doors be satin or semi-gloss?

If you want to paint your interior doors, it is best to use semi-gloss finishes. The semi-gloss sheen is also perfect for trim. Why? Semi-gloss can easily be scraped and will withstand nicks. Unlike satin, eggshell, or flat finish, semi-gloss is best for interior surfaces. Semi-gloss paint is more resistant to stain and wear than flatter sheens like satin.

Is satin paint suitable for bathroom surfaces?

The straight answer is yes. Satin is fantastic with the bathroom because it shines brighter and is more durable than an eggshell finish. Besides, satin finishes are also easy to clean. They can hold out against dirt, lather, and. This is why satin is usually used for the trim, ceiling, and walls.

Should kitchen walls be painted flat or satin? 

Satin offers the best option for the kitchen. This is because the kitchen is a relatively busy and often visited place in the home. So, it’ll require extra cleaning since satin paint is generally shinier but easier to clean. This finish can also withstand dirt, stains, and mildew.    

Can you put a matte polyurethane over a semi-gloss? 

Yes, it is possible to add matte polyurethane over semi-gloss paint. But you must understand the preparation process. Try to lightly sand the surface of the semi-gloss painted project using 600 grit sandpaper. It is better to use sandpaper when it’s wet or dry. You can dry with a soft dry cloth. 

Can you mix satin paint and semi-gloss paint?

Absolutely! You can mix the two finishes and still get a great end result. The two paint types are sheen finishes and so will ideally work together. However, the satin paint will overshadow the semi-gloss. Mix, say ½ cup of satin with one full cup of semi-gloss to get the best outcome.

Final Word

The differences between Satin vs. Semi-gloss finish are clear from our discussion above. You can make an informed decision from here on. In the end, make sure you choose the appropriate finish for your project.   

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