Satin Vs Flat Paint- A Painter’s Close Call

Painting is a demanding and rewarding job that requires physical and mental involvement. Additionally, you need to determine the best color for the surface, depending on the existing finish or desired appearance. But choosing between some popular formulas like satin and flat paint can hold you at a crossroads. So, let’s compare satin vs flat paint, to understand what these formulas offer.

The main difference between satin and flat formulas is the finish. Satin paint features a touch of sheen, whereas flat paint has none. However, the final finish is not the only way to distinguish the products. There are also variations in ease of use, maintenance, durability, coverage, and cost.

You should not have trouble finding satin and flat paint as they are pretty popular. The prudent thing to do, though, is to consider what is best for your project.

Stay with me as I walk you through different aspects of satin and flat paint.

What Is a Satin Finish?

Despite having a significantly distinct outcome, satin paint is often confused with other finishes. For instance, it delivers a higher gloss than eggshell formulas and offers better durability and stain resistance than lower sheens.

Besides, the finish is ideal for surfaces craving definition as its distinctive luster highlights shutters, interior doors, windows, and trim. Even better, you can use it for architectural details, like paneling and beveling, and evoke a luxurious and elegant look.

Satin formulas feature a soft luster, and some users even describe it as velvety, only reflecting enough light to deliver a touch of sheen. However, please note that the finish is not highly glossy. While it reflects light, the shine is pretty gentle and barely noticeable on smooth areas.

Image of a cabinet with satin finish. What's best satin vs flat paint?Often, the binder to pigments ratio significantly affects the final finish. The more the binder in the formula, the glossier the appearance.

So, satin paint falls in the middle compared with other standard finishes. It has a lesser binder content than gloss and semi-gloss products and more than eggshell paint.

On top of that, the higher binder amount gives satin paints additional durability and flexibility. Therefore, they are moisture-resistant, ideal for high-traffic surfaces, and easier to clean.

Remember that the light-reflecting attributes highlight blemishes in surfaces and make them more noticeable. Also, avoid crossing wet paint over dry edges as you may create unwanted lines. Even more, please follow the correct application procedure for an even finish.

Similarly, touch-ups will stand out and make the overall sheen appear uneven. Thus, it would be best to be extra careful when covering up scuffs or other issues. In addition, check out the pros and cons below to help you know what to expect with the product.

Pros of Satin Finish

  • Satin finishes are highly durable.
  • They are best for high-traffic environments.
  • The paint delivers good coverage.
  • It provides a moisture-resistant and easy-to-clean surface.

Cons of Satin Finish

  • Imperfections on a satin finish are more noticeable.
  • The formula is harder to apply.
  • You will spend more money to purchase and use the product.
  • Touch-ups will stand out.

What Is a Flat Finish?

Flat paint refers to a formula that doesn’t reflect light, resulting in no shine. This lack of reflection highlights the paint pigment, and it is more forgiving of imperfections. Therefore, it allows for perfect hide, creating a more uniform finish.

The product reflects as little light as possible and delivers a matte finish. Also, you may observe similar sheens, such as multi-matte or ultra-flat. But they are not close to flat finishes that have very little shine.

Image of a flat paint but which on in the Satin Vs Flat Paint choice?Besides, the flat appearance makes the overall finish look more uniform. It is also not affected by alternations caused by light bouncing from the wall or colors reflecting onto the surface.

Flat paint has the lowest binder amount and highest pigment content. Hence, it delivers exceptional coverage. But this attribute comes at the cost of reduced durability and lower flexibility. Thus, it is prudent to determine what’s essential to your project.

Also, flat paint is among the most complex finishes to clean as scrubbing can strip off the finish, not just dirt. Even worse, the underlying color may show through and create noticeable unevenness.

The paint wears and tears much faster, and worse still, scratches and scuff show quickly on the surface. Hence, you need frequent touch-ups to keep the exterior looking good.

Fortunately, flat paint is easier to apply, and thus you won’t have a challenging maintenance session. In addition, the color remains uniform even when you use wet paint on dry edges.

Remember that the higher pigment content improves coverage. Thus, you can use fewer coats to deliver a good finish, and even better, reduce the overall project cost.

Even so, please be cautious when using flat paint on high-traffic surfaces requiring frequent attention. Stains are much harder to remove from low-sheen finishes, while constant cleaning and rubbing cause burnishing.

Lastly, check out the summary below on the paint’s pros and cons.

Pros of Flat Paint

  • Flat finishes are affordable.
  • They are best at hiding surface flaws.
  • The paint is easier to apply, and touch-ups blend.
  • It provides excellent coverage.

Cons of Flat Paint

  • Flat paint is less durable.
  • It is not moisture-resistant.
  • Excess scrubbing or cleaning removes the finish.

Difference Between Satin Vs Flat Paint 

In this section, I’ll look at the following aspects of satin and flat paints in a bid to differentiate them:

  • Appearance

The main difference between satin and flat paint in the appearance aspect is the sheen amount. Satin paint has a softer luster, while flat paint delivers a matte finish and reflects very little light.

Also, since the light reflecting attributes of the paints vary, their appearance on various surfaces differs even when the finish is the same color. The light affects the satin’s final color when it bounces off nearby objects or hits the surface directly. 

However, this quality has drawbacks as the light draws attention to divots and bumps when it bounces off more reflective surfaces. Therefore, it’s easy to see surface flaws and touch-ups.

Oppositely, flat paint gives a more consistent color. Light does not reflect the finish to the same extent as satin surfaces, and you’ll have reduced color-altering effects. Therefore, it is prudent to consider the wall’s condition when deciding between flat and satin paint.

Consider satin paint when working with a professionally finished smooth surface or a new wall. Then, go for matte formulas if the surface has cracks, bumps, scratches, and visible holes.

On top of that, satin finishes offer surfaces more visual depth, thanks to their reflective attributes. Even better, they make smaller spaces, such as bathrooms, hallways, and children’s bedrooms, appear bigger.

  • Finish

Satin formulas have a glossier finish than flat paints. Also, although it is more subtle than gloss and semi-gloss paints, the soft sheen on the surface appears pearl-like and velvety and is pretty noticeable.

On the other hand, flat finishes are the least glossy options and practically have no shine. Moreover, although light may bounce off the surface, the amount is so low that you won’t notice it.

Nonetheless, satin and flat finishes can appear pretty smooth despite sheen differences. In addition, you can deliver an incredibly consistent surface with proper application.

  • Durability

Unlike satin paints, flat finishes require you to keep repainting the surface. The formula’s matte surface absorbs grime and dirt from the environment.

Even more, it is pretty easy to wipe or scrub off dirt from a satin finish. So, opt for a satin formula if you want to enjoy your heavy-duty surface for longer.

Also, satin paint features binders that offer it more toughness and flexibility. Therefore, it is more resistant to stains, scratches, and dings, outperforming its counterpart. Also, gentle washes do not harm the finish, allowing you to maintain a clean surface.

You can use satin paint in damp spaces, such as bathrooms, as it repels mold and mildew. However, avoid scrubbing the surface with rough accessories to avoid altering the original sheen.

Conversely, flat paint does not have more binder, making it less durable and flexible. Scratches, dings, and stains are noticeable, even if it’s mere wear and tear. In addition, the finish is not moisture-resistant, increasing the likelihood of mold and mildew.

Finally, cleaning the flat finish can strip away the paint. This move also exposes the old finish or the material beneath, making it susceptible to elements.

  • Coverage

Generally, flat paint delivers better coverage than satin. It has more pigment, which gives the surface more color in one coat. Therefore, you need fewer coats to get a full coverage look.

On the other hand, satin features more binders and thus is more prone to coverage issues. In addition, since the binder does not have your preferred hue, you need more coats to deliver a satisfactory finish. So, in essence, you are trading pigment for extra binders.

Finally, please note that we have one-coat paints. Even better, they are available in multiple finishes, including satin. Therefore, you can get your preferred final finish with fewer coverage issues.

  • Maintenance

It would be best to have satin for surfaces that need regular cleaning. The resin in a satin formula gives it an attractive sheen and makes the surface tougher.

In addition, you can scrub and clean the finish with soap and water without damaging it, so it is prudent to save satin paint for high-traffic areas.

However, avoid scrubbing the surface aggressively. Even though you may not remove the paint’s original color, applying too much pressure may damage the sheen. Also, doing touch-ups on a satin finish is not easy. There will always be a sheen difference at the touched-up area.

Flat paint is a different story altogether. It is more challenging to clean as you risk stripping the paint off the surface. Even worse, cleaning reveals old paint or the material underneath, depending on the paint’s thickness. Therefore, you end up with a noticeable spot.

Fortunately, fixing spots is generally quicker and easier with flat paint. Moreover, touched-up marks blend into the surface excellently after maintenance. So, there is a likelihood that you will not have any differences after drying.

NB: Flat paint requires sanding the surface before adding the formula, whereas satin touch-ups create flashing. Thus, you’ll see the spot more clearly since you only add wet satin paint to a dry finish.

  • Cost

Let’s look at a basic paint project and the cost specifics to clarify how and why satin paint costs more. We will picture a ten-by-twelve-foot room that needs about two gallons of satin or flat formula.

Flat paint costs from $10 to $45 per gallon or, generally, $20 to $90 for the whole room. Also, expect about seven labor hours, totaling $140-$245 if you hire a painter.

Then, you spend about $20 and about $10 to $35 on application supplies and primer, respectively. So, eventually, you’ll spend about $190 to $390.

On the other hand, painting the same room with satin paint adds more hours. In addition, wall preparations will take much longer to deliver a smoother surface, and painting needs more time. Hence, you can expect more costs. 

Labor costs will then be higher at $180 to $315, and you’ll need to pay about $20-$50 per gallon or $40 to $100 for the required amount. Tools and primer cost from $30 to $55, leading to about $250-$470 for the whole project.

So, on average, satin paint is more expensive than flat. The difference is around $5 per can for the same brand and paint line. However, we have some situations where the price gap is smaller or larger, depending on the specific product.

Although a $5 per-can difference appears negligible and inconsequential, it eventually adds up. More so, if you need two or three cans for a room and one paint gallon covers up to 400 square feet, you’d be spending $10 to $15 more.

Also, you may need to add a second coat when the satin paint does not deliver a good finish in one coverage. Therefore, you’ll be spending $20 to $30 more for four to six paint cans to complete the room.

That $5 can difference adds up even more if you’re working on an entire interior. In addition, the $10 to $30 difference per room will quickly become hundreds of dollars, depending on coats needed.

On top of that, flat paint is easier to apply than satin. It blends in well even when wet paint crosses over a dry surface. Also, the absence of sheen prevents noticeable marks, allowing you to apply the formula pretty quickly.

Conversely, satin paint is trickier to apply as you will observe inconsistencies when wet paint crosses over a dry finish. Worse still, the lines will be more evident because of the overlap. Therefore, please avoid the W application technique unless you can work incredibly quickly.

Additionally, it would be best to adopt fast single passes. Add some paint to a roller and stripe from top to bottom. Then, move one roller length to the side and add an adjacent vertical line. This way, you’ll achieve full coverage.

Alternatively, use a paint sprayer for the satin paint. It will help you deliver soft and uniform coverage without harsh lines, and better still, achieve a professional finish. So, eventually, you get value for your money.

  • Ease of Use

Walls require adequate preparation, regardless of whether you have satin or flat paint. The process includes thorough washing to remove dirt, grease, and grime. Also, sometimes you’ll need to scrape or sand off loose paint and patch holes to facilitate a smooth finish.

Generally, flat paint is easier to work with than satin. It does not have a sheen, and thus you do not have to worry about keeping a leading edge of wet paint during rolling or brushing.

In addition, the most efficient way to cover a surface with a flat formula is to use the roller in zig-zag or W patterns. This way, you’ll fill in gaps and touch up the edges.

On the other hand, satin paint will leave marks on the surface after applying a wet formula over a dry edge. Worse still, the W method will leave many uneven spots.

Therefore, you are safer loading the roller with paint and applying it from top to bottom. Then, reload the applicant and add the next strip, overlapping the previous one.

Please note that painting is not as easy as bringing a paintbrush to the wall. You’ll have to clean the wall and add a primer coat for perfect paint adhesion. Fortunately, you do not have to worry about the primer as latex paint, whether flat or satin, works well with latex and oil primers.

Additionally, it is advisable to use painter’s tape to cover or tape off areas you don’t want to paint. Also, cover the trim and electrical outlets for a better result unless you are an expert.

It is advisable to use a roller, paintbrush, or sprayer to apply flat and satin paint. In addition, you can select a roller for matte formulas and a paintbrush to handle small detail work when you are not familiar with a sprayer.

Even better, matte mediums are easy to apply as they do not need too much precision. All you need to do is roll the formula out along the boards and cover empty spaces, and you are good to go!

Conversely, satin formulas are more difficult to apply as the glossy paint catches the light, making blemishes noticeable. Hence, haphazard applications will show through and affect the final finish.

It is better to adopt up and down movements when painting the entire wall. Otherwise, starting vertically then switching to horizontal strokes will leave noticeable sheen differences after drying.

  • Uses

You can use any paint finish for various projects. However, it would be best to clarify your project expectations and requirements. Also, flat and satin formulas work best in specific cases.

For example, flat paint is the preferred alternative for ceilings. Most homeowners do not want their ceiling to stand out, and thus limiting the sheen amount makes the surface less noticeable.

Besides, ceilings go untouched for long durations and are less susceptible to wear and tear. Therefore, the finish will last longer despite flat paints featuring a lesser duration than satin.

Flat finishes are a reasonable option for lower-traffic areas, like master bedrooms, formal dining rooms, guest bedrooms, and home offices. Also, cleaning walls is unnecessary for these spaces; thus, lower durability is not an issue.

On the other hand, satin paint is perfect for high-traffic environments and spaces that benefit from moisture resistance. A good example is bathrooms and kitchens. Better still, hallways, kid’s rooms, trim, and molding are suitable spaces for this more durable paint.

Even so, when working with living rooms, how you use the space dictates the best formula. For instance, flat paint is not the best fit if it is a frequent play area for kids and pets, whereas you will get maximum value from the finish when the room is a formal or relaxation space.

That said, it would be best to understand the above differences between flat and satin paint as it allows you to decide which alternative works best for your project.

In addition, it is easier to distinguish the two products by looking at each attribute closely and comparing the formulas directly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the most common questions regarding the subject of discussion.

  • Which Finish Is Better Between Satin or Flat?

There is no better finish between Satin and flat finish. It all depends on your project requirements and desired surface. Moreover, each product has specific-user cases that give the best possible outcome.

So, it is prudent to ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Then, choose the best formula for your work. In addition, you can consult experts when confused about what product to use where.

But generally, satin products are more suitable for high-traffic and high-moisture environments. They are more durable, easier to clean, and moisture resistant, the perfect attribute for outdoor projects. However, the finish is harder to apply, and touch-ups are visible.

On the other hand, flat paint is perfect for low-touch and lower-traffic areas. In addition, since cleaning the finish can damage it, it would be best to apply it in areas with less grime and dirt.

Nonetheless, the above does not mean that you cannot utilize the formulas as you please. Go for satin when you want more sheen and flat paint if you’d like a matte finish. And ensure that you follow the manufacturer’s application recommendations.

  • How Do I Make Satin Paint Flat?

There are a few options to make a satin surface less glossy. The simplest strategy is to apply a clear flat topcoat on the satin surface. The coat changes the sheen without affecting the underlying color.

Alternatively, you can use commercial deglossing products. But please follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter to get a good finish. In addition, conduct a test before painting the entire furniture piece or room since the results are different.

Unfortunately, there is a caveat for deglossing agents. They can have harsh chemicals and thus are not ideal for poorly-ventilated rooms. So, you need to wear gloves and a respiratory mask when using them.

Another option is to sand the satin finish. Use high-grit sandpaper for the first rub to reduce the odds of removing too much paint or leaving gouges. In addition, test an inconspicuous spot to confirm the result.

Sadly, sanding is a highly time-consuming strategy. It requires you to slightly scuff the surface across the entire furniture piece or room. Then, wipe away the sanding dust with a damp cloth. However, the strategy is excellent if the workload does not bother you.

  • Can I Mix Satin Paint with Flat?

Yes, you can mix satin paint with a flat one. The process will give you an intermediate sheen, more like an eggshell finish. But be careful when combining formulas with more than one step apart sheen-wise.

The above attempt may deliver sheen variations and streaks after painting, resulting in an uneven finish. The work is even more cumbersome for satin and flat paint as they are steps apart sheen-wise.

Fortunately, we have mechanical mixers. They effectively combine formulas and increase the chances of delivering a consistent outcome. Therefore, you can consider the device a necessity when anticipating a professional finish.

Also, you can go ahead and buy your preferred paint color in an eggshell finish if you want a sheen between satin and flat. Moreover, an eggshell hue sits between satin and flat on the sheen spectrum. So, you will only get a hint of luster.

  • Do I Need to Take Precautions When Mixing Satin Paint With Flat?

Yes, it is advisable to take precautions when mixing satin and flat paint. Remember, matte paint is coarse. And you will get a better result by mixing it thoroughly with the other finishes.

Pour half of the flat formula into a container and gradually add the satin or semi-gloss finish to deliver the desired finish. Then, stir the mixture properly to facilitate smooth application to the surface.

It is possible to add more satin but challenging to remove excesses. Hence, always start with a small paint amount. Also, note down the amounts you blend to help replicate the process when you need to mix more paint later.

Finally, apply some paint on a small area to determine the most suitable finish. You can add more satin to the mixture for more glossiness. But keep testing the paint on a test surface until you get your desired color. 

  • Can I use flat paint over satin paint?

It is possible to use flat paint on a satin surface. However, you need to prepare the surface first for the formula and then follow the correct application procedure. When you are ready to paint, check the following steps.

First, determine the paint type on the surface, whether shiny or flat. Then, assess the surface for holes. Fill them and smooth the surface with a putty knife.

Next, clean the surface lightly with a damp cloth of dust and dirt. Also, consider sanding the walls with satin paint to facilitate proper primer and paint adhesion and increase the surface’s longevity.

Remember to tape all the edges, ceiling lines, and trim for protection against paint spillages. Fortunately, a good painter’s tape covers the surfaces adequately and prevents the flat paint from spreading to unwanted areas.

The other step involves applying the primer using a paintbrush or roller. In addition, you can use a roller to paint the entire surface and then finish the edges and corners with a small brush.

Lastly, paint the satin-coated surface with a flat finish after the primer dries. Pour the formula into a tray or bucket. Then, use a brush and roller to complete the project. Also, don’t forget to let the paint dry to the touch and recoat when necessary.

  • Why Do Builders Prefer Flat Paint For New Homes?

Most discussions present flat paint as a more basic option than satin finishes. However, builders prefer it for new homes because it is cost-effective, easier to do touch-ups, and perfect at hiding flaws,

The paint is cheaper and allows you to complete your project with less money. Even better, the formula composition makes it an excellent touch-up product. It covers blemishes perfectly, reducing stress, hassle, and cost. 

Here’s How to Apply Nice Satin Wood Paint:

Conclusion

You’ll have to select a finish when updating your furniture or painting a wall. But, unfortunately, this decision becomes more difficult for satin and flat paints, especially if you do not know their unique strengths and general differences. But worry not. This article engages in an in-depth debate to help out with the process.

Satin Vs Flat Paint

Generally, satin paint offers a more noticeable shine, is more durable, and is easier to clean. It is also harder to apply and touch up and comes with a higher price tag.

On the other hand, flat formulas are easy to use and touch up, much cheaper, and deliver a less reflective matte surface that gives a more accurate hue in different lighting conditions.

Finally, although the main difference between the two products is their appearance and sheen, there are other differences in ease of use, durability, cost, and coverage.