Satin Paint vs Flat Paint (Which One is Better?)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

If you don’t want a high gloss finish, you should go for satin or flat sheen. Both sheens offer the lowest level of sheen or gloss. But, what’s the difference between them?

The main difference is that satin paint has a higher level of gloss than flat paint. The higher level of sheen makes the finish a bit shiny and reflective.

Flat sheen due to the absence of sheen is not reflective or shiny. Instead, it gives a dull, dry, and textured finish. Satin is harder and has better moisture resistance. Flat paint offers little moisture resistance and is ideal for decorative items.


What is Satin Paint?

Satin is considered a mid-gloss finish. It has one of the lowest levels of sheen among paints, it comes right after the eggshell finish which has little to no sheen.

Satin can be water-based or oil-based. It is durable and offers good moisture resistance. This makes it ideal for wood and other porous surfaces that will require a moisture-resistant finish.

Its finnish reflects light, but as much as other high-gloss finishes.  This is why the finish is considered mid-gloss. It’s a mixture of flat paint and glossy paint.

You can use satin:

  • To give color to wood.
  • For a low-sheen finish.
  • Over household furniture due to its moisture-resistant properties.
  • Over heavily used surfaces like tables, desks, and kitchen cabinets.


What is Flat Paint?

Flat sheens are usually water-based paints. They have the simplest formula in the painting world, they contain no additive or sheen. Flat paints, known as matte paints, have a formula of color, water, and a binding agent.

Asides from having very little to no sheen, they are also very thin. The water-based nature of the paint coupled with the fact that it contains no additive makes them have a thin or light flow.

Since the paint is thin and water-based, it dries quickly. Under normal drying conditions, flat paint will dry enough for a recoat in less than 30 minutes.

However, the paint is not reflective, slick, or glossy. Instead, the finish is usually dry and textured. It doesn’t offer great protection but the finish gives the clearest color.

You can use a flat finish:

  • For painting decorative items and ornaments.
  • To tint or add color to clear sealants, such as polyurethane.
  • In arts and crafts and design work.
  • To hide imperfections and spots.
  • To create a glazed finish.
  • As a base coat.

Flat Paint vs Satin Paint

To compare both paints, we’ll use the different features of each paint and see which is superior.

Satin PaintFlat Paint
Level of SheenMid or AverageLittle to no sheen
Moisture ResistanceGoodPoor
Strength and DurabilityGoodAverage
Cleaning and MaintenanceEasyDifficult
Dry Time1-2 hours30-45 minutes
Wood ProtectionGoodPoor

Next, let’s check out these differences in detail.

Level of Sheen

Satin has more sheen (gloss) in its formula than flat. The presence of sheen is why it gives a mid-gloss finish. This is also why its finish reflect light.

Flat or matte paints have little to no level of sheen and produce a non-reflective matte finish.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Satin is easier to clean and maintain than flat. The higher the level of sheen, the easier it will be to clean and maintain the finish. Because of the glossy finish satin paint has, the stains and dirt won’t stick over.

Since flat doesn’t have a sheen finish, the dirt and stains stick easier to the finish. So, you have to clean it regularly, and that can make the finish come off since it isn’t durable.

Dry Time

Flat paint dries faster than satin paint. That’s because it is water-based, and water evaporates fast. Plus, the absence of gloss makes it dry faster. Flat paint dries enough for a recoat within 30 minutes.

On the other hand, satin paint takes longer to dry since it is usually oil-based, and its solvent (oil) takes longer to evaporate. Plus, the glossy formula makes the paint dry slower. Satin paint dries enough for a recoat within 1 hour.

Strength and Durability

Satin paints are stronger and more durable than flat paints. Satin paint takes longer to dry, so the paint particles have more time to bond and become more durable.

Plus, its glossy formula makes the finish harder and more durable. Its finish lasts longer and can withstand dents and scratches better.

Satin paint will last for about 6 years, while flat paint for 5 years. But, if flat paint is heavily used the paint won’t last a year.

Moisture Resistance

Satin paint offers superior moisture resistance because of the slightly glossy finish. The glossy finish repels moisture making it difficult for water to penetrate the finish.

Flat paints are water-soluble, they will absorb moisture if it’s used on a surface that is washed frequently. The constant contact with water makes its finish bubble and peel off the surface.

If you want a moisture-resistant finish, you should pick a high-gloss finish. The more gloss the paint has on its formula, the better it repeals moisture.

Paint Application

Since satin is thicker, the paint application is harder. To spray it, you need to thin it first. Plus, you need to sand each layer before you add the next one. This makes its paint application harder.

For flat paints, you don’t have to thin before spraying because the paint is thin enough. You also don’t need to sand between coats because it has no glossy top coat in its formula.

Number of Coats Required

Since satin paint is thicker, you get more coverage with each coat, so you don’t need a lot of coats. On average, you only need two coats of satin.

Since flat paint is thinner, you need 3 or more coats to properly cover a surface. However, you can apply more than 3 coats as long as you let each coat dry.

For satin, you can’t apply more than 3 coats because it will affect the quality of the finish. Also, you would need to sand between coats, so applying more coats will be tedious.

Wood Protection

Satin paint protects wood better than flat paints because it is stronger and more durable. Also, satin paint offers superior moisture resistance so water wouldn’t damage the wood.

Flat paint offers low wood protection. This makes them ideal for decorative surfaces and objects as these items wouldn’t see much use. To increase its durability, you can seal it with polyurethane.

The Finish

Satin paints give a mid-gloss finish that reflects light. The finish is also moisture-resistant, durable, and strong.

Flat paint offers a low gloss finish that is dull and dry, but it has a colorful finish that is perfect for decorative surfaces.

Final Words

In summary, flat and satin are both great finishes. Both will look good on your surface and offer a low sheen. If you want protection and a glossy finish, use satin paint. If you want a dry textured finish, use a flat finish.

Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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