Matte vs Flat Paint – Key Differences & Which One You Need

Author: Pat Freling | Updated: | Affiliate links may be present.

No shimmer or shine, only smooth and elegant finishes – this is what you can expect from these two paint styles.

Matte and flat paints are similar in many ways. Both styles are great for many applications. Both have similarities but they also have some key differences. While these may seem marginal, the variances between the two can still make a big impact.

Many speak of these two styles as if they are interchangeable. While in some cases this is true, it is not always the case. I will discuss some of the key elements of matte and flat paint finishes to help navigate the best option.

Flat paint is a great choice over matte for rental property owners. It offers a clean and fresh new look along with a good base coat for the next tenants to paint over. Flat paint bolsters natural lighting in the rooms it’s used in. Matte paint hides a large majority of imperfections. Minimal amounts of it are needed for a crisp finished product.

Matte vs Flat Paint – Shared Traits

An Easy Choice for New Coats

A big advantage of using matte or flat paints is that they are easy to apply. Prepping for a new coat of these types doesnt take much work.

Both matte and flat paints are good at going on thick and smooth. This minimizes the coats of primer or lengthy sanding of small imperfections.

Achieving a very desirable result with these paints takes minimal coats. Less coats of paint means lower cost of materials. This can be very cost-effective, depending on the amount of work.

Durability & Ideal Use Cases

Durability is an area where neither of these particular paints excel. Matte paint has a marginal advantage here. This is due to its minimal but still existing gloss value. Even with the limited gloss value this is still not a paint that holds up well to cleaning.

Walls in hallways or living spaces are great places to use these paints. Ceilings and bedrooms are also other good areas to use matte or flat paint. These are generally low traffic areas with minimal wear and tear.

Kitchens, bathrooms, and children rooms are not recommended areas for these styles. HIgh moisture content in the air along with exposure to dirt, grease, and debris can be damaging.

Good at Hiding Scratches and Dents

Where they lack reliability and maintainability, flat and matte finishes hide imperfections well. Whether it’s your walls or ceilings these paints can blend in scratches and dents due to their low gloss value.

While both are good in this area, the less gloss the better as the light-absorbing value will be higher. If you have a pretty beat-up surface, going with a paint like Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Latex Paint will help you achieve your desired effect.

Makes Your Rooms Look Larger

Matte paints excel at radiating natural light. A fresh coat of matte paint will offer the illusion of a larger room. Gaining curb appeal can add value to your home.

This Rust-Oleum Linen White Chalked Ultra Matte Paint is a great example of an elegant matte finish that I’ve added to a room in my home.

Prepping for the Future

A great feature of flat paint is its base value. A good flat paint coat can serve as a solid base coat for future painting projects. If you’re a property owner repainting after a tenant leaves this could be a great option.

You can freshen up the look with flat paint in a cost effective manner. Higher gloss paints can be added later for customization.

Additionally, doing touch up work on matte for flat painted areas goes really well. Since they absorb so much light, a new coat over a small area should blend in fine. This is due to the fact that there is very limited difference in gloss or sheen values.

So, Should You Pick Matte or Flat Paint?

After going through a few elements we can narrow it down. Choose the paint that comes the closest to your desired outcome.


Matte may be the “best of both worlds” option when it comes to offering a higher light-absorbing surface. While minimal you will still maintain some of the gloss value.

This may be a valuable choice if you have poor indoor lighting and need a bit of reflection. Matte will have a small but noticeably higher durability over flat.


Flat paint will provide a smooth and subtle look with minimal gloss. This paint is the premier choice for laying down clean base coats in a cost effective manner.

Flat paint can leave much to be desired in the durability area. Fortunately many of the newer styles are greatly improved on their cleanability.

Final Thoughts

Anytime an investment is being made into your home for improvement you want the best “bang for the buck”. When it comes to painting, consider not only all the things you want to achieve from the new coat but also other benefits you can gain as well.

With either choice there are improvements to be had. The important factor is choosing the right one for your desired outcome.

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About Pat Freling

Pat has been into DIY painting since he was 14 years old. He's painted interior walls, decks, patio, and even the first car that he'd purchased at 18.

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