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Glossy vs. Matte Finish: What print type is best?

Glossy vs. Matte Finish: What print type is best?

It’s the paper or plastic of the photography printing world: glossy or matte finish? While the choice of a finish may be a matter of artistic opinion, there are still a few qualities that each print type offers that may make one better than the other for certain applications. So in the glossy vs. matte finish debate, which print type is the right one for you?

Glossy photo finish

Glossy photos do just what their name implies — they gloss over the photograph, giving it a nice shine. The paper and the coating behind that glossy photograph is actually made up of the same stuff as a matte image, except that more of the final coating is used. That extra layer of shine tends to give the image an apparent boost in color and, well, like anything with a bit of shine to it, just looks pretty.

The problem with the glossy photo finish is that it creates glare. You’ll see light reflecting off the photo itself, making it hard to view equally under different lighting scenarios. One of the issues many photographers have with glossy photos is also the fingerprints they tend to attract. The finish of a glossy photo leaves the print more susceptible to fingerprints, which means photos that will see a good deal of handling aren’t the ideal shots to use with a glossy finish.

Bottom line: Glossy photos are good for colorful shots — but only if you don’t mind glare or fingerprints.

Matte photo finish

With less of that final shiny layer, matte prints offer a similar lifespan, but without that glossy sheen. Matte photographs don’t quite have the same color boost as glossy — though if you shoot and process the photo right, you can still get a good deal of color from a matte print. Matte photos tend to be better for less vibrant color schemes or monochrome shots, particularly if you were trying to imitate a film effect. Where the glossy finish tends to emphasize color, matte prints tend to play up the texture in an image.

Without that extra gloss, the matte photo isn’t as susceptible to shine and fingerprints. In general, though it’s not always the case, professional photographers tend to choose matte over glossy because of the lower likelihood of glare and fingerprinting. While matte tends to play up texture, the image may look bit grainer because of that enhanced texture, however.

The bottom line: Favored more by pros, the matte finish doesn’t glare or fingerprint, but the tendency to highlight texture could also bring out unwanted texture like noise from high ISOs.

A matte photograph’s anti-reflective qualities often makes it a better choice for framing large prints, while the enhanced color may help snapshots stand out more with a glossy finish. While there is no right or wrong answer when choosing your photo finish, there are pros and cons of each type that are important to understand in order to get the most from your prints.