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Lustre vs Glossy: Which One Is Better for Photo Prints?

Choosing between lustre or glossy when printing your photos is an important decision based on various factors. Here's how to get it right first time.

Choosing between lustre and glossy photo prints can be a daunting question, especially if you take various types of photos (portraits, landscapes, humans, animals, black and white…etc).

The difference in details may be minor, but when it comes to printing your cherished photographs, choosing the right photo paper finish can make a significant difference in the overall look and feel of your prints.

I moved house recently and needed to decorate my daughter’s room with some of her favorite photos. This brought me to research whether to use lustre or glossy when ordering the prints.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explore the characteristics, similarities, and differences between lustre and glossy print finishes to help you make an informed decision.

Lustre Print Overview

Lustre prints strike a balance between glossy and matte finishes, offering a versatile option for a wide range of photographic subjects.

With a slight texture and a subtle gloss, lustre prints provide excellent color vibrancy while reducing glare and fingerprint visibility.

The lustre finish is a favorite among professional photographers and is commonly used in photo albums, family portraits, and landscape prints.

Its ability to maintain accurate skin tones and showcase bright colors with minimal reflection makes it an appealing choice for various applications.

Glossy Print Overview

Glossy prints, on the other hand, feature a highly reflective surface and a smooth texture that enhances color saturation and contrast.

With a vibrant and glossy finish, these prints produce images with stunning detail and intense colors.

Glossy prints are particularly well-suited for vibrant and colorful photos, architectural prints, and fine art prints where capturing every intricate detail is paramount.

However, the glossy surface is prone to fingerprints and glare, which can sometimes affect the viewing experience.

Lustre and Glossy for Photo Prints: The Comparison

Three framed pictures on a wooden table.

Jay Wennington

Both lustre and glossy finishes offer distinct advantages for photo prints.

Yet, they share some common characteristics that make them desirable options for different photography styles and preferences. Both finishes provide:

  • Excellent color vibrancy and saturation, showcasing bright and vivid colors.
  • Wide-ranging options for print sizes allow you to select the perfect dimensions for your images.
  • Sharp details and high image resolution preserve the intricate elements of your photographs.

While lustre and glossy finishes share some similarities, they also have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

In this section, I’ll explain the key differences between these two finishes to help you determine which one suits your photo printing needs best.

1. Quality of Printed Photos

Lustre prints offer a balance between the vibrant colors of glossy prints and the subdued tones of matte prints. The slight gloss of lustre finishes offers a more natural look to taken photos.

Glossy prints, on the other hand, offer the highest color vibrancy and contrast, making them ideal for capturing vibrant and intense photographs.

I should probably add that, regarding overall quality-wise, both photo prints are as good as they come.

2. Texture

The surface texture is another distinguishing factor between lustre and glossy prints. Glossy prints have a smooth and shiny surface, while lustre prints exhibit a subtle texture that adds depth and dimension to the image.

This slight texture in lustre prints can provide a tactile quality, creating a more tactile and artistic appeal to your photographs. If your picture has fine details that you don’t want to lose behind the color vibrancy, lustre prints are a better choice.

3. Fingerprint Susceptibility

One drawback of glossy prints is their susceptibility to fingerprints. The smooth and highly reflective surface can easily show fingerprints, requiring extra care when handling and displaying the prints.

In contrast, lustre prints, as I mentioned earlier, have a slight texture that helps minimize fingerprint visibility, making them a more practical choice for prints that will be frequently touched or handled.

4. Light Reflection

Glossy prints have a high level of light reflection due to their smooth and reflective surface. This can result in glare when viewed under direct light sources, making it challenging to appreciate the image details.

This is when lustre prints could be a better option, as they offer a more controlled level of reflection, reducing glare and improving the viewing experience in different lighting conditions.

5. Color & Vibrancy

When it comes to color and vibrancy, glossy prints deliver unparalleled impact. The glossy finish enhances color saturation, resulting in vivid and eye-catching prints.

Lustre prints offer excellent color vibrancy as well, but with a more subdued and natural look, maintaining accurate skin tones and delivering pleasing color rendition across a wide range of subjects.

6. Sharpness

When it comes to sharpness and detail rendition, both lustre and glossy prints excel. However, Glossy prints take the crown here. With their smooth surface, they capture and showcase fine details with exceptional clarity and sharpness.

Lustre prints, while slightly textured, still maintain a high level of detail and sharpness, ensuring that your photographs are faithfully reproduced.

7. Contrast

Glossy prints offer high contrast levels, making them ideal for images that require a dynamic range of tones. The glossy surface enhances the contrast between light and dark areas, resulting in images with bold and impactful contrast.

On the other hand, lustre prints offer a more balanced and natural tonal range.

I should also add that black colors will feel deeper and brighter in glossy prints compared to lustre ones. If your photos contain a considerable amount of dark colors, the glossy finish will provide more color contrast.

8. Picture Framing (With Glass)

When framing prints with glass, both lustre and glossy finishes can deliver impressive results. The choice between the two depends on your personal preferences and the specific aesthetic you want to achieve.

However, the larger your print is, the more you should lean toward lustre prints. That’s because glass is already reflective, and pairing that with another reflective surface may cause excessive light distortion.

9. Picture Framing (Without Glass)

If you prefer to display your prints without glass, lustre prints are a popular choice. The subtle texture of the lustre finish helps minimize fingerprints, allowing the prints to be enjoyed without the need for additional protection.

Glossy prints can still work without glass, but you should position the picture away from where it could be touched. Otherwise, you’ll end up with many fingerprints on it.

10. Portrait Prints

Both lustre and glossy finishes can produce stunning portrait prints, but they offer different aesthetics.

Because of their vibrant colors, glossy prints can lend a polished and striking look to portrait photography, especially for dramatic and expressive portraits.

On the other hand, the more natural-looking lustre prints offer a more subdued and timeless quality that enhances the softness and subtleties of portrait subjects.

11. Large Photo Prints

When it comes to large prints, both lustre and glossy finishes can deliver impressive results.

However, glossy prints may give out a considerable amount of reflections, especially if there are multiple light sources around. This might limit the angles at which you can enjoy the picture without distortions.

In this case, lustre prints offer a more versatile option for large prints, allowing viewers to appreciate the details and colors without excessive reflection.

Still, some people prefer how the image strikes you with its color richness and reflection. If you’re one of those people, don’t be afraid to use glossy prints. It’s your picture, after all.

12. Landscape Prints

Landscape photography often benefits from the vibrant colors and high contrast of glossy prints. The glossy finish enhances the saturation and dynamic range of landscape images, making them visually striking and captivating.

Lustre prints provide a subtler and more balanced look that complements the serene beauty of landscapes.

13. Fine Art Prints

Fine art prints require careful consideration of aesthetics and visual impact. Both lustre and glossy finishes can be suitable for fine art prints, depending on the desired effect.

Glossy prints, with their intense colors and smooth surface, create a visually stunning and contemporary look that emphasizes the details and textures of the artwork.

Lustre prints offer a more traditional and tactile quality that adds depth and character to fine art prints.

14. Wildlife Prints

Wildlife photography often demands accurate color reproduction and sharp details to bring the subjects to life.

Glossy prints excel in showcasing the vibrant colors and intricate details of wildlife images, creating visually striking and immersive prints.

On the other hand, lustre prints offer a more subdued yet realistic representation of wildlife subjects, allowing viewers to appreciate the beauty and authenticity of the images.

15. Black and White Prints

I print a fair amount of black and white photos, and any professional photographer would tell you that such photos are more focused on people or scenes than vibrance and reflection.

As such, the reflection and color richness in glossy photos may not be the best option. They will still look great, but lustre prints are my go-to for black and white prints.

16. Cost

We have to address the elephant in the room; cost. When considering cost, lustre prints can be slightly more expensive compared to glossy prints.

The production process and materials involved in creating lustre prints and their texture contribute to their higher price point.

However, the price difference between lustre and glossy prints can vary depending on the photo lab you use. Some labs may charge a premium for lustre prints, while others may offer them at a similar price to glossy prints.

Ultimately, the best way to determine the cost of lustre prints is to contact your local photo lab and inquire about their pricing.

At the time of writing this article, the average cost of a lustre print is $0.20 – $0.30 per print. On the other hand, Glossy averages $0.15 – $0.25 per print.

As you can see, the cost difference is typically around $0.05 – $0.10 per print. This may not seem like a lot of money, but it can add up if you are printing a large number of photos.

If you are on a budget, then glossy prints are a good option. However, if you are looking for a more durable and fingerprint-resistant print, then lustre paper is a better choice.

Which Photo Print Finish Should You Choose: Lustre or Glossy?

A person is holding a wooden box with photos in it.

In general, glossy paper is a good choice for photos that you want to show off boldly.

The vibrant colors and sharp details will make your photos stand out.

However, glossy paper can be distracting in some lighting conditions, and it is more prone to fingerprints and smudges.

Lustre paper is a good choice for photos that you want to display more subtly.

The less reflective finish will make your photos less distracting, and it is more durable than glossy paper.

However, lustre paper does not produce as vibrant colors or as sharp details as glossy paper.

Ultimately, the best way to decide which finish is right for you is to experiment with different types of photo paper and see what you prefer.

You can also ask your local photo lab for recommendations.

Have a look at this table for an overall look on both prints:





Less reflective

More reflective

Color vibrancy

Slightly less vibrant

More vibrant

Detail sharpness

Slightly less sharp


Fingerprint resistance

More resistant

Less resistant


More durable

Less durable

Appearance under glass

Looks clear

Can be distorted by light reflections


More expensive

More affordable

Lustre vs Glossy | Final Verdict

Choosing between lustre and glossy finishes for your photo prints ultimately depends on your preferences, the intended use of the prints, and the specific aesthetic you want to achieve.

Both finishes have their unique advantages and are suitable for different photography styles and subjects.

Lustre prints offer a versatile option with natural colors, reduced glare, and a subtle texture, making them ideal for a wide range of applications.

Glossy prints create visually striking and impactful prints, particularly well-suited for vibrant and dynamic images.

Consider the characteristics, viewing conditions, and desired visual impact to make an informed decision based on your specific needs.

Whichever option you choose, lustre or glossy, both will enhance the beauty and longevity of your printed photographs, preserving your precious memories for years to come.

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Content Manager

As the Content Manager of Shotkit, India Mantle brings with her a lifelong love for photography that she developed during her childhood, watching her father document their family moments with his Nikon EM. In her free time, you find her enjoying the awe-inspiring natural beauty of her home, Northern Rivers, Australia.

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