Matte vs Glossy Photos: Which Paper is Best for Your Photo Prints?
When ordering photo prints and photo albums, which is the better paper type to choose: matte or glossy? Learn about the pros & cons of each in this guide.
Is matte or glossy better for photos? It’s a common question when printing, and we’re here to answer it!
Ultimately, one type isn’t better than the other for your photo prints, but there are a few things you should consider when deciding is glossy or matte better.
In this guide, we’ll teach you about the basic properties of glossy paper and matte paper, as well as the pros and cons of each paper type when printing photos.
Let’s take a closer look!
What You Should Know About Glossy Paper
What is Glossy Paper?
Glossy paper is a printing product used to print images that have a shiny appearance and reflect a lot of light.
The shininess and light reflection is due to the surface layer of coatings applied to the photographic paper. The gloss paper coating enhances the look of photos, especially when there is a strong use of color.
High gloss photo printing results in a smooth surface with a highly reflective shine that is fundamental to the difference between glossy and matte.
Overall, glossy paper gives images a higher contrast level as highlights ‘pop’ and blacks are strong due to the reflective surface of the paper.
Most photo kiosks where you print your own photos create glossy prints. However, more and more are providing the option of choosing between a matte and glossy photo.
What Are the Pros & Cons of a Glossy Photo Finish?
Using a glossy finish lends itself better to some photo prints than others.
Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using glossy photo paper so you can weigh up the matte vs glossy photo debate yourself.
- Great for high contrast and color prints
- Reduces the need for glass when framing
- Gives prints a premium look
- Emphasized glare from natural light sources
- Fingerprints show up
- The surface scratches easily
When Would You Use a Glossy Photo Finish?
Deciding to use glossy papers is a no-brainer if you intend to display your prints without a frame or glass cover.
The natural glossy finish provides a strong level of sheen to the print that replaces the gloss finish of glass.
You should choose a high gloss finish if you’re printing a photo with a lot of dominant colors. Glossy photographic papers enhance the vibrancy of colors and add an excellent level of contrast to the photo’s look.
Finally, the best application for glossy prints is with high-definition images – especially if you intend to print them in larger formats.
A glossy print also helps to showcase the stunning image detail captured in high resolution.
What You Should Know About Matte Paper
What is Matte Paper?
Matte paper is the exact same material as that used with glossy prints. However, where a glossy print has an extra layer of coating to give it a shine, matte prints have fewer clear gloss coatings.
While the matte paper doesn’t have the same luxurious gloss appearance, it does often have some reflective qualities for a semi-gloss finish.
Matte paper also delivers a flatter and more classic photo look with a lower level of contrast. As a result, matte photos tend to reveal textures in the paper and the uneven surface that results can create a very appealing look.
What Are the Pros & Cons of a Matte Photo Finish?
Using a matte finish is better for some photo prints than others but not always. Let’s have a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of using a matte coating on your photo paper.
- More durable than glossy prints
- Less susceptible to scratches
- Ideal for framing
- Great for classic photo look and black and white prints
- Minimal reflections from natural and overhead lights
- Fingerprints don’t show
- The colors are less vibrant
- Contrast is less evident
- Reduced image sharpness
- More expensive than glossy prints
When Would You Use a Matte Photo Finish?
Matte prints are perfect for photos in which you want to achieve a contemporary art look for your imagery.
The matte paper surface of the print results in less contrast as less light reflects from the paper.
Professional photographers opt for matte papers for their fine artworks to control the way the photo appears in different lighting conditions. Also, if you want to frame your photos behind glass, photos printed on matte papers work best.
If you place a print with a glossy surface under glass, both the shiny surface of the print and the glass will reflect light. This can seriously detract from the experience of viewing your photos – especially if there’s a lot of natural light. This is a strong point in favor of matte in the glossy vs matte photos debate.
As the matte texture is less likely to show fingerprints, a matte finish is also the best choice for photos that will be handled a lot – especially sharing your holiday snaps with friends over lunch.
Glossy vs Matte Photos: Which is Best for Framing?
If you intend to frame your favorite shots, you have to decide on glossy or matte photos for framing before you head to the printer.
There are many different options for framing photos, but the print choice will determine the rest of the process.
Many people choose to print and frame their best family or holiday shots to display around the home. In most cases, they opt for a timber or aluminum frame in standard size with a sheet of glass covering the photo.
Quite simply, when framing photos behind glass, matte is the best choice.
A high gloss finish print reflects a lot of light and can cause glare spots on the glossy print if there’s a lot of light in the room (from natural sources and overhead fixtures).
Once you put a glossy photo in a glass frame, the glare effectively doubles and makes viewing the image problematic. As a result, matte prints are the best choice for framing photos behind glass.
The other framing option is to use a frame but no glass – this is often a more cost-effective solution but comes with problems. The main one among these is that the photo can be attacked and warped by humidity. Many people also opt to either laminate their photo to a flat board or simply stick the print to the wall.
In these cases, glossy papers are ideal as they provide a natural level of reflection while enhancing color and contrast in high-definition photos.
The final option is to go the all-digital route and opt for a digital picture frame such as these.
However, we’re big fans of printing photos and the wonderful experience of holding your best prints in your hands, so let’s return to discussing matte vs glossy photos.
Matte vs Glossy Photos FAQs
Do matte or glossy photos last longer?
Glossy photos last the same amount of time as matte photos. The lifespan of glossy or matte finish prints depends on the paper quality and how you look after them.
However, glossy photos attract fingerprints and are more likely to get scratched – especially if they’re unframed. Matte prints are less likely to show scratches and fingerprints.
When framed behind glass, they also have a higher level of protection.
Should I print my wedding pictures glossy or matte?
If you intend to print and frame your wedding photos behind glass, then a matte finish is the best choice.
It also applies if you’re placing your photos in an album with a clear protective cover for each photo.
Keep in mind that the matte finish doesn’t highlight color or contrast as much as glossy photos. There will also be less light reflection with matte finishes.
Let your photographer know you want the photos printed with a matte finish so they can edit the photos to match this print style.
Why is matte more expensive than glossy?
While glossy finish photos have higher color vibrancy, they actually use less ink than matte finish photos.
Photos with a matte finish require more ink to achieve more substantial levels of color and contrast.
What photo paper do professionals use?
Professional photographers use photo paper with a matte finish as it doesn’t reflect light like glossy finishes.
Pros prefer to have the final image viewed without the distraction of glare from the paper. And as many pro photographers frame their photos behind glass, a matte finish is best for this display style.
Should posters be matte or glossy?
Posters tend to be big, vibrant, and visually loud. The best way to showcase a poster is with a glossy finish to enhance the vibrancy of the colors and visual appeal.
What is a deep matte photo finish?
There are print products with a matte finish, and then there’s a deep matte finish! Deep matte photo paper reflects almost no light and is ideal for a high-quality, gallery-quality finish.
It’s well suited to photos with natural light and limited deep black areas as it doesn’t represent true black very well.
Are black and white photos better glossy or matte?
Aside from the matte vs glossy photos advice already provided, it’s best to choose matte as the printing process for black and white photos.
Black and white photos tend to have a classic look and don’t need to emphasize vibrant colors or pop the contrast like glossy finishes do. Many photographers also use matte finishes for photos with sepia tones.
Matte vs Glossy Photos: What Print Type is Best?
The bottom line for glossy vs matte photos is that glossy is better when you won’t be framing behind glass and when your photos have lots of contrast or vibrant colors. Matte is better for classic black and white photos that need to last and might be displayed in a gallery. These however are just general guidelines.
More fundamentally in the debate over glossy vs matte photos, the choice between matte and glossy photos depends on several factors – the first of which is personal preference.
It would help if you also decided how you want to display your precious photos – matte and glossy photos deliver different appearances.
You’ll also need to establish if your photos are to be printed in color or black and white and then how you intend to frame them.
It also depends on where you intend to place your framed photos. The glossy vs matte finish will look different in every room. That look depends on how much natural light there is to reflect from the print.
All of these are key questions you need to first answer before asking yourself is glossy or matte better.
If in doubt about printing with a glossy vs matte finish, use a photo printing kiosk to print a small version of the same photo on each type of paper – then compare the results at home.
What have been your experiences with printing on glossy vs matte finish paper? Have you ever printed your fine art photos, and if so what paper did you choose? Did you get your wedding shots printed in high gloss and regret the final product?
Share your experience, comments, and questions about matte and glossy photo prints below to become part of the conversation.
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