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Photo print on Matte or Gloss paper?

Posted in Photography By Guest

As a photographer one of the most enjoyable things about my hobby is printing off a photograph. Before I do though, I have to decide whether a print will look best on matte or glossy paper.

It can seem like a confusing choice at first, but if you know what factors can change and how they impact your final print it’s remarkably simple.

photography paper

The basics….

Before we can start looking at the pros and cons of either type of photo paper it’s worth making sure we’re all on the same page (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Matte:

Matte paper provides a soft feel to photographs with no shine. This helps the entire image to retain a delicate finish in high light conditions.

Gloss:

Gloss paper is the type traditionally used for photo-prints. With a shiny finish gloss photographs can be very eye catching.

The Factors Which Influence Your Decision?

There are three main areas where the choice between matte and gloss has a real impact; reflection, colour reproduction, and resistance to damage.

Reflection:

Gloss paper has a special coating on it to maximise its “reflective properties”, or in laymans terms “make it shiny”! While the shine on gloss paper really helps it catch the eye, care has to be taken in very bright environments where a high gloss finish will cause glare to obscure the picture from viewers at certain angles.

Matte surfaces do not have a reflective coating at all, and as such does not have an issue of glare in even the harshest lighting. This is why you’ll pretty much never see a gloss-finish in a gallery or museum, the specific lighting and viewing-angles required in those areas mean a matte finish (or similar) are perfect.

Gloss paper does come in 3 main forms – High Gloss, Gloss and Semi-gloss, which have progressively lower reflectiveness. Semi-gloss is considered the middle ground between Gloss and Matte paper, and if you really can’t decide which type is for you, semi-gloss is the best bet.

Colour reproduction

The colour gamut of paper is basically the range of colours that can be reproduced on that paper type. Gloss prints have what’s known as a large colour gamut, which exceeds the colours you can achieve with matte paper.

This difference is most notable on bright vivid colours; such as crisp blue seas or close ups of skin tones for example. While both prints will look fine independently, if you place them together you will notice a difference almost immediately. The gloss print will look full of life and colour, whilst the matte print will appear slightly drained.

That’s not to say matte is bad, far from it, but for true colour photographs and the maximum vibrancy and vivacity gloss wins.

Damage Resistance

No type of photograph does especially well when subjected to grubby fingers or an energetic cleaner, but these things happen, and the ability of a photo to withstand trials such as these is important

Matte paper was not designed to be touched. Whilst it is possible to handle matte prints and rarely mark them, once a mark is there you’ll require professional skills and tools to remove them. Worse still is matte’s resistance to physical abrasions; it’s all too easy to scratch matte prints and ruin them completely.

Gloss fairs significantly better here; the glossy finish offers great protection from many dangers. It can endure being rubbed by a cloth, and any finger prints the glossy finish accumulates can simply be wiped off, a feat that matte can only dream of. Though gloss prints are also susceptible to scratching, it will require far more effort to achieve than a matte surface.

In fact the only real downside to gloss in this area is the aforementioned ease at which fingerprints are accumulated. As anyone who’s seen a 3 year old “look” at a photo album before can tell you, they happen easily and can be quite frustrating to continually wipe.

photography paper 2

So Which is the Best?

For the most part, gloss prints are usually best for small prints to be viewed up close, such as in an album or small frame. This lets the higher colour gamut really do it’s work and the small format allow the viewer to avoid glare by manually altering their viewing angle.

Matte works best when being used for large wall prints where a gloss finish would stop the picture form being enjoyed at certain angles. In this situation it’s also less likely to come into physical contact with anything, reducing its high risk of abrasion.

While it’s true that gloss is slightly better for the average consumers photo printing needs, ultimately the purpose of a shot and it’s style will have just as much weight as anything discussed here.

Anything is possible, and you’ll find that sometimes small prints “just work” in matte and other times the dazzling finish of gloss helps large prints catch the eye.

About Guest Author:
Michael is a writer and researcher for online retailer of printer ink cartridges Stinkyink.com. When not providing tips for getting the most out of your Lexmark Ink cartridges, Michael can often be found either nose deep in a book or taking a bike ride around picturesque Shropshire. 

2 comments
Ben Thompson
Ben Thompson

I get the best of both worlds using Epson's semi-gloss. It's amazing stuff!
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Ben Thompson
Ben Thompson

I get the best of both worlds using Epson's semi-gloss. It's amazing stuff!