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If you don’t have time to read the entire article, then when comparing Glossy vs Matte Photos:
- Glossy finish photos reflect as much light as possible, which gives the colors of your photo extra depth and vibrancy, and increases apparent brightness and definition of your image. They are most suitable for display in a photo album or on their own, where you want crisp, saturated colors.
- Matte finish photos do not reflect much light and have more muted colors than gloss photos, but are therefore much more suitable for display behind glass, and also do not attract fingerprints to the same degree.
Maybe you want to print your own photos at home, or maybe you prefer to use an online photo service, but either way, you are likely to come across two of the most popular forms of photo paper: glossy or matte photos.
It can be difficult to know whether glossy or matte is better for photos, but there are a few differences that separate them both, notably whether you want to mount your photo under glass, place it in the direct light, or put it in the bathroom or kitchen.
This article answers the question, “What is the difference between glossy and matte photos?”, by directly comparing glossy vs matte pictures on the criteria that matter, to help you choose the right medium for your work.
Glossy vs Matte Photos
Matte vs glossy photo paper are at the opposite sides of the spectrum, with matte photos having a very minimal level of shine, more muted colors and plenty of texture, and glossy photos having a high gloss finish which reflects light and displays vibrant colors with less texture.
On a quick visual inspection of matte or glossy photo quality paper, the most obvious difference is in light reflectivity, with the minimal glare in matte photos meaning that reflections don’t obscure your image, unlike what can happen with glossy paper.
This means that matte photo paper is far superior under glass, and is therefore used much more extensively by professional photographers for their prints.
Compare matte photo paper vs glossy in the table below for the most relevant characteristics for photographers.
In general between glossy or matte prints, black and white and more subtle color tones work better with a matte finish, while very colorful scenes look more powerful with a glossy finish.
|Glossy vs Matte Prints||Matte||Glossy|
|Texture & Details||
|Can be used under glass?||
|Best for …||Black and white; landscapes; pro prints||Snapshots; Photo albums|
|Best paper for home printing …||Hahnemuhle Matte Photo Rag||Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum|
|Best online printing service…||Nations Photo Lab||Nations Photo Lab|
When to Print Matte or Glossy Photos?
The individual differences between glossy vs matte prints are a useful starting point, but it’s better to see specifics of where each paper type works well.
When Does Matte Paper Work Well for Photo Prints?
Matte paper works best for photos:
- Behind glass, due to reduced reflections
- When it will be touched a lot, as it is less susceptible to fingerprints
- Around small children and in high traffic areas, as it is harder to scratch
- In black and white, due to the more muted effect of the paper
- In light colors, such as pastels, as matte better represents subtle tonal shifts
- That have lots of text, as it has better edge definition
- Printed large
This covers pretty much every type of photography, which is why matte paper is so common in photography galleries.
Matte photo paper is particularly strong when used under glass, for subtle tonal shifts and light colors, and for very large prints under bright lights.
If you choose to print in a matte finish, the colors, details and texture of your photos does look incredible. It means no glare or fingerprints easily spoiling your image, so works very well under bright, overhead lighting, of if you expect your prints to be handled regularly.
When is Matte Paper BAD for Photos?
Matte paper is bad for photos:
- Where you want bright, saturated colors
- If you want a shiny print with lots of glossiness
When Does Glossy Paper Work Well for Photo Prints?
Glossy paper works well for photos:
- Placed in albums
- Displayed on their own, not in a frame
- Printed to a smaller size
- Used in darker rooms
- That have bright, saturated colors which you want to keep
This means that a glossy finish is more restrictive than matte photos, but it can still be used for most types of photography.
Glossy photo paper is excellent for highly saturated landscapes, snapshots, or photos of family or friends, as long as it is used in an area away from bright light.
If you are looking for a shiny, high gloss finish, then a glossy print is the best choice. Colors really ‘pop’, and display much more strongly than with matte paper. Glossy prints have a real eye-catching appeal, and feel very upscale when used on their own.
When is Glossy Paper BAD for Photos?
Glossy paper is bad for photos:
- Behind glass, as there are too many reflections and it often sticks to the glass
- Around small children or where it can be easily scratched
- In black and white, as the gloss hides a lot of the subtlety of the photo
- In light colors, such as pastels, as it doesn’t display the subtle tonal shifts
- That are text heavy
- For very large images
The real disadvantage of glossy photo paper, and why it is always best to choose matte out of glossy or matte photos for framing, is that it produces a large amount of glare, which is only amplified by being placed under glass.
If you display your photo under bright light, then the reflections even with the photo not under glass can be annoying, and the fact that it picks up fingerprints and scratches more easily also makes it less suitable for prints that are handled frequently.
What is Matte Photo Paper?
Matte photo paper is essentially glossy photo paper but without the final layer of gloss applied. Without the reflective layer there is no real glare, and a resistance to fingerprints.
The downsides are the more muted colors, although with the soft-proofing options with Photoshop or Lightroom, you are still able to get colorful prints that are true to the colors you see on screen.
Matte prints tend to highlight the texture of an image, which makes them a poor choice for high ISO photos, but this can work really well for black and white photos.
Examples of Matte Photo Paper
- Ilford Matte Photo Paper
- Hahnemuhle Professional Matte Photo Paper
- KODAK Photo Paper Matte
- 8×10 Matte Photo Paper Premium Arctic
- Canon Matte Photo Paper
- Or you can have them printed at Nations Photo Lab
What is Glossy Photo Paper?
Glossy photo paper is the most popular product for home photo printing, and is the shiniest paper that you can get. This is the same as matte paper, but with a highly reflective layer applied to the surface, which gives a smoothness and uniformity that you don’t get with matte paper.
The glossy finish seems to magnify imperfections in your image, but does also make the colors extra vibrant, hence why it is so popular across the board.
The high level of glare makes glossy prints less suitable for bright places or for use under glass, with the reflections hiding some of the subtle color transitions and details of your image, which is why professionals prefer matte paper.
Examples of Glossy Print Paper
- Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum
- HP Advanced Photo Paper | Glossy
- Epson Value Photo Paper Glossy
- 8×10 Glossy Photo Paper
- Or you can have them printed for you at Nations Photo Lab
Matte vs Glossy Prints Similarities
Despite their differences, there are also plenty of similarities between matte vs glossy photos.
The similarities are:
- Colors are always accurate in both
- Prints do not easily fade in sunlight
- Details print to the same degree
- Both can look excellent for your photos
Glossy vs Matte Photos for Framing (and Other Products)
If you are wanting to frame your photos, then matte photos are the best photo paper to use, as they do not add to the reflections of the glass in the frame, and are therefore much easier to view.
Glossy or Matte Finish for Wedding Photos?
Both glossy and matte can work for wedding photos, with glossy giving a better first impression, but with matte having better long term appeal. If you intend to print many small photos to store together, then glossy is probably best for these, but if you want a large scale print, or one to go on your wall, then matte will ultimately give the best result.
Matte or Glossy Photos for an Album?
Glossy paper works very well for albums, as it boosts the colors of your photo, but is protected from harm by being in the album. You can also easily move the album to avoid glare on the photos. If you intend to get your photos out from the album and handle them, then matte might be better for you. Matte also gives a more professional appearance to your album, so is better for those looking for something high-end.
Matte vs Glossy for Poster Prints?
Due to the large size of a poster print, matte is much better. This avoids reflections and makes it much less likely to pick up damage, which large prints are particularly susceptible to.
Other Products Similar to Matte Photo Paper
You can get most of the benefits of matte paper without actually having to use it – there are many similar photo products available such as canvas prints, gallery blocks or professional albums. These show little glare and glossiness, and give you something a bit more special than a simple matte photo print.
Other Products Similar to Glossy Photo Paper
Glossy paper is also represented in other forms, notably acrylic, which is a very high-end product with a lot of glossiness and shine, and metal prints, which are less reflective but exhibit the same high color intensity of standard glossy prints, and can therefore be a good trade-off between matte and glossy.
> Related Article: Acrylic vs Metal Prints
What’s the Difference Between Glossy and Matte Photos?
Overall, the main difference between matte vs glossy photo paper is in the amount of shine that it exhibits, and the effect that this has on color intensity and the ideal placement of the photo in your room.
While matte photos are better for professional use, for showing subtle colors and for under glass, glossy photos are better for snapshots and for vibrant colors.
But both give excellent results in most cases, and you are unlikely to be unhappy with prints made with either paper.