Even in today’s world of digital displays, most photographers have printed at least a few of their photos. When it comes to photo printing, one of the most common questions is, glossy or matte? Deciding between these two types of paper is a huge decision, and you definitely want to make the right choice!

There are pros and cons to both types of paper finishes, so in this article we will help you understand the differences before making a decision. Let’s dive into our rundown of what you need to know about glossy and matte photo prints!

What Is The Difference Between A Glossy & Matte Photo Print?

The main differences between glossy and matte photo papers are their surface finishes, and the way they handle reflections and glare.

Glossy Photo Paper

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Glossy photo paper has a shiny, reflective surface, as you might imagine based on its name. This allows the printed image to appear more vibrant and sharp, with high color saturation and fine detail.

Thus, it is ideal for printing photographs that actually have bright colors, sharp details, and a high level of contrast or dynamic range. That is, rich shadows, bright highlights, etc.

Matte Photo Paper

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Matte photo paper has a light-absorbing, flat surface that simply doesn’t reflect as much light. This helps avoid glare on your photo prints, of course, but it also simply doesn’t “pop” as much as a glossy photo. 

This makes matte photo paper ideal for printing photographs with subtle, muted colors and tonal variations. The flat, lusterless surface of matte paper also makes it a good choice for printing images that will be frequently handled, as it is less prone to fingerprints and smudging than glossy paper.

Pros & Cons Of Glossy VS Matte Photos | Which Is Better?

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The above description should already give you a very good idea of which type of paper is best for the different photos that you may want to print. However, there are a few other key points to consider:

  1. Which type of finish is better for different types of photos?
  2. How do you choose the right type of photo paper for your project?
  3. Should you match your print surface with your home’s ambiance/decor?
  4. Where can you get professional-quality photo prints made?

Which Type of Photo Print Finish is Better For Which Type of Photo?

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Both glossy and matte print finishes are popular choices in photography printmaking, and wall art in general. The high shine of a glossy print paper often lends itself well to vibrant, dramatic landscape and wildlife photographs, for example.

Oppositely, matte print finishes give an understated look, sometimes lending themselves to softer photography subjects such as newborn portraits, maternity, or other types of fine art

Ultimately, both glossy and matte print finishes come down to personal preference, of course. Your photography style as a landscape photographer may be more muted and soft, if for example you capture a lot of foggy winter scenes, or like black & white imagery. Or, of course, you might be a wedding & portrait photographer with a dramatic, vibrant style, and framing glossy prints is how your work looks best!

Simply put, both can be used to print stunning photo prints – the decision just depends on what look you’re going for.

Glossy VS Matte Photos | Your Viewing Conditions

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Another important factor to consider besides the actual image being printed is the environment it will be viewed in. Will the photo be hung on a wall in a corporate office, with a sharp, professional, ambiance? Or will it be hung on a wall in a private home, with a quiet, relaxed “vibe”? Hopefully, you can guess that glossy photo prints would be a great idea for the former, and matte photo prints for the latter.

Lighting is also important to consider. For instance, in a room with plenty of natural light, Matte prints tend to be more subtle than Glossy ones. In this situation, maybe you don’t actually want the image to “jump off the wall” at you, and matte paper is the best choice! 

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Conversely, glossy prints offer more intense color contrast and ‘pop’, but they only look their best when properly lit with a bright but indirect and soft light. It is also strongly advised to use non-glare glass or plexiglass whenever any lighting is going to shine directly onto a printed photo hanging on a wall.

No matter which you choose, carefully consider the photography subject and light levels before making a purchase – this will help ensure you get the perfect end result.

How & Where Can You Get Professional Quality Photo Prints Made?

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[Related: PPI vs DPI | What’s The Difference And Why It Matters To Photographers]

At-home photo printing can be a great way to decorate your living space with all types of images, from images of family portraits to a dramatic sunset landscape image from your latest vacation. At-home consumer photo printers have improved greatly since their introduction, and if you plan to print out photos often, it may be a smart investment.

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We recommend buying a pack of both glossy photo paper and matte photo paper, and just experimenting with printing a few of your favorite images using both types of paper! If you plan to make a variety of prints on a regular basis, this could be an excellent way to go. The inks and papers (both glossy and matte) available for at-home photo printing are capable of incredible detail and vibrant colors. Also, they can last a long time, when displayed out of direct sunlight and/or behind UV-resistant glass.

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If you’re looking for the highest quality photo prints, your best bet is to seek out a dedicated photo print lab, either online or local. Professional photo labs use specially designed photo printers, archival-grade chemical dye inks, and dedicated photo paper that exceeds regular photo paper quality.

Our commonly used online print labs include Printique, (Formerly AdoramaPix) Bay Photo Lab, and White House Custom Color.

Moreover, both online and local photo labs include many paper options, such as glossy or matte, but also metal, luster, or pearl finishes. These can help to dramatically enhance the final look of an image. Simply put, the high image quality, and physical durability/longevity, will be well worth it.

Conclusion | Glossy VS Matte Photo Paper

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Ultimately, the choice between glossy and matte paper will depend on personal preference. Many factors may push you one way or the other, from the subject of the photo itself to the decor and lighting of the space a print will be viewed in. Both types of paper have their strengths and weaknesses.

Now that you understand the difference between glossy and matte photo prints, as well as the best situations to use each type of finish, it’s time to get printing! Don’t let your beautiful photos sit on a hard drive forever – start fine art photography printing today to get high-quality prints of your favorite memories, your most beautiful photographs.