Glossy vs Matte Finish for Photos (PROS and CONS of both)

Glossy vs Matte Finish for Photos (PROS and CONS of both)
Authored By Michael Soltis 0 Comment(s)

You’re about to order a stack of two hundred photos from your family’s fantastic vacation. When you get to the ordering section that asks if you want “glossy” or “matte” finish on your photos, which would you choose? Which should you choose?

There are certainly pros and cons to each. When you don’t normally make that call when ordering family photos, it can be hard to make that spur of the moment decision. Here is all the valuable information you need to make the best decision possible for these photos, and all future photos you buy. 

Pros and Cons to Glossy Finish on Your Photos



Glossy finish gives photos a very luminous appearance. It is exactly the kind of finish you want on family photos where everyone seems to be smiling and laughing with an inner glow of joy. It highlights the colors and makes them more vibrant because glossy finish reflects a lot of light. Glossy is the type of finish for photos where you want people to see the colors, the joy, the representation of life, love, and happiness, and you want the photos to almost radiate their own energy.


Glossy finish tends to accumulate and show fingerprints something fierce. You have to be very careful how you handle every photo, and every fingerprint impression is difficult to remove without causing too much damage to the photo itself. Greasy foods and salt-covered fingers are also a problem for glossy photos because these agents can permanently damage the finish and make it very apparent that someone has repeatedly touched the photos and marred the finish. Glossy finish is also not quite apropos for photos that do not have a lot of color in them, for photos of still life subjects, and for any photos that are taken in black and white or sepia tones instead of color.

Pros and Cons to Matte Finish on Your Photos


Matte finish adds just a tiny bit of protection to a basic photo. It is the most basic protective covering you can add to a photo once the photo has been printed. Matte is so named because it doesn’t have that super-glossy sheen that glossy finish has. Some people prefer that their photos not be so shiny, and matte finish provides that.

Additionally, it is very difficult to leave fingerprint impressions that are noticeable because the matte finish does not readily allow for body oils and other greases to sit and settle on the photos. Matte finish works very well with photos that are black and white, sepia tones, and photos taken of non-living subject matter. The matte finish fits with the “antique” coloring finishes and lack of life pictured. If you are trying to recreate a vintage photo, the matte finish is best because glossy finish did not exist until the start of the twentieth century.


Bare photos would not survive the printing process without at least a matte finish. Without the matte finish, the chemicals used to create colors and produce the images on the photo paper can run with water or scrape off with any object that has an edge to it (e.g., coin, pin, fingernail, etc.). The matte finish may appear dull and make photos less interesting and less engaging. Matte finish can also dull the clarity of small details in a photo, which may be something you want to avoid if there are small details you want to see in the photo.

glossy vs matte paper infographic pros and cons

The Best Kinds of Photo Paper for Glossy and Matte Finishes, and Why It Matters

Along with photo finishes, there are photo papers that are used to create or enhance finishes. If you are offered the option of choosing which photo paper on which to have your photos printed, it helps to know something about these photo papers. As you might expect, there is matte and glossy paper, but there is also a middle ground paper satin. To understand how these papers affect the end product, let’s take a closer look.

Matte paper is already flat. It only contains a hint of the matte finish over the top so that the imprinted photo will adhere and surface on the paper. After the print is clear and fully developed, a thin glaze of matte finish covers the photo in the final processing bath.

Satin paper has more glaze to the paper, but it helps bring the most vibrant of colors alive and makes them pop from the developing photo. High resolution makes for clearer details than the matte paper and matte finish. Satin is not commonly used, and most photo printing shops and photo printers only use matte and glossy.

Glossy paper has an obvious sheen to it before you print and develop a photo on it. After the photo develops/prints, the photo is dipped in a high gloss finish. In printing machines where no human hands touch the photos, the extra gloss layer is applied via heat in a sort of emulsion/sticker process.

There are also photo sticker papers. These specialty photo papers take printing photos from your desktop printer to a new level. The papers transform photos into self-adhesive stickers you can apply to projects or stick to glass and wood surfaces. There is glossy sticker paper and matte sticker paper, in case you ever want to experiment with printing photos at home and create permanent mementos at home. These printable photo sticker papers and their finishes can also help you make a choice about which finish you prefer for all of the photos you want to print and reproduce.

A Final Word on Opting to Print Your Photos from Home

It is not difficult at all to print your photos from home. If you ever want to print your photos yourself, you will have to invest in printer photo paper or photo sticker paper. The good news is if you do decide to print your own photos at home, you can print a sample photo on any of the above photo papers.

Scrap that photo if you don’t like it, and reprint it on another type of paper to see if that looks like the right print for you. You can do this as many times as you like, as long as you have enough printing papers and paper types. Some people even like to print certain photos on glossy, and the rest on matte, even though an entire batch of photos might be from the same vacation or the same event.

You will need an inkjet printer, too, so make sure your printer is the right kind before you attempt to print photos from your desktop. There are instructions on photo papers that will tell you exactly what requirements your printer should have. If the printer is not the right kind and/or doesn’t meet the basic requirements for the types of photo paper you buy, you may need to upgrade your printer.


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