Matte vs. glossy finish: What’s better for print?

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Choosing the right paper finish, matte vs. glossy, for your print project, is like picking the perfect outfit for a date—you want to impress, convey the right message and leave a lasting impact. But what happens if you just pick one at random? It’s a gamble, and let’s face it, no one likes to leave things to chance when the stakes are high. Picking the wrong finish can mean your project falls flat or doesn’t hold up to your brand reputation.

In this article, we’re diving deep into the matte vs. glossy debate. We’ll break down the pros, cons and best uses for each finish, ensuring you know exactly which to choose for your next big print project. Whether you’re printing business cards, posters, photos, brochures, menus, or labels and stickers, understanding the difference between matte and glossy finishes can make all the difference.

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Matte vs. glossy finish explained

Choosing the right finish for your print projects can feel like a really big deal. To ensure your print project looks its best, you need to know your options—matte vs. glossy—inside and out.

Let’s break down what matte and glossy finishes actually are, their specs, pros and cons, and examples to help you visualize each option in action.  A side-by-side comparison table at the end of this section should help you finalize which finish is the perfect match for your print needs.

What is a matte finish in print?

A matte finish is a non-reflective, smooth surface that offers a sophisticated look. It has soft, muted colors with less shine than a glossy finish. The texture feels smooth but not slippery, adding a touch of class without the glare.

Example of a business card with a matte finish

Source: Business card with a matte finish via VistaPrint

Rounded corner postcards with a matte finish

Source: Postcards with a rounded corner and matte finish via VistaPrint

Benefits of matte finish

Here are some key advantages of choosing a matte finish for your print projects:

  • Reduces glare and fingerprints. The non-reflective surface ensures your prints are free from distracting glares and unsightly fingerprints, making them ideal for handling and display.
  • Easier to read under bright light. The lack of shine means matte prints are easier to read in well-lit environments, ensuring your message is always visible.
  • Provides a professional and elegant look. A matte finish offers a sophisticated, understated appearance that exudes professionalism, perfect for business cards, brochures and formal invitations.
  • More resistant to smudges and dust. Matte prints are less prone to showing smudges and dust, maintaining a clean look.
  • Easy to write on. The smooth but non-slippery surface makes matte prints perfect for writing on, whether you’re jotting down notes or personalizing invitations.

Disadvantages of matte finish

However, there are a few drawbacks to a matte finish that might make you think twice before choosing it for your print project:

  • Muted colors. The matte finish tends to dull vibrant colors, making them appear less lively and intense. This can be a drawback if you want bright, eye-catching designs.
  • Less protection. Matte prints generally offer less protection against wear and tear and can be more susceptible to damage from handling and environmental factors.
  • Absorption issues. Matte paper absorbs a lot of ink, which can lead to longer drying times and potential smudging during printing.
  • Higher cost. Matte finishes often have a higher price tag than other traditional finishes. This might be a key consideration if you’re working within a tight budget.

What is a glossy finish in print?

A glossy finish is a shiny, reflective coating that enhances the vibrancy and contrast of colors, giving your prints a bright and eye-catching appeal. The texture is slick and smooth, providing a polished look that feels professional and high-quality.

An example of a business card with a glossy finish

Source: Business card with a glossy finish via VistaPrint

A sticker with a glossy finish

Source: Sticker with a glossy finish via VistaPrint

Benefits of glossy finish

These benefits of a glossy finish might mean it’s the go-to choice for your print project:

  • Enhanced color depth and vibrancy. The glossy finish amplifies colors, making them appear deeper and more vibrant, perfect for prints that need to stand out.
  • Sleek appearance. A glossy finish, with its shiny and reflective surface, gives prints a polished look that feels both stylish and professional.
  • Ideal for high-resolution images. The smooth surface of glossy paper is perfect for high-resolution images, bringing out fine details and sharpness for optimum visual quality.
  • Increased durability. A glossy finish adds a protective layer, making your prints more resistant to scratches and moisture.

Disadvantages of glossy finish

Although, a glossy finish isn’t perfect for every print project. These cons might be deal-breakers in certain situations:

  • Glare and reflections. The shiny surface can create glare and reflections, making it difficult to view a product’s contents clearly under bright lights.
  • Fingerprints and smudges. Glossy finishes show up fingerprints and smudges easily, requiring frequent cleaning to maintain a pristine appearance.
  • Less writable. Writing on glossy surfaces can be challenging, as ink tends to smear and takes longer to dry.
  • Production time. Glossy finishes often come with longer production times, which can be a downside if you’re on a tight deadline.

What’s the difference between matte and glossy?

FeatureMatte finishGlossy finish
Visual appearanceSubdued, soft, sophisticated and elegant lookBright, vivid, shiny and eye-catching look
DurabilityMore resistant to fingerprints and scratchesAdds a protective layer, more resistant to moisture
MaintenanceRequires less upkeep, stays cleaner for longerProne to fingerprints and smudges, requires frequent cleaning
ReadabilityBetter readability, less glare, ideal for text-heavy printsCan cause glare, making text harder to read
UsabilitySmooth but non-slippery surface, easy to write onSlick surface, challenging to write on, ink takes longer to dry and may smear
CostGenerally higher than glossyOften more affordable but varies by quality
AvailabilityWidely available in various thicknesses and finishes
Ideal forDocuments, menus, formal invitations, business cardsPhotos, promotional materials, prints needing vivid colors

Visual appearance

When it comes to visual appearance, matte and glossy finishes offer distinctly different aesthetics. A matte finish gives your prints a subdued and soft look, perfect for creating a product that appears sophisticated and elegant. On the other hand, a glossy finish provides a bright and vivid appearance, making colors pop with a shiny, eye-catching quality.

Durability and maintenance

Each finish has its strengths in terms of durability and maintenance. Matte prints are more resistant to fingerprints and scratches, whereas glossy prints offer better protection against moisture and add a protective layer to your prints, making it more difficult to tear them. The downside is that glossy finishes, prone to showing fingerprints and smudges, require more frequent cleaning.

Readability and usability

Readability and usability are crucial factors, especially for text-heavy prints. Matte finishes excel here, offering better readability with less glare, making them ideal for documents, menus and other text-dense materials. Whereas glossy finishes, while fantastic for enhancing images with their ability to bring out color and detail, can create glare in bright light, making text harder to read.

Cost and availability

When considering costs and availability, there are differences to note. Matte finishes often come with a higher price tag due to their refined appearance. Glossy finishes can be more affordable but this varies depending on the quality, printing service and type of print.

Both finishes are widely available across various print sizes and products, so you’ll have options no matter which finish you choose.

Best uses for matte vs. glossy finishes

When it comes to on-demand printing, choosing the right finish can make all the difference. Depending on your specific needs and goals, each type of project, from business cards to posters, photos to brochures, can benefit from either a matte or glossy finish.

In this section, we’ll explore the best uses for matte and glossy finishes across a variety of common print projects, helping you make an informed decision that ensures your final print product looks its absolute best.

Business cards: matte vs glossy

Business cards are essential tools for networking, brand recognition and making a lasting impression. They’re used in various scenarios—from corporate meetings and client visits to events and trade shows. To stand out in a sea of cards, a business card needs to be durable, easy to read and visually appealing.

Matte vs glossy business cards

Source: Matte vs glossy business cards via VistaPrint

For events and trade shows, matte business cards are a fantastic choice. The non-reflective surface makes it easy to jot down notes or add extra details without smudging the ink. If you’re meeting new leads and need to quickly scribble a note on your card, matte makes that possible without hassle. Plus, if your business card features a QR code, the matte finish prevents glare, ensuring easy scanning every time.

Matte business card

Source: Business card with a matte finish via VistaPrint

On the flip side, glossy business cards shine in other settings. If you want your card to pop with vibrant colors and intricate designs, glossy is the way to go. A glossy finish also provides a protective layer that ensures your card remains pristine after being stored in a wallet or even shoved in a pocket.

Source: Business card with a glossy finish via VistaPrint

Depending on the nature of your business card and its intended use, opt for one of the following finishes.

Matte finishGlossy finish
SettingEvents and trade showsClient meetings and corporate settings
IndustryProfessional and formal sectors: Subdued, elegant look for lawyers, consultants and financial advisorsCreative industries: Enhances visual appeal with bright, vivid colors for designers, artists and marketers
ContentsQR codes
Blank space for writing notes
Detailed graphics and high-res images

Posters: matte vs glossy

Posters are versatile tools for advertising, decorating and conveying information. To be effective, a poster design needs to be eye-catching, clear and visually appealing. The choice between matte and glossy finishes can significantly impact these goals depending on where and how the poster will be used.

Matte vs glossy posters

Source: Matte vs glossy posters via VistaPrint

Decorative posters, like art prints and minimalist designs, often look best with a matte finish, which enhances aesthetics without distractions. Informational posters advertising events or products need to be easily readable and camera-friendly, free from reflections and glare. Matte finishes excel here, especially for posters featuring QR codes or detailed text.

On the other hand, creative promotional posters with bright colors and bold designs shine with a glossy finish, enhancing color vibrancy and making graphics pop.

The placement of the poster, whether indoor or outdoor, is crucial in choosing the finish. For indoor posters, both matte and glossy finishes work well, depending on lighting. Whereas the protective qualities of a glossy finish, which can better withstand elements like moisture and sunlight, make them more durable for billboards, bus stops and other outdoor advertising purposes.

Choosing between matte and glossy finishes for your poster design involves considering the setting, purpose and desired impact to ensure your message is effectively conveyed.

Matte finishGlossy finish
PurposeInformational
Decorative
Promotional
ContentsQR Codes
Time and date
Bright graphics
Photography
PlacementIndoorsOutdoors
IndustryCreative industries: Preferred for its refined, polished look, suitable for art galleries and fashion.Retail and entertainment: Suitable for high-impact visuals in these sectors.

Photos: matte vs glossy

Whether you’re creating an album, framing a photo or producing artistic prints, the preferred finish will depend on the type of photograph and how it will be displayed.

Matte vs glossy photo via VistaPrint

Source: Matte vs glossy photo via VistaPrint

Matte photos are ideal for portraits, black-and-white images and artistic prints. The non-reflective surface reduces glare and enhances the subtle details, making them perfect for framing and displaying under various lighting conditions. Matte finishes also prevent fingerprints and smudges, which is particularly beneficial for photos that will be handled, such as in a photo album, a photo book or a portfolio. For artistic projects where a soft, elegant look is desired, matte is the go-to choice.

Glossy photos, on the other hand, excel in showcasing vibrant colors and high-resolution images. This finish is perfect for photo albums where the goal is to capture and preserve the brightness and clarity of special memories. Glossy prints are also great for high-resolution images, as the smooth surface brings out the finest details and sharpness, making every pixel pop.

Matte finishGlossy finish
DisplayAlbums
Walls
FramingFramed: Reduces reflections and glare for clearer viewingUnframed: Shiny finish enhances colors, suitable for album or portfolio sleeves
ColorBlack-and-whiteColor
Purpose and styleArtistic prints
Portraits
Everyday snapshots

Brochures: matte vs glossy

Brochures are like the Swiss Army knives of marketing—they’re versatile, handy and can be used just about anywhere. Hand them out at trade shows, include them in mailers or display them proudly in your lobby. Brochures are great for a wide range of tasks, from sharing information to promoting products and educating audiences.

Think of the glossy and matte finishes as different tools on this Swiss Army knife. Choose the right one, and a well-designed brochure will work in your favor, helping you to achieve your business goals.

Matte vs glossy brochure

Source: Matte vs glossy brochure via VistaPrint

Matte brochures are your go-to for professional, text-heavy content. The non-reflective surface makes them easier to read and handle without smudging, making them perfect for financial reports, educational materials or corporate brochures.

Glossy brochures, on the other hand, are all about eye-popping visuals. The shiny surface enhances color depth and contrast, making your images look more vibrant. They are ideal for travel brochures, product catalogs and any promotional materials where visuals are key.

Matte finishGlossy finish
ContextIndoors: Reduces glare from artificial lighting, ideal for conference handouts and office displays.Outdoors: Provides better protection against moisture and sunlight, more durable for outdoor distribution contexts.
ContentText-heavyImage-heavy
IndustryCorporate and professional: Conveys a sophisticated, professional look suitable for finance, law and education.Creative and retail: Adds vibrancy and visual appeal; perfect for travel, fashion and entertainment.

Menus: matte vs glossy

When it comes to restaurant menus, glossy finishes are generally the best choice. For menus featuring vivid food photography and colorful graphics, this finish makes dishes look even more appetizing. Plus, glossy menus are durable and easy to wipe clean, making them practical for frequent handling in casual dining settings.

Matte vs glossy menus

Source: Matte vs glossy menu via VistaPrint

However, high-end restaurants might prefer a more sophisticated, non-reflective matte finish. Matte menus are resistant to glare, making them easier for customers to read in low-light settings. They also add an elegant touch that matches the upscale ambiance.

Either finish can work well for menus in other industries. The choice between matte and glossy will depend on the specific use case and the desired aesthetic.

Labels and stickers: matte vs glossy

Labels and stickers come in various types and serve many applications, from promotional stickers to product labels. The choice between matte and glossy finishes can significantly impact their effectiveness and appeal based on their use and the surfaces they adhere to.

Matte vs glossy labels and stickers

Source: Matte vs glossy labels via VistaPrint

Matte labels and stickers are ideal for product labels that need a professional, understated look. Their non-reflective surface makes them easier to read, and they are perfect for customizable labels such as name tags since they are easy to write on. A matte finish is also a great choice for wine bottle labels, luxury products and handmade goods where a sophisticated, elegant finish is desired.

On the other hand, glossy labels and stickers are vibrant and eye-catching, making them best suited for applications that require bright colors and a polished appearance. Glossy finishes enhance color vibrancy, giving products a sleek, professional look. Glossy labels are more durable in wet or humid places, making them ideal for products stored in bathrooms or kitchens,  such as beauty products and food packaging.

Matte finishGlossy finish
PurposeMailing labels
Roll labels
Product labels
Promotional stickers
IndustryWine
Artisanal goods
Luxury products
Beauty sector
Retail sector
Food and drink
AestheticsHigh-end products
Handmade artisanal goods
Modern
High-tech
Storage conditionsDry environmentsWet or humid environments

Matte vs. glossy: factors to consider when making a decision

When deciding between matte and glossy finishes, consider these key factors to ensure your print project achieves its goals.

  • Purpose of the print project—Identify the primary goal. Are you aiming for a professional presentation, promotional material or artistic expression? Your objective will guide your choice of finish.
  • Environment and usage—Where will the print product be used or displayed? If it’s indoors, both finishes work, but glossy offers more durability for outdoor contexts. Think about how it will be distributed—handouts, framed or mailed. Each scenario might benefit from a different finish.
  • Personal preference—What aesthetic are you going for? Modern and sleek or classic and elegant? Consider practical needs like readability, durability and ease of handling. Matte reduces glare and fingerprints, while glossy enhances vibrancy and detail.
  • Printing process—Ensure compatibility with your chosen printing technique, whether offset or digital. Matte can have issues with ink absorption and drying time, so check if your printer can handle it effectively.
  • Paper type and weight—Certain paper types pair better with each finish. For example, heavier paper can enhance the luxurious feel of matte.
  • Cost implications—Consider your budget, especially for large print runs. Matte finishes can be more expensive but offer a sophisticated look, while glossy finishes might be more cost-effective for vibrant, eye-catching prints.