Gustavo Baner from ColorCopiesUSA

Gustavo Baner


Date Published: 2018-06-15 // Updated: 2020-08-21

When you go to print a document or a picture, you need to pick the kind of paper to be used. One of the questions that we ask is: Would you prefer a "matte paper or glossy paper?"

Intuitively, most people can visualize the difference in their minds, but let's go deeper. In this article, we will talk about matte vs gloss on the paper itself. We hope that the information on this page will help you to make the perfect decision.

We won't talk about coatings that can produce similar effects but are applied in post-printing. Examples of coatings are UV protection, waterbased gloss, or matt varnishes.

What is "Matte or Gloss on Paper"?

When we talk about paper, what does matte mean? and what about glossy?
Well, the difference between matte and glossy paper is optical. We are looking into the shininess (or its lack of) of the paper.

Optical Properties: When a paper "shines" and we identify it as "glossy", what we are saying, in optical terms, is that the light reflects on the paper in a specular way, which is what happens in mirrors. More specular reflection is almost a synonym of higher gloss. On the other end, on "matte paper" specular-style reflection is absent.

In this picture we photographed 3 pieces with 3 different paper, uncoated, gloss and UV varnish for comparison
In this picture we photographed 3 pieces with 3 different paper, uncoated, gloss and UV varnish for comparison

Tips: Things to consider when selecting the printing paper.

The selection of the type of paper is tightly related to the content of the piece and the use that the public will give to it.

If the printed piece has mainly images, photographs, and text, a glossy paper might make your pictures look much richer.
If the piece has simple text, the matte paper could be a good option since reading on top of matte paper is more relaxing.

And, of course, your taste, your understanding of the audience's preferences and other information that you can assess. It is your personal preference and artistic view of your work that will lean to one side or the other.

Psychology: For most people, glossy paper has a connotation of higher quality, and more valuable. As human beings, we have learned for centuries that shiny and glossy are a symbol of power and success.

Next, we are presenting some scenarios that might help you decide: Glossy Vs Matte

Matte paper has a more muted feel to it. This can be used to great effect in designs with a light or pastel color scheme, and in designs with a great deal of text on it. Because matte paper changes less under the light, they also have more of a "flat" feel than gloss sheets.

 Glossy Paper has a shiny look, that reflects light, and you get vibrant rich colors, which makes the color in your images pop on the sheet. We can say that the shine works card card-body on print files with heavy color coverage, photographs, and big graphics. It is appealing to the eye, but it has higher contrast. It is the standard finish we are now used to seeing but it can be hard to view under strong light sources, and fingerprints and dirt can be a problem.

 A Non-Glossy (or Matte) Paper does not reflect light: it has a more muted feel to it. Black and white prints may look better with this finish, especially when text is the main actor in the file. It is easy to view under all light conditions and does not attract fingerprints or dirt, but colors are kind of dull looking and do not appear to be high-quality prints. Photo paper looks and feels like ordinary stock paper.

 Finally, we have the Semi-Gloss (or Satin Finish) Paper, that is has a less shiny surface and reflects less light although we get vibrant rich colors and appealing to the eye. It is easier to view under strong light and fingerprints and dust less of a problem.

Which printed products are better suited for Matte Paper?

  • Forms
  • Business Cards when writing is expected
  • Workbooks
  • Quality prints where vibrant colors are not desired or expected

Which vibrant-color printed products look great with smooth Glossy Paper?

  • Brochures:
  • Product sales literature such as catalogs, posters
  • Magazines
  • Product-specific sales sheets

Which printing method can be used on paper glossy or matte papers?

On Glossy Paper: On high-quality paper, offset printing gives more depth to the images. Offset inks are transparent, therefore the natural gloss of the paper is visible. Inkjet printing looks great as well. Toner based printing produces very smooth images. The toner is not transparent so the natural gloss of the paper can be muted

On Matte Paper: Offset printing looks good. Because the paper is a bit porous, there is less pop to the colors and not such a good photographic reproduction. Toner based printing does a great job on matte paper. Inkjet looks really nice on matte paper. The liquid inks fill in the areas nicely.

Can you use a pen to write on glossy or matte papers?

On glossy paper, some inks take a long time to dry and can smudge. In general, it is more difficult to write on glossy paper than on matte paper.

Manufacturing: How does paper become Glossy or Matte?

Why and how does the surface of the paper gain one or the other property? Paper is produced out of a mix of fiber, bark of wood and other materials, with water. It becomes pulp. Via mechanical processes, the pulp is laid and pressed, dried to remove the water, and smoothed through calenders.

Coating as Part of the Paper Manufacturing Process: During the mechanical manipulation of the pulp, a coating is applied to both sides of the paper. Those coatings improve the smoothness of the surface so that the ink transfers more efficiently onto the paper. Different coatings create different finishing: whiter, glossier, or yellowish surfaces.

Making it High Gloss: When the paper goes through softer and better calenders, the level of gloss increases. Therefore glossier papers are more expensive than ones with poor optical properties.

Uncoated Pure Pulp Paper: paper that is made just out of the pulp, without being coated, is always matte. Calendering can give it a subtle satin look. This type of premium matte paper is very expensive.