A picture’s finish is one of the first things many people notice about any photo. When you order photo printing from a lab or print at home, the number of photo finishing choices can feel overwhelming. Here’s a quick review of essential photo finishing options you should know to help you pick the right finish for every image.
6 Photo Finishing Options
- Glossy Finish
- Matte Finish
- Satin Finish
- Pearl Finish
- Lustre Finish
- Metallic Finish
Before you can print a photo, you have to choose a finish for your print. You may have had to guess and hope for the best. Or did you choose a finish based on price? Most novices to photo finishing often use these simple tactics at first. As you gain knowledge about photo finishing, you can make more strategic decisions and perfect the look of every photo.
There are six fundamental photo finishing types to know. Keep in mind, however, that brands and printing companies may have their own terminology for different finish types. You may find it helpful to order a single photo print at several labs and on different types of paper to understand subtle differences in finish types. This way, you’ll be able to make side-by-side comparisons and better understand your personal preferences.
1. Glossy Finish
As its name implies, a glossy photo finish adds shine to every image. On many photo printing websites and at neighborhood photo processing labs, a glossy finish is the default option. It’s the most common choice for everyday photos, such as those that are kept in memory books or displayed on a refrigerator.
Why is glossy photo finishing so popular? Its shine amplifies colors, enhances skin tones, and can compensate for small imperfections in photographs. Glossy photos can have an unmistakably showy look thanks to their built-in shimmer. Glossy is an excellent choice for photo cards or other printed items when you want to make a lasting impact.
There are several different variations of glossy finish available in the marketplace today. Some paper brands or photo printers offer a range of glossy finishes—including soft gloss, normal gloss, or high gloss. You may need to experiment by having a photo or two printed by different film processing labs or on several glossy papers. This can help you understand the variations and determine which works best for your photo printing needs. Glossy photos are relatively inexpensive to print—especially in smaller sizes such as 4×6.
Despite its widespread popularity, a gloss finish does have some disadvantages. First, a glossy finish can be more vulnerable to scratches and fingerprints. If that’s the case, you should handle your photos as little as possible. You may want to protect them in a photo album or frame.
A glossy finish can also cause unwanted glare when viewed from different angles. You may notice this if you’ve framed a glossy print and hung it on your wall. A change in lighting or viewpoint can result in glare that can make it hard to see the beautiful details in your photograph.
The bottom line is that a glossy finish is a safe bet for everyday photos and personal use. But if you plan to display photos or sell them as a professional photographer, exploring other photo finishing options is a good idea.
2. Matte Finish
A matte finish is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from a glossy finish. Matte paper has zero percent gloss. Because it lacks an expensive coating, you may find matte prints or matte paper to be the most affordable choice when printing photos.
When you choose a matte photo finish, you won’t encounter the glare that happens with some glossy photos. A matte finish on your photo can make it feel flat or muted. For that reason, a matte photo is an ideal choice for scrapbooking. Plus, a matte finish photo is less affected by fingerprints and smudges—another benefit when placing pictures in a scrapbook.
Many professional photographers prefer a matte finish for their business. The subtle tone effects of matte photo prints can bring out rich details in an image. And matte paper is the top choice for black-and-white photo printing. In fact, black and white portraits—including pet photography portraits—can look especially stunning when printed on matte paper.
For many people, making a choice between matte vs. glossy photos is a big decision every time they send images to print. Carefully consider how you plan to use your photos when deciding between a matte or glossy finish. And don’t forget there are other finishes you can choose—including one that has both matte and glossy qualities.
3. Satin Finish
For many brands, a satin finish is a nice balance between matte and glossy. Some companies refer to a satin finish as a semi-gloss finish. It has some shine, like glossy paper, but does not reflect as much light. This can make a satin finish the perfect choice for photos you want to frame or display.
When should you consider a satin finish? A satin finish photo often has an excellent color range. Many people find that bright shades—such as reds and oranges—are especially vivid on satin finish paper.
If you want to print a colorful photo without the major glare effects of glossy paper, a satin or semi-gloss finish is an excellent choice. Satin finish photos also look good behind smooth glass and can be viewed from more angles than glossy photos.
4. Pearl Finish
A pearl finish is similar to a satin finish. However, photos with pearl finish are often slightly more glossy than satin finish photos. You should know that the pearl finish terminology can vary within the photography industry. For some photo labs and paper brands, a satin finish is equivalent to a pearl finish. Others may have separate satin and pearl photo finish products available.
Often, a pearl finish photo will have a slight texture. The combination of a soft sheen and texture can create a very lovely look for your finest photos. Since a pearl finish is less reflective than a glossy finish, pearl finish prints work well under glass and are easy to view from many angles.
5. Lustre Finish
A lustre photo finishing is also similar to a satin finish—it is between matte and glossy. However, a lustre finish is slightly less glossy than a satin finish. There is a touch of gloss that helps showcase details and colors in photos. But the image’s matte surface helps resist fingerprints and glare. Also, many lustre finish photos have a fine texture that makes them feel unique and upscale. The texture and subtle gloss make a lustre finish a popular choice for wedding photos and family portraits.
Many people wonder about choosing a lustre vs. glossy finish. After all, the term lustre conveys the idea of shine, glow, or a reflective surface. While a lustre finish does have some light gloss, it’s not nearly as shiny as a typical glossy finish. Keep that distinction in mind when weighing glossy vs. lustre finishes for your next batch of photographic prints.
6. Metallic Finish
A metallic finish provides an attractive, eye-catching look for photos. If you have vivid landscape photos or images full of vibrant colors, consider showcasing them with a metallic finish. With a metallic finish, you can elevate your best images and revel in their gorgeous details and life-like colors.
Metallic prints can have a 3D-like effect when viewed. Although the surface exudes shine, metallic prints don’t typically exhibit the same glare issues as glossy prints. They work well under direct light or near windows. Another advantage of metallic prints is that they can look spectacular without a frame. If you do want to add some dimension, you can mount them on a foam core board.
You’ll need to take care with your metallic finish prints, however, since they are prone to fingerprints. There are special coatings or sealants that can help metallic prints resist fingerprints, however. It’s wise to shop around with different photo printing companies to find one that offers protective coatings for your metallic prints.
If you do opt for a metallic finish, expect to pay more than you would for any other finish type. The turnaround time will likely be longer as well. You may want to select a metallic finish only for your top-quality prints. Seascapes, landscapes, and sunsets can look amazing with a metallic finish. Black and white photos can look great as well. More subdued photos or less dramatic subjects are usually better suited to other finish types.
Choose the Right Photo Finish for Every Picture You Print
For many people, buying a camera is only the first step into the exciting world of photography. One of the next areas many people explore is printing photographs. Some opt to send images to film labs while others buy a printer and experiment at home. As they get familiar with photo printing, people start to encounter new terminology—including the concept of photo finishes.
At first, the different types of photo finishes can seem overwhelming or confusing. With a little research and practice, choosing the right photo finishing will become second nature. There are six basic photo finishing options to know—glossy, matte, satin, lustre, pearl, and metallic. While some brands may have slightly different naming conventions, if you understand these six paper types, you’ll understand the essence of photo finishes.
Glossy is widely known as the most popular photo finish. With its shimmery surface, rich color, and forgiving nature, glossy photos are a good all-around choice for amateur photographers. Often, professional photographers will opt for the other end of the spectrum—a matte photo finish. The subdued feel of matte paper places more emphasis on the details of the image rather than its finish. That makes a matte finish an excellent choice for images in a photography portfolio. If you’re looking for a versatile choice between matte and glossy, a satin finish is a good way to go.
Lustre, pearl, and metallic papers are more specialized—and often convey a more high-end feel to photographs. A pearl photo finish is slightly more glossy than satin, while a lustre finish is slightly less glossy than satin and closer to a matte finish. Both luster and pearl finish paper often include subtle texture that can give prints a fine art feel. A metallic print can feel truly unique and special. It’s often one of the most durable paper options and can look exceptional mounted on its own—without a frame or glass.
There’s never one right choice of photo finish for any photographic work. Ultimately, you can choose your photo finish and the intent of the print. You may choose a glossy print for a picture that you place in an album, and a matte finish for the same picture if you enter it into a photo contest. Apply your basic knowledge of photo finishing options and never be afraid to experiment. You might discover some surprising and wonderful effects every time you print photos.