Comparing Lustre vs Glossy vs Matte vs Metallic Photo Paper

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Whether you are printing your photos at home or using an online photo service, one of the first issues you will come across is the type of paper to use for your prints: luster finish photo, matte photo prints, glossy print paper or a metallic finish.

Which of these types of photo paper you use is determined by the use you will put them to, whether large or small, under glass or not, whether you want to print on cardstock, and many other criteria. So, in terms of glossy vs lustre, matte vs glossy, and metallic prints, this article will pull together everything you need to know to help you decide which one is right for you and your style of photography.

There are six types of photo finish available, listed below, all of which we will look at:

  • Lustre finish
  • Glossy photo paper
  • Matte
  • Pearl photo finish
  • Satin paper
  • Metallic prints

If you have questions like, “What is lustre photo finish?” or “When to use metallic photo paper?” then this article will give you the answers.

Bear in mind that different photo labs might use different terminologies, as well as different printing technologies, so if you intend to make a number of large, expensive prints, it may be worth testing each photo lab by getting several small prints from each.


Lustre vs Glossy

What does lustre print mean?
When comparing lustre vs glossy photos, you need to first think about how you intend to use the photos you print. Will you be printing a photo for your wall, in which case a lustre photo would be better, or do you want long lasting small prints that look good in a photo album, in which case you should go for glossy prints.

What’s the difference between lustre and glossy?
The main difference between glossy and lustre is in reflectivity, with glossy prints being very shiny, and lustre prints being semi-shiny. Although increased shine looks good on first inspection, it can obscure fine detail and hides texture.

Therefore, in the luster vs glossy debate, most professionals prefer a lustre print vs glossy or similar for their large prints, with glossy reserved for less stringent uses like displaying snapshots.

There are also two similar print styles that are very similar to lustre: Satin (also known as Canon Semi-Gloss) and Pearl. These both have similar print characteristics to lustre. For more detailed info on what is luster photo paper, take a look at the detailed info towards the bottom of the article.

Glossy vs Lustre Photos Lustre Glossy
Shine
  • 2/5
  • 5/5
Glare
  • 2/5
  • 5/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 2/5
  • 4/5
Texture & Details
  • 4/5
  • 1/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • No
Best for … Portraits; weddings; landscapes; pro prints Snapshots; photo albums
Best paper for home printing … Canon Luster Photo Paper Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab Nations Photo Lab

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Lustre vs Matte

Is lustre the same as matte? No, they are not. You can compare luster vs matte in the table below. They both look good under glass, with lustre having a slight gloss that matte does not. This helps to give a little boost to the colors in your photos, without imparting too much glare. This makes lustre an excellent choice if you are displaying large prints on your walls.

Overall, there is not a lot of difference between matte vs luster photo paper, but a lustre finish is usually considered the more professional version compared to the matte finish as it takes all the benefits of glossy paper and matte paper, but leaves most of the negatives of each behind.

Matte vs Lustre Lustre Matte
Shine
  • 2/5
  • 1/5
Glare
  • 2/5
  • 1/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 2/5
  • 1/5
Texture & Details
  • 4/5
  • 5/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • Yes
Best for … Black and white; landscapes; pro prints Portraits; weddings; landscapes; pro prints
Best paper for home printing … Canon Luster Photo Paper Hahnemuhle Matte Photo Rag
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab

25% off first Nations Photo Lab order

Lustre vs Metallic

Metallic photo prints are eye catching when compared to all of the other types of photo papers, but only certain types of photos work well with them, such as landscapes and cityscapes. I would not recommend printing portraits with metallic paper, as they do not seem to reproduce skin tones that effectively. A metallic print of a city at night, with plenty of bright signs, would look fantastic though.

It’s difficult to directly compare lustre vs metallic, but essentially, metallic photo finishing offers vibrant, rich colors, shine and glossiness without glare, and fantastic details. They tend to be printed large and hung on the wall unframed, on a mounted board.

Metallic vs Lustre Lustre Metallic
Shine
  • 2/5
  • 4/5
Glare
  • 2/5
  • 2/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 2/5
  • 5/5
Texture & Details
  • 4/5
  • 4/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • No
Best for … Portraits; weddings; landscapes; pro prints Large prints; colorful landscapes; pro prints
Best paper for home printing … Canon Luster Photo Paper Legion Paper Slickrock Metallic Silver
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab Nations Photo Lab
Related article:

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Matte vs Metallic

What is metallic photo paper? Put simply, metallic finish photos have a strong vibrancy in colored prints, with a variable shine that tends to not show skin tones in their best light, but does work well for neon signs, landscapes and the like.

A metallic picture finish is generally therefore best for large scale cities or landscapes, particularly if you want to print them to a very large size for wall art.

Metallic vs Matte Prints Matte Metallic
Shine
  • 1/5
  • 4/5
Glare
  • 1/5
  • 2/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 1/5
  • 5/5
Texture & Details
  • 5/5
  • 4/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • No
Best for … Portraits; weddings; landscapes; pro prints Large prints; colorful landscapes; pro prints
Best paper for home printing … Hahnemuhle Matte Photo Rag Legion Paper Slickrock Metallic Silver
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab

25% off first Nations Photo Lab order

Metallic vs Glossy

Metallic vs glossy photos might seem very similar if you only look at their specifications, but there is actually quite a difference in practice. Glossy photos have their shininess created by a layer applied over the photo, which does help color vibrancy, but not to the same extent as the metallic shine that is embedded into the metallic paper for photos.

So, when comparing gloss vs metallic, bear in mind that metallic photo paper is the most color vibrant you can buy, and therefore really helps with photos that need to be colorful, particularly landscapes. But this vibrancy can be too much for skin tones and portraits, so don’t use metallic paper for these types of photo.

Glossy vs Metallic Glossy Metallic
Shine
  • 5/5
  • 4/5
Glare
  • 5/5
  • 2/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 4/5
  • 5/5
Texture & Details
  • 4/5
  • 4/5
Can be used under glass?
  • No
  • No
Best for … Snapshots; photo albums Large prints; colorful landscapes; pro prints
Best paper for home printing … Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum Legion Paper Slickrock Metallic Silver
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab Nations Photo Lab

Glossy vs Matte

Glossy vs matte photos are the two extremes of photo paper, with glossy being very shiny, with vibrant colors and minimal texture, and matte having more muted colors, no shine and lots of texture.

The main difference between glossy and matte noticeable to you would be the lack of glare in matte photos, as they don’t reflect light. For this reason, and because of the subtle tonal shifts that they can display, they are often the professional photographers’ choice.

You can compare matte vs glossy prints in the table below. Matte prints are the top choice for black and white photos, but can also make some stunning landscapes if your photos are processed correctly.

Out of matte vs glossy photos, only matte photos can really be framed under glass, as the glare from the surface of glossy photos doesn’t look good when under another reflective surface like glass.

Glossy vs Matte Prints Matte Glossy
Shine
  • 1/5
  • 5/5
Glare
  • 1/5
  • 5/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 1/5
  • 4/5
Texture & Details
  • 5/5
  • 4/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • No
Best for … Black and white; landscapes; pro prints Snapshots; Photo albums
Best paper for home printing … Hahnemuhle Matte Photo Rag Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab


Pearlized vs Matte Photo Finish

What is a pearlized photo finish?
Pearl photos are very similar to lustre, but are more glossy. Therefore, when looking at the difference between glossy, matte and pearl, pearl falls somewhere in the middle, heading more towards the glossy side of the spectrum.

Pearl photos tend to be better for colorful landscapes than matte, as the slight extra glossiness imparts extra vibrancy to the colors. You can compare pearlized vs matte photos in the table below.

Pearlized vs Matte Photos Matte Pearl
Shine
  • 1/5
  • 3/5
Glare
  • 1/5
  • 3/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 1/5
  • 3/5
Texture & Details
  • 5/5
  • 3/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • Yes
Best for … Black and white; landscapes; pro prints Colorful landscapes; portraits
Best paper for home printing … Hahnemuhle Matte Photo Rag Hahnemuhle Pearl Photo Rag

Luster vs Pearl Prints

When comparing luster vs pearl prints, you will see slightly more glossiness, and usually more texture in pearlized photo prints. This tends to be slight, but there can be quite a lot of difference between manufacturers when looking at a lustre vs pearl finish, so one manufacturers glossy paper could have more ‘shine’ than a second manufacturers pearl paper.

Pearl photos tend to be better for colorful landscapes than matte, as the slight extra glossiness imparts extra vibrancy to the colors. You can compare pearlized vs matte photos in the table below.

Pearlized vs Lustre Lustre Pearl
Shine
  • 2/5
  • 3/5
Glare
  • 2/5
  • 3/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 2/5
  • 3/5
Texture & Details
  • 5/5
  • 3/5
Can be used under glass?
  • Yes
  • Yes
Best for … Black and white; landscapes; pro prints Colorful landscapes; portraits
Best paper for home printing … Canon Luster Photo Paper Hahnemuhle Pearl Photo Rag
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab

Glossy vs Pearl Photos

Comparing pearl vs glossy prints, pearl is generally in-between glossy and lustre paper (although this can depend on manufacturer), with less ‘shine’ and vibrancy that gloss paper, but more than lustre.

There are plenty of good options for pearlized portrait paper as this kind of paper really lets skin tones shine. It is therefore very popular for higher-end wedding albums.

Pearl Prints vs Glossy Glossy Pearl
Shine
  • 5/5
  • 3/5
Glare
  • 5/5
  • 3/5
Color Vibrancy
  • 4/5
  • 3/5
Texture & Details
  • 4/5
  • 3/5
Can be used under glass?
  • No
  • Yes
Best for … Snapshots; Photo albums Colorful landscapes; portraits
Best paper for home printing … Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum Hahnemuhle Pearl Photo Rag
Best online printing service… Nations Photo Lab

What is Lustre Photo Finish?

A lustre print is one that a lot of photographers prefer, as it has the benefits of both matte prints and glossy paper. If you want to know what is a lustre photo finish, then it is generally about halfway between matte and glossy (but this varies depending on paper manufacturer), with the lustre finish having a slight gloss that helps colors to pop, but not so much gloss that you get a lot of reflective glare.

What is lustre paper?
Lustre photo paper tends to resist fingerprints better than full glossy paper, and is closer to matte paper in this respect. There is a lovely, very fine texture to the surface of lustre paper that gives a professional look to anything printed on it.

Wedding photos are often printed on luster photo paper, but it can be used for a wide range of uses, and works equally as well for landscape photography.

Many people want to know the difference between metallic vs luster finish, and it is simply that metallic prints will be shinier and can have better color ‘pop’, closer to gloss prints than lustre prints are.

Examples of Lustre Photo Paper

Good examples of luster paper that you can buy for your home printer are:

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What is a Glossy Finish?

Glossy photos are the shiniest photo paper that you can buy. Although they are the same as matte photo paper underneath, a thick reflective layer has been applied to the surface of the paper.

This makes colors extremely vibrant, but at the expense of increased glare, which can be a problem if the photos are displayed in bright places. They are also a magnet for fingerprints if not handled correctly.

Nonetheless, the glossy finish tends to be the default for most photo labs and home prints, as the effects of the glossy layer really makes photos pop. Professionals, on the other hand, prefer photo papers with less glare, as this can really affect your ability to see the details in a print.

Because of the glare, glossy prints are not suited to being placed under glass, hence they work better in photo albums than as framed prints.

Examples of Glossy Print Paper


What are Matte Photo Prints?

Matte photo prints are essentially the opposite of glossy prints. There is a minimal reflective layer, meaning no glare and a higher resistance to fingerprints.

The downsides are that colors will be more muted, meaning that matte makes an excellent choice for black and white images, although you can still get a colorful image assuming you have followed a well-designed workflow.

Matte prints tend to highlight the texture of an image, which makes them a poor choice for high ISO photos, but again this can work really well for black and white photos.

Examples of Matte Photo Paper

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What is a Satin Photo Finish?

Satin paper is not something offered by all manufacturers of photo paper, and is often named semi-gloss rather than satin.

It is very similar to lustre, in that it is around halfway between glossy and matte paper, but is slightly more glossy than lustre. It is not as reflective as glossy, but still offers excellent color vibrancy and range, with reds and oranges often looking particularly powerful.

Because of the reduced glare, satin photos can be placed behind glass and remain viewable for multiple angles, unlike glossy photos.

Examples of Satin Photo Paper


What is a Pearl Photo Finish?

A pearl finish photo is near to a satin finish, but is slightly more glossy. A pearl photo finish is the closest you can get to a glossy photo finish without actually using glossy paper.

Due to the similarity between a pearlized photo finish and satin, many manufacturers do not distinguish between the two, with both coming under the name of satin.

A pearlized photo has a slight texture that you won’t see in glossy photos, and due to the reduced reflectivity when compared to gloss, is suited for use under glass.

Examples of Professional Pearlized Paper

Some of the best professional pearlized paper for photos is below. Comparing pearlized paper vs matte and pearl photo paper vs glossy, this falls somewhere in-between, closer to glossy than matte.


What is a Metallic Print?

Metallic prints are very unique looking, and range from printing on metallic paper, to aluminum prints. If we concentrate only on metallic photo finishing on paper, you get a finish that gives incredible color vibrancy, and makes images pop like no other paper.

When to use metallic photo paper?
Metallic printing gives an almost 3D appearance in person. They have a shiny surface that does not produce the same level of glare as glossy prints, but can be susceptible to fingerprints. This means they can be positioned near windows or other light sources, while still remaining viewable.

When comparing luster vs metallic, the prints will be very similar, although the metallic prints are likely to be more glossy or have a ‘shine’ to the colors, while the luster prints are closer to matte.

Most people print their metal photos at a very large size, and leave them unframed, but mounted on a thick board to approximate a canvas print. Unlike canvas though, colors are really impressive. Therefore, you are better off to print colorful landscapes on metal paper, not black and white, or darker images.

Examples of Metallic Photo Paper

You can make metallic paper prints at home with the below papers. For prints directly on metal, like aluminum prints, you will have to go to professional photo labs.

It is also possible to print directly onto metal, although obviously you cannot do this at home. If you look at professional photo labs like Nation, then you are able to get a metal print where your photo is printed straight onto aluminum. This gives a really color boost and ‘shine’ to your photo.


Final Thoughts

I hope you can see that which is the best photo paper for you, whether lustre vs glossy vs metallic, will depend on how you display your photos. The best photo finish for framing is largely down to personal preference, but I would go for a lustre or semi-gloss (pearl) finish, or a metallic print if I was wanting to really push the boat out and create something spectacular.

But ultimately whether you go for glossy or matte, or something else, as long as you make sure your photos look the best they can before you print, then you will always get something that you can be proud of.

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2 Responses

  1. Henry Jennings
    | Reply

    thanks for the explanation of paper types. this helped a lot.

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