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Gloss levels - and what it actually means

 Quick facts





  • Ideal for: Bright colour photography, modern family portraits, photographic portfolio, wedding photos
  • Glossy photo paper is generally the most popular and has a shiny finish which gives photos a vivid look.  
  • Reflects light well
  • Usually smooth to the touch and will have some glare to it, and is also called high gloss.  
  • Provides the best results in terms of vibrant colour richness, clarity and sheen.  
  • This type of paper has several layers within each sheet - the top layer helps with ink absorption, and the intermediate layers store the ink and prevent bleeding.  
  • The coating keeps the paper from readily absorbing the ink and therefore may dry more slowly so a quick-dry gloss finish provides another option.
  • Can be hard to view under strong light sources
  • Fingerprints and dirt can be a problem



  • Ideal for:  Pictures for home or office, photo album, scrapbook, work portfolio
  • Satin photo paper is a less shiny coated finish and may also be described as soft gloss, semi-gloss, or semi-matte.
  • Colours are sharp and vivid
  • Fingerprints and dust less of a problem
  • The preferred finish of many photographic companies

  • Ideal for: black and white photos, sepia photos, old family photos, artistic landscapes, canvas effect photographs
  • Matte paper has a smooth, almost velvety finish which is less shiny and has less of a glare.  
  • It is often used in order to achieve superior text results while still providing a richness of colour and overall softness - where the images appear non-reflective, not shiny.
  • Prints can look slightly duller in colour than gloss finish prints
  • Matte finish photo papers are thicker and are specially formulated for photos.  
  • Ideal when prints are displayed under glass
  • Many matte finish papers are printable on both sides.
  • Easier to view under all light conditions
  • May not appear to be high quality photo prints 


General overview:

Gloss is an optical property of a surface.  Where a light beam strikes the surface with a certain angle of incidence, most of it will penetrate the material, and the rest will be reflected.  Gloss testing is therefore a measure of how reflective a material is. The paper is measured with special instruments where the sample is illuminated with parallel light at a certain angle (usually 45 or 75 degrees with DIN test method and 20 or 75 degrees with TAPPI method).  For most papers an angle of 75 degrees is used, but for papers with a very high gloss an angle of 20 degrees is preferred.

Often photo papers have a high brightness and are neutral white papers.  

Test methods include:

TAPPI-T 480 - quantifies gloss rating at 75 degrees (15 degrees from the plane of paper).  Best suited for low to moderate gloss coated and uncoated papers and most ink films.

TAPPI-T 653 - quantifies gloss rating at 20 degrees (70 degrees from the plane of paper). Best suited for high gloss coated or high gloss ink films.

DIN 54502 - quantifies gloss rating at 45 degrees (for higher gloss surfaces) and 75 degrees (for lower gloss surfaces).  The size/shape of the measuring area is different from the TAPPI standards so the results can't be compared or converted across.  


Paper and Media