Finish Strong with Gloss or Matte Printed Media

The word “finish” can seem pretty exciting when you’re struggling through a project or when you have a “To Do” list a kilometer long. It’s exciting in these instances because it signals a victorious end. There is another kind of “finish” involved in your project, though, and you should consider it long before you reach the final goal. The material on which marketing media is printed often involves a choice of finishes, and these finishes can have an impact on how your customer views both your product and your company.

Before we can discuss the best type of finish for your project, we need to discuss exactly what a finish is. Whether you’re using paper or vinyl for your printed project, the material itself either will or will not have a coating, and that coating will reflect a certain amount of light. Finishes can also sometimes have an effect on how colour is rendered on the finished product, as well as on the quality of the print itself. Additionally, the type of finish can have effect on the temperature at which some digital printing should take place.

There Are Coated and Uncoated Paper Types

Less reflective to more reflective materials left to right, starting with a completely uncoated one. Image source:

Many types and weights of paper come with both coated and uncoated options. You’ve undoubtedly come across both types in your everyday life, possibly without even being aware of it. Consider construction paper. You know that coloured construction paper that you used as a kid. Do you remember how it felt rough and grainy and rather dry when you ran your fingertips over it?  That’s because it was uncoated. Regular college-ruled notebook paper is uncoated. The yellow legal pads with which everyone is familiar are uncoated.

When we consider such everyday paper products, it may seem like uncoated paper is much more common than coated paper. That’s not really the case at all. The easiest example to imagine of the use of coated paper is a magazine page. They’re shiny and smooth and relatively water-resistant because they are coated. The surface of coated paper is covered with a polymer that adheres to the nooks and crannies of the raw paper to give it that smoother feel and shinier appearance.

Gloss vs Matte in Coated Materials

The two major types of coated paper and vinyl are gloss and matte. While there are a few other finishes that allow for a broader range of variation, gloss and matte are the two most popular, and thus, the two most widely offered. All variations of coated paper and of vinyl are differentiated by the amount of light they reflect. The more light a particular finish reflects the shinier it appears. In the printing industry, this shiny quality is referred to as the level of gloss.

When the choices of a particular paper or vinyl weight or type are limited to either “matte” or “gloss”, the distinction is easy. The “matte’ finish is generally the duller looking of the two options. It generally has a softer appearance. The option gives the printed product a finished, protected, smooth appearance and feel without the harsh glare that could be experienced with a glossier version of the same material.

The “gloss” version, then, is the option that looks shinier. While all coated materials offer a certain finished quality in both appearance and texture, “gloss” finished materials tend to have a look of even more permanence and durability. For some projects, this can also give the project a slightly more professional look. Think of a “gloss” finish as giving a project the same quality that adding a glass frame gives to a photograph or painting.

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Gradations of Gloss

There are a number of different levels of glossiness. The names and amount of difference between these most often depend on the material manufacturer. “Matte” as we have already discussed, is generally the option that reflects the least light. The next rung upward on the glossiness scale is often called (somewhat unexpectedly) “dull”. “Satin” is the term used for a less glossy version of what most manufacturers call “gloss”. Above “satin” on the light reflection scale is generally “gloss” which is sometimes split into two more grades, the shinier of which is generally referred to as “high-gloss”.

How It Affects Your Project

Knowledge of the different types of available finishes for paper and vinyl print materials may be interesting, but what’s of real importance is how it affects your project. As with almost all other marketing decisions, the best option for you is based on your specific needs in a given circumstance. For instance, you may want to consider where your final printed product will be viewed. High-gloss and gloss materials can be difficult to see in bright light situations due to the amount of light they reflect rather than absorb. If your printed material will be sitting in direct sunlight or hung in an area with direct artificial lighting, you are better off selecting a less reflective finish.


Colour is also a consideration when selecting the proper finish for your material. Uncoated materials tend to absorb more ink than coated materials, so there is sometimes a colour difference between the two. Similarly, images can sometimes seem less clear on uncoated stock because of absorption. On the other hand, because coated materials do not absorb ink as well, colours printed on them tend to have a more opaque/solid look. The best bet for ensuring that your colours and graphics properly reflect your company, your product, and your vision is to ask to see a sample prior to having your final project printed.