When printing your photos, there are three general types of paper to choose from: lustre, glossy, and matte. But, in the end, the decision for most photographers leads to two contenders: lustre vs. glossy.
So, which one is the best?
Regardless of their brands, all types of paper have advantages and disadvantages. And depending on what you want to do with your prints, sometimes you might prefer one over the other— but you need to know the qualities of each one to make the right choice.
That is why, in this article, we’ll discuss the main differences between lustre and glossy photo paper and the best uses for each one. I’ll give you some key points to consider that have helped me understand when and why to use a specific type of paper.
Let’s start with some theory:
Table of Contents
What is Lustre Photo Paper?
Lustre —or luster— paper is a semi-shiny, slightly pebbled-textured photo paper that combines the durability and softness of matte paper with the shine and contrast of glossy paper. It provides a very professional look with excellent color and detail without reflecting too much light.
Depending on the manufacturer, lustre paper goes by different names: semi-gloss, semi-matte, pearl, or satin. Some brands might even separate these terms into various paper types.
But, for the sake of this article, let’s talk about lustre finish as a general middle point between the classic reflective photo paper and the dull, heavy, and textured matte paper you see in most fine-art prints.
Thanks to its natural colors, soft tones, and professional look, lustre photo paper is suitable for several purposes: portfolios, gallery prints, professional wedding albums, etc. It’s perfect for portrait, landscape, and artistic photography, as well as black and white prints due to its deep blacks.
Moreover, this type of paper is less prone to fingerprints and smudges, making it easier to handle without the risk of damaging the surface.
Nevertheless, although lustre offers plenty of benefits, it loses a bit of contrast, so it might not be the best choice if you aim for vivid, saturated colors.
1. Surface Texture
Lustre prints have a semi-gloss finish that falls between matte and glossy. They offer a subtle texture that helps reduce glare and fingerprints, making them more resistant to smudges compared to glossy prints.
2. Image Quality
Lustre prints maintain excellent image quality with vibrant colors and sharp details. The texture helps to minimize reflections and provides a professional appearance suitable for a wide range of subjects.
Lustre prints are suitable for a variety of photographic styles, including portraits, landscapes, and fine art. They work well for both color and black-and-white prints.
Lustre prints are resistant to scratches and fingerprints, which makes them a good choice for prints that will be handled or displayed in environments with varying lighting conditions.
What is Glossy Photo Paper?
Glossy paper is a popular type of photographic paper with a shiny and smooth coating, giving your prints a reflective, almost glass-like finish. It’s the typical photo paper used to print your family photos in a regular lab.
This paper is ideal for high-contrast images, providing the most vivid colors and intense whites and blacks.
The glossy surface also increases detail and sharpness, as there is no texture to dull the image.
However, this paper bounces a lot of light, which can be annoying. Therefore, it is best suited for photo albums or any purpose where it doesn’t get direct light that can distract the viewer.
In addition, glossy photo paper is quite delicate. It tends to hold fingerprints quickly, so you should handle it carefully.
1. Surface Appearance
Glossy prints have a high-shine, reflective surface that enhances color saturation and contrast. The surface is smooth and creates a sense of depth in the image.
2. Image Pop
Glossy prints tend to have more vibrant and punchy colors, making them ideal for images with a lot of color contrast or dynamic elements. The reflective surface adds a certain “pop” to the image.
3. Details and Sharpness
Glossy prints can showcase fine details and sharpness exceptionally well due to the smooth surface that allows light to bounce directly off the print.
Glossy prints are more prone to glare, making them less ideal for viewing in bright lighting conditions or areas with direct light sources. They are also more susceptible to fingerprints and smudges.
What is the Difference Between Lustre and Glossy?
This is the main difference between the two types of paper.
First of all, remember that the two papers are shiny. But, as I mentioned before, the classic glossy finish has a highly reflective surface that can create a harsh glare when exposed directly to light.
In contrast, when you pass a lustre photo paper across the light, you will notice a much subtler and softer hit of light that won’t cause any distractions to the viewer.
Because of this difference, luster paper is more versatile and is the favorite choice among professionals and enthusiasts to showcase their work.
2. Color and Contrast
Since luster paper has a semi-matte look, it subdues the colors a bit and generates a loss of contrast compared to the natural sheen of the glossy finish.
For that reason, if you want saturated colors with whiter whites and blacker blacks, glossy might be your winner.
Even so, the softness of luster paper provides beautiful and smooth tones for a more artistic and professional-looking result.
A glossy print ensures the highest amount of sharpness and clarity as the shiny coating accentuates the details of the photo.
On the other hand, the slightly grainy texture of luster paper reduces the sharpness a bit, so that’s something to consider if you want a neat, crystal-clear finish.
Choosing Between Lustre and Glossy Photo Prints
Here are the 5 things to consider when choosing between lustre and glossy:
1. Consider the Lighting
If your prints will be displayed in areas with bright lighting or direct sunlight, lustre prints might be a better choice due to their reduced glare.
2. Subject Matter
If your photos contain vibrant colors and dynamic elements that you want to emphasize, glossy prints can enhance those qualities. For a wider range of subjects, lustre prints provide a balanced look.
If the prints will be frequently handled or you want to minimize fingerprint marks, lustre prints might be more practical.
4. Personal Preference
Ultimately, the choice between lustre and glossy finishes comes down to your personal aesthetic preference. Some photographers prefer the classic look of lustre, while others enjoy the vividness of glossy prints.
5. Print Purpose
Consider the purpose of your prints. If they’re intended for personal use, both finishes can work well. If they’re meant for display or sale, consider the preferences of your target audience.
What is the Best Finish for Photos?
I don’t want to disappoint you, but there is no quick answer to this question. The ‘best’ finish for photos will depend entirely on your intentions and preferences.
Still, as a general recommendation, a glossy finish works great for personal photo albums. Conversely, lustre is better for large prints, galleries, and photo albums for clients— just to mention a few examples.
Personally, I prefer lustre photo paper as it is more versatile and easier to handle than glossy. Besides, it gives a beautiful, professional-looking texture to your photos. Yet, you must consider other aspects before making your final choice.
Lustre vs. Glossy vs. Matte
So far, we have focused on the lustre vs. glossy debate, but what about matte paper?
Unlike the previous two, the matte paper has no reflective properties. It is flat and provides a grainy texture that adds a more artistic —almost vintage— feel to your photos.
Matte paper is an excellent choice for making fine-art prints and handling photos without damaging the surface. It is a heavier and durable material that doesn’t hold fingerprints or blemishes. Still, it is more expensive and doesn’t produce contrasting colors as its shiny contenders.
There is no definite winner when comparing lustre vs. glossy finish— they are just suited for different purposes.
The type of paper you choose can significantly change your image’s look, mood, and viewing experience. So, whether you print your photos at home or go to a lab, make your choice with care!
Remember that glossy photo paper can produce unwanted glare when exposed directly to a light source, so it’s not ideal for framing your prints. Instead, go for a lustre finish if you want to hang your prints or produce professional-quality photos for clients.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you enjoyed it, feel free to share it on social media! And don’t forget to check our Photography Glossary and our article on how to sell photography prints to learn more about photography, cameras, and other equipment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is glossy or lustre better for framing?
The choice between glossy or lustre for framing depends on personal preference and the type of artwork or photo being framed. Glossy finishes tend to enhance color vibrancy and contrast, while lustre finishes provide a more subtle sheen and reduce glare, so the choice ultimately depends on the desired look and feel of the final product.
What finish do professional photographers use?
Professional photographers may use a variety of finishes depending on the specific context and purpose of their work. However, many prefer to use lustre or matte finishes as these provide a more natural and subtle appearance that can complement a wide range of subject matter and environments.
Andrea Rodríguez is a photographer and bilingual freelance writer from Venezuela. She started her photography journey as a teenager, always exploring visual arts from different angles. Her personal work focuses on self-portraiture and experimental photography, but she has worked on photography projects for brands, businesses, and NGOs. Since 2020, she has balanced her passion for photography with writing, collaborating for photography blogs, and working as a ghostwriter for content creators.