Mastering Digital Prints: A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Finish

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Written By Andrew Lane

Andrew Lane is a Digital Printing Technology Expert with over a decade of experience in the printing industry. With a deep knowledge of the latest printing technologies, Andrew has a keen eye for emerging trends and innovations.

In the world of digital printing, the finish you choose can make or break your final product. It’s not just about the image; it’s about how that image is presented. Whether you’re an artist looking to showcase your work or a business seeking to make an impact, the right finish can take your prints from ordinary to extraordinary.

There’s a sea of options out there, each with its own unique advantages. From glossy to matte, metallic to luster, the choice can be overwhelming. But don’t worry, I’m here to guide you through the process, helping you understand how each finish can enhance your prints. Let’s dive into the world of digital print finishes and discover the perfect one for your project.

Understanding Print Finishes

The Importance of Choosing the Right Finish

Selecting an appropriate finish for digital prints breathes life into the final product. An ideal finish accentuates key aspects of an image, adding depth and vibrancy to the artwork. From slick and glossy to subdued and matte, choices abound, with each finish eliciting a unique feel. For instance, glossy finishes lend an image a high-end, polished look, while metallic finishes introduce a sense of opulence. Given the wealth of choices available, it’s critical to understand the different finishes and appropriately apply them.

  1. Glossy Finish: This favorably amplifies colors, bringing a vibrant touch to images. It’s a preferred option for photographs featuring rich hues, especially when a striking, attention-grabbing effect is desired.
  2. Matte Finish: In contrast to the glossy finish, a matte finish minimizes reflections, offering the print a smooth and subtle appearance. It’s best suited for black and white photos or designs where a more understated aesthetic is preferred.
  3. Metallic Finish: Imbuing prints with a unique, high-gloss shine that hints at chrome, a metallic finish typically gives an image a three-dimensional feel—ideal for highlighting specific elements in a design.
  4. Luster Finish: Balancing between glossy and matte, a luster finish offers a touch of shine without being overly reflective. It works best with portrait photos or any prints where detail accuracy is essential.

Remember, comprehending these various types gives you the freedom to pair your designs with the most suitable finish, setting your work apart from the rest.

Matte vs. Glossy Finish

Diving deeper, we’ll explore the characteristic features of matte and glossy finishes. It’s important to understand the distinct advantages and disadvantages of each to make an informed decision.

Pros and Cons of Matte Finish

The matte finish stands out for its non-reflective nature. Let’s delve into the specific benefits and drawbacks associated with this finish.

  • Pros
  • Removes Glare: A prime advantage of the matte finish lies in its elimination of light glare. This becomes particularly beneficial when viewing artwork in brightly lit conditions.
  • Enhances Texture: With a matte finish, prints reveal increased textural details, rendering a realistic feel on features like skin pores or the grain on a wooden table.
  • Resists Smudges: Fingerprints, dust, or small scratches? Matte finishes mask them excellently, making your prints look neat and clean.
  • Cons
  • Mutes Colors: The same matte finish, however, dulls bright colors, making them seem less vibrant than they are in real life.
  • Less Durable: Matte finishes tend to be less resilient against daily wear and tear compared to their glossy counterparts.

Pros and Cons of Glossy Finish

What about the glossy finish? Highlighted by its shiny surface, let’s turn our attention to the merits and demerits of this option.

  • Pros
  • Amplifies Colors: When vibrant, punchy colors are a must, glossy finishes score high. They enrich the saturation and deep color reproduction, making prints livelier.
  • Higher Durability: Glossy finishes also offer an impressive resistance to physical damage and usually last longer, enhancing their appeal.
  • Cons
  • Pronounced Glare: The glossy finish presents a challenge in the form of intense light reflection, often interfering with the image viewing experience.
  • Shows Smudges: Unlike their matte counterparts, glossy prints don’t handle smudges, fingerprints, and dust as well, requiring frequent cleaning.

Specialized Finishes for Digital Prints

Building on the foundations laid about matte and glossy finishes, let’s dive into some unique, specialized finishes for digital prints. These finishes bring an extra level of aesthetic complexity to the prints.

Laminated Finishes

Moving first in line, laminated finishes speak of robust protection. They offer a two-in-one benefit, enhancing the visual appeal of prints while adding an extra layer of protection. Specifically, the thin plastic film used in lamination protects the print from moisture, smudges, and even physical wear and tear. Prints with this finish display a pleasing vibrancy, elevating color depth. Furthermore, lamination can come in a variety of finishes, including matte and glossy, marrying the best of both worlds. However, conditionally, it might come at a higher cost and may not be suitable for all print types.

Metallic and Textured Finishes

Second on the list, metallic and textured finishes take prints to a whole different dimension. Metallic finishes imbue prints with a unique luminosity, making images appear as if they are illuminated from inside. Landscape photos, for instance, shine with a splendid light-rendering effect with this finish. On the converse, textured finishes introduce a tangible element to prints. Whether it’s a canvas-like texture giving character to a print, or a fine art paper finish adding a luxurious touch, textured finishes bring depth and intrigue to the visuals. Satisfaction lies with knowing that each brings its unique spin, but it’s crucial to match the finish with the artwork for maximum impact.

UV Coating and Varnishing

Last in this trio, UV coating and varnishing present the perfect solution for prints that demand longevity and resilience. UV coating, applying a thin, shiny layer cured with ultraviolet light, brings out vividness in prints while providing a robust shield against physical damage. Whereas varnishing, subtly shiny or matte, adds a luscious gloss or subdued elegance to prints, naturally extending their lifespan. Both these finishes, used strategically, offer a professional touch to prints. However, given their properties, they tend to be tedious to rectify if incorrectly applied. Consequently, it’s crucial to choose these finishes with careful consideration.

Stepping back, these distinct finishes each carve a niche in the realm of digital printing. From lamination to textured finishes, to UV coating and varnishing, each offers unique advantages, contributing to the overall presentation and durability of prints. It’s all about harmonizing content, material, and context, thereby achieving stunning results that captivate viewer’s attention. Remaining mindful of the precise detail each finish brings to the table proves crucial in finalizing the correct finish for a particular print project.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Finish

Considering the multitude of finish types when dealing with digital prints, it’s crucial to understand several factors that can influence the outcome. Tailoring the finish to the artwork’s intended purpose, not forgetting the environment it will be displayed in, and its desired longevity are all significant elements to consider.

Purpose of the Print

Identifying the print’s purpose substantially influences the choice of finish. For instance, advertisements, banners, and signs, examples of high-visibility prints, can benefit from glossy finishes, known to increase vibrancy and catch the eye. Alternatively, matte finishes prove beneficial for artwork intended for close viewing, such as photographs or paintings, to avoid unnecessary glare.

Display Environment

The location where the print is intended to be displayed also plays a substantial role in selecting the finish. An example: in outdoor settings, UV coatings and laminates can safeguard against adverse weather conditions. In contrast, glossy finishes can emit too much glare if the prints are displayed in bright, well-lit areas. When dealing with low-lit areas, metallic or glossy finishes can enhance the artwork by reflecting available light.

Longevity and Durability

Lastly, consider the artwork’s expected lifespan. If longevity is critical, as in the cases of canonical artworks, architectural designs, or historical photographs, a durable finish such as UV coating or lamination is advisable. These finishes offer comprehensive protection from environmental stressors, like humidity, light exposure, or handling, and preserve the integrity of the print over time.

The Impact of Finish on Print Quality

Diving deeper into the subject, let’s examine how the finish influences print quality. It’s not only about aesthetics, but also about subtle factors, such as color accuracy and visibility that might influence how a person perceives an image.

Color and Contrast

The finish chosen affects the color and contrast of the printed artwork. Take glossy finishes, for instance. They deepen dark tones, boosting contrast and making colors pop. This effect amplifies the visual richness of an image, making it eye-catching and visually impactful. But it isn’t always ideal. For black and white imagery, or designs with subtle color gradations like skin tones, matte finishes shine. They preserve the integrity of these nuances, allowing the details to stand out without oversaturation.

Visibility in Different Lighting Conditions

Choosing the right finish also determines the visibility of your prints in different lighting conditions. Facing a picture-framing challenge? Glossy finish could be bothering, especially in brightly lit environments. Its tendency to reflect light can obscure the details, making the image difficult to view. On the other hand, matte finishes handle light better. They reduce glare, making the artwork visible even under harsh lighting. Yet, the softer presentation may not be ideal for all scenarios, especially if vibrant colors or high contrast is your goal. Reflecting on the lighting conditions where the final print will be displayed, becomes a key part of the decision-making process.

Tips for Selecting the Right Finish for Your Digital Prints

These tips aim to guide individuals and designers in choosing the best finish for their digital prints.

Consulting with Print Professionals

Engaging print professionals is a smart move when you’re uncertain of the finish that would work well with your digital prints. These experts, possessing in-depth knowledge in this field, come in handy in making the right decision. Each finish has its uniqueness, depending on the design elements like color, contrast, and lighting conditions. Professionals often interpret these factors well and provide suitable advice.

For instance, print professionals might recommend a glossy finish for vibrant photos filled with contrast, enhancing the depth and richness of the colors. Conversely, they might suggest a matte finish for intricate designs, which excel in showing subtle color nuances even under harsh lighting.

Testing on Small Samples

Another practical approach involves testing the finishes on small samples before deciding. This method provides a firsthand view of how the finished product looks. Consider it as a trial run.

To illustrate, you’re looking to print nature landscapes with a lot of greens and browns. You could test the glossy finish on a section of your design and use the matte finish on another. Comparing the samples helps you observe differences in color reproduction, glare, and visibility under different light conditions. This firsthand experience could guide you towards the finish that brings out the best in your digital prints.

Always remember, each finish has its unique appeal and choosing the right one can dramatically enhance the impact of your digital prints.


Choosing the right finish for your digital prints isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s a strategic decision that can significantly enhance the visual impact of your work. From glossy to matte, laminated to metallic, each finish has its unique strengths and considerations. Remember, it’s not just about color and contrast, but also visibility under different lighting conditions. Don’t shy away from seeking professional advice and testing small samples to find the finish that truly complements your design elements. Ultimately, the right finish can transform a good digital print into a great one. So take the time, consider your options, and make a choice that’ll make your prints shine.