Monochrome - Which surface, matt or gloss? - part 1 of 1 2 3


Matt papers have been used in both art and photography for centuries but have remained a slightly specialist product in the bulk consumer market, probably due to rather subtle charms. The pros and cons of matt versus gloss can be summarised as follows:

Advantages Disadvantages
An 'art' feel Less vibrant colour
May be signed Smaller gamut volume
No distracting reflections Lower Dmax
Often less expensive Easily marked

Despite all these disadvantages matt papers have a strong and loyal following and the paper makers have responded by providing a massive range of surfaces, weights, tones and qualities for us to choose from.

While the matt paper can never match the gloss papers (and we always include the lustres in this category) for tone depth, they retain an artistic feel when the print is in the hand, important if the client is able to hold the print before the purchase decision. It should also be said that the right image can look quite stunning in spite of any lack of statistics from under the measuring instruments!

What is the 'right' image? Well, for starters it should not depend upon rich blacks that the eye can fall into, along with brilliant whites - the type of image typified by the Ansel Adams school (or should that be f64 school?). The Dmax of matt papers rarely gets above 1.6 compared with 2.2 as a ballpark for lustres and 2.3 to 2.4 for the newer baryta-like papers. While this may irritate some of the 'zone freaks' who seem to have an unhealthy attitude towards Dmax ('look at the print for goodness sake!'), the eye accommodates a lack of final Dmax so well that it does not really matter after a few seconds of viewing, providing there is differentiation in the shadow areas.

In the main the 'flat', calendared media reproduce photographic-style detail better than the more undulating art surfaces with their heavier textures. Many of the matt surfaces are slightly cream (warm-toned) in base colour that can be particularly attractive in toned landscapes or portraiture. Look on the websites listed for papers described as 'smooth' or 'ultrasmooth'; papers described as 'textured' are not likely to fall into the category we are discussing. Papers carrying the moniker 'soft' are likely to be quite absorbent and will hold detail poorly for 'photographic' images.

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last update 21/07/2022 10:45:37

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