There are quite a few options for printing your photos, but your first question before even diving into the world of print might be to ask why anyone would want to print their pictures in the first place?

In 2020, much of the art we consume on a day-to-day basis is provided to us digitally, including the art we produce. 

Fire up your app store and you’ll see a whole host of applications explicitly dedicated to photography. Everything photo related is available to us, from purchasing stock photos online from sites such as Unsplash, to photo editing apps, specifically designed for phones, like VSCO, and of course the ubiquitous sharing service, Instagram.

So, what compels us to still value the printed photo in a digital age where almost any transaction can be completed with the swipe of a thumb? Here are a few ideas that spring to mind:

Decor

No matter how significant an impact the digital world makes on our lives, we are still flesh and blood physical beings who live in homes. When you walk into a beautifully furnished living room and see bare walls, that space can often feel cold, more of a house than a home.

We decorate our homes as we do our bodies, show what is important to us, what is beautiful, and represent our sense of style. 

Digital photography may be ever-present, but this has also brought the technology (DSLR cameras) and know-how to millions of amateur photographers who would love to print their favorite personal pieces to hang up above the mantle.

Nostalgia

The dark side of having access to millions of photos online is that every photo feels fleeting. People often talk about the fleeting existence of digital life, and reminisce about a more real and fulfilling experience when we turn off our phones. For many people, having one precious moment captured and posted to the kitchen fridge is a more meaningful gift than having an entire folder on your phone filled with selfies.

Portfolios

In terms of a professional approach to printing photos, it’s a practical and fail-safe way to ensure that you have copies or backups of your work by having a hard copy portfolio, especially for photographers who still favor film over digital photography. However, this should not replace the age-old advice of backing up your work. Photographer or not, everyone should have a hard drive where they back up any work saved to their laptop as often as needed. This is common practice in a photo filing system.

several image prints

Print Surface Differences

Now that we’ve covered a few reasons why printed photos are still valued, let’s take a look at the different print surfaces we will explore in this article.

Lustre

Lustre photo finishes are semi-gloss and the industry standard for event photography, such as weddings or portraiture. The finish is true to skin tones and it’s texture helps minimize the impact of fingerprints and glare.

Glossy

The next level up in gloss from lustre is a highly reflective photo paper.

Glossy photos have excellent clarity and make the colors of a photo bolder and brighter. A glossy finish is added as another layer on top of a picture, and is also great for showing off the skin tones of your subjects. They are designed to reflect as much light as possible.

Matte

Matte photos have zero gloss or shine on the surface. The finish is smooth and has no glare. This is achieved by printing a photo as is, without adding the extra layer of gloss. Matte images show a lot of texture, and are great for landscapes or black and white photos.

Metallic

Metallic photo paper has a 3D effect designed to bring out the light in the image.

These prints are sometimes known as metal prints because they are printed on an aluminum panel and don’t require a frame.

Metallic photos have a slight shimmer, deep saturation of colors, and sharp details. The paper itself is sturdy and resistant to tearing and curling.

3 people looking at several portrait prints on a wall

Comparisons Between Photo Finishes

Now that we’ve briefly summarized each photo finish, how do you decide which one for your printed photo? Below we’ll compare the finishes to help with that decision.

Lustre vs Glossy

The semi-gloss finish is often preferred by industry photographers for events like weddings and personal or school portraits, because lustre surfaces combine the light attraction of gloss with a texture that is a bit more resistant to glare.

The size of your printed photo also makes a difference when comparing lustre to gloss, because each finish is designed to reflect light. Lustre-printed photos aren’t as glossy, and don’t make colors pop as much as high-gloss photos will, so if you have a small-sized headshot or family photo, you might opt for a glossier finish.

Lustre vs Matte