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Luster vs Matte vs Metal Prints: The Pros and Cons of Each Option

When comparing luster vs matte vs metal prints, every option has its advantages and disadvantages for displaying your final artwork. This makes choosing how to have your photos printed overwhelming if you don’t do it regularly like I do.

To help you decide, I created the comparison table below so you can easily compare the pros and cons of each option.

Below the table, I will also include photo examples of each option. After seeing the differences for yourself I will then cover every aspect of these prints in further detail so you can choose the best option for your unique circumstance.

Luster Print

Printed on silver halide photo paper.
$ 225
00
Starting at
  • Most Affordable
  • Touch and Mositure Resistent
  • Vibrant and sharp with vivid colors, brilliant whites, and rich blacks. Detail is good in shadows but not as good as fine art matte prints.
  • Reflective Surface
  • Good UV Resistance

Fine Art Matte Print

Printed on 100% cotton fiber fine art paper
$ 270
00
Starting at
  • Luster Price +20%
  • Delicate Surface
  • These prints offer the best color purity and detail. The quality of these prints is what you compare everything else against.
  • Non-reflective Surface
  • Very Good UV Resistance

Metal Print

Printed on aluminum
$ 270
00
Starting at
  • Luster Price +20%
  • Most durable and even cleanable.
  • Colors are vibrant in mid and highlight tones. Shadow color and overall detial is good, but less impressive then the other options.
  • Very Reflective Surface
  • Best UV Resistance

Luster vs Matte vs Metal Prints - Photo Comparison

To help you decide which print type is best for you, the following are a photo of my son I had printed on all options. By comparing the same image across all mediums, my goal was to show you the differences among the options while keeping the reference image the same.

Luster Print

Luster prints offer the second best viewing experience of all the options. The colors and detail are very good, however you will still get a glare when viewing from certain angles.

Fine Art Matte Print

Fine art matte prints have the best color purity and detail. Note the close up photo taken at an extreme angle. The surface is smooth, yet non reflective so the viewer will not get a glare from any viewing angle.

Metal Print

Metal prints are the most durable of all the options. Their glossy surface allows them to be cleaned with most household products, however they will also have the most glare of all the options as a result.

Cost – Which print is most affordable?

Looking though my price menu it might seem obvious that luster prints are the cheapest option to display your final artwork. This is true if you want to keep your luster prints in a folio box. If however, you’re looking to save a little money on wall art, luster prints might not be the cheapest option to go with.

Metal prints for example don’t require framing or matting like luster prints might. So even though metal prints are a 20% premium over luster prints, metallics usually end up being cheaper overall since you don’t have to frame or mat the print.

In short, if you’re looking for the cheapest option to display your photos on your wall, metal prints are the cheapest option overall. If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest way to have your photos printed, a folio box would be the best option to go with.

If you’d like to save more money still, don’t forget you can also pay for your photo shoot using bitcoin for a 15% discount.

Durability - Which print is most durable to touch and moisture damage?

Metal Prints – Most Durable & Even Cleanable

Metal prints are the most durable against touch and moisture damage. These prints are very tough and can be displayed in bathrooms, kitchen’s, or even outside. They are the only print option that you can also clean using a micro fiber cloth and most household cleaners.

Luster Prints – Touch & Moisture Resistant

The second most durable prints are luster prints. These photo paper prints have a protective coating that’s applied to them that makes them both touch and moisture resistant. That said these are still paper prints, and I’d not recommend hanging these in high humidity areas like bathrooms.

Fine Art Matte Prints – Very Delicate

The least durable prints are the fine art matte prints which can become damaged or scuffed just from lightly touching the surface. These prints also have no moisture resistance since they have no protective coating that’s applied to them like the luster prints. That said, of these three choices, the most durable offers the least desirable viewing experience while the most delicate is what everything else is compared to.

Colors and Detail – Which print has the best detail and color purity?

Fine Art Matte Prints – Best

The prints with the highest detail and most color purity are the fine art matte prints. These photos are printed on more precise machines and use more colors with better inks than the other options.

To illustrate this point, fine art matte prints use 10 base colors of aqueous pigment ink (water based ink) to create their images. These colors consist of the typical cyan, magenta, yellow, and black, with additional light cyan, light magenta, and a series of grey tones.

The result of the more precise printer and inks makes for an unparalleled viewing experience when compared to luster or metal prints. Fine art matte prints aren’t a little better, they’re a lot better like comparing a 720p tv with a 4k HDR display.

Luster Prints – Very Good

Luster prints (which offer the second best detail and color purity) are first formed using light sensitive silver crystal paper like a traditional darkroom. Once formed, the printer then uses 3 layers of cyan, magenta and yellow dye-based inks to color the photo.

With regards to color, luster prints offer a very good viewing experience with vivid colors, brilliant whites and rich blacks. That said, even though the blacks are nice and deep on these prints, the shadow details will be noticeably murkier compared to fine art matte prints. These details however, will still be miles ahead of what you can expect from metal prints.

Evaluating detail, luster prints will also be plenty sharp for the average person. In truth, most laymen probably wouldn’t think about the sharpness of the image unless they were actively comparing a luster print side by side with a fine art matte print.

Metal Prints – Good

Although metal prints don’t offer as good of a viewing experience as the other options, they are still quite good. These prints are created using a process called metal dye sublimation where special dyes are heat infused into polyester pre-coated on aluminum.

 

The process starts by printing an image onto a sheet of transfer paper. That transfer paper is then attached to the aluminum and run though a heat press. This heat press turns the dyes into a gas which get trapped into the polyester coating previously applied to the aluminum. When the aluminum cools, the dye changes back to a solid state where it locks into place.

While the color purity and detail might not be as good as the other options, they still have tremendous depth and radiant colors. Consider these for colorful images with good mid tones and highlights. Darker images that depend on shadow detail will get lost in these prints so consider the other options for scenarios like this.

Reflectivity - What is the best finish for photo prints?

As with everything else, the “best” finish depends on how you intend to view your images. Photo paper prints can be finished with a gloss or luster coating and can also be left unfinished for a matte look.

In the case of luster and gloss prints, this finish protects the photo from UV and moisture damage. It also naturally has a sheen and thus reflects light back at the viewer. This makes all prints with gloss more durable, but less desirable to view when compared to un-finished fine art matte prints.

Reflectivity – Matte Prints vs Luster Prints vs Gloss Prints

Luster Prints – Semi-Gloss Sheen With Light Texture

For durability and the least impact on viewing experience, I find luster to be the best finish for photo paper prints that are handled. A good example of this would be prints intended for a folio box or album.

Metal Prints – Semi-Gloss & Smooth

Metal prints might seem like an eye-catching option, but in reality, reflect the most light back at the viewer than any other option. This means metal prints will be the lest desirable option to look at from certain angles because of their reflectivity.

Fine Art Matte Prints – Not Reflective & Smooth

Matte prints with no finish offer the best viewing experience because they don’t reflect specular highlights back at the viewer. This makes fine art matte prints ideal for prints that aren’t handled. A good example of this would be framed pieces you’d hang on your wall.

Inherently due to the lack of a coating, fine art matte prints are also very delicate. Thus, for the best viewing experience and maximum durability, you should have your photo printed as a fine art matte print, and then protect it behind low iron glass. Low iron glass is non reflective and will have almost no impact on your viewing experience.

UV Resistance

Metal Prints – Best

Fine art matte prints, luster prints, and metal prints all have very good UV resistance. Of the three options metal prints have the best resistance to UV exposure if you need to hang your photo in an area with full sun or even outdoors.

Luster Prints – Good

By comparison, luster prints also have very good UV protection thanks to the protective finish applied to the paper. That said, I still recommend keeping luster prints out of extreme sunlight as this will cause gradual fading over long periods of time. Under normal lighting conditions, luster prints are rated to maintain their original quality for 60 years.

Fine Art Matte Prints – Very Good

Although fine art matte prints don’t have a protective coating, they still offer the second best UV resistance of all the options. The reason they hold up so well is thanks to their aqueous inks and 100% cotton papers. With this combination of ink and paper, fine art matte prints are rated to hold their original quality for 100 years under normal light conditions.

Despite the awesome UV resistance of fine art prints, I still recommend these photos be displayed out of direct sunlight and behind museum glass to protect them from premature aging.

Substrate – What surface is each option printed on?

Fine art matte prints, luster prints and metal prints are all printed on very different substrates. Each surface has advantages and disadvantages depending on what’s most important to you. Some are more durable, while other offer a better viewing experience. In short the best option for you will depend on what’s most important to you.

Luster Prints – Silver Halide Photo Paper

Luster prints are printed on silver halide photo paper. The advantage of this substrate is that It’s very cheap and thus the most affordable way to print your photos. It’s also very durable for a paper print and produces the second best image to view behind fine art matte paper.

Fine Art Matte Prints – 100% Cotton Fine Art Paper

By contrast, fine art matte prints are printed on 100% cotton paper. Fine art paper is inherently higher quality and more archival than silver halide photo paper. These prints offer the best viewing experience of all the options at a nominally higher cost.

Metal Print – Aluminum

Metal prints on the other hand are printed on aluminum and are thus the most durable option. This surface is both scratch resistant and water proof. These prints can even be cleaned with most household cleaners and a micro fiber cloth which is a unique feature of all the options.

edge of aluminum metal print

In any location that has high humidity, aluminum prints are ideal because of their superior moisture resistance. Examples locations include areas like exterior walls, kitchens, bathrooms and garages. 

Luster vs Matte vs Metal Print – Conclusion

If you found this comparison of luster vs matte vs metal prints helpful, you can share it using the orange arrow in the lower left corner. As always feel free to comment if you found anything confusing or wrong so I can try to make this more helpful for everyone!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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