Matte vs. Glossy: Short Answer
You probably already know the difference between matt and shiny or glossy from printed photos: Here, too, you can choose between matt and glossy paper – each with advantages and disadvantages in terms of quality and use. It’s not much different when buying a notebook or computer monitor:
- Most modern notebooks are equipped with a glossy display. This is mainly due to the optimum display quality: glossy displays make content appear particularly rich in contrast and detail.
- Matt displays are less common, but they also have decisive advantages: Especially if you work with your computer in very bright surroundings or even outdoors, a matt display remains easily readable. Glossy versions, on the other hand, reflect so strongly that they are difficult or impossible to use.
- Matt surfaces offer a further advantage in cleaning: While fingerprints or dust are immediately visible on glossy displays, you only have to clean a matt display very rarely.
What is better – Matte or Glossy Laptop/Notebook screen?
Actually, that’s a silly question. Professional monitors are matt, anti-reflective monitors have been mandatory at VDU workstations for decades, and the trade associations now even demand mandatory labelling for the different classes of anti-reflective coating.
The consequences of reflections in monitors have been researched long and wide, reflections in monitors cause fatigue, tension and headaches in the long run. And backache when you sit down at an angle to look past a reflection.
Especially mobile devices like a notbooks are often used under artificial light or even outdoors. And matt displays are much better suited for this: On a glossy display, reflections from the sun or a lamp can be so annoying that it’s difficult to make the right corrections when editing images or videos, for example.
Glossy Screens – What’s so special?
Glossy notebook displays have different names among the various notebook manufacturers. Asus calls its glossy displays “Crystal Shine Technology”, Toshbia calls the technology “TruBrite” and Dell calls it TrueLife. The advantages of glossy notebook displays are that the colors are richer and more brilliant. The brightness is also higher. The disadvantage of glossy notebook displays is that they are reflective. The reflection comes from the polished, smooth surface. However, the manufacturers already have methods for anti-reflection coating here, which partly work well.
So is a Glossy screen bad?
Let’s say it very carefully: with glossy monitors it is extremely difficult to avoid reflections.
If you can really design and set up your work environment 100% freely, position yourself perfectly in relation to windows, place the light sources optimally, then you can set up a workstation so that nothing is reflected in the glossy monitor either.
But let’s be honest: very few people are in this lucky situation. Most have to make compromises when choosing their workplace, and it is unlikely that nothing will be reflected there.
“But when the monitor’s on, it’s not reflecting.”
The last thing we, the editor team, saw in a photo shop was a switched-off glossy monitor from Apple – it reflected the whole shop behind us. When I asked the employee at the shop if the mirrored one didn’t bother him at all, he answered: “When the monitor is on, you can’t see it anymore”. Our eyes are an ingenious system. But unfortunately, hiding this information is connected with work, and this is exactly where tiredness, headaches and tensions arise.
Besides, what if you have to work on dark images? How should you judge colours if other colours are reflected in the display?
Why then are there glossy monitors at all?
For one thing, glossy monitors are cheaper to produce. Anti-reflection coating, especially good ones, costs money. If you sell otherwise equivalent monitors in matt or glossy, the mat is more expensive.
If a matte and a glossy monitor cost the same, then you have to expect that the matte monitor has worse technology. The monitor is anti-reflective, but the display is still useless.
For the same money you get “more” monitor with Glossy Monitor.
Furthermore, the anti-reflection coating has a side effect: while on a Glossy display the light is only reflected according to the principle “angle of incidence equals angle of reflection”, the matt surface scatters incident light in all directions. This means that a matt display is never as dark as a glossy, it always has a very slight grey shimmer (poorly anti-reflective monitors have a stronger anti-reflective effect than good anti-reflective ones).
On a glossy monitor, black appears correspondingly darker, blacker than on a medium anti-reflective monitor.
This is not only true for black, but for all colours – the reflected light mixes in everywhere. As a result, colours on a glossy monitor also appear stronger than on a monitor with a medium anti-reflective coating.
Phew, that’s tough, of course. Brilliant colour reproduction is a beautiful thing. And if you don’t want it, you can still muffle the colors in the image editing. On the other hand, the phrase “better than on a moderately anti-reflective monitor” is included. There is not only one anti-reflection coating (we wish there were), but countless, and as is often the case: the better anti-reflection coatings cost more money.
So if you compare monitors of the same price level with each other, then you usually compare glossy with the next most expensive, namely moderately anti-reflective monitors. And there the colors look more brilliant on glossy.
Tips for reflective notebook displays
If you already have a reflective notebook display, you can use my tips to minimize the effect of reflection:
- Set up the display sideways to the sun (front and back is always bad)
- Wear dark clothing
- Set display brightness to maximum
Matte vs Glossy screen – Difficult decision?
Honestly, actually it’s not a difficult decision: If you are absolutely sure that you can always position the monitor optimally during its lifetime so that there is nothing bright behind you that can be reflected in it. And not only while sitting in a perfect angle in front of the monitor, but also diagonally (if you sit in front of the monitor with your co-workers), from below (for comfortable hanging), from above (for those who look over your shoulder) nothing reflects, then you can probably think about getting a Glossy Monitor.
In all other cases, we would strongly advise you to be favouring the matte screen, even if it is a bit more expensive for an equivalent monitor – or are a few Dollars saved so important that you have to deal with fatigue, headaches, tensions?
We would have loved to show the difference with comparison photos of a mat and a glossy monitor, but neither in the office nor at home we know people who work with a glossy monitor, even all notebooks in our environment are anti-glare. Do what you want with that information.
Comparison: Matte vs. Glossy screen/monitor
What we have at hand as a comparison are two similar pictures that a co-worker once had made for comparison. One of the pictures is behind acrylic, a glossy surface (similar to a picture behind glass), the other picture is covered with a matt UV-protective foil.
He put both pictures in the same angle at the same place, and photographed them with a camera on a tripod under identical light conditions. The difference is huge, but see for yourself:
In the glossy picture you can see very well the window and the shadow of the camera. It’s hard to believe that the light conditions are the same in the matte picture, when you see these pictures side by side, you are free to try it yourself (although not every monitor antireflection coating is as good as the antireflection coating of this UV film).
An interesting effect when taking the picture: the autofocus of the camera had problems focusing when taking the glossy picture. Often it focused on the reflecting window instead of on the subject. This is exactly how our eyes feel, they involuntarily focus on the reflection. Our brain is then able to concentrate on the subject, but that’s just exhausting.
Working outside in sunlight – Matte vs. Glossy screen
Two factors play a decisive role in an easily readable notebook display: the display’s anti-reflective coating and maximum brightness. Because the further you can turn up the brightness, the better it is for readability on the move. However, you should use this option with caution, as a high brightness depletes the battery quite fast. And a particularly matt display makes for better readability in the light anyway.