Should Headshots Be Matte or Glossy?

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By The Light Committee

If you’re looking to get a headshot done, you might also need to print it. Yes, even today some professions will require printed headshots. Actor headshots are sometimes needed as prints for certain agent or casting opportunities. Real estate agents also print headshots for brochures and business cards. There are various other situations where you might need to print. So, is matte or glossy better, or is there a third choice?

Getting right to the answer, matte paper is usually better than glossy but luster or semi-glossy is usually best overall. Of course, this is not scientific, just a recommendation. This stated, there is no set rule for all industries. So, it is usually advised to investigate what is the norm for the industry you plan to use them in.

A theatrical actor headshot of an Irish woman in a studio near Los Angeles
Trying to Figure Out If You Should Print Your Headshot on Matte or Glossy Paper? First, Be Sure Your Headshot Image is Print-Worthy.

Glossy prints can have more contrast and can help the images stand out, particularly if most people use matte or luster paper. So, glossy isn’t without consideration. Matte finishes tend to hide fingerprints and other foreign stains much better. Luster paper is somewhere in between. So, it can offer the best of both worlds of glossy or matte.

Also, glossy photos throw much more light glare from them. So, under direct light they might be harder to see, especially if viewed at an angle where the light is glaring off it and back at you. Matte finishes avoid this reflection. But again, these are not your only two options. A happy medium is luster, or lustre. This is a lightly glossed paper, so it pops more than matte paper while avoiding most of the fingerprint and reflection problems of glossy paper.

You can read more about the different types of paper options here.

First, Get a Good Headshot

How good the paper it is printed on does not matter if the headshot is of poor quality. So, first, be sure you are working with the best headshot photographer in Los Angeles, or whatever city you are in, you can find to ensure quality. Of course, this means staying away from using a selfie, unless your goal is to appear unprofessional.

The entire point of having a headshot printed is to showcase a certain level of quality, from the image created to the paper type used. So, invest in a good headshot photographer first. Do a little homework. Ask the photographer if they have a commercial studio, a home studio or if they only shoot outdoors?

If they have a commercial studio, ask them about lighting preferences they would opt for based on the type of headshot you need. If they have a home studio, what limitations does this impose? If they only shoot outdoors, how will they ensure the use of natural light will get the look you need. In a studio, a good photographer has command of studio lighting while outdoors a photographer is at the mercy of the sun’s location depending on the time, and then there are unpredictable weather – not just cloudy versus sunny but windy or other such elements too.

Finally, be sure to check out their body of work and read up on customer reviews. For example, it is ideal for a photographer to have a website ready for any customer to visit for full details. As for reviews, there are plenty of places one can turn to, such as Google, Bing, Yelp, and many other review sites.

A theatrical actor headshot of a man in a studio near Los Angeles with a blue background
A Headshot Printed on Matte, Glossy, or Luster Paper Must First Start With Good Quality Details

What Size Should I Print My Headshots?

For actors, it is almost always 8×10” in print size. Some actors place their name on a corner of the photo. Some actors choose to have a white border while others opt not to. These are often personal choice. But it is best for actors to verify preferences, if any with their chosen agent or manager. Having your name on your headshot is not always necessary and you should verify whether it is best for your scenario.

In other industries, from lawyers to real estate, print sizes will depend on what the end goal is. For example, if you want a headshot for a business card, how will you orient the content – landscape or portrait view? The same consideration is given for brochures and any other print material.

Some headshots will be used simply to print on a business card while others will land on a billboard for an ad campaign. This, again, is where the overall quality of the file is important. Furthermore, if you know you will have such print requirements, it is best to share these and any other requirements with your chose photographer.

red head woman in a theatrical acting headshot Los Angeles
A common print size for a headshot is 8x10” and this is likely because, arguably, most headshots are cropped to this size

Where Should I Get My Headshots Printed

Some headshot photographers have high-quality print capabilities on sight. There is a lot of reward that comes to a photographer to see their work in print. So, try asking your headshot photographer first. However, naturally, print capabilities in-house for a photographer might be limited. While a good photographer can probably match the print quality of any other commercial printer, they might be limited in the size options or in the quantity of prints they can do.

Depending on what city you’re in, there might be good local printing options too, like in Los Angeles. Stop by a local print shop to see their work before ordering. It is generally best to stick with focused print shops rather than print shops that also sell things like medicines.

If you’re looking to order online, some well-regarded printers include Mpix and Shutterfly. On the business side – for business cards, brochures, etc. – there are Uprinting and Vistaprint. These are just but a few of many other good printers that exist.

Again, it is usually not a good idea to head over to your local mega store or similar retailer for professional prints. Remember, when printing a headshot, you are looking for end-to-end quality – from the level of quality in the image created to the paper used, the ink used, and the process for printing it. After all, it is likely that you are relying on that printed headshot to directly or indirectly translate into getting you some sort of paid work.