Today’s Question: You said “especially uncoated matte papers” [in a recent Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter on the topic of sharpening a photo for printing]. I thought all matte papers would be uncoated. Can you explain the differences?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Some matte papers do indeed include a special coating that provides a matte surface that takes on some of the behaviors of a glossy photo paper.
More Detail: While glossy papers have an obvious coating that enables the inks to “sit on top” of the paper, many matte papers also have a coating. The only difference is that the coating used on matte papers isn’t as “shiny”, so that the paper retains a matte appearance. The benefit of that coating can be tremendous in terms of the amount of saturation, detail, and even dynamic range you’re able to achieve with these matte papers.
The key challenge for an uncoated matte paper is that the inks get absorbed somewhat significantly by the paper. The result is a relatively dull appearance, with reduced contrast, reduced saturation, and lower dynamic range. By using special coatings with a mate paper surface, the inks will stay closer to the paper surface and will spread out less, helping achieve a result that is closer to what you would expect on a glossy (or semi-gloss paper) without the shiny appearance.
In some cases you may prefer the look of an uncoated matte paper, but I generally find that I prefer coated matte papers since they provide some of the benefits of a glossy surface while maintaining the aesthetic appeal of a matte paper.