Matte vs Glossy Business Cards: Which Should You Choose?

Business Cards

Business cards are an everyday essential. Everybody has one, even the most digital of digital media consultants. But should your business card be matte or gloss? How do you choose?

Both have their advantages. Here we’ll compare the qualities of each finish, and breakdown the main pros and cons to help you decide.

Subdued and smooth, non-reflective appearance with a subtle sheen. Highly-reflective with a lustrous shine.
Colour depthColours appear softer and less saturated.Colours ‘pop’, looking more saturated and vivid.
Protection: Does matte or gloss last longer?Decent protection for general use. Matte coated card are more likely to peel at the edges or fade over time with heavy use.Gloss provides added protection from stains and damage. The extra coating produces a heavier, more rigid and sturdy card. Handy if you’re prone to spilling your coffee.
Can I write on them?Yes. A ballpoint / biro should be able to write easily. Not suitable for writing.
FingerprintingFingerprints usually won’t show at all and a matte finish will look cleaner.Will be visible on a glossy finish.

Still Can’t Decide?

If our experience is anything to go by (and we’ve been in print a long time, around 4 decades), most of our clients come to us with personal preferences. And choosing between matte and gloss isn’t an issue for most businesses. People either have an established brand and a certain look to maintain, or their mind is already set.

But what if you’re a new company just starting out? You don’t have a brand identity set in stone and maybe you’ve got an open mind when it comes to what finish you should choose. If that’s you, here are some of the main things to consider.

What Do You Do, Where, and How?

We would always start by asking this question, because it’s the key to making sure your business cards are fit for purpose.


  • Your profession.
  • Your work environment.
  • How you use, handle, and store your business cards.
  • The design and content of your card.

Taking account of these factors can help you narrow down which attributes matter to you. Both matte and gloss finishes have distinct advantages, so make sure that your choice plays to their strengths.

Your Profession.

Sometimes the industry you work in calls for a more discreet and low-key look. If you’re:

  • an accountant,
  • a solicitor, lawyer / legal professional,
  • financial advisor,
  • a doctor or medical professional of some description,

… a matte business card might help you make the right impression.

unsplash-logoToa Heftiba

On the other hand, if you’re a photographer or an artist, a gloss finish could add vibrancy to images and help you make an impact.

Imagine you’re a food stylist for example (there is such a thing), and you decide your business card is a great way to showcase your work. A gloss finish can really bring your photos to life (see colour depth in the comparison table above).

You might get a better response whenever you hand out a business card, with more people referring prospects to you. And the food will look amazing, not that you ever want your business cards to end up being eaten.

It’s worth thinking about what people expect from your profession and how they should feel about working with you.

Your Work Environment.

Where do you work?
Do you spend most of your time in an office or on the factory floor?
Are you indoors or outdoors most of the time?

You should never be without a set of business cards, no matter where you work. So it’s important that your business cards are made with a finish suited for the conditions you work in on a daily basis.

While matte business cards do have a coating that offers some protection from the elements, gloss takes that further. Both finishes actually use the exact same coating, it’s just the amount applied and the level of polishing that differs – with gloss having more. That makes it more stain-resistant, fade-resistant, and generally more robust than matte.

So keep in mind where you spend the majority of your workday. For example:

  • if you’re a landscape gardener who gets your hands dirty, gloss provides added protection from muddy fingerprints.
  • maybe you work with small pre-school children and you’d appreciate gloss for the same reason.
  • perhaps you work at a marina and gloss would give you a little extra water-resistance should they get damp.
  • you might opt for gloss if you live or work somewhere with a very humid climate.

Take stock of your working conditions. If you’re office-based, matte coating provides a decent level of protection already. If you work in a particularly harsh environment, gloss can give added durability.

How You Use, Handle, and Store Your Cards.

Thinking about how you typically use your business cards can be help you decide which finish you should choose.

Do You Add Handwritten Notes to Your Business Cards?

Are you one of those people who’s always jotting down notes on business cards? Meeting times, dates, places, and other reminders? If so, you’ll want to choose a matte finish rather than gloss.

A biro or ballpoint pen should have no trouble writing on matte business cards. If you write with a rollerball or fountain pen, just beware you’ll need to give the ink a minute to dry.

This is because matte cards are still coated. This gives you that clean, smooth surface and protects them from damage. So they won’t be as suited to writing as an uncoated paper, which readily absorbs all that ink. But you will still be able to write on them.

A gloss finish doesn’t give you that flexibility. With all that highly-polished coating, it repels ink like any other liquid.

Do You Distribute Business Cards Like Flyers?

Obviously, flyers and leaflets exist for a good reason, but it’s not uncommon for people to scatter their business cards far and wide.

We’ve seen business cards posted through office doors, and even pinned under the windscreen wipers on parked cars (this happens all the time in the Middle East, where you’ll often see rows of parked cars spammed with business cards – we’ve worked in Kuwait, the UAE, KSA and Oman).

When you’re working your business cards that hard, it makes sense to choose gloss over matte. The heavier coating is going to add strength, water-resistance, and generally result in a more heavy-duty card.

The Design and Content of Your Card.

Your business card’s design will often lend itself to one finish over the other. Simply put, if your content:

  • is heavy on text? Go for matte.
  • includes photographs, graphics and rich colours? Go for gloss.

Matte is Best for Text.

Why? On gloss, text can become difficult to read in bright light, as the reflective surface shimmers in bright light. Making sure your text is clear and easy to read is paramount whenever you design anything for print.

If your business cards feature a considerable amount of text (particularly small print), you might want to opt for matte over gloss. Matte will prevent bright light from dazzling your reader. Consider this along with your environment. If you’re based somewhere sunny, matte could mean fewer people mistake your email address or phone number when they’re outdoors.

Gloss Brings Colours and Photographs to Life.

If your design would look better with more vivid tones, choosing a gloss finish will add depth and vibrancy. Colours appear more saturated, deeper and richer.

Some people choose to feature photographs on their business cards. Others want to achieve an intense background colour as part of a minimalist design. Whatever your business card design, you can use gloss to make the colour and contrast ‘pop’ in print.

Have Both. With Spot UV Varnish.

If aesthetics are your priority, Spot UV can give you the best of both worlds. Matte where you want clean and contemporary text, and a glossy spot UV finish exactly where you want it.

Get creative, use matte and gloss together. Both have attributes you can exploit in your design.

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Haskins Design is based in South-West England. We bridge the chasm between freelance designers and big-budget agencies, to bring you a more sensible, agile, and efficient set of creative services.