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Matte vs. Glossy Screens: Which Is Better for You?

 A monitor user suffering from glare caused by glossy screen while matte screen stays clear

Screens of all persuasions, from large TVs through monitors to smartphones, employ either matter or glossy materials. Pros and cons exist for each variety as with everything in life, but in the case of monitors, we have to tell you right off the bat that we wholeheartedly recommend matte screens. You’ll be hard pressed to find glossy monitors, and there’s a good reason for that. Glossy coating materials often cause eye strain due to glare and reflections, while matte materials maintain a more pleasant experience. But still, let’s delve into the topic. 

Glossy Screens: Pretty but Impractical
glossy monitor screen shows a cathedral by a river

Monitors with bright and shiny glossy screens use reflective glass or polymers. Their high degree of transparency allows almost all of the display’s light output to show through, resulting in a very vivid image. Glossy screens showcase deeper darks, brighter whites, and richer colors than their matte counterparts. However, they do so at a cost. Even with modern anti-glare treatment using magnesium fluoride and similar materials, the downside of glossy screen beauty stems from reflectivity. That means your glossy monitor or TV shines every light source in your environment right into your eyes. Room lights and windows reflect very clearly on glossy materials. Instead of enjoying game graphics or focusing on work content, with glossy screens you’ll often end up staring at your own reflection while scrambling to move desk lamps around so they don’t glare up the screen.

Not only does that result in much fuss, it’s also bad for your eyes. Glare has been repeatedly shown to cause fatigue and eye strain. There’s a reason offices around the world almost universally opt for matte monitors. Additionally, glossy surfaces have the extra issue of smudges and finger magnetism. Touch a glossy screen and oil from your fingers shows quite obviously. Dust similarly has a tendency to stick to glossy screens, so they need considerable maintenance to keep clean.

Having said that, if you can REALLY control lighting in your environment and make sure no light sources reflect onto a screen, then glossy offers the better image rendition. Television sets from older CRTs to the latest OLEDs/QLEDs all use glossy screen surfaces treated with anti-glare chemicals. That’s because big screen TVs usually sit in living rooms where light sources don’t shine directly onto the display from nearby. In those scenarios a glossy screen can work. In a desktop environment, where most monitors live, a glossy display would be ill advised as light sources usually reside nearby and glare can’t be avoided. 

Matte Monitors: A Sensible Compromise
Matte monitor screen shows a European cathedral chruch by a river

Yes, matte screens objectively don’t look as good as glossy. But that’s in a highly controlled environment. In the real world, matte monitor surfaces are the only practical and rational way to go.

Matte monitors employ plastic surfaces made of different polymers that undergo an etching process. Either chemical or mechanical, the etching creates an enormous number of grooves or indentations in the screen surface. These serve to reduce reflectivity by scattering light that hits the monitor. While some minor glare may still occur, it never even comes close to the full-on reflections you have with glossy displays.

But a screen that rejects light invariably also blocks light. While glossy screens allow whatever the display shows to come through nearly unfiltered, matte screens block much more of the monitor’s light output. In essence, with matte screens you get less image illumination, or just less image. Some minor details may be diminished, contrast gets lowered, and colors don’t appear as alive as with a glossy screen.

But your poor eyes also don’t need to put up with stressful reflections and tiresome glare. Nor do you need to fear touching the screen, as matte displays don’t grab fingerprints as readily as glossy screens. Thus, for monitors matte makes the better option. You don’t need to worry about placing a lamp on your work or gaming station, because reflections won’t be an issue. You don’t have to think ten times before opening the curtains and letting some light in. With matte screens, light isn’t your enemy.

Unlike TVs, for monitors matte makes for an absolutely obvious choice, especially since modern monitors continue to add brightness. While even five years ago a 300-nit monitor was good, today you easily get 500-1000-nit panels that meet DisplayHDR 400 and DisplayHDR 1000 requirements. While monitors get brighter, matte materials stay the same and so in effect more light shines through the anti-glare protection. Simply put, image quality on matte monitors keeps improving. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in most cases. 

Don’t Fear the Light

Whether working, gaming, or watching a movie, if doing it on a monitor you’re best off with a matte display. Keep the gloss in the living room where it belongs. With regards to monitors, matte materials free you from worrying about glare and eye strain. Why would you choose otherwise? 

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