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Gloss vs. Matte Labels: Is there a difference?

You’re getting ready to print labels on your new thermal printer and now you have a decision to make.  Will you choose matte or gloss labels?  Gulton has helped many of our customers make this choice.  Let’s take a look at what is most important to understand when deciding and how your decision can affect your final printed product.  Here are our very basic definitions:

Matte Labels = Labels with no finish applied to the paper

Gloss Labels = Labels with a finish applied to the paper

Matte Labels & Thermal Printing
There’s a minor comparison we can make between a matte label and newsprint (the paper used for printing newspapers).  Matte labels are not coated.  Because no finish is applied to the label, the fibers of the paper will absorb more ink than their glossy counterparts.  As a result of this absorption, the print will appear less crisp than the print on a gloss label.  While not as pronounced, we can compare it to the print in a newspaper that will appear less defined than the print in a magazine (which is printed on glossy paper).  Thermal printing on matte labels is far less likely to smudge than the printing in a newspaper.

Gloss Labels and Thermal Printing
Much like the print in a magazine, thermal printing on gloss labels will appear more defined and precise than on its non-coated counterpart.  This is because the glossy coating applied to the label does not absorb ink.  Rather, the ink is laid on top of the coating, which acts as a barrier to the paper fibers.  If your label includes a more intricate logo, perhaps including color, or shades of black and gray, these may be the labels for you.  Print on gloss labels, however, will smudge.

So where does that leave you?  Right now, we have less-than-crisp print with matte labels and print that smudges with gloss labels.  These issues are resolved by choosing the right ribbon for your label choice.

Matte labels require high quality wax ribbon.  This will ensure that your final printed product is readable and presentable without losing resolution to ink absorption.

For gloss labels, you’ll need to choose a high quality resin ribbon.  These are the hardest type of ribbon.  The ink will adhere to the gloss coating on the label and, therefore, will not smudge or smear.

So the answers are in the questions:  “What am I printing?” and “What ribbon will work best?”  Plain shipping labels?  Choose a matte label and a wax ribbon.   Logos and more complex graphics?  Go with a gloss label and a resin ribbon.


Gulton has a wealth of information to share with you about every aspect of the thermal printing process.  And don’t forget, we manufacture the highest quality replacement printheads that are comparable to their OEM counterparts.  Don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-356-0399.  We’re always happy to help!