Glossy screens: They look great. I think…

74867140Shiny or glossy screens are now ubiquitous, at least on laptops. They must be better than their matte-finish predecessors, right?

Here’s the theory: matte-finish screens combat glare and reflection by reducing the amount of light that gets bounced back to your eyes, however, that technique also reduces the amount of light that emanates from the display.  Glossy screens approach the problem from the other side, by allowing more light to "come through" the screen. The downside is that they also allow more light to be reflected.

The newer, glossy screens look very attractive. Much like a deep and rich metallic paint can make a car look more attractive. Until recently, I assumed that these sparkling displays were better than the matte screens that came before.

A few weeks ago, my mom asked me to come computer shopping with her. She’s 68, recently retired, and uses glasses for reading and computer work.

We headed to Best Buy and Future Shop so that she could look at all of the options in person (there was no way she’d make a decision like this shopping online). The first thing my mom noticed was the glossy finish on all of the laptops. Since the laptop display counters are all roughly at waist-height, the screens had to be angled upward so that you could see them from a standing position. Unfortunately, that meant the overhead lights reflected off their surfaces, right into your eyes. The effect was quite pronounced and made the screen quite hard to see.

I could see from the look on my mom’s face that this was going to be a deal-breaker. I started to scan the other laptops to see if I could find one with a matte screen. We found a Sony model that wasn’t shiny but the price was out of her range, coming in at close to $2,000. But the difference was dramatic –  glare and reflection was almost non-existent on the Sony.

So we went back to the other models and I tried to angle the screens up and down so that the reflections were minimized. After playing with them for a few minutes, and increasing the system font size, my mom felt she’d be able to live with the glossy screen. I was relieved. After all, glossy was better and she’d thank me later.

We took the machine home and set it up. I spent the next couple of hours staring at the screen. It drove me crazy.

When I compared the glossy screen to the matte screen of my current laptop, two things were apparent: The glossy screen’s colour, contrast and brightness were superior to the matte screen. But glare and reflection were also far worse. I simply couldn’t get over the constant presence of reflected light on the glossy screen.

Interestingly, when the two laptops were running off battery and each screen switched to their lower-brightness settings, the glossy screen was much harder to see, whereas the matte screen felt quite comfortable.

Frustrated, I started searching the web to see what the consensus was amongst users. Glossy screens: good or bad? Turns out the debate is alive and well, and reminiscent of the Blu-ray/HD-DVD discussions with most folks landing firmly in one camp or the other. Many discussions centre around Apple’s switch to glossy displays from matte in their latest versions of the MacBook laptop.

One fascinating page is from Lenovo’s public blog in which they ask people their preference – glossy or matte? An amazing 86% said no to glossy. The poll was opened in October of last year and it would be interesting to see if people’s opinions have changed now that glossy screens are becoming the norm.

Where do you stand? Are you a fan of the latest hi-gloss displays or do you find yourself wishing there were more matte-finish options in the laptop market?

Update August 16:
Found some more articles and blogs on this topic and guess what? Still no consensus on whether glossy screens are preferable.



  1. Ela

    I just recently purchased a laptop and went through the exact same issues your mother went through. I very much dislike the glossy finish to the screens, but also to the top of the laptop. I'm not a clean freak, but I hate to see fingerprints all over my computer!!!
    Anyway, I ended up going for the cheap shiny over the expensive matte as well, but I for sure would purchase a matte screen over a glossy one if it was in my price range.
    For all of us who spend long periods of time in front of a computer and work in offices where there are overhead lights, it is not comfortable to have glare in your eyes constantly. Hey! I paid $200 extra for my prescription glasses to be glare free, why then am I not being offered a product in my price range that is glare free as well?

    So I'm left, anti cheap and shiny.

    Have a good one!


  2. Marc C.

    I'm both a musician and a graphic artist and, as such, use computers both here in my studio and at gigs. I've tried the glossy-screened computers, which are virtually the only laptops you can buy, and can't stand them. On stage, with all the coloured lights, they are almost unreadable and even under conventional home lighting are near useless. And forget about using them in daylight. While they do look nice, being shiny and all, why on earth would anyone want one? With all that reflected glare it's nearly unuseable, which makes for an expensive paperweight.


  3. Paul P.

    I have a laptop with a glossy screen. I love it. Sure there is glare with it, and yes you can't use it outside, but there was glare with my older matte screen laptop, and it was even worse outside. I clean my computer often, and don't make a habit of pretending the screen is a touch screen, so I don't have to worry about fingerprints. I love the glossy look. It makes things easier to see, such as movies or graphics. And who uses a computer in a fully light room anyways to watch a movie or work on graphics. You always turn the lights down low when you want to see color correctly anyways.


  4. Jeff

    I also had a similar buying experience about a year ago. I knew that I would be distracted by the reflections in the screen. I decided to order my laptop from Dell, and requested the matte screen instead of the shiny one. This is an option they now offer right on their ads. A year ago, they even took something like $15 off the price.


  5. Bob

    After my old matte screen laptop passed on, I too was left with the option of either a more economical(cheaper) unit with glossy screen or a significantly higher priced unit with comparable features and the matte finish screen. The pocket book won out and alas I have the glossy screen. Until now, I thought it was just me lamenting the much greater reflection and difficulty using my laptop on the deck. I would think that there is a company out there somwhere that will offer a self adhesive matte screen protector similar to those already offered as pda screen protectors.


  6. Jenny

    When I bought my laptop, I wasn't even aware that matte screens were available until I saw someone with their Mac laptop with a matte screen. They criticized my screen and said their laptop was better all around. Frankly, I have never been bothered by having a glossy screen. I just tilt the screen as needed to minimize the glare, and away I go. I love the bright colours and contrast, too. Sure, I might have to MacGyver some sort of tent with my jacket when I'm outside in the sun, just so I can see my screen. But really, that hardly happens. I love my laptop just the way it is, glossy screen and all!


  7. Terry Gaudet

    I just bought my first laptop wih a glossy screen. Love it.
    For glare – well bothe matte and glossy have glare. The difference is with glossy the glare is sharp and with matte it is blurred. Both cause a problem with seeing the screen. The glossy, however, was much easier to manage because the image is so much brighter and crisper. I use the glossy regularly outside and decided to compare with the image on my old laptop (matte screen). The glossy screen beat it hands down. No contest at all. So far, everyone I have shown this too agrees. Glossy is definitely the way to go.


  8. Jeff

    I used a glossy screen HP Pavillion notebook for about 6 months and loved it. The screen was crisp and the colors really looked great on it in most environments. My only complaint was with outdoor use where it because almost impossible to read the screen (and I have 20/20 vision). Unfortunately I had to turn it in when I changed jobs so now I'm using an old Dell with the regular matt screen. I miss my HP. :)


  9. Ed

    Seems the glossy screens are akin to the front wheel drive automobiles shoved down the public's throat a number of years ago. Have some advantages and a lot of disadvantages. Don't you love it when some marketing Guru decides what is best for everyone? I would like to register my dislike for glossy screens (and front wheel drive automobiles), both pushed on us because they are cheaper and easier to manufacture.


  10. Mark

    When my Apple iBook died on me, I needed a new laptop quick to meet a deadline. All I could afford was a cheap Compaq at Futureshop. It has the glossy screen and is 200% better than my old matte-screen iBook. I aways found the iBook's matte screen hard to read, and with eye problems and being a writer I don't think I'll go back to the iBook/MacBook again. Even the new gloosy screened MacBook doesn't seem as good.


  11. Daniel R.

    Have had both type screens over the yeras and I do prefer matte. If you want to buy matte, two companies still offer a choice (both "build your own" companies)– Dell and MDG.


  12. Mike

    Check out the new LED displays on some of the new Dell's… the m1330 has the option.

    LED > Glossy > Matte

    Coming soon to Mac's too.


  13. Rob

    Matte screens are the way to go. Seeing one's reflection in the computer screen as clearly as in a mirror is a major distraction and annoyance. I can only see such a screen being helpful if you want to know who is sneaking up behind you whilst you are working on your laptop.

    Glossy screens show up fingerprints, reflections, and are virtually useless in high light, outdoor natural light settings (where even matte screens have difficulty but usually can still be read).

    Glossy screens were briefly popular back in the early days of large CRT monitors until the low reflection matte type crt's started to appear.

    Hopefully the glossy screen will be a flash in the pan fad until the matte screen once again becomes the norm.

    On the cynical side, as glossy screens fiorst started to appear on the "budget" laptops, could it be they are easier and cheaper to manufacture than the matte screens and hence profit margins can be increased? Matte screens still dominate at the high-end of the laptop market where the profit margin is still lucrative.



    Matte screens all the way……I made the sad mistake with the purchase of my new laptop to go with Glossy and have regretted the decision ever since.

    With all the reflected light on my screen, my eyes, I find are way more strained and I get many more eye strain headaches than when using a matte screen.
    I pine over my Matte screen daily and wish that I would have made the trip down to a store to see the screens or read reviews before I purchased such an expensive item instead of purchasing online.


  15. Koji Kabuto

    I personally love having the matte screens. I recently bought a laptop with the glossy screen, while it looked nice and flashy to begin with, I found that glare was an issue. Even more recent, I just bought a 42" LCD TV and was able to get a Matte finish on the screen, and by far it's way better than the glossy screens. I can watch the TV from an angle without being blinded by glare or be distracted by someone's reflection. Matte is definitely better on the eyes, I just wish they could somehow make matte screens look as attractive as the glossy ones.


  16. Alex

    I have had both matte and glossy, for years, matte was great, but in the last few years I have made the purchase of both laptop and normal LCD displays with a glossy finish, and I prefer glossy. Rich colors, darker blacks, screens are superior in every way, and in regards to glare, I have been able to angle my laptops screen in the outdoors, and adjust gamma setting to make it perfectly fine and bright in an outdoor setting and perfectly viewable. As for the finger print issue, I don't see why people have to touch the screen, purpose or on accident, I have had my laptop for about 8 months now, without a single finger print, maybe I just take more care than most ppl.


  17. Paige

    I recently bought a Dell with a 19 inch flat panel matte screen, and I'm very impressed with it. It's very easy on my eyes, which is totally important. And of course, no blinding light reflection. I'd never even consider a glossy screen.


  18. Jesse

    Glossy screen are eye catching but very impractical. I wouldn't go with a glossy screen unless your narcissistic and need to see yourself and not what is on your display.


  19. Roland

    Glossy vs. Matte…….you get what you pay for. The consumer is totally in control of these things. If we chose quality or features instead of price, then they would be available . We all rush and grab whatever is cheapest, and thereby force the manufacturers to go that way. There is no profit left in selling hardware…so it has to be volume mass marketing. If we collectively chose to spend the extra 100 bucks on quality then the manufactururs would be offering the quality. But in the days of 600 to 800 dollar laptops every 5 or 10 buck drop in price gets the consumer rushing in that direction. So how can the manufacturer do anything that would raise the price??


  20. James

    Well said, Roland: our unwavering belief that cheaper is always better (in spite of all evidence to the contrary) has terrible consequences. Having said that, I have no complaints about my glossy screen laptop, which compares very favourably with my older matte laptop screen. Glare can be a problem, but one that is easily controlled at home — who actually uses their laptop in lighting conditions like those at Best Buy? Glossy screens would be a nightmare under stage lights, too, as Marc C. describes, but few of us need to worry about that. The only time I had serious glare trouble was when I used the computer outside under tropical sun, and even then I was able to make adjustments to make it workable.


  21. Les

    I have both, and like some here I never touch the screen, plus with proper adjustments the glossy screen is a pleasure to use, much better colors and sharpness.


  22. Guillaume

    I work at Dell and i can assure you that you odnt have to pay a premium to get a matte screen that is one of MANY advantages our business model offers. The only draw back is you waiting for it which in the end makes you want it more and excited of getting it.We will be more then happy to help you out :) cheers


  23. Matte Dude

    Used all sorts of monitors ever since computers have been around.

    Glossy screens produce two or more images, the one you want to see and others from reflections.

    The eyestrain comes from the eye constantly refocusing between all the images/reflections. Over time this causes the effects of Computer Vision Syndrome which makes using a computer for long lenghts of time a tiresome chore.

    Usually the young computer user prefers the glossy, but then notices problems over time with increased use.

    Glossy screens might have their benefits for some, but for most it's better health wise to go matte, even if they don't know it yet.

    Computer makers should offer choice of either in all their makes and models. If the matte is slightly more costly, then fine, let the customer decide instead of forcing them to to buy something they don't need.

    I for one will not buy a glossy screen computer. The more people who speak up, the sooner makers wil realize their mistake from offering customers a choice.


  24. Ben

    I'm one of the few for the glossy screens. When I got my PC a few years ago, it came with a matte LCD and I couldn't stand it. The only LCD I liked was one that was glossy, but it was out of my price range so I ended up getting a CRT monitor. I instantly loved the deeper contrast and brightness it produced over my previous LCD.

    With that said, being glossy or matte is only have the battle. Laptops don't usually have enough brightness to compensate for their glossy screens I find. But many other LCDs have glossy screens and vivid colour and contrast reproduction. My Sandisk MP3/video player has a glossy display and is bright enough to compensate for most lighting conditions, and looks fantastic. Especially when doing video.

    I'm actually browsing for glossy LCD TVs right now, but it seems that this is one area where it is difficult to find them. Either they are behind the curve when it comes to this new trend in glossy displays, or they already have enough brightness, contrast, and colour in them that they don't feel the need to switch to glossy.


  25. A Navales

    Ben, you'll have a hard time looking for a glossy LCD TV… that's one of the main differences between LCD and plasma. Besides, you dont want glossy on a large LCD TV since you have more surface area, you'll have a lot of reflection.
    I agree Glossy does produce brighter and more vivd colors. Thats why i use it with my home monitors where i can control the lighting. My laptop has to have the matte or anti-glare because it really annoys me when I get a lot of glare behind the large window of the coffee shop. Of course there is an option if you cant afford to buy a laptop that has a matte screen. You can buy those Anti-glare polarizing screen for around $20 – $50. It helps with those peeping toms as well =)


  26. Stephen

    I have a matte hi-res LED backlit 17" Macbook Pro.

    Before getting this computer I was forced to use the new glossy iMacs at school. The screen seemed more saturated and the contrast was better but images on screen seemed off. Everything appeared over-saturated, which could be interpreted as better… The truth is it's not. I tried to play with color profiles to balance the screen but it was impossible to get the result I wanted. It was either too bright and washed out or looked too dull.

    I'm a graphic designer and in order to accurately print anything, glossy screens will not do. It may sound specific, but color accuracy, contrast, brightness, and hues appear more accurately on matte screens. The balance between brightness and contrast can't be matched on LED backlit matte screens. That doesn't even mention issues with glare.