When purchasing a graphic for something like a vehicle wrap, control panel overlay, or warning label, one of the last things to consider is the graphic’s finish. To choose the correct materials, your priorities matter: Do you need a clear finish? One that’s easy-to-clean? Something scuff-resistant?

There are three primary finish options: gloss, matte, and semi-gloss.

From left to right: lustre, matte, and gloss.

Finishes

Gloss

Gloss and high-gloss finishes are the most common lamination types for flexible graphics such as cut vinyl decals and warning labels. This is because gloss finishes are the most transparent, allowing for better art clarity and color vibrancy. Gloss finishes are typically very smooth and easy to wipe clean. Because they are the most common, they also are the most economical. Unfortunately, gloss finishes also have high glare, which reflects light and can make material difficult to read.

Matte

Matte finishes are great for softening images and reducing glare. They are often used in outdoor applications such as aluminum signs, which would be hard to read with too much glare.

Semi-Gloss

Also referred to as a luster or satin finish, semi-glosses combine the best of gloss and matte finishes. With light reflection levels between the two, a semi-gloss finish reduces glare without muting colors. However, semi-gloss finishes are sometimes unavailable, as with textured polycarbonate films.

Pros Cons
Gloss
  • Best clarity
  • Best color vibrancy
  • Easy to clean
  • Most economical option for flexible materials
  • High glare
Matte
  • Softens images
  • Reduces glare
  • Haziness can alter or mute colors
  • High price
Semi-gloss
  • Reduces glare without haze or color muting
  • High price
  • Not always available

Textures

Adding texture to your lamination or choosing a textured substrate can increase abrasion-resistance and reduce glare. In most cases, however, they also change the color of the overlays, unless you select a smooth texture.

A close-up of textured polycarbonate shows the various levels of textures.

Smooth

Smooth textures are the clearest because there is no grain or pebbling to distort the image in any way. A smooth gloss will be completely transparent, whereas a smooth matte is only translucent. Because of this texture’s clarity, imperfections or dirt in or on the print will be visible, and LED light diffusion is usually impossible. Materials with a smooth texture are easy to wipe clean but will offer little to no scuff resistance. Smooth is the most common texture for flexible substrates, making it the most economical for most applications.

Fine

Fine textures offer some scuff resistance and LED light diffusion, and they are still fairly easy to clean. Because the pebbles in fine textures are small and offer less protection than textures with larger pebbles, polycarbonates with a fine texture have a shorter lifespan than those with larger textures. They are more likely to wear smooth with repeated use.

Velvet

Velvet textures offer plenty of scuff resistance and LED light diffusion. It’s by no means bumpy, but there is a slight grain. Dirt can stick inside the texture’s grooves, making this material difficult to clean. Velvet is the most common texture for polycarbonate graphic overlays.

Suede

Suede textures offer excellent scuff resistance and LED light diffusion and are usually used only when one or both of those characteristics are needed. It is the most textured, least smooth option and feels like a very fine, soft sandpaper. Dirt can stick inside the texture’s grooves, making it difficult to clean. A suede texture makes small text difficult to read.

Suede texture offers the highest light diffusion for LEDs.

Other/Embossed Options

Other textures are available for different applications. For example, a wall vinyl may have a woven or fabric-like texture to mimic the look of wallpaper. A brushed texture on rigid polycarbonate can give the appearance of brushed metal, ideal for an application where brushed metal would not hold up well, such as a floor graphic or phone case. Because these offerings are not widely used, pricing can be high.

A polycarbonate film with brushed texture can simulate brushed aluminum and add durability.

Pros Cons
Smooth
  • Easy to clean
  • Most economical option for flexible materials
  • Dirt, dust, and other imperfections are more visible than in other options
  • Provides limited to no scuff and mar resistance
  • Provides no light diffusion and should not be used over LEDs
Fine
  • Provides some scuff and mar resistance
  • Provides some light diffusion over LEDs
  • Has shorter lifespan than textures with larger pebbles and can wear smooth with repeated accuations
Velvet
  • Scuff and mar resistant
  • Economical option for rigid polycarbonates
  • Offers average light diffusion over LEDs
  • Large, durable texture
  • Dirt can accumulate within the grooves of the texture
Suede
  • Scuff and mar resistant
  • Offers the best light diffusion over LEDs
  • Most durable option
  • Dirt can accumulate within the grooves of the texture
  • High price
Other/
Embossed
  • Large variety to choose from
  • Can mimic other textures for more economical and/or durable options
  • Dirt can accumulate within the grooves of the texture
  • High price

Combining Finishes and Textures

Print items have both a texture and a finish. Often the texture is applied to one side of the substrate, side A, and the finish is on the other, side B. If no texture is specified, the default finish is smooth.

Two of the most common polycarbonate films for graphic overlays are 8A35 Lexan and 8B35 Lexan, each with velvet texture on side A. However, 8A35 has a polished side B, and 8B35 has a matte side B. As a result, 8A35 is much shinier and clearer, with more vibrant colors. 8B35 is hazier and duller, which can mask scratches.

If you’re unsure which texture or finish is right for your application, Graphics Output is happy to provide samples and review options to find the best fit. Email sales@gographicsoutput.com, call 260-748-0577. or request a quote online.