As an actor's calling card, the correct headshot can be a major tool in getting noticed by a casting director as well as standing out from the rest of the submissions for a particular role. Whether to print or digitize photos in a glossy (smooth, shiny) finish or in a matte (duller, softer) finish is one of the important decisions the aspiring actor must make.
Glossy photos are printed on paper coated with a smooth, shiny surface. Colors appear vibrant, and images, if they were in focus when the photo was taken, tend to look sharp and crisp. When scanning a glossy print, the result is usually acceptable and clear. Matte photos are printed on paper with a duller, no-luster finish. Colors appear softer, and text on a matte headshot is easier to read than on a glossy print. Fingerprints, dust, smudges and other imperfections on matte photos are less visible than on glossy paper.
The shiny, smooth print finish on glossy photos also picks up fingerprints, scratches and smudges and can easily look dirty. Depending on the light, the polished surface can also produce glare. A scan of a matte print can appear grainy and out of focus, and the prints don’t have the high-quality, expensive look that glossies do.
Because glossy finishes and matte finishes each have definite advantages, actors may want to consider having headshots reproduced in both finishes. Matte prints are useful for those instances where casting directors are physically sorting through piles of headshots, as they will appear cleaner. Actors will also want glossy prints for those potential employers who prefer them and especially to use for scanning, as digital presentation of actor headshots is now the norm.
While taking both photo finishes into consideration, it would be unwise for the aspiring actor to think that one answer simply fits every use for the headshot. The same professional photo will serve multiple purposes: as a marketing tool, for instance, on a business card (glossy or matte), on a coffee shop flyer (matte, to reduce glare), digitized for the actor demo reel (scanned from a glossy print) or printed on a resume (matte). The confident actress will include matte and glossy prints in her comprehensive marketing campaign.
Los Angeles-based film director and headshot photographer James Quattrochi says the perfect headshot is "a photo that jumps off the page." Thus, the most important thing about a headshot will always be its ability to capture the essence of the actor being photographed. However, the savvy actor will want to give himself the best chance possible by knowing what standard industry expectations are. According to casting director and acting teacher Paul Russell, matte finishes are the preferred choice when submitting headshot prints.
Jim Arnold has been a business and public-relations writer since 1990, working in-house at companies such as Paramount Pictures and Dolby Laboratories. His writing has appeared in "Frontiers," "Daily Variety" and "Prime Health & Fitness." Arnold has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Marquette University.