When printing or purchasing photographs, there are various paper and coating options. Glossy photos are shiny and smooth while matte photos are dull and textured. A luster finish -- more commonly spelled "lustre" -- is in between the two, taking characteristics from both. Deciding which to use depends upon how you will use the photograph, the image in the photo and personal preference.
Super Shiny Glossy Finish
Glossy photographs are shiny and smooth. There is more contrast in glossy photos so the images tend to appear sharper and colors more vibrant. Glossy finishes are often used when you want more clarity. They are also used for detailed, technical prints. The downside to glossy finishes is that they are very reflective and often have a strong glare. Furthermore, they show fingerprints very easily and often smudge.
Durable Matte Photos
Matte finishes are dull and non-reflective. Thus, there is no glare. The paper is texturized with a "pebbled" look and is soft to the touch. Matte photos don't show fingerprints or smudges like other finishes. Because of this, a matte finish is often used for wallet-size pictures that are frequently handled. With such prints, the image is preserved, as it can be passed around with little worry of leaving fingerprints or smudges on the surface.
Luminous Lustre Finishes
Lustre is in between matte and glossy in both shine and texture. It is moderately textured and has some shine to it. It does not show fingerprints or smudges as easily as glossy, but it does not have the durability of a matte finish. While glossy finishes highlight contrasts making sharper images, luster subdues them. Thus, they are often best used for softer, more sentimental images. Although they are slightly reflective, the effect of lustre prints is one of luminosity rather than the glaring surface characteristic of glossy prints.
Picking the Perfect Finish
Deciding whether to use a glossy or lustre finish often depends on personal preference. If you are going to frame a photo, lustre is often preferred. Glossy photos can stick to the glass, so if you are going to frame a glossy image, it is best to leave space between the photo and glass. If the photo will be placed in sunlight, glossy photos are very reflective and will likely have a glare from various angles. Lustre is also better than glossy for photos what will be handled or passed around. Portrait and wedding photographers often prefer lustre photos. Lustre is softer and it hides imperfections.