The Matte Aesthetic

Blue Matte Paint Volkswagon Beetle

When asked why matte paint looks flat, I usually just forward people to the article we wrote detailing the science behind matte’s unique ability to seemingly absorb light. Rather than beating a dead horse, I thought I’d take a stab at defining what it is we see when looking at a matte painted vehicle rather than why. Read on and let us know what you have to say about matte’s unique appearance…

Blurred Contrast

When light reflects off of a glossy car, we see an almost-perfect reflection of the world around us because that light is reflecting specularly (like a mirror). Matte finishes scatter the light, blurring the reflection to the point of invisible. All contrast is lost as reflected colors blend together to create amorphous shapes on the surface.

Because we can’t focus on a reflection, what we see is the raw sparkle (or sheen) of the matte paint itself—if you’ve ever looked at a glossy car’s reflection on a nice day, it’s hard to focus on the paint and not the reflection in it. This makes matte paint extremely unique and is a big reason many car owners are switching to matte paint or vinyl wraps that produce the same visual effect.

Sheen vs. Reflection

TJ Lavin's Ford Shoebox at SEMAAesthetically speaking, “matte” is a blanket term used to describe all types of finishes between flat and satin. Each finish is unofficially classified based on the amount of sheen it has. Now, one could argue that busting out a gloss-o-meter would end the discussion on what’s flat and what’s satin, but we’ll get into that at another time. The sheen is entirely dependent on how deep the valleys are in the matte surface and how extreme the scattering is.

To better clarify, think about a glossy car… the perfectly smooth surface is ideal for light to bounce symmetrically off the surface, thus the reflection. On the other hand, BMW’s Frozen finish (notoriously more satin) has gentle hills and valleys that make the surface appear a more muffled-matte look where you can very easily make out shapes in the surfaces reflection. To take it to another extreme, aftermarket single-stage flat finishes are so rough that you can’t see a thing—no sheen, no glow, no nothing.

When it comes down to it, every matte finish is like a fingerprint—they are all unique to some extent. Sure, Mercedes has perfected their Designo Magno finishes to the point where almost every one that comes off the lot looks identical, but even between shades, they yield a unique level of sheen that makes them appear truly one of a kind. Fortunately you don’t have to search too far to find the right matte paint care products for every level of sheen.

Got a favorite matte finish? Share it with us on Facebook or in the comments below!