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Matte vs. Glossy Debate Heats Up: Are Glossy Displays a Health Hazard?

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Apple (s aapl) first began shipping notebooks with glossy displays in May 2006 with the release of the first-generation MacBooks, which were only available with glossy, and as a no-cost option on MacBook Pros. In mid-2007, glossy “behind glass” displays were also made standard on the aluminum iMac line with no matte option. With the release of Apple’s unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros last October, Apple ceased shipping any computers with matte screens. The Apple 24″ Cinema Display is also glossy-only, although Cupertino has relented to the extent of offering an anti-glare coating option on the 17″ MacBook Pro’s display for $50 extra.

But not everyone is happy about these developments. In fact, there are even reports that suggest use of glossy screens could increase the risk of health issues down the road.

Some Not Happy With Glossy

Contra-glossy display blogger macmatte demands that Apple restore a matte screen option for iMacs and all MacBook/Pro models, contending that this is an issue that won’t die down with passage of time.

CNET’s Dan Ackerman has the lack of a matte display option leading his list of five remaining MacBook Pro deficiencies following the recent WWDC upgrades.

Eye Strain?

Macmatte argues that glare from glossy screens causes eye strain for many people, and says matte screens solve this eye health issue. He claims that the physiology of the human eye causes some to be more prone to eyestrain when staring for hours at reflective surfaces, although others are not bothered.

He thinks Apple’s rationale for dropping matte displays are flawed, that notwithstanding Steve Jobs assertion that most people prefer glossy, a Google search for “matte glossy polls MacBook” suggests that around 40 percent prefer matte. I’m not sure how accurate the metrics derived from a meta-composite of Google search info would be, but there’s no disputing that a sizable proportion of laptop users do prefer matte displays.

Nearly Everyone Used To Use Glossy

Personally, it’s a non-issue for me. I can be quite happy with either matte, which my first dozen years of Mac laptops all had, or the glossy display on my 13″ unibody MacBook. After four months, I haven’t noticed any eyestrain. I’m also constrained to observe that up until the wholesale switch to LCD/TFT flat-screen monitors began about a decade ago, only laptop users had matte displays and virtually everyone else used glassy, glossy-surfaced CRT monitors that usually had curved screen surfaces to boot. I actually did experience eyestrain from using CRT desktop monitors that I found happily disappeared when I switched to using a laptop in 2006, but I’m not noticing any issues with the glossy MacBook display after four months use. Perhaps it’s the flatness rather than the “matte-ness” (or lack of) that’s key for me.

Macmatte suggests that if Apple finds it unprofitable to offer two types of screens, perhaps they could charge a premium for a matte option (which they already do with the 17″ MacBook Pro’s sort-of “matte” screen option). Indeed, there seems to be little logical reason not to offer a similar choice to 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro and iMac users except that I suspect the stumbling block is not so much cost as increased inventory management and stocking complexity. The workaround for that would be to offer matte as a build-to-order option.

Are Glossy Computer Screens Really A Health Hazard?

Interestingly, macmatte gets some scientific validation for his contentions from academics Down Under. The Queensland University of Technology at Brisbane, Australia, has posted a page on its Health and Safety web site with considerations for Apple Macintosh and other glass or high-gloss monitor screen users, warning that glossy displays could cause operators to adopt “awkward postures” when viewing the screen that may in turn lead to injury.

The university suggests users of high-gloss monitor screens should assess the area where the laptop or monitor will be used to ensure that sources of reflections and glare are eliminated or minimized to reduce potential for injury based on the following points:

  • The amount of time that the monitor will be used during a workday. If the screen is only used for short stretches, some of the control options may not be necessary, while if the monitor is being used frequently or continuously, potential for injury increases and should be managed.
  • Place the monitor so that the glossy screen is at a 90 degree angle to overhead lighting to minimize glare and reflection; and/or adjust the monitor screen tilt slightly so reflections from both internal and external sources are minimized. It’s also suggested that venetian blinds or shades be closed to reduce glare and reflections from windows.
  • Adjusting the screen contrast to a low brightness setting can help increase readability for the user.
  • Consider positioning the glossy monitor on another section of the desktop where it won’t be affected by reflections and/or glare.
  • Consider consultation with a building lighting engineer to determine if overhead lighting can be modified, such as by removing fluorescent tubes, while still providing adequate light levels.

The university also suggests considering the purchase of other types of computers or monitors that offer matte screens, and has posted further information on recommended use of screen based equipment.

What do you think? Are you bothered by glossy displays, love ’em, or have no particular preference?

51 Responses to “Matte vs. Glossy Debate Heats Up: Are Glossy Displays a Health Hazard?”

  1. As a professional who uses Autocad for a living I jumped into the Mac wagon once the intel chips were introduced into the Mac family.
    I purchased a MBP matte screen with the 30″ CD to beta test the windows based ACAD program. I was so pleased with the product that after a year I purchased the Mc Pro and I’m now considering changing to Mac produts altogether. My decision hinges on the display options I have at this point. My associates need to spend 8 hrs a day in front of a screen an I’m not sure if providing them with a glossy screen will prove detrimental to their health. I’m considering other 30″ CD but then the cost for several systems becomes astronomical once the computers required are factored in. I know the imacs 27″ would be ideal for our use but the glossy screens are not an option.
    I’d like to have better options from Apple. By the way their service has been superb at the store and the one on one training is very affordable.

  2. MacTripper

    Customers come in to a Apple Store looks at the computer screens and has one of two reactions. “Oh shiny or “Oh, I can’t seen the screen” Some leave, some buy. The older folks looking for a safe, easy and reliable computer to use usually walk out, the less experienced younger ones with good eyes and buy the shiny screens to show off to their friends. The younger folks are hard up for work due to the economy, short on spending cash, the older folks are set for life and just want to kill time on the internet instead of fighting Windows malware. The US population is going to experience a unusually high number of retiring post baby boom generation. Now what should Apple REALLY do? They should have matte film applied Mac’s for sale right next to the glossy ones. When a customer wants matte, just apply the film in the back house to a glossy machine before giving it to the customer. Problem solved, lost sales solved, everyone is happy. It’s the LCD makers colluding that are not wanting to put the matte film on anymore. Apple is held hostage, but if we keep on screaming!!

  3. I just went to the Apple Store to see the new iMacs, hoping that they’d used some sort of anti-reflective coating, but they’re just as reflective as always. I was so disappointed.

    My daughter has a 24″ glossy iMac that I put in my studio to try out, and the reflections made it very irritating to work (I’m a graphic artist/illustrator). Certainly, a lot of people aren’t bothered by it or can adjust their environment to compensate for the reflections (easier to do with a laptop). My situation is a studio with a lot of built-ins that was created with natural lighting in mind, and I’m not about to close all my blinds so I can use the computer–I use the computer for work for a great part of each day. I can’t completely rearrange my studio to reduce the reflections.

    The iMac is really a perfect balance of price, performance and size for a small graphics studio. It’s too bad that Apple doesn’t appreciate that segment of the market, aiming iMacs only at consumers. A Mac Pro is really overkill for someone who uses mostly Photoshop- and Illustrator-like programs. iMacs are plenty powerful. I suppose if I had to, I’d get a Mac Pro and a 30″ CD. It would be nice, however, if they would update those so those of us who would buy the high end equipment wouldn’t have to give up features like the iSight camera, LED backlight. It’s amazing how much warmer (temp) the 30″ CD is compared to the new LED 27″ iMac.

    I really liked the new mouse.

  4. MacJukie

    It’s matte screen for me all the way. Yes I had a glossy MacBook, it was intolerable. I got in touch with the big Stevie and he rolled out the 15″ matte MacBook Pro right off, but he is held hostage by the LCD industry and the broader PC market. You can blame glossy screens directly on HP, who bought
    Compaq and did a survey of ignorant computer fools who thought the glossy looked better. (it was glass covered matte screens then) Leveno was smarter, they polled existing their existing business base and 86% of them choose matte. LCD glossy screens are cheaper to make as they don’t have to apply a matte film, just spray a so called “anti-reflective” coating which doesn’t do squat naturally. Google macmatte.

  5. Some thoughts on the new imac. I really like the idea of cinematic screens, but not on a computer! Why, because real estate is lost. The 24 inch screens had more vertical space to work with. Not all bad, as the Apple TV can work well with the new models. One solution is for the imac to take on the iphones technology using sensors for vertical and horizontal views. I realize that the imac can’t achieve this as is with the size of the screens. But, why can’t Apple make a screen that turns horizontal and vertical – I have seen it done on other brand name monitors. I guess it might be problematic for the cords running into the computer (but were talking about Apple). If you remove the icons of the dash board you can get another inch or so of real estate.
    The glossy reflections still bother me big-time! If your a photographer, artist, graphic designer or someone who works with color editing this can be a problem. If they can have matte screens for Macbook pros, why not imac’s? I still love the matte screen on my imac 2006 17in) late edition model. The colors are still great and no reflections of any kind. Apple just seems to be uninterested in those who need or wish for matte screens.
    Even if we have to pay more, I want that option. I do like the new computers, but will not be upgrading just because of that problem. This leaves me in a quandary as to where to go from here. The mac mini? No! Not enough power(graphics card). The Macbook pro? No, to expensive for my taste.
    One last beef. Why can’t apple make the calibration of the monitor easier than it is. On the third party monitors there is a much more professional options for getting the monitor calibrated at it’s peak level of capability.
    Don’t wish this to sound like a rant, it’s just that we can and do expect the most from Apple!
    Checked out the new imac mouse; just love it. Simple but a bit small for bigger hands. Give us two sizes please.

  6. These discussions always miss the main point. Nobody ever “asks” for a glossy monitor, and Apples monitors were not broken until they decided to “fix” them with glossy. Then suddenly there was a love/hate relationship with their monitors. The only reason Apple puts glossy monitors on their machines is that it saves them money. Essentially Apple is putting square wheels on your car because they are cheaper to manufacture than those pesky round ones that some malcontents are clamoring for. If you had to answer the question of when did Apple become “evil”, (evil defined as doing things that make you money at the expense of your customers, and no longer pursuing quality), I would have to say the glossy monitor with no options for better is it. They say people love them. No one I know loves them and no designer or photographer I know uses them. In a professional environment where color accuracy is critical, your monitor is your guide to accurate printing, and frankly you stare at it all day long, the glossy monitors are a sad joke, and a continuing frustration with an arrogant Apple.

  7. MrCyberdude

    Matte is much much better IMHO.

    As for the comment earlier that TV set the way…. Wrong… Its price.
    The facts are that it is cheaper to make plain flat reflective glass than it is to make it Matte via pitting the glass or applying a coating.

    Reflections are fine on my iPhone but not for a 27inch iMac IMHO

  8. MATTE all the way! I work outside most of the time. I have a 7 yr old Sony VIAO. I LOVE the antique but actually VIEWABLE screen, but can’t upgrade. I have an new HP dv9000 that I can’t see sh** even when I try to ‘hide’ in the truck. And when I get a call on my Razr – gee, guess what, I have to drop everything i’m holding, to TRY actually see the screen. (guess I won’t be upgrading to a smudgy iPhone or the like) I am very vocal when any company asks if there is “anything else they can do to help” me. I tell them, quite clearly in fact, that YES there is: I want a screen I can use outside for work!! I ask to be recorded, I ask for them to fill out all documentation to tell the big smart guys that sit in their office and worry about the nuances of 16,000,000 colors (really? who cares?) and movies, and games to allow me a CHOICE for a dull old fashioned – but USABLE screen that can be seen outside!

  9. Just FYI…we don’t use the glossy screens because we hate the glare. It’s a stupid argument to say that “most people who don’t like them don’t use them”. Well duh, because we continue to buy matte displays.

    In school in particular, with a lot of fluorescent lights, the screens are very reflective and distracting. I don’t think this is acceptable, and would prefer to have a matte if I can. Unfortunately, the choice is being removed and that is the real problem; someone else decided that glossy was best for us.

    • Judah

      quote from “Jay” — “Unfortunately, the choice is being removed and that is the real problem; someone else decided that glossy was best for us.”
      Well put! What happened to the consumer/artist/designer choosing?
      Actually, they decided that glossy was best for THEM, and so try to convince us that glossy is better.

  10. Matte all the way! I work with a computer monitor all day long and can vouch for the fact that glossy screens cause eye strain–particularly for those who sit next to a window or sometimes work outdoors. I only use LCDs with a matte finish now. My first laptops had a matte finish and were great. The latest laptops are all glossy and have a horrible glare if used anywhere where light reflects off the screen–which is everywhere I work.

    Our 2008 LCD HDTV also has a matte finish. I could have had glossy, but since the TV is near a window, it’s so much better with matte. I think people like glossy because it’s flashy, and it may provide a nice quality picture in a dark room, but it’s pretty rare that the room would be so dark to notice the difference.

  11. WOW, have you seen the battery runtimes on the new MacBook Pro lineup? 7 Hours! Yes, s-e-v-e-n whole hours!!

    Pity, my eyes tolerate 5 minutes…

  12. Count me among the matte screen lovers. Don’t like glossy televisions and dislike glossy computer screens even more. I kinda thought that when TVs and computer monitors went to flat panel displays, we had finally relegated glare to a thing of the past. Apparently I was wrong.

    I understand that it seems more people like glossy screens. So? More people seem to like MS Windows, too. “Popular” does not necessarily equal “better.” I understand Apple offering glossy screens to the “shinier is better” crowd, but it peeves me a bit that if one wants a stock matte screen from Apple, the only options are a gigantic 30″ Cinema Display or a 17″ MBP, and that’s it. Not cool.

    • Judah

      I agree with “GP.”

      I am a professional graphic designer + hobbyist photographer and MUCH prefer the matte screens. The color fidelity seems better, to me, on the matte monitors when creating something for print.
      I’m also one that agrees that matte is easier on my eyes.
      Is apple listening?

  13. I wish apple would offer iMacs with matte screens!!! I have an older iMac with matte screen which I prefer over the glossy anyday and has me not wanting to buy a new iMac for that reason.

  14. Bill S

    Non-reflecting screens don’t need to be dull. Several companies have developed what are called “moth-eye” coatings for glass and plastic that all but eliminate glare without compromising color intensity. (See, for example, The coatings accomplish this feat using surface-relief structures that are smaller than the wavelengths of visible light, roughly 16 million texture dots per square millimeter. Sony is reportedly working to adopt this technology throughout its product line, and I would like to see Apple do the same, at least as an extra-cost option. For me, low-glare screens have always been one of the features that justified the higher cost of Apple products, and I’d happily pay a premium price for such a low-glare option.

  15. Ed Wood

    While I am not a pro, I do a great deal of photo work. ANY reflection bothers exacting photo work, this is particularly true on Those mac screens such as Imacs where screen brightness is way too high. In order to avoid the problem, i had to buy a Mac Pro and a non apple monitor. Incidentally, my ophthalmologist warned me about too much time in front of a glossy or too bright monitor.

  16. I personally cannot stand looking at any reflective surface for a long time. I once worked at an office with a window behind my desk and had a matte-screen laptop. They changed my computer to a CRT and it was like being in hell. I must have really sensitive eyes because I couldn’t see a damn thing and constantly got headaches from the glare. If you have a perfectly conducive environment, I don’t think matte versus glossy matters that much, but if you have light sources that you cannot control, the glossy is frustrating to those of us with sensitive eyes.

    At the very least, I think Apple should give users a choice. It is irritating that Apple offers so few choices in their product line ups. Some choices, like hard drive capacity and processor speed exist, but other than size and speed, most physical features are virtually identical across any given Apple product line.

    As a graphic designer, I don’t want anything to come between me and the image I am working on, so glare is extremely irritating – and Mac is, or traditionally has been tailored to creative professionals like myself. It’s no problem on my because I can purchase any screen I want.

  17. bandle

    The glossy display is only good for all you pot-bellied geeks who spend all your time sitting around indoors. Those of us who take our computers out for field work are posed with major problems lacking a matte display.

  18. Do all you folks live only in the world of computing? The overwhelming world market for screens with images on them decided this question years back – and glossy won.

    It’s called television.

    That’s an indicator smart manufacturers watch – as does Apple. Sit back in your mama’s basement [or employer’s cubefarm] and ignore TV’s existence; but, that’s what really drives decision like this.

  19. Sweetwater Tom

    On people preferring glossy, if there are no reflections on the screen I can see that people would pick glossy. In the real world you can’t always arrange things. I would expect that folks that used their laptop primarily at their desk would be happy with glossy, but those that used their laptop at many different locations will curse the reflections.

    When the monitor is connected to the keyboard, as on a laptop, you have a lot fewer choices about how to position your screen. I paid for (and waited for build/shipping) so my Macbook Pro 17 would have matte screen.

    (I was bothered by flicker on my CRT. I need a refresh rate in the mid 70s)

    There are plasma TVs for sale now that have hard glass. Their main downside is the reflections.

    The main thing that will convince Apple to offer matte screens is for more people to order it when it is available.


  20. j o h n n y

    matte is preferred by photographers, i use the aluminium apple display with my mac pro for my photos. the colours are more “true” and easier to calibrate. i was very disappointed when apple released their LED + then new line of macbook pros (except 17″ :D) it seems apple is going streamline more and more. apple used to be known for professional level products. now days every one uses one. like, some people use top of the line macbook pro to check emails and type papers, to me, its sad. but those are the general customers apple want bc of their numbers, which = money. ……idk….

    • webraider

      Not All Photographers prefer matte. I know a professional who didn’t like the idea of the matte screen but now has NO issues with it and loves the color vibrancy.

  21. I prefer matte – even though colours (esp. pictures & videos) look better on the glossy. Reason I am pro matte is the fact that I just get less reflections on my screen especially from light sources in my back. And turning up the backlight is just not always comfortable for the eyes. On top comes that the glass fame on the MB(P)s is still reflecting – no matter how much you turn up the backlight on the LCD! Just not optimal and for sensitive eyes just not a first choice.

  22. The reason 40% of people questioned on internet polls prefer matte is because most of the people who answer polls on tech blogs are obsessive tech fanboys, a disproportionate amount of which follow the whole “pros hate glossy” echo chamber. I mean, just looking at the Wikipedia page for “Matte Screen” shows that the Matte minority is crazy enough to turn an encyclopedia page into a rant. Its fascinating to see that even among those techies the majority still likes glossy better.

    The reason the author’s eyes feel better looking at an LCD, glass or matte, is because of the refresh rate. CRTs, even at high rates, flickered. LCDs pixels are all on until instructed otherwise.

    • Yes, no one denies that the majority love glossy, but according to the Macmatte blog, around 40% want matte. That’s a minority, but not a small minority. The reason why matte-supporters are so vocal is because, for other features — such as Apple’s controversial removal of USB’s in the MBAir, initial removal of Firewire from the MacBook, removal of floppy disks from iMacs etc — you can eventually get used to it and find a work around. That’s not the same with glossy screens. If you happen to be in that percentage of the populations where gloss screens drive your eyes crazy (we’re saying everyone, just a portion of the population), then there is nothing you can do about it. Prolonged use simply worsens the condition. So it’s not a case of glossy-folk telling the matte-folk just to get used to it. Some people’s eyes respond to reflections/glare differently to others. It’s a matter of understanding that, and considering the implications — rather than telling 40% of people just to get used to it just because the 60% don’t have problems with it.

    • I’m not a pro, I don’t care about who is “right” in terms of the argument, and I hate gloss. I found out when my brother gave me his laptop, and I was having a lot of problems with it – glare, dust, fingerprints. I didn’t even know there was a gloss/matte dialogue. When I finally figured out what the problem was, I took my “side.” I understand why Apple uses gloss. I just hate it, and will never buy another computer that has it.

  23. Charles W. Moore

    Hi Oliver;

    “And when was the last time you saw a glossy tv screen?”

    Uh… right this minute. Our living room TV (purchased new in December, 2007) has a glossy glass CRT, albeit flatter than TV screens used to be.


  24. Oliver Stanton

    Matt. The new gloss screens are there to help PC users switch to mac. The gloss screen helps with the instant appeal, with its saturated colour and clean look. However, if you want to work in an office where the light moves through the day – so will you. The matt gives a closer approximation to the ‘printed’ colour depth in publishing, is less distracting etc for designers. And when was the last time you saw a glossy tv screen? No it’s all to ensure that those Toshiba/dell users can have the same cheap experience – look and feel on a mac. And while we’re at it can we have a matt finish on the iPhone – wouldn’t show up the grease so much and would make for a slicker experience.

  25. oliver

    i’ve been using a gloss screen for over 3 years and it’s only been an issue on the first pc laptop i had. the quality of screens has vastly improved in that time, and in the 2 years i’ve had my MBP 15″ with glossy screen i can say without shadow of doubt that i’ve never had to re-adjust or move around to accommodate glare – it’s just not an issue.
    i’d say most people that complain about gloss screens on laptops do not use them on a regular basis, and have previously used older incarnations. i do agree though that the lighting in Apple stores does not the arguement any favours though.

  26. adamjackson

    I was a “matte fan” but the need to upgrade from my MacBook Pro to a new model forced me into the glossy realm. Many Apple Stores have natural light and in the store I wasn’t happy with the glossy performance but now it’s actually not noticeable, nor does it cause any eye strain.

    If the brightness is all of the way up it’s not so bad. I’m considering going 17″ for my next purchase and am actually considering going matte because I can. Design-wise, I think matte looks very ugly with the black keys but function beats form on that one.

    It’s a tough choice but personally the switch was seamless and without issue for me.

    • webraider

      OMG.. Finally people are admitting it. Once people ACTUALLY try the Glossy screens, the discover.. IT’S NOT THAT BAD. Doesn’t anyone remember the CRT days? Can we Say “Glossy”. Sure we used cardboard boxes to shield them from the light but the glossy LED’s are not as reflective as the CRT’s were. Honestly. Try one for a week before throwing stones at Apple. Also.. There aren’t too many vendors offering Matte anymore so you may not have too much of a choice in the near future.

    • As with almost any debate there are two sides. In this case i think that anyone can really see both sides, but MacHeads unfortunately tend to see in Black and White and beleive defending Apple is more important than accepting reality. I have 6 computers, some matte, some glossy. I write this right now on a newly purchased HP HDX machine with all the bells and whistles and unfortunately a glossy screen. I love this laptop for its functionality, but the eyestrain it causes me in my house of many windows is almost unbearable. I carry this laptop with me wherever I go, and unfortunately it is rare that glare is not a problem. I wish I could swap for a matte screen 90% of the time. I had a MBP for awhile with the same issue. I love the glossy screen in a relatively dark room but rooms with multiple light sources are a nightmare. I may have sensitive eyes but am sure I am not alone on this. I’m not bashing Apple because I generally use PC anyway mostly because of software investment, and Apple’s inability to adopt current accepted technologies like Blu-ray and HDMI, but I think a removable glare filter integrated into the glossy screened laptops would be a huge winner for any manufacturer. Sometimes we want the glossy for its high contrast and great colors, but a good portion of the time, unfortunately, matte is the big winner. Free advice laptop manufacturers, make it and go market it!

    • Hi, Every one do not have the Same Eyes to feel the Stress, If a very Healthy person Sits before a PC even for 24 hours – he obviously do not feel any Eye strain.

      But if a Care free persons like us, who dont care to consume food on Time and just extend our Time on PC, postponing other Health related stuff, then the Kind of Screens will come into Consideration.

      Anti-glare Screens like MATTE are far more better for people who are Computer geeks, who take less care of their health. So Matte screens will reduce the Eye stain and other Body movements.

      I am a person who takes less care to Timing and consume Healthy food, I many times skip the actually Food time sitting on the PC. So i actually wear Cooling Glasses to Sit every time before my Glossy Screen. All my Friends laugh at me when they see me on the CAM.

      But i dont care. And I advice you to If you wanna protect your eyes, you Prefer MATTE, or use Anti Glare Products or Just have Cooling Glasses on your Eyes every time, like ME :)

      Regarding the Movies, I dont buy even a single Video DVD to watch movies, I am watching each and every Movie online, through billion of websites. WE KNOW THEY ARE OF LESS QUALITY ONLINE. Who the hell will care – if those less Quality movies are good to watch on Glossy or Matte Screen.

      I just want to protect my Eyes, and so you do..!