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What is matte black color?

Matte black is a deep, non-reflective shade of black that has become a popular color choice in recent years. Often seen on cars, electronics, and home décor, matte black offers a modern, sophisticated look. In this article, we’ll explore what exactly matte black is, its history and origins, how it’s created, uses and applications, and more.

What Makes Matte Black Different

Matte black gets its name from having a matte or flat finish, as opposed to a glossy finish. This lack of shine comes from the way the color is created:

Matte Black Glossy Black
Does not reflect light Reflective surface
Flat, dull finish Shiny, glossy finish
Light seems to be absorbed Light bounces off surface
Anti-glare properties Can produce glare
Muted depth Intense depth
Softens hard edges/lines Accentuates lines and edges

While glossy black surfaces are highly polished to create shine, matte black finishes purposefully scatter the light that hits them. This diffused reflection creates a muted, almost velvety look that seems to absorb light rather than bounce it back. As a result, matte blacks don’t have the same vivid depth and reflectivity as glossy blacks. But their softness offers a versatile, almost neutral backdrop that complements other colors.

The History and Origins of Matte Black

Matte finishes have been used in visual arts for centuries, with records of matte painting techniques dating as far back as the Renaissance era. These techniques were used to create illusionistic architectural backdrops for theatre sets.

But matte black specifically grew in popularity during the 20th century and became an emblematic color of modern art, architecture, design, and fashion.

Time Period Matte Black Use and Popularity
Early 1900s Matte black frames became popular in photography
1910s Adoption of matte blacks in modernist painting, fashion, and graphic design
1920s-1930s Art Deco designs often incorporated matte black accents
Mid-century Eames furniture in matte black introduced
1970s-1980s Matte black featured in punk, goth, and glam fashion
1990s Matte black electronics gained popularity
2000s Matte black cars and home goods trended

Matte black’s versatility and modern appeal has sustained its popularity across decades of changing design movements and styles. Today it remains a standard neutral shade in home and industrial design.

How Matte Black Color is Created

There are a few different methods used to create the flat, light-absorbing finish characteristic of matte black, depending on the material and application:

Method Description
Pigments Carbon black pigments absorb light rather than reflect it back. Adding carbon black to paint at high concentrations creates a matte black finish.
Dyes For textiles, matte black is usually achieved by dyeing material with a thick application of black dye.
Coatings Metal, wood, and other hard surfaces can be coated with matte black paint or anodized finishes to eliminate shine and reflection.
Inks Matte black inks, containing carbon black pigments, absorb light and create non-reflective black prints.
Plastics Mixing black colorants into molten plastic resins produces matte black plastics and polymers.

For each material, the key is controlling reflectance by filling the microscopic texture of the surface and muting the finish. Recently developed matte black coatings and paints use nanoparticles to effectively trap light.

Modern Uses and Applications

Thanks to its versatile, neutral properties, matte black has become ubiquitous in modern design across industries:

Field Uses of Matte Black
Consumer electronics Laptops, phones, cameras, headphones
Home décor Furniture, accessories, wall paint
Fashion and textiles Clothing, shoes, bags, fabrics
Industrial design Machinery, equipment, tools
Visual arts Canvases, photography backdrops, printing
Architecture Exterior paints, cladding, design accents
Automotive Vehicle paint, wheels, trim accents

Matte black allows products to stand out while also blending seamlessly into their environment. It brings a sense of sophistication and polish while still feeling muted and restrained.

Matte Black vs. Glossy Black

While matte and glossy black may appear similar at first glance, they create very different visual effects:

Matte Black Glossy Black
Muted, soft appearance Intense, deep appearance
Light seems to be absorbed Light bounces and reflects off surface
Doesn’t show fingerprints/smudges Shows any marks and fingerprints
Versatile, neutral background Pronounced, attention-grabbing
Subtle and understated Bold and dramatic
Blends into surroundings Stands out against surroundings
Softer hard edges and lines Accentuates edges and contours

While glossy black highlights contours and draws the eye, matte black tends to gently recede into the background. Matte also disguises signs of use like fingerprints. Ultimately, the choice comes down to the desired aesthetic effect.

Popular Matte Black Colors

There are a few specific matte black shades that have emerged as go-to choices:

Shade Name Description
Jet Black The deepest, most intense matte black with a slight blue undertone.
Soft Black A warm, brown-based matte black that’s slightly muted.
Rich Black A neutral matte black with subtle depth and intensity.
Flat Black A diffuse, non-reflective black with no undertones.
Chalkboard Black A dusty, dark gray matte black resembling a chalkboard.

These specific shades offer designers flexibility while maintaining the classic matte black aesthetic. Many brands will designate matte black colors like “jet black” or “rich black” to indicate the exact finish and effect.

Matte Black Paint Colors

For interior and exterior painting applications, there are a few popular matte black paint options:

Paint Brand and Color Name Description
Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black Neutral matte black with a subtle velvety finish.
Benjamin Moore Onyx Deep matte black with hints of soft green.
Behr Black Metal Intense blue-black with a metallic sheen.
Valspar Chinese Black Warm matte black with deep brown undertones.
PPG Black Flame Rich neutral black with a flat, non-reflective finish.

Choosing the right black comes down to the specific tone and light absorption needed. Samples help determine how the matte black will look on specific walls and lighting conditions.

How Lighting Affects Matte Black

The appearance of matte black can shift dramatically depending on lighting conditions. Direct light mutates matte black, while indirect light enhances its muted properties:

Lighting Effect on Matte Black
Direct sunlight Can appear faded and washed out.
Bright direct light Loses depth and contrast.
Dim ambient light Seems to absorb light, creating depth.
Candlelight, lamps Warm light enhances matte richness.
Track lighting Can intensify matte finish.

Since matte absorbs light, it’s important to carefully control lighting conditions and test different options. The ideal is soft, indirect lighting that gently brings out matte shadows and contours.

Caring for Matte Black Surfaces

The muted finish of matte black requires some specific care and cleaning approaches:

– Use soft microfiber cloths to gently remove dust and dirt, rubbing gently to avoid scratching or damaging the finish.

– Clean with mild soap and water when needed using a lightly dampened cloth, then dry immediately with a clean cloth.

– Avoid abrasive cleaners or scrubbing pads that can mar and damage the matte surface.

– Test cleaners on inconspicuous areas first before using on the entire surface.

– Re-apply matte black paints and finishes regularly to maintain the color and finish over time. UV rays and wear gradually break down the coatings.

– Use guards and protectants like clear covers or skins to prevent rubbing, scratches, and fingerprints on electronics and devices.

With proper, gentle care matte black surfaces can maintain their beauty and sophistication for many years. The muted finish hides small scratches better than glossy surfaces as well.

Achieving a Matte Black Finish

For DIY-ers, there are a few simple techniques to create matte black finishes at home:


– Use matte or flat sheen black paints formulated to reduce light reflection. Satin finishes offer slight sheen.

– For deepest black, apply multiple coats to fully saturate the surface and eliminate reflections.

– When painting larger surfaces like walls or furniture, use a mini roller rather than a brush for the most seamless matte finish.

Spray Painting

– Look for flat, matte, or ultra-matte spray paints in black. Primer helps the color adhere.

– Use light coats from farther away to layer the matte paint evenly and reduce drips.

– Spray painting is ideal for coating metal, plastic, or wood objects black.

Dyeing Fabric

– Use a black acid or fiber reactive dye for dyeing fabric and textiles matte black.

– Stir dye bath well and soak fabric until fully saturated with deep color.

– Rinse thoroughly and wash on cold, air dry. The matte effect develops as the fabric dries.

With the right supplies and techniques, it’s possible to transform many surfaces into sophisticated matte black. Experiment to get the perfect custom color and finish.


Matte black has secured its place as a versatile modern neutral across industries. The non-reflective, light-absorbing finish offers soft elegance, versatility, and polish. As an aesthetic choice, matte black makes a statement while also blending seamlessly into varied environments. With proper lighting and care, matte black surfaces retain their sophistication and muted beauty for many years. Its application continues to expand and adapt to new materials and uses across our matte black world.