How is gloss measured?

glossmeter (also gloss meter) is an instrument which is used to measure the specular reflection (gloss) of a surface. Gloss is determined by projecting a beam of light at a fixed intensity and angle onto a surface and measuring the amount of reflected light at an equal but opposite angle.

How to measure gloss

There are a number of different geometries available for gloss measurement each being dependant on the type of surface to be measured. For non-metals such as coatings and plastics the amount of reflected light increases with an increase in the angle of illumination as some of the light penetrates the surface material and is absorbed into it or diffusely scattered from it depending on its colour. Metals have a much higher reflection and are therefore less angularly dependant.

Many international technical standards are available that define the method of use and specifications for different types of glossmeter used on various types of materials including paint, ceramics, paper, metals and plastics. Many industries use glossmeters in their quality control to measure the gloss of products to ensure consistency in their manufacturing processes. The automotive industry is a major user of the glossmeter with applications extending from the factory floor to the repair shop.

The construction of a gloss meter

A typical glossmeter consists of a fixed mechanical assembly consisting of a standardised light source that projects a parallel beam of light onto the test surface to be measured and a filtered detector located to receive the rays reflected from the surface, Figure 1. The ASTM Method states that the illumination should be defined such that the source-detector combination is spectrally corrected to give the CIE luminous efficiency, V(l), with CIE illuminant SC[i].

A parallel-beam specular reflection instrument.

Figure 1. A parallel-beam specular reflection instrument.

A number of instruments are commercially available that conform to the above standards in terms of their measurement geometry. The instruments are calibrated using reference standards that are usually made from highly polished, plane, black glass with a refractive index of 1.567 for the Sodium D line, and these are assigned a gloss value of 100 for each geometry[ii].

Choosing the correct angle for gloss measurement

Measurement angle refers to the angle between the incident and reflected light. Three measurement angles (20°, 60°, and 85°) are specified to cover the majority of industrial coatings applications. The angle is selected based on the anticipated gloss range, as shown in the following table.

Gloss Range60° ValueNotes
High Gloss>70 GUIf measurement exceeds 70 GU, change test setup to 20°
Medium Gloss10 - 70 GU
Low Gloss<10 GUIf measurement is less than 10 GU, change test setup to 85°


For example, if the measurement made at 60° is greater than 70 GU, the measurement angle should be changed to 20° to optimise measurement accuracy. Three types of instruments are available on the market: 60° single angle instruments, a combination of 20° and 60° and one type that combines 20°, 60° and 85°.

Two additional angles are used for other materials. An angle of 45° is specified for the measurement of ceramics, films, textiles and anodised aluminium, whilst 75° is specified for paper.


Understanding Gloss units

The measurement scale, Gloss Units (GU), of a glossmeter is a scaling based on a highly polished reference black glass standard with a defined refractive index having a specular reflectance of 100GU at the specified angle. This standard is used to establish an upper point calibration of 100 with the lower end point established at 0 on a perfectly matt surface. This scaling is suitable for most non-metallic coatings and materials (paints and plastics) as they generally fall within this range. For other materials, highly reflective in appearance (mirrors, plated / raw metal components), higher values can be achieved reaching 2000 Gloss Units. For transparent materials, these values can also be increased due to multiple reflections within the material.

Glossmeter Standards

Comparison of standards for gloss measurement
High GlossMedium GlossLow GlossMedium GlossLow Gloss
Coatings, plastics and related materialsCeramicsPaper
BS3900 D5XXX
DIN 67530XXX

Glossmeter Calibration

Each glossmeter is setup by the manufacturer to be linear throughout its measuring range by calibrating this to a set of master calibration tiles traceable to NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).

In order to maintain the performance and linearity of the glossmeter it is recommended to use a checking standard tile.  This standard tile has assigned gloss unit values for each angle of measurement which are also traceable to National Standards such as NIST.  The instrument is calibrated to this checking standard which is commonly referred to as a ‘calibration tile’ or ‘calibration standard’.  The interval of checking this calibration is dependent on the frequency of use and the operating conditions of the glossmeter.

It has been seen that standard calibration tiles kept in optimum conditions can become contaminated and change by a few gloss units over a period of years. Standard tiles which are used in working conditions will require regular calibration or checking by the instrument manufacturer or glossmeter calibration specialist.

A period of one year between standard tile re-calibration should be regarded as a minimum period. If a calibration standard becomes permanently scratched or damaged at any time it will require immediate recalibration or replacement as the glossmeter may give incorrect readings.

International standards state that it is the tile that is the calibrated and traceable artefact  not the gloss-meter, however it is often recommended by manufacturers that the instrument is also checked to verify its operation on a frequency dependent on the operating conditions.

Advances in gloss measurement

The glossmeter is a useful instrument for measuring the gloss of a surface.  However, it is not sensitive to other common effects which reduce appearance quality such as haze and orange peel.

Haze: Caused by a microscopic surface structure which slightly changes the direction of a reflected light causing a bloom adjacent to the specular (gloss) angle. The surface has less reflective contrast and a shallow milky effect

Orange Peel: An uneven surface formation caused by large surface structures distorting the reflected light.

 A surface with orange peel and haze

A surface with orange peel and haze

Two high gloss surfaces can measure identically with a standard glossmeter but can be visually very different.  Instruments are available to quantify orange peel by measuring Distinctness of Image (DOI) or Reflected Image Quality (RIQ) and Haze.

More information the theory of gloss meters is available here:

Gloss meter Applications 

The glossmeter is used in many industries from paper mills to automotive and are used by the producer and the user alike.

Examples include:

  • Paints & coatings
  • Powder coatings
  • Additives
  • Inks
  • Plastics
  • Wood coatings, polishes and flooring
  • Yacht manufacture
  • Automotive manufacture and re-finis
  • Aerospace
  • Polished stone and metals
  • Consumer electronics
  • Anodised metals

Wood coatings, polishes and flooring

The gloss of hardwood flooring is typically measured at 60°.

Wood flooring manufacturer’s  finishing lines have been using gloss meters for many years to measure the gloss level in quality control (QC) to ensure they always achieve a consistent, quantifiable visual finish.

 White Oak 8.6 GU

Gloss ReadingFinish
Up to 20 GULow Gloss
21-40 GUMedium Gloss
41 GU and upHigh Gloss

Wood flooring distributors want to check their stock to maintain the integrity of their stock allocation. When wholesale orders are filled from two or more different production runs a gloss meter can verify if the finish of that run is close enough to a preceding run to send out on a job site.

Wood flooring dealers are always comparing the finish of their showroom samples to the actual product they receive from distributors and manufacturers. Gloss meters can help verify a major inconsistency that might impact negatively a project installation later.

Maple floor gloss 6.4 GU

Wood flooring installation contractors who perform sand and finish operations on site (site-finishers) need to know the gloss level of the finish type they are using; water-based urethanes, oil-modified urethanes, deep penetrating oil, conversion varnishes, etc.

Wood flooring inspectors get asked occasionally to verify gloss levels from two or more conflicting lots or runs to establish whether or not there was a problem with a previous order fulfillment. Mixing production runs does not always look good to a discriminating consumer with a sharp eye. This happens more often than people realise.

Novo-Gloss 60° Glossmeter

60° glossmeter for measuring mid gloss finishes such as printed paper. Complies to ISO 2813 and ASTM D523 the main standards for measuring gloss of coatings. Low cost easy to use gloss meter.


Novo-Gloss 20/60° Glossmeter

20/60° glossmeter for measuring mid to high gloss finishes such as automotive coatings. Complies to ISO 2813 and ASTM D523 and includes NIST traceable calibration.


Novo-Gloss 20°/60°/85° Glossmeter Haze

Novo-Gloss 20/60/85° Glossmeter with Haze to ASTM E430

20/60/85° Gloss meter measures matt to mirror finishes. Features haze measurement to ASTM E430 for high gloss finishes. The instrument provides full statistical analysis with trend graphs.


Rhopoint Novo Gloss Trio Glossmeter

Novo-Gloss Trio 20/60/85° Glossmeter

20/60/85° low cost glossmeter for all gloss applications from matt to mirror finishes such as paints, coatings, printing, polished metals. Features rapid data transfer, Pass / Fail for easy identification of non conformances.


Rhopoint Novo Gloss Flex 60 Glossmeter

Novo-Gloss Flex 60 Gloss Meter

60 degree gloss meter which measures surfaces with curvature and hard to reach surfaces. Designed specifically for low gloss applications such as automotive interior trim.


Novo Curve Glossmeter

Novo-Curve Glossmeter

Benchtop glossmeter measuring at 60°. Designed for measuring the gloss of very small and curved parts such as extruded plastic parts, tablets.


Rhopoint Novo Gloss Lite 45 Gloss Meter

Novo-Gloss Lite 45° Glossmeter

45° glossmeter for measuring specialty finishes such as textiles, ceramics & anodized aluminium


Rhopoint 20/60/75 Glossmeter

20º / 60º / 75º Statistical Triple Angle Gloss Meter

20º, 60º and 75º glossmeter for measuring the gloss of unprinted paper.