Gloss begone

There are few things that I despise more than the predominance of polished plastics in today’s notebooks. Glossy finishes are the single worst trend in PC design since the beige bland boxes of yesteryear. Those old-school systems weren’t so much the product of poor design as they were a reflection of what happens when you have no design at all. Gloss is arguably even worse because it’s an attempt at aesthetic improvement that ends up having the opposite effect.

Sure, glossy plastic looks great when it’s fresh from the factory or right after it’s been buffed with one of the cleaning cloths that always seem to come with it. However, even gentle handling tends to leave behind a mess of fingerprints and smudges that’s impossible to ignore. As I’ve said before, that’s an epic failure of design.

My opinion would be different if notebooks were meant to hang on a wall, sit on a stand, or otherwise be separated from end users. But we’re talking about an inherently tactile device that gets touched, held, carried, and otherwise manhandled as a part of day-to-day life. Design departments are either ignorant of this reality or have made a conscious decision to ignore it. I get the distinct feeling that glossy notebooks were designed more to attract the attention of consumers wandering retail aisles than to look good after purchase.

More than a year ago, I bought an Acer Aspire 1810TZ in spite of its glossy finish—not because of it. I’ve buffed that surface more times than I’d care to remember, but thanks to a few scratches picked up here and there, it’ll never be pristine again. What better time to get rid of the gloss for good?

This Lifehacker post served as my inspiration, promising to banish gloss with little more than a kitchen scouring pad. The article also suggested that fine-grained steel wool might work, but with Walmart a short walk away and scouring pads the recommended option, I soon found myself approaching the Aspire with a stack of Scotch-Brite pads.

The notebook’s lid offers a large, flat surface without too much curvature around the edges, making it the perfect place to begin my scouring. Lifehacker recommends sanding in a circular motion and with different sizes of circles to create a layered effect, so that’s what I did. I started with tight circles to ensure even coverage around the edges before expanding the diameter. All the while, Mr. Miyagi’s voice echoed in my head. Scour on, gloss off.

This process essentially wears away the glossy finish with an abrasive material. Not wanting to press too hard and end up gouging the plastic, I applied firm but even pressure across as much of the scouring pad as possible. The sanding will generate a fine dust that should be wiped away with a slightly moist paper towel after each pass. After about 10 minutes of scouring, I ended up with something that looked quite a bit duller than before.

The Aspire doesn’t have a glossy palm rest, but like many other notebooks, the screen bezel is a polished fingerprint magnet. I can’t think of a more inappropriate place for gloss. Tilting a notebook’s lid without touching the bezel is nearly impossible, and since the bezel rings the screen, you’re going to be face to face with whatever marks your fingers leave behind. Don’t get me started on how polished bezels can accentuate unwanted reflections in glossy display panels.

After masking the screen with some painter’s tape, I set to work on the bezel. This should go without saying, but you definitely don’t want to take a scouring pad to your screen—that’ll ruin it. Care should also be taken to avoid the webcam lens unless you want to blur your next Chatroulette session.

Tight circles are really your only option when de-glossing a bezel, and some hinge configurations may make it difficult to get even coverage all around. I also found that the Acer logo on the bezel was much less resilient than the one on the top cover. The bezel logo started to wear at the first touch of the scouring pad, while the one on the top panel remained crisp and clear after heavy scouring.

A closer look at the bezel reveals exactly what one might expect: the thing looks like it’s been attacked with sandpaper or a scouring pad. But there’s no gloss to be seen, and my fingers don’t leave any marks. In fact, the screen itself looks less reflective because it’s no longer framed by a shiny border.

Peering closely at the top panel under the oppressive lighting of my makeshift home studio reveals a similar pattern of scratches. The gloss is gone and fingers leave no discernable marks, but the scoured surface isn’t all that attractive from a few inches away. For a moment, I felt a twinge of regret and wondered if maybe I’d made things worse.

Then I saw the top panel from arm’s length under the lights of my living room.

Yeah, that’s a definite improvement.

Arm’s length is as close as I really get to my notebook. At that distance, the individual scratches sort of blend together into a larger pattern that really comes alive under softer lighting. That pattern effectively hides not only the oily residue deposited by my fingertips but also the few gouges that had previously marred the glossy finish. The end result looks worn and weathered, sort of like an old pair of jeans. I’d much prefer that to the alternative, which would be more akin to a pair of latex pants after an evening of heavy petting. Ewww.

Scouring away the gloss has probably dropped the resale value of my notebook and voided the now-expired warranty, but I don’t really care. I have no plans to sell and am quite happy to sacrifice fingerprints, smudges, and buffing for scratches that only bother me up close. If I end up with another glossy notebook, I won’t hesitate to break out the scouring pad once more. Thankfully, the number of new matte and textured finishes we saw at CES this year suggests that gloss may be on its way out. The migration to surfaces that maintain their attractiveness in the real world can’t come soon enough.

Comments closed
    • Wintermane
    • 9 years ago

    Odd I just use either a lysol cleaning wipe or a baby wipe every week or so to get the dust and gunk off it. Works like a charm and besides im not looking at it im looking at the screen.

    • Convert
    • 9 years ago

    Yeah I am going to have to say it’s uglier than before, but really who cares, it’s a tool, not a piece of art.

    I came across some auto detailing cleaner/polish that I put on everything from shiny laptops to phone screens. The idea is that it leaves a residue so when you put your grubby hands on it your oil doesn’t leave any visible traces. My Galaxy S phone for example doesn’t look like I have been fondling it all day long, even though I have. The residue isn’t really noticeable; it actually makes things easier like phone screens and laptop touch pads as your finger glides smoothly.

    It wears off though and needs to be reapplied eventually but it helps.

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 9 years ago

    not going to kill my laptop like that i jus’ use a microfiber towell to clean it off every once in a while 🙂

    • gregzeng
    • 9 years ago

    Prevention is better than cure. All my hand gadgets are non-slip, thief-proofed, reversible-engineered to new condition, just after I purchase each one: camera, phones, netbooks, notebooks, tablets, etc. EITHER/ OR / AND … the following.

    1) Put making tape on everything except the screen(s), buttons, inlets & outlets. This tape comes in different colors, different degrees of stickiness. Reverse engineer with methylated spirit soaked rags.

    2) Silicon rubber, as above. Wide color choices. For disguising or making glaringly obvious. Clean before applying. Use thin layers, except corners, near important buttons, sockets.

    3) Hot-melt (plastic) glue. As above in (2). Easier to remove than Si-rubber. Not as suitable to large flat surfaces, but workable. Tedious but quickly reverse engineer to mint condition.

    Retired (medical) IT Consultant, Australian Capital Territory

    • puppetworx
    • 9 years ago

    Scoured plastic is hardly a good look but under that light it looks like a blue leather book. Man would I like a leather laptop.

    • Kent_dieGo
    • 9 years ago

    Man, that looks a LOT worse. At least you do not have to worry about theft.

    It reminds me of when I bought computers for my sons. Their mom kept pawning their old one until she lost it. So I had to make the new expensive computers pawn proof. I let the kids pick a color of spray paint. They made great choices. One picked bright orange red and the other a hideous metallic blue. After painting the case, monitor, keyboard and mouse matching colors I took a hack saw and cut huge notches in the case and monitor. It looked awesome and no pawn shop would touch them.

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      Wow, seems like the mom is a winner. Congrats on the ingenuity though.

      • just brew it!
      • 9 years ago

      Most of my cases came from the clearance room at Tigerdirect. There’s a puke green one, a metallic green one, a metallic purple one…

        • Kent_dieGo
        • 9 years ago

        Mi kids LOVE cases like that. LEDs. Must have lots of LEDs!

    • geekl33tgamer
    • 9 years ago

    Ummm, I like the glossy look on my Dell Inspiron Notebook’s lid, and on my Samsung SyncMaster T260HD monitor.

    IMO, scouring it off looks worse…

    • BehemothJackal
    • 9 years ago

    I’m so glad my Asus G73 laptop has a matte finish. I wish my PSP had the same. I can’t stand how the entire surface is glossy from the D-Pad to the control buttons. Whoever thought that was a great idea has lost their mind.

    • BestJinjo
    • 9 years ago

    Not a fan of the glossy design myself but other than the occassional wipe down with a cloth/kleenex it continues to look great for years. Your notebook still looked almost brand new in the top picture and after the Scotch Brite it looks like a 7-10 year old laptop!!

    Personally, next time you should consider a laptop made out of aluminum like the Apple MacAir, HP Envy, etc. Also some newer Asus and Acer models have matte finishes.

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    I’m whack, I don’t look at my laptop other than to pick it up and bring it places.

    I did like the lifehacker article on how to remove logos with sugarcubes. That one I did do and worked great on all my devices.

    • cheddarlump
    • 9 years ago

    If you disassemble the laptop, take the shell pieces to a local soda blaster and have them to a quick pass on the plastic pieces. It will not leave deep marks, but will leave the plastic a beautiful matte finish.

    Of course, they may charge you a few bucks to do this..

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      I’m one of the lucky few that has an ‘uncle’ (close family friend) that owns a media blasting facility. I got my project 1980 VW Scirocco completely blasted to bare metal for restoration, and have had quite a few other things done. They were all automotive in nature, however.

      • Firestarter
      • 9 years ago

      if you’re feeling adventurous you can do soda-blasting at home

    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    I think 400 grit wet/dry automotive sandpaper might have even done a better de-glossing job Geoff.

    You should try it out and get back to us 🙂

    • Corrado
    • 9 years ago

    The thing to do now is to get some 1000 or 1200 grit sand paper and smooth it all out, and then spray a fine coat of matte clear coat over it. You’ll end up with something similar to this finish:

    [url<]http://www.mnpctech.3dpixelnet.com/picture_library/logitech_G7_mouse_paint_mnpctech.com2.jpg[/url<]

      • Forge
      • 9 years ago

      Did this to a couple of Acer Extensas two or three years back. Got the idea from an ancient iPod article, which suggested masking part of the iPod’s metal back case, and then buffing the rest with a mild plastic scouring pad, to make a shiny/matte pattern or design, to make your iPod indelibly yours.

    • TREE
    • 9 years ago

    I was looking for a method to get rid of scratches on my Galaxy S screen and there was a suggestion of using toothpaste as it is a natural buffer. I also read that this works on removing scratches from plastic.

    Maybe if you want to rid of the scratches and transform it into a smooth surface, that’s not glossy, you could try one of the techniques found on one of the many scratch removal guides.

    Here is a linky:
    [url<]http://osxdaily.com/2010/05/19/how-to-remove-scratches-from-an-iphone/[/url<]

    • FireGryphon
    • 9 years ago

    Wasn’t this already a TR article/blog from a couple of months ago?

      • drfish
      • 9 years ago

      Like Geoff, [url=http://lifehacker.com/#!5648885/use-a-scour-pad-to-de+gloss-fingerprint-prone-electronics<]this[/url<] is where I read about the trick first.

    • Johnny5
    • 9 years ago

    I used to have that Transformer, until my mom insisted on donating all of them. I think the Lego is still around here somewhere though.

    • sschaem
    • 9 years ago

    Have you tried a magic sponge ? Its super micro abrasion might deliver a perfect matte finish, if you are patient enough.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 9 years ago

    Saw the pic on Twitter and it looked nice there, Geoff. Good work.

    Also the latex pants line made me cringe and laugh all at once. Not that I own latex pants. Eww.

    • Squeazle
    • 9 years ago

    Glad to finally see this up here. I wandered across some other things like this online a while ago. If you want a different finish (read different, not better) you can try running the pads straight up and down. It gives it a not-too-horrible brushed look. I just sort of went for that when I didn’t like the irregular circles.

    • crazybus
    • 9 years ago

    I really detest glossy bezels, particularly when the manufacturer feels it necessary to adorn them with dubious pixel refresh times and grossly overinflated contrast ratios. Who wants to stare at that every time they use the computer?

    • Bensam123
    • 9 years ago

    “I get the distinct feeling that glossy notebooks were designed more to attract the attention of consumers wandering retail aisles than to look good after purchase.”

    Yup, hit it direct there.

    Honestly from the first picture it almost looks like the laptop has some sort of faux leather look to it due to the depth of some of the scratches and how they interact with each other. I thought it actually looked pretty good, but it might’ve been the lighting and it sadly seems to disappear through the other photos.

    Now for your second experiment, show us how to remove gloss from glossy screens! 😀

    • UberGerbil
    • 9 years ago

    Should’ve just borrow an orbital sander from somebody and used ultra-fine paper. Who needs to be the Karate Kid when you can be Mr Tool Time?

      • destroy.all.monsters
      • 9 years ago

      It’ll look better. I don’t know how useful it would be after.

    • spuppy
    • 9 years ago

    Might as well give it a matte paintjob now! Half the work is done

      • UberGerbil
      • 9 years ago

      Back in the late 90s I painted a gnarly old ATX case with some of that Krylon faux stone paint, so it looked like it was caved out of granite. Now that was a matte finish!

        • crazybus
        • 9 years ago

        Back when I was in college I spray bombed an old case matte black. Wasn’t flawless but it looked a lot better than yellowed beige.

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