If there’s one thing everyone can agree upon when it comes to photo paper it’s that there are an almost endless number of brands and varieties available. But don’t be intimidated. Generally speaking—there are some exceptions, and I’ll take note of a few—the most important thing to consider is surface type of the paper and the look you’re trying to realize. In the broadest sense, you’re looking at papers that range from glossy to matte, in the traditional parlance of photo papers, with a number of intermediate options.
Glossy papers provide a punchy, colorful (typically the highest gamut paper style available) look and, due to their ability to render high contrast images, work well for black & white printing as well. The papers themselves tend to be quite durable, and are available in a number of comparable offshoots as well, including semi-gloss. Almost every paper manufacturer—from name brands to knockoffs—produces glossy, semi-gloss and luster options and some produce an even larger number of incremental varieties. The vast, vast majority of photo quality inkjet printers can handle these types of paper.
The principal downside to glossy papers is that they tend to be highly reflective, though this can be mitigated if the print is to be framed and placed under glass (i.e. by choosing a non-reflective glass).
It should be noted that one of the distinguishing aspects of this kind of paper is that the ink doesn’t penetrate the paper; it sits on top of the shiny surface. So, while the paper itself is highly durable, the print can be susceptible to scratching from careless handling. Also, with some inksets (Epson is a particularly good example of this), there can be what is known as “outgassing” with these papers, though this problem has been mitigated with newer inkset releases.
Some glossy-style papers have a bit of a naturally cool (i.e. bluish) appearance and this will impact the way a print is rendered, though this can be countermanded by softproofing using your image editing program of choice.
Matte papers are more or less the counterpoint to glossy options and occupy the other end of the conventional inkjet paper spectrum. Matte papers have more of a textured, subdued appearance; they contain a narrower color gamut than glossy paper selections and render prints with less color and contrast. This can work very well for certain types of images, but if you’re looking for punchiness or contrast, this probably isn’t the best option.
On the other hand, matte papers have few if any problems with reflectivity of light and tend to be color neutral. Matte papers are also typically heavier stock than glossy.
There are other options. Watercolor paper is an interim choice, closer to the matte end of the continuum, with a fine art paper texture. Luster paper is also an interim selection, but closer to the glossy end of the spectrum and is an excellent compromise—a shiny surface with far less of the reflective downside of glossy paper.
Many sellers offer a variety paper pack for a small sum, including five or more different types of paper which will allow you to experiment with a number of options to see which work best with different types of images.
While not strictly speaking paper, canvas is another, very different, choice of medium. Extremely heavy and typically used for “wrapping” around a wooden frame, canvas offers a distinct alternative to conventional papers. Printing on canvas naturally reduces sharpness since the material itself is comparatively flexible, but this does allow for an increase in the possible reproduction size of the image. Not all types of images work particularly well with canvas; highly detailed images, for instance, are ordinarily not a good choice.
It’s also worth remembering that canvas is an extremely thick, heavy medium and many printers can’t handle it well. If you choose to print on canvas, be sure to check your manual to see if your printer is capable of printing on this medium.
Next: Printer Profiles
Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday. To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog: Lightscapes Nature Photography.