Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by Photography PX
Some argue that printing a photograph is a lost art in today’s highly digitized world. And while that’s true to a certain extent, a printed image still holds enormous value. Prints bring your vision to life, and it’s the ultimate gratification to solidify the hard work often involved with capturing a great image.
And that transformation is what genuinely makes the photograph real, something tangible you can hold, look at, and feel. But, the process of printing images at home, rather than outsourcing to a dedicated lab, isn’t an easy one. There are many factors to consider that’ll ultimately determine the outcome of the image. And the paper used is equally as important as a matching printer, as it conveys the mood, colors, and the tone. Together, it can make or break the final print.
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So it shouldn’t be underestimated. But, a bit of trial and error and some proper insight will get you excellent results that’ll perfectly meet your creative vision. And to aid in that quest, we’ve created a guide on the factors you’ll want to consider while looking for the best option for your printer. And we’ll also cover some of the best photo papers on the present market.
5 – Canson Infinity Rag Photographique
The Infinity Rag Photographique is one of Canon’s top-selling matte papers for inkjet printers. It uses 100% cotton fiber, giving it a soft luxurious quality. And it comes free of any acids or optical brightening agents with a thickness of either 210 or 310 gsm. The 310 gsm variant, in particular, comes in a 25 sheet packet with sizes from A4 to A2. And it’s a museum-grade fine art paper, meeting the ISO 9706 standard while offering the highest Dmax score available. And together, this combination delivers images that are fine art ready and museum-worthy, with an exceptional lifespan to boot. Overall, while more expensive than your generic option, Canon’s Infinity Rag Photographique is an excellent option for photographers who favor matte and archival quality.
4 – HP Premium Plus Glossy
HP’s Premium Glossy is their long-standing glossy option for inkjet printers. It’s a high gloss bright paper with a smudge-resistant resin coating to deliver a magazine sheen. It offers a thickness of 292 gsm, and it’s available in sizes ranging from 4×6 to 13×19″ in packets of 20 to 100 sheets. And it’s ready to deliver bright and airy images that’ll liven up an album the moment they’re printed.
3 – Epson Premium Glossy
Epson’s Glossy is their long-standing glossy option for inkjet printers. This paper uses a resin top layer coating for a high gloss finish. But a finish that’s also smudge and water-resistant. You can get it in sizes ranging from 4×6 to 13×19″ and a thickness of 252 gsm. And it comes in packets ranging from 20 to 100 sheets. Together it delivers excellent color rendering with a classic high-gloss finish. And it brings a solid mix of performance for the price that’s well suited for Epson’s dye-based printers.
2 – Canon Pro Luster
The Pro Luster by Canon is their classic semi-glossy paper. It offers a top layer resin coating that’s smudge-resistant with a running weight of 259 gsm. It’s available in sizes ranging from 8.5×11 to 13×19″ in a single 50 sheet packet. With the luster range, Canon’s reduced the external glare but maintained the contrast and vivid colors of a standard gloss print. And the results are reminiscent of what’s achieved using darkrooms. As such, Canon’s Pro Luster is an excellent fit for their PIXMA printer line, especially for portrait applications.
1 – Canon Pro Platinum
Canon’s Pro Platinum is their flagship glossy option, but one bringing full archival quality. You can find this paper in sizes ranging from 4×6 to 13×19” with a thickness of 300 gsm. And it offers a resin top layer along with independent layers for color, improving the reproduction and general absorption. The result is deep and vivid colors that coat evenly. Yet, each photo is ready to last over 200 years with proper maintenance. As such, Canon’s Pro Platinum delivers immaculate results amongst the glossy crowd. And it’s the ideal option for those wanting a magazine-like finish with long-standing archival quality.
Photo Paper Buyers Guide
When it comes to selecting the right paper, there are many things to consider. And you have ample varieties to select from. But, ultimately, there isn’t a single variety that will perfectly suit every medium in photography. Some will work better for mediums like landscape, given they have different textures and feels. Others won’t. And you may also take a liking to some variants more than others. So it’s important to experiment with different varieties to correctly match the texture and mood you’re after for the print. But, below are some of the main factors to consider to help on your quest.
Type of Photography
The variant you select will set the mood of the print, so it must be properly matched for the type of photography in question. Depending on the subject and composition, the best option will vary. For example, a high gloss paper will make the image appear uplifting, cheerful, and vibrant. Thus, it’s not the best option for a photo with darker, muted tones and a gloomy feel. Instead, it’s best for a portrait or a vibrant landscape with a colorful skyline. And for a dark image, matte would be best.
So it’s important that you select the right variant that matches the final print. And, again, it’s an element you want to carefully consider, as it sets the entire tone of the image.
Type of paper
We can broadly categorize all of the variants into three main sections. These include Matte, Semi-glossy, and Glossy. And outside of the medium of photography alone, this is the next major consideration before printing an image, as it dramatically impacts the perceived mood of the picture.
Let’s cover each in depth.
Matte papers have a textured surface. But, the textures they include vary, where some are flat and nearly textureless and others are outright bumpy. Even so, this variant is never glossy or reflective, so they don’t suffer from glare in any way. And they’re the ideal option when you want a flat or moody print. They’re also excellent for black and white images since they correctly replicate its texture.
Glossy or high-gloss papers are the default variant offered by most print labs and the most popular option around. This variant produces images with vibrant, bold colors and details that pop, making them ideal for creating magazine-like prints. And they render images with excellent uniformity, high contrast, and a nice smooth finish. But, they’re on the reflective side, and they do suffer from glare at certain angles. So most photographers prefer not to frame these photos in glass.
You can also find luster papers grouped into this category. And they offer slightly less shine and more texture.
Semi-glossy falls in between matte and high-gloss. And this variant includes a textured surface in some cases, with some shine and reflectivity. But they’re not nearly as shiny as high-gloss. As such, they’re the ideal option when you want bold colors but don’t want the added reflectivity and glare of a high gloss paper. And they’re better for scrapbooks and family albums. But, this variant does tend to pick up dust and fingerprint oils quite heavily.
Whiteness & Brightness
It’s important to know that each variant has different specifications that determine its color fidelity. One of the main standards is the TAPPI CIE rating, which measures the reflected light across the daylight spectrum. And this specification ultimately defines its perceived whiteness. Generally, you want a rating of around 90, which is a well-rounded neutral white. Anything above 90 will produce a white with a cool daylight-balanced hue.
But do know, while this creates more saturated colors and higher contrast, the ink will fade faster over time on these papers as their coloring and brightening agents wear. They’re also more susceptible to UV light and generally more reflective. As such, they’re not recommended for fine art or archival mediums. Instead, they’re better for casual displays, say, at home on your wall.
Another area of consideration is the brightness, determined by the amount of blue light reflected. And a brighter paper will deliver more vivid and bold colors. This is measured using a 0-100 scale, but it’s not a specification always readily available from the manufacturer. You’d want to choose a variant that offers the correct brightness and whiteness for the final image in an ideal world. But, since that’s not always possible, focus on the color brilliance instead.
Durability and Longevity
The durability and long-term reliability of a print will come down to the printer and paper combination used. But, many combinations can deliver images ready to last decades without fading. However, it’s wise to research what the manufacturer suggests is best for your specific printer, as the ink it uses is specifically formulated for particular papers.
Thickness is the last consideration to make, but an important one nonetheless. The thickness will determine the feel of the paper and the experience you have handling the photo. A thick paper will deliver a professional feel akin to a dedicated photo lab. If you also accompany it with a textured matte finish, then you’ll have something that feels special indeed. Thickness is measured in Grams Per Square Meter (GSM).
Your average A4 paper used for office documents measures 90 GSM. This is thicker than, say, newsprint but far thinner than dedicated photo paper, which range from 200-300 gsm.
For this, though, it’s important to keep in mind the maximum thickness your printer can handle. Not all printers are properly apt to take thick photo paper without jamming. And in such instances, a manual loading feeder is the best option, especially when printing for multiple photos.