Photo Paper Guide: The Different Finishes & What to Use Them For
When you spend a lot of time taking the perfect photo, you need to make sure that you print the images on the best kind of photo paper. If you want to captivate your audience, keep in mind that photo presentation is crucial.
Whether you print your own photos at home, or you have others do the work for you, there are three important aspects to consider:
- photo size
Most often, amateur photographers overlook the photo paper’s finish and quality. This usually ruins the photographic effects. Imagine spending five hours at an outdoor photoshoot. It takes a lot of hard work to capture some amazing sunrises and sunsets. Then, you have to spend another couple of hours editing. Once the prints come back, you realize that the matte paper diminishes the images’ glow effect. It’s simply a matter of wrong photo paper selection.
Photography is a form of artistic expression, and to convey art beautifully, the photographer must never underestimate the quality of photo paper. This paper’s quality makes an enormous difference because it can elevate a photo from mediocre to wow.
This guide will talk you through the different types of photo paper and what works best for different types of photography.
Why You Should Print Photos
If you’re a photographer, you know that the best way to display your best work is to print the photos. Whether you have albums, a gallery wall, or you sell prints, you probably know how important printing is.
Luckily, printing is accessible to everyone. So, if you’ve been thinking about having your family photos printed, let me tell you that it’s a wonderful idea!
Photo prints are the best way to preserve memories and showcase them in photo albums, scrapbooks, and picture frames. If you want to involve the whole family, get everyone together, and create a new photo scrapbook and album collection. The young and the old alike will enjoy this fun activity. Besides, you can strengthen the relationship between the two generations.
A photo finish refers to the texture of the photo paper. When printing photos, it’s very important to consider the finish of the paper. Each finish has a different feel to it and directly affects the whole aesthetic of the prints. You can feel the difference when you handle the paper. Some finishes are glossy and smooth, while some are grainy.
Here are the main types of photo paper finishes:
- Satin / Semi-gloss
Learn more about each type of finish in the next section.
Glossy Photo Paper
A glossy paper, also known as luster, is a shiny paper for photo prints. This type of paper has a shiny surface, and it is reflective and smooth to the touch. The photos printed on glossy paper are vibrant and have that magazine type of sheen. Most Hollywood and modeling casting agencies use a glossy photo finish for their actor headshots. The colors appear more vibrant, and this type of finish is flattering for showcasing facial features.
The details stand out more with a glossy finish, and you’ll see a noticeable contrast between light and dark colors.
Luster is almost the same type of finish, but it has a bit more texture, and it appears slightly less shiny than a glossy paper.
Glossy paper is prone to smudges and fingerprint marks. Therefore, it’s best to avoid glossy prints for scrapbooking and family photo albums. As well, the surface is sleek and prone to glare, so it’s best not to frame glossy prints. Humidity also wreaks havoc on glossy finishes, so it’s best to avoid them if you plan on keeping your photos for a long time.
Usually, glossy paper is used by professional photographers because they like the high contrast and vivid colors. As well, a glossy photo looks sharper and clearer. Therefore, it’s perfect for advertorials and promotional images, especially in magazines.
A matte finish is the polar opposite of glossy and luster paper. This paper feels smooth but textured and grainy in your hand. A matte finish doesn’t have glare on the surface, and it’s much better for framing or placing in photo albums and scrapbooks.
Since matte paper is not as delicate as its glossy counterpart, there’s no need to worry about fingerprint marks and smudges. The paper doesn’t make the fingerprint marks visible; instead, the oils are absorbed into the paper.
Matte photo paper is generally cheaper because the results are just not as spectacular as other finishes. The colors look great, but definitely less bright and vibrant than glossy photos. Be skeptical of matte paper you buy at dollar stores or grocery shops. These tend to be low-quality, which makes your photos look washed out and lackluster.
Satin and Semi-Gloss
Between matte and glossy is the satin or semi-gloss finish. It is a middle ground and combines the best features of both types of finish. This type of paper aims to reduce the glare of a glossy finish and make the paper more resistant to fingerprints and smudge marks. The challenge is to preserve the beautiful colors, sharp details, and noticeable contrast.
However, the semi-gloss finish is not quite everything it’s advertised to be. The satin texture is still very prone to finger marks. In fact, it absorbs the fingerprint oils and liquids, so it starts to curl at the corners over time. As well, this type of finish will become discolored in time, especially at the edges and corners.
To make the most of this finish, either frame your photos or place them in an album with a plastic cover to keep the images protected.
For those who like the glossy finish, the metallic paper is an upgrade. This type of finish is not a new invention. It’s been around for many years, and it’s very popular with artists and art lovers alike. The metallic finish is available in inkjet and dye form, as well as regular iridescent paper.
The result of printing on a metallic finish is a very bright, vibrant, and colorful image. The photo has the richness of a glossy finish, but it looks even more sheen. It gives the impression that an image is printed directly on a metallic surface. Think of it as a chrome type of finish, but be aware that this surface acts as a glossy one, and fingerprints are very visible. The good news is that the metallic finish is cleanable and much more resilient.
You can clean the smudges with a photographic emulsion solution.
This is a modern type of printing paper, so it’s best for our newer photos. If you restore old black and white photos, the metallic finish is not a good choice.
The fine art paper is mostly used for archival purposes and special photos. Most photographers don’t print their work on fine art paper. This type of paper is mostly made out of natural materials, usually cotton. For this reason, it has a unique texture, and it is known for its longevity. However, the trick is to use the right type of ink when printing.
The photos printed on this paper appear slightly flatter and muted, but the contrasts show up very well. You must be very careful when working with fine art paper because it’s delicate and prone to breakage.
Keep in mind that this paper has no emulsion on the front, yet the image still looks very good.
We recommend using a fine art finish for framed photos because this paper is not made with chemicals and acid and lasts for a very long time. Some of the textured fine-art prints are stunning and deserve to be displayed.
Besides the finish, the photo paper receiving layer is important.
Photo Paper Receiving Layer
During the photo printing process, the pigment is carefully laid on top of the paper. The paper has a receiving layer that receives and absorbs the pigment. This is a chemical layer, and it catches the ink. If it catches well, the photo will be high-quality and last for a long time. A poor receiving layer results in washed-out colors and less than perfect clarity. Therefore, the quality of this layer affects the final quality of the photo print.
There are two types of receiving layer used these days: the Cast Coat and the Micro Pore (Nano).
Cast Coat is the standard type of receiving layer, and it’s been around for a very long time. It is a cheap printing option and used for glossy finishes. When heavy inks are printed on this type of coat, it tends to smear, so if you plan on archiving the photos, the cast coat is a poor option.
Micropore technology is the last trend in photo paper. The cast coat lets the ink to sit on the surface of the paper, but the nanopore technology accommodates and absorbs the ink. Thus, the ink doesn’t smear, and photos have improved clarity. Print shops use this type of coat with all kinds of finishes to create more defined colors that last for a long time.
Paper Whiteness and Brightness
Paper brightness is calculated based on how much blue light reflects off a page. The value is between 0 – 100. The brighter paper produces more vivid images.
Paper whiteness is measured by how paper can reflect the visible color spectrum. It is displayed in percentages. The higher percentage means the paper has a slight blue bias. The lower percentage contains fewer optical brightening agents, which means it is a warm white tone.
The photo papers come in three tones: cool white, neutral, and warm. The different hues work to enhance the subject. The neutral paper is best because it flatters all aspects of the photo. The warm hue flatters skin tones but not the rest of the image. Therefore it’s not ideal for landscapes.
The thicker paper doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality. While we tend to associate substantial weight with more value, it’s not a correct assumption. The only advantage of thicker paper is that it handles well, it feels premium, and creates an illusion of longevity. Thin paper is excellent for printing, so there is no need to invest in thick photo paper.
Photo Paper Recommendations
Here are some of the best photo papers on the market:
For metallic photos, we recommend Breathing Colors Vibrance Metallic because it is budget-friendly, and photos look bright and vivid. Ilford Galerie Prestige Metallic Gloss is another excellent choice, but it is more expensive. However, it’s the best choice for artists and professional photographers because it has amazing Dmax and a durable resin coating.
The best paper for vintage and black and white photos is the Breathing Colors Optica One. It has an excellent Dmax capability and gives images a light warm hue, which is ideal for the vintage aesthetic.
For matte photos, we recommend a slightly thicker paper with a microporous surface like the Red River Polar Matte. It has that beautiful snow-white tint, which makes the colors more vivid.
Fine-art paper is generally more expensive, but it’s best to invest in a high-quality luxury paper. German brand Hahnemulle makes the best type of fine-art finish. Their William Turner is a cotton paper with the texture of a handmade paper. It makes any photo look like a piece of art, so it’s not surprising professional photographers prefer this finish.
For everyday printing, we recommend a budget paper like the Fujifilm Photo Paper Glossy 240, which is water-resistant and makes colors pop.
Check out this example:
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Test prints arrived today! Check out my website for availability soon! Final checking to make sure they ready to send out! A massive thanks to @theprintspace for a quick turnaround on these. #printing #theprintspace #fujifilmpaper #yourbritain #thegreatoutdoors #your_peakdistrict #printingphotos #photoprints #woodlandsandwater #lumix
Choosing a high-quality photo paper finish is an important part of the printing process. It all depends on the type of photos you want to print.
Whether you choose matte or glossy, there are three things to keep in mind. First, think about longevity and how long you want the photos to last. Second, think about what the purpose is and what you are going to do with the prints. Finally, consider your audience and determine if people are allowed to handle the photos or not.
If your photos are showcased in a gallery, then, of course, premium photo paper should be the number one priority.