Project Pointers: Photography
The days of Polaroids, disposable cameras, and film canisters are long gone. Whether you love digital photography or lament the decline of film, there’s no denying that there’s a certain appeal to flipping through a photo album, scrapbook, or simple stack of photos that clicking through a Facebook or Flickr album lacks.
Thanks to digital photography, we no longer have to wait for days or pay big money to print and preserve our photos indefinitely. You can easily purchase high quality photo paper and print your snaps at home, and no one will know the difference. If you aren’t sure how to pick a photo paper or which one is right for you, keep reading! We’re sharing some helpful tips, as well as our favorite photo papers.
The Golden Rule
There’s only one hard and fast rule when it comes to printing photos at home – do not use standard printer paper. Printing your photo on regular printer paper will result in a crinkly, lifeless print complete with dull colors and poor resolution. This is because regular paper is porous like a sponge – it soaks up the ink. Regular printer paper is okay for testing and positioning, but that’s it.
You could use a specially formulated inkjet printer paper, but the color, sharpness, and brightness of your photo will still be inferior to proper photography paper.
So How is Photography Paper Different?
Photography paper is brighter, thicker, and more opaque than other paper. These differences are important for a few reasons:
- Brightness: Brighter paper means brighter printed colors and more contrast.
- Thickness: In addition to making your print more substantial, thicker photo paper also improves your print’s durability.
- Opacity: Opacity is especially important if you’re planning on mounting your photos (that goes for everyone, from photographers to designers to scrapbookers). If your paper isn’t opaque enough, you run the risk of any patterns or variations in your mount showing through your photo.
What Kind of Photography Paper Should I Use?
The type of photography paper you should use depends on your printer.
A safe option is to use the photo paper recommended by your printer’s manufacturer, but these papers can be expensive. A third party retailer like The Paper Mill Store can supply you with a photo paper of equal quality at a lower price, so you can print more photos without worrying about racking up the costs.
There is no industry standard when it comes to photography paper, so do the research to find out what’s best for you. Standard-quality photo paper is usually the most economical, and it’s generally a good option for printing every-day photos for things like your Instagram shots. If you’re a designer or scrapbooker, consider using a heavier, brighter paper; your printed colors will look better, and your photo will stand out more. If you’re a photographer, use a top-of-the-line photo paper, especially for exhibits and displays or framed prints.
Types of Photography Paper
The Paper Mill Store sells three main varieties of photography paper: high gloss, matte, and satin.
High Gloss Photography Paper
Glossy is the most common finish, and it’s available in a variety of degrees from normal to high gloss. Generally, the glossier your paper, the brighter your colors will be and the more contrast you’ll be able to achieve. Compared to matte paper, glossy paper allows for a wider range of color and better resolution, but it’s also more reflective and your photos can suffer from glare.
Here are some of our favorite glossy papers:
Matte Photography Paper
Matte paper has no gloss and is therefore more subdued. It’s also uncoated, which means a few things:
- There’s no reflective surface, which makes it ideal for photos you intend to display.
- Matte paper soaks up more ink, which can result in a less detailed, less defined photo. If you don’t expect people to be looking at your photo from an inch away, this shouldn’t be a problem.
- Uncoated paper is less durable than coated paper, so it’s not ideal for photos that will be handled (take heed, scrapbookers).
Here’s a great matte photography paper option:
74 lb. Cover Matte
74 lb. cover weight is a great standard weight for printed photos.
Satin Photography Paper
Satin photography paper, also known as semi-gloss paper, sits halfway between glossy and matte. Its color range is closer to glossy paper but it has less glare, which makes it the perfect option for scrapbooking and displaying behind glass.
Check out this satin photography paper:
67 lb. Cover Satin
Satin finish is perfect for almost any use, especially in a lighter weight like 67 lb. cover.
How Do I Choose Photography Paper?
In addition to the type of printer you have, there are a few things to consider when deciding which photography paper is right for you:
- Paper Size – how big do you want your photo?
- Paper Weight – photo paper is heavier than regular paper to prevent it from curling after printing. Use a heavy, double-weight paper for exhibits and framed prints. Otherwise, a standard weight for photo paper like 67 lb. or 74 lb. cover weight will work just fine.
- Paper Finish – glossy is the most popular finish because it produces the sharpest image with the most contrast. Satin reflects less and can lend a dreamy feel, while matte is the most subtle and subdued, which makes it a good option for portraits.
- Color or Brightness – better quality papers are whiter and will produce better colors and contrast.
Ultimately, your paper choice boils down to what you like best. Don’t be afraid to play around and experiment with different finishes, weights, and brightnesses until you find the one that suits your needs!
Thanks to digital photography, we no longer have to worry about running out of film or spend time waiting to have our photos professionally developed. It’s easy to print at home, and all you need is the right paper.
If you’re an amateur photographer, paper crafter, or just want to print out some great snaps from your last vacation, check out our full selection of general photography paper. If you’re a professional photographer, we also have a wide range of professional-quality photography papers available.
Chaney, Mike. “Using Matte, Semi-Gloss and Glossy Paper“. Steve’s Digicams.
Grotta, Sally Wiener and David Grotta. “Printing Basics: How To Choose The Right Photo Paper“. Computer Shopper.
Image Permanence Institute. “A Consumer Guide to Modern Photo Papers“. January 2009.