How to Choose the Right Paper for Printing Photos

By Leslie Meredith
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The choice of paper for your photos can make as big an impact as the photo itself. Think about the effect you want to achieve, consider the paper types available and then make your selection. Keep in mind that paper made by your printer manufacturer is your best bet for compatibility, but don’t be afraid to experiment. If you regularly print photos for a variety of projects, consider stocking your shelf with different types of paper. As you’ll see, there is a paper to fit every job. Be sure to check out our reviews of photo only printers for a list of top rated photo printers.

Three Paper Characteristics that Make a Difference

Paper Thickness and Opacity
Thicker paper is usually preferred for printing photos from an inkjet printer. You’ll have a more traditional photo feel, similar to the photos you receive from a photo lab, and thicker paper is more durable. Thickness is most often measured in “mil” and most inkjet photo papers are between 7 and 10 mil. Opacity is also important. Look for higher opacity ratings if you are going to mount your photos, so the mounting surface will not show through and distort your photo. Inkjet photo papers usually have an opacity rating of 94 to 97.

Color Brilliance

The brighter or whiter the paper, the better the photo, a commonly held belief, but not always true. There are two scales to measure the brightness or light reflectivity of paper: the ISO Brightness scale and the TAPPI scale. The higher the brightness rating, the whiter the paper will appear, which yields photos with proportionately higher contrast and more accurate color. However, an ISO Brightness rating over 104 or a TAPPI rating over 92 indicates fluorescent whitening agents have been added to the paper, which may degrade the ink over a fairly short period of time. Purchase photo paper with lower values if you want your photos to last.

Paper Finish

Choose between matte and glossy. It’s mostly a matter of preference; the finish should be selected based on the look you want to achieve. A matte finish indicates more absorbent paper, consisting of paper particles, air and an ink-receptive coating. Glossy papers are far more complex with any number of chemicals added to create the reflective surface. Matte papers may be more stable over time, but glossy papers provide higher contrast and color saturation.

Finishes vary. Just like paint manufacturers with their high gloss, eggshell, satin and matte paints, paper companies offer papers that fall somewhere in between glossy and matte. Sampling is often the best tack. Some prefer glossy for color and matte for black and white photos, but again, it’s a matter of taste. Most matte papers can be printed on both sides, but glossy paper is usually coated on only one side making comparable double-sided photo printing impossible.

Once you have selected your paper and are ready to print, follow these tips for trouble-free printing:

Paper Handling
Thicker paper can be more prone to paper jams in an inkjet printer. To help prevent mishandled paper, gently fan the sheets of paper to create a small layer of air between them. Opt for manual feed, which is usually the most direct route through the printer. If your printer does not have a manual feed option, print one sheet at a time. If you are using coated or metallic paper, remove and set aside each print to avoid ghosting, the transference of ink from one sheet to another when paper is stacked. With today’s faster drying photo inks and specially formulated papers, ghosting is not the problem it once was, but it is still prudent to avoid stacking until the ink is dry.

Photos may be printed from any inkjet or laser printer, but manufacturers offer printers designed especially for printing photos.

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