X-Rite Quick Tip: How Our Prints Look on Different Paper Surface
by Alan Winslow – March 9th, 2018
Characteristics of a paper surface can drastically affect how our final printed images appear.
You’ve spent the time in the field or studio making your dream shot. You’ve toned your photo on a calibrated monitor perfecting the final image on screen. Now you want to make your final print. Paper choice plays a significant role in how your final image will look and feel. Photographic papers range in surface, weight, texture, and price. So let’s break these down.
Main Paper Surface Choices
Surfaces range from a smooth, shiny, bright white glossy paper to a thick, textured natural colored matte paper with everything in between, not to mention specialty media.
This is perhaps the most common type of paper because it yields a bright, saturated prints. Glossy paper can easily render deep blacks, while at the same time making the image appear crisp. The downside of this type of paper is that it is highly reflective, and you can easily leave fingerprints all over it.
Matte papers often tend to appear much duller. These papers come in a wide range of textures and have excellent color reproduction with very little or no reflection. Typically, prints have less contrast, and dense shadows might be difficult to render correctly.
Sometimes called satin, semi-gloss, or pearl, this surface has a slight gloss that still allows for deep color saturation and high contrast without being reflective. The texture also hides small scratches and fingerprints so it’s a perfect choice if the print will be handled.
This category includes canvas, metallic, linen, rice, and a host of other media. They all have unique qualities and you will want to experiment to understand their appearance fully.
Other Paper Features to Consider
Paper weight is written in grams per square meter or (GSM), and the paper thickness is specified in mils or mm. Thicker papers will have more structure and stability while being handled which prevents them from being easily damaged.
Brightness ratings describe the overall appearance of the paper and determine how white it is. A lower percentage represents more “natural” colors meaning that the paper will be warmer (yellow hue) and a higher percentage paper will appear cooler (blue hue).
Optical brighteners or OBA’s
OBA’s are sometimes added to make the paper appear more bright and white. The coating is UV light reactive so to see it’s full effect you can not frame these pieces under UV blocking glass. Keep in mind that over time this coating will fade. Sometimes these papers are not rated as archival as OBA-free papers because the base color shifts slightly over time as the OBA’s fade. The image can remain just as vibrant but the brightness or whiteness of the paper base my slightly change.
Choosing the correct paper is very subjective it depends on the print, how the image will be presented, and personal preferences. The best way to figure out which papers you love is to print on them. I’d suggest getting sample packs from various manufacturers print your favorite image on them and compare. Below we ran tests on media from Epson, ILFORD, and Harman. Take a look at our notes and let us know what you like best in the comments.
ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fiber Gloss
This Gold Fiber Gloss yields a high contrast deeply saturated image. For a final print, I would bring down the saturation and contrast, so my blacks do not get clipped. Overall, it’s a beautiful paper with a shiny finish and makes images pop.
Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster
A classic example of a Luster paper not too shiny not too matte. The paper holds contrast well and has minimum glare or reflection.
Epson Hot Press Bright
In our first matte paper example, you can see how we’re losing some contrast being that it’s a matte style. The fact this paper is using optical brighteners makes the border pure white and the black and white it a little cooler.
Epson Cold Press Natural
Again this matte style paper lacks natural contrast that we saw in the gloss and luster papers. And the lack of optical brighteners leaves this paper warm in tone.
Epson Metallic Photo
Printing on metallic media has become extremely popular in the last couple years. The super glossy media yields very contrasty, saturated, and bright image that is great for landscape work. You can see in this example here that the colors almost look surreal. I find these papers to be some of the hardest to print on to achieve natural looking colors, but once dialed in they’re stunning.
Canvas is a specialty media that is designed to make images look like paintings. The way the paper is constructed makes the images appear to be slightly soft or painterly. Canvas media should be stretched or mounted after printing because it’s the texture of cloth and can fold on itself easily.
As you can see paper choice can dramatically affect the outcome of the final print. Maybe you like a heavy textured paper that feels great being handled or a glossy paper that yields high saturation. There is no correct paper choice, but that choice won’t matter if your monitor and printer are not calibrated correctly. With proper calibration and color management, you will be able to achieve accurate color representation saving a lot of frustration when printing on expensive fine art papers. Visit xritephoto.com to see the full line of calibration solutions to give your images the edge no matter what media you choose to print.