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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.

Specialty Media

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

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.

Paper Comparison

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.

Paper surfaces can drastically effect how our final images appear.

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.


Paper surface

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.

Paper surface

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.

Paper surface

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.


Paper surface

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.

Paper surface

Harman Canvas

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.

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4 responses to “X-Rite Quick Tip: How Our Prints Look on Different Paper Surface”

  1. I really love the look on the Epson Cold Press Natural and the ILFORD GALERIE Prestige Gold Fiber Gloss. I own an i1 Display and a Colorchecker Passport Photo, can you use them to see the results before making a print?

  2. mike guarderas says:

    do you have a sample book showing a color printed on different paper to show that printing on different weights or texture can make the color look different?

    • Brenda K. Hipsher says:

      This would be something that might be provided by your paper manufacturer. Thank you for your comment.

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