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How to choose the right paper for printing photos

How to choose the right paper for printing photos
(Image credit: Getty)

Want to show off your photographs? In this feature, we go through how to decide on which type of paper is best and how to achieve the look you're after to get top quality results.

To get you started, take a look at our guide to the best photo printers

The choice of paper for your photos can make as big an impact as the photo itself. 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. 

Consider the paper thickness

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 seven and ten 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.

Take note of the 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.

Pick your favorite 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, and is becoming increasingly more popular, 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 do 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.

Photo printing tips

When handling paper, bear in mind that 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 the 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.