All photo papers are not created equal. While there are many brands of paper that will lead to great prints, it is helpful to understand what you need in a paper to make that happen. There are several important factors to consider beyond the brand name.
*Brightness & Finish:
A paper’s brightness is normally determined by its smoothness. A coarse paper will scatter light in different directions, while smooth paper reflects more of the light back in the same direction. This makes the paper appear brighter, which in turn makes any image on the paper appear brighter. Any paper that is listed as being bright is generally a smoother-than-normal paper. The finish may be described as high gloss, gloss, softgloss, or semi-gloss. Each of these terms reflects the amount of shine. Satin is a less shiny-coated finish. That said, some coarse papers are brighter than others. I find Epson’s Enhanced Matte (used to be called Archival Matte) to be very white.
When the printer sprays ink onto the paper, it should stay in a tight, symmetrical dot. If the ink is absorbed too much into the paper, the dot will spread out in an irregular fashion to cover a slightly larger area than the printer expects it to. The result is a fuzzy page. The coating on photo papers gives you the look and feel of photographic prints.
How does this information help you pick the right paper? Think about how bright or white you want your image to be. Some fine art printers prefer a slightly yellow paper. Others prefer white. Determine which you like and then use the brightness rating to select a paper. Then look for papers that have a low absorption rate.
One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re getting the right paper for your photo printer is to use the paper the manufacturer suggests. While I have tried and used many photo papers, I often find myself being drawn back to the Epson papers. They just produce superb results in my Epson printer. Chances are that if you use a Canon or HP printer, you’ll have the same experience when using the papers recommended for those printers.
There are of course exceptions. Many paper companies make premium papers that work as well or better in inkjet printers than the manufacturer’s papers. But the ones that work best tend to cost more.
Cheap office supply paper is the worst thing you could put in your printer, both in terms of maintenance issues and print quality. Avoid it at all costs. Stick with name-brand photo papers unless you have a good reason to switch.