There’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to printing. Whether you order from a print lab or have an at-home printer like the Epson SureColor P800, selecting the right type of paper is important depending on the look you want to achieve.

In this video from LinkedIn Learning, Ben Long walks us through the different types of paper you should consider, and the differences you’ll see.

Paper choice for prints from The Practicing Photographer by Ben Long


Photo printing is a complex subject. Fortunately, I have an entire course on it that will teach you pretty much everything you need to know to get good inkjet prints from your photos. In that course, I talk some about photo paper choice. And we shot that course a few years ago. Everything in it is still valid.

I’ve now got some additional things that I want to say about paper choice, because there are lots of papers on the market these days, and I’ve noticed that most people tend to try out a few papers with the idea that, well, I need to find the one paper that I like, and that’s what I’ll print with. Maybe they pick two. Maybe they pick a matte finish, and a glossy, and they’re done. You’re missing out by not having a broader vocabulary of papers to work with. So let’s quickly define some terms.

I’ve got four, I’ve got the same image printed on four different papers here, and they look pretty different, and the big reason for that, mostly, is because of something called Dmax, which I talk about in the printing course. Dmax simply means the blackest black that a print can hold. If you have a blacker black, that means you can have more contrast. It also means you can have deeper, richer color saturation. And so you can see that this image over here is more saturated than this one here, and those two are more saturated than this, or I’m sorry, these two are more saturated than this. There’s going to be a little shell game that I’m going to play with you throughout this movie. So when you’re making a paper choice, you want to think a lot about, of course, the color and contrast qualities of the paper.

What I want to talk about today has more to do with the texture of the paper. These four papers have different finishes. These three are pretty smooth, and this one is very textured. So let’s take a look at this. This is the, these are all Hahnemuhle papers. This is the Hahnemuhle Ultra Smooth. It’s a difficult thing to talk about paper texture in a video, because you can’t feel it, and you’re not going to be able to see all of the texture that I’m talking about. This is a non-glossy, but smooth, paper. So it’s mostly a matte. It’s a matte finish paper, but it’s got some, it’s a very white paper. It does not have artificial brighteners in it, which we talk about in my course, and so that’s a plus. It’s got a good contrast range. What’s nice about it is I’m not getting any glare off it at all. So no matter where my lighting is, I don’t have glare in the way.

This, I’ve got these labeled on the back here, is the Hahnemuhle FineArt Pearl. Now, what you can’t see, but that I can feel with my thumbs, is that this has a bit of a pebbled finish. Now, obviously, when you hang it on the wall, you don’t want people going up with their thumbs to figure out what the finish is. What the pebbling gets me is a little bit of sheen. It’s not a full-on glossy paper, but it’s got just a little bit of a shine to it, which makes the blacks a little bit blacker. The risk there is I might lose some shadow detail. So these are all things that I look at when I’m assessing the paper. Are the shadows holding detail? Does it matter if they hold detail? Do I want a really deep, rich shadow, in which case, maybe I will go for a glossy paper. If I stick glass on this, maybe the gloss doesn’t matter.

This is the opposite end of the spectrum. This is the Hahnemuhle William Turner. This is an extremely textured paper. It almost feels, to the ends of my thumbs again, here, it almost feels like there’s sand or something on the paper. It feels like something’s going to come off, it’s so textured. And we’re going to talk more about what that texture gets me in a little bit. Finally, we have over here a baryta paper. That’s not a brand.

This is still a Hahnemuhle baryta. Baryta is a type of paper. It’s a traditional photo process. Baryta is a portmanteau of barium sulfate. What’s interesting about baryta is the emulsion for the paper is not applied to the paper after the paper is manufactured. It’s actually mixed in with the fibers of the paper as it’s being made. The practical upshot of that is baryta papers have a very black, a really wide color gamut. They’re great for black-and-white images. They sometimes often have a colorcast to them, and that’s the thing that we haven’t really seen so much from these others. Sometimes baryta papers are a little bit yellow in a very, very attractive way. They have a warmth to them that I really like. So colorcast of the paper is something else that you should consider.

But I want to really talk about texture for a moment because I think a lot of people decide, once and for all, whether they like textured papers, and if they decide they don’t, they ignore them. At least this is what I’ve been finding from talking to students. So I have the same image printed here on the William Turner and, I believe this is the FineArt Pearl, so this was the one with the pebbled finish. This is the very, very textured one. They both have their merits. They’re both really nice prints. I think these are both excellent papers, but something has changed with the texture. Now, when you print on a textured paper, you need to be very careful about how you light it, because an oblique lighting is going to cause a whole bunch of texture to appear, and you may find that, well, I can’t see the image for the texture. So when I show this to you right now, we’re, in a way, exaggerating, trying to exaggerate the texture so that you can really see it. If you were to display this, you would try to set up your lighting so that the texture isn’t as obvious.

So then you could argue, well, why do I want texture if you’re going to hide it? The reason being, for some reason, in this print, the texture is really adding something to this texturey, crunchy detail that’s in the scene. This is the floor of Death Valley. It’s rocks, and pebbles, and grass, and, or not grass, but prickly things, and it feels sharper and more distinct on the William Turner than it does over here, on the smooth paper. And I believe that, in this case, the texture of the paper is adding to that textured surface in a way that feels really authentic, and really adds something to the image.

So if you have ruled out textured papers because you think you don’t like them, then you are missing out on certain types of images that are maybe going to respond to those textured papers, and give you more detail, or some quality of more authentic detail. Here, we have the opposite problem. So these are the same two papers, same image. If you have decided that you really like textured images, and that’s all you print on, then you’re missing out on the times when, sometimes, a really silky finish, a really smooth finish, is going to make a big difference.

Now, this is a silhouette, so this image gains from the fact that I want a darker black, and this paper has a darker black than the textured paper. But in this case, I don’t want all that texture. I’ve got really pastel clouds in the background, and this single, again, silhouette, I want the black to be very pronounced. And so here’s a case where the texture isn’t working for me.

The point is, I should have both of these in my printing vocabulary, if you will. I should be open to both of them. Here’s an interesting situation where, again, I’ve got a texture on the ground that’s very similar to what I had in the Death Valley picture. Lots of crunchy texture, and so on, and so forth, but in this image, I think this paper works better, because this image, to me, is more about the color than the texture, more so than that other image was. It was evening. I want these smooth colors, for some reason, so here’s a case, again, where this paper is working better. So my advice to you as you continue printing, or get started in printing, is yes, you need to find some papers that you like, but don’t stick with them. Expand your paper vocabulary. Find a wide range of papers. You want a good matte paper. You want a semi-gloss or a glossy paper. You want some textured papers. These new baryta papers that are coming out are really fascinating to work with. So don’t close your mind off to a particular kind of paper. Experiment with them. Experiment with them on different kinds of images. I think you’ll be surprised by what you see.