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Learn Photography

Printing > Papers

Darn!, Wow! & Ouch!

Back in the darkroom era, there were very few papers available.


Today, there are many more papers to choose from.


There are many paper choices.


How do you decide?

Decision Strategies

Select a strategy below, and adapt it to your needs.

Strategy #1 - New to Printing? New Printer?

If you're new to printing, or have a new printer, use paper made by the printer manufacturer.

The printer profiles for these papers were probably installed when you installed the printer driver.

Get a sample pack.

You're all set to print.

Strategy #2 - Ready to Experiment with Other Papers

After using some papers made by your printer manufacturer, try some sample packs made by other manufacturers.

Photo History

Kodak used to provide test prints and negatives.

The model in the first one was named Shirley, and that became the name of the test print.


Make a Test Print

Make a test print.

There are two options.

Option #1 - Print Several Photographs at Once

Assemble several photographs of your typical subject matter.

Then, print them as a single print.

Just about any editing program can do this.

For example, if you use Picasa, select your photographs, and go to Create > Picture Collage.

In Photoshop Elements, open your photographs, press Ctrl + p, and select Picture packages in the Select Type of Print menu.


You may be able to add a caption, the paper brand and name, that will print along with the photographs.


Print the composite photograph on the different papers.

Compare the prints and decide.

Look at the:

• Contrast: highlights and shadow areas.

• Color: Fidelity, saturation

• Skin tones

• Blacks

Option #2 - Photoshop Elements

If you're using Photoshop Elements, you can include:

• Black-and-white and color step wedges.

• The brand and name of the paper.

• Your photographs go in the gray area.


Do the following.

1) Download test_print.psd (94 MB!).

2) Enter the paper brand and name in the Type-tool layer.

3) Select the Move tool, and drag your photographs onto the test_print.psd thumbnail in the project bin at the bottom of your screen.

4) To reposition one of the dragged photographs, click and hold in the middle of the photograph, and drag.

5) If you need to make one of your dragged photographs smaller:

a) Click and hold one of the corner handles, and drag.

b) Click the green check mark icon.

Other Resources About Papers


The paper manufacturer may have detailed information on their website.

Forums & Techies

Look for forums and the websites of technically-oriented photographers in your photographic area of interest.

You may find reviews of papers.



Red River Paper

Paper Specifications

Here are the common specifications for papers.


• Argh! Why don't the aspect ratios of papers correspond to the aspect ratios of digital SLRs (3 to 2) and point-and-shoot cameras (4 to 3)?

• Who needs 8.5 x 11 inch paper? I want 8 x 12 inch paper!


Glossy papers may look sharper, with more saturated color. However, reflections and fingerprints are also possible.

Semi-glossy papers (aka silk, velvet, pearl) have a surface between glossy and matte.

Matte papers may be more durable, and are generally preferred by art photographers

• Once under glass or Plexiglas, glossy and matte prints often look similar.

Art papers may have surfaces like watercolor paper, linen, silk, and canvas.


• Thickness is given in millimeters.

• Thicker paper prevents large prints from sagging.

• Make sure the the paper isn't too thick for your printer. You may have to adjust the platen gap.

• Some printers handle thick papers with a manual feed option. The papers takes a direct path through the printer, rather than going around rollers. You may have to adjust the platen gap.

• Use thinner papers for portfolio books.  


• Weight is given in grams per square meter (g/m²).

• The weight indicates a paper's:

- Thickness.

- Heft.

- Stiffness

• Make sure the weight of the paper isn't too high for your printer. You may have to adjust the platen gap.

Platen gap

• You may have to adjust the platen gap to accommodate thin or thick papers. The platen gap is the distance between the print head and the metal guide strip (platen) below the print head.


• Brightness values range from 0 to 100. Typically, the range is from 90 to 100 with photography papers.

Bright v. natural

• A paper designated as Bright may have optical brightening agents (OBAs). Papers labeled with Natural may not have the OBAs.

• Natural may also refer to the color of the paper, such as cream, ivory, and off white.

Optical brightening agents

• Optical brightening agents (OBAs) absorb UV light and fluoresce blue light. The paper appears to be brighter looking. The color gamut (number of colors) is increased, and blacks have a higher density.

• OBAs may fade over time. The paper appears to have a yellow stain. However, the yellow is due to the absence of the blue light from the faded OBAs.

• The OBA effect is present when a print is displayed in light containing UV light, such as daylight and fluorescent light. Because incandescent light (old-fashioned light bulbs, Halogen lamps) has little UV light, the OBA effect is absent. Thus, prints with OBAs will appear different under various light sources. This is called metamerism.

• The OBA effect is muted when a print is placed under glass, and more so, when under UV-blocking glass and Plexiglas.

• Without OBAs, wood-pulp papers have a maximum brightness of 95%, and cotton (rag) papers, 90%. These papers are not white colored, but are cream colored.

Hot v. cold press

• Hot and cold press papers are the same matte paper with different surfaces. The hot-press version of a paper is smoother than the cold-press version.

Photography v. art papers

• There's no strict criteria of the difference between photography and art papers.

• Photography papers may be made from:

- Paper coated, on both sides, with polyethylene. These papers are called resin-coated or RC paper.

- Wood pulp, often where the lignin is removed. Lignin causes the paper to deteriorate rapidly. Alpha cellulose is the highly refined wood pulp used in most wood-pulp papers.

• Art papers may:

- Be 100% rag (cotton).
- Have more surface texture, like watercolor paper, linen, silk, and canvas.

- Have better color permanence.

Acid free

• Papers made from wood may contain acids. The acids cause the paper to fail over time. Acid-free papers have been treated to remove the acids.

• Buffered papers contain chemicals to counteract acids.


• An archival paper is a long-lasting paper. The definition of long-lasting varies.

Baryta coating

• Barium sulphate, a clay-like material, creates a smooth and reflective surface.

Dry time

• The dry time varies depending on the paper, RC papers may dry quickly, while thick/heavy art papers may have longer dry times.


• Glossy papers show fingerprints.

• Matte papers, and textured art papers, may show scratches. Store these prints interleaved with smooth paper.

Color Permanence

Your printer may be using inks made from dyes or pigment particles.

Dyes fade more rapidly than do pigment particles.

Check the paper manufacturer's website for data on color permanence.

Wilhelm Imaging Research may have research on the papers you're using.