Photography paper is a name given to a range of papers that can accommodate large amounts of saturated ink while retaining the high definition, sharpness and true colour reproduction of the original image. This is achieved by coating the paper in a chemical known as the receiving layer. The receiving layer keeps the ink from running, bleeding through to the other side and helps ensure that the image quality is high.
There are common preset sizes for photography paper depending on the intended use. Photo albums accept 6×4” and 7×5” sizes (you may also come across them as 10x15cm and 13x18cm), which are intended to fit a photo album without the need to crop the print. Wall and desk mounted work is traditionally displayed using A5 and A4 sizes, with A4 being precisely twice the size of an A5 sheet. Posters, calendars and photo gallery exhibition prints are often printed in A3 size (twice the size of an A4 sheet) or A3+ size, which is a slightly bigger version of A3. A common mistake to make is sourcing an A3 photography paper without checking that the printer can accommodate this size or sourcing an A3+ size thinking it is a normal A3 size sheet.
Each of the mentioned sizes is available in a number of finishes measured in a glossiness scale. Different manufactures use different terminology, which makes the job of choosing your desired finish, complicated somewhat.
Glossy Finish – Of the various options, the glossy option is the most widely used, often because other options are poorly described. Glossy will bring out the finer details in the print and has a very commercial nature. However in certain lighting conditions and from certain angles the glare from the finish can make it difficult to see the print well.
Satin Finish – Satin is a finish includes a level of glossiness though to lesser degree. Variations of satin according to the particular manufacturer are available as Pearl, Luster and Semi-Gloss. To all intents and purposes, they are variations of satin. These are better when mounted behind glass or where viewed at an angle.
Matt Finish – The only finish that does not include glossiness is the matt finish. It makes the photography paper slightly cheaper to produce so will often be used in bulk printing such as photo brochure printing. Interestingly, in recent years it has been widely adopted for the purpose of artistic printing (especially in black and white) due to its less commercial more realistic visual affect in black and white.
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