On occasion we get customers looking for the best photo paper. Best is almost never the correct terminology, as it will change depending on the printing needs at the time. A certain option that seems ideal at the moment may seem unsuitable the next time around and vice versa.
For us, best photo paper is one that does the job for an affordable price tag, no more no less. Rather than recommending one brand or one model over the other, you should find this post handy to compare various options so you could define ‘best’ for yourself every time.
Photo Paper is used in a whole host of applications from printing images of your latest holiday for keepsake, to printing office charts and graphs that will be discarded once the meeting is over. To achieve best results, it is essential to match the type of photo paper and size to its intended use.
120gsm – 150gsm photo paper – These are often a budget choice options used to printing work related or printing images that you do no intend to keep for long. When held, these lighter options feel like a thicker version of your printer paper, though do not be mistaken for plain paper as they are coated in a suitable inkjet receiving layer to contain the ink without bleeding over (as plain paper would). Many photo papers of this size come as double sided as they are often used for brochure and flyer creation. Sizes tend to include the larger options of A4 and A3 sizes as opposed to the photo card sizes.
150gsm – 200gsm photo paper – As the paper weight increases (measured in GSM), the paper feels heavier to touch and more often used for image reproduction. Sizes will include the complete spectrum of photo paper sizes from the smallest 6×4 photo paper to the large A3 and A3 oversized options.
200gsm to 300gsm photo paper – These are often the heaviest photo papers that your printer can contain while still been able to feed the paper without jamming. Again, sizes include the complete spectrum and you will notice a significant price change when compared to the lighter 120gsm to 150gsm photo papers. The heavy feel to the paper makes it ideal as invitation and greetings card paper.
If you intend to print an image to be frame or placed in a photo album for keepsake, best photo paper in your case is logically the heavier option. On the other hand, if you require a good quality option for an event that has no purpose beyond the event, a more basic (and therefore more affordable) option will prove sufficient.
We’ve addressed photo paper size in a previous guide that you should consider reading if you are new to the world of photo paper printing. In a nutshell, using the correct size will prove immensely cost effective. Naturally the same product in its 6×4 size will cost less than its precise A4 option. Buying a bigger size and cropping it to size later on will waste paper and printer ink resources. On the other hand, buying a size too smaller might mean that you might be required to repeat the work amounting to more photo paper and again more printer resources.
Photo Paper Finish
A serious mistake when evaluating the quality of a certain photo paper is determining its quality based on the finish. Often the choice of one finish over the other is down to personal taste and its intended use. In fact, various manufactures will often use slightly different language to describe the same finish, so it isn’t an accurate manner in which to evaluate quality. Best in your case might be the worse in another case so you should look at your options in a case-by-case basis. Popular options include:
Matt – You may come across this option matt or matte. It differs from the other finishes in that it includes zero glare and therefore undergoes a slightly different chemical process causing some industry experts to query whether it should be considered photo paper or maybe simply just high res printer paper.
Satin – You will come across this option as semi-gloss (in the case of Epson and Canon), Pearl (in the case of ILFORD) or Satin (in the case of HP and many other brands). It is a photo paper option with low levels of glare.
Glossy – The most widely available option is the glossy option, which can be found in various levels of glossiness between brands.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for getting poor results from high quality photo papers is neglecting to amend the printer settings prior to printing. To get the utmost best from the product, you must follow its instructions on printer settings to the letter, paying particular attention to the ‘quality’ and ‘finish’ settings. Take the heaviest photo paper you can find, print in normal document mode and results will look disappointing. On the other hand, take a basic photo paper and follow the instructions each time you print and you will be amazed what your home printer can produce. Leading manufactures of the professional range such as ILFORD offer a computer file (at no cost) that can change your settings in the background without further intervention. Others offer handy step-by-step instructions that you should follow.
Above all, the biggest indication for best photo paper is the type of coating used, making a clear distinction between Microporous and Cast Coated options. It will determine aspects such as archival properties (how long before the image and the paper fades or yellows) and definition of the colour tones in the print. Basic and budget brands use cast-coated technology, while the professional range used Microporous or Nanoporous coating.
In conclusion, when evaluating your options take the time to match the best product to your needs at the time, rather than just looking for the best without understanding what it means.