Which Paper or Canvas Should I Use?
Each print medium has its own characteristics and each may have a different suitability to a particular image. Under each heading below we list the areas that are generally considered ideal for each medium, but this is subjective and the use of any particular medium to print any particular image is an artistic decision by the photographer. To help you make that decision, we would be happy to offer our opinion or even make a small test print of the leading candidates.
Fine Art Papers
Most glossy and luster papers are resin coated (RC) - also called photobase-media. Resin-coated papers look and feel like a traditional lab print. Glossy paper is characterized by a smooth, highly reflective surface. It can be extremely smooth (like a coated plastic), or it may have a very slight texture (typical on RC inkjet papers). Glossy paper is desired when you want the most light reflected back at the viewer. This makes for more saturated colors and the ability to see sharp details, which is why glossy paper is more popular for the biggest visual impact. We currently use Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper (250).
"Metallic" paper (there is no metal in it) has a highly glossy pearlescent metallic-looking surface with a vibrant, almost luminescent quality. Red River Paper claims to be the first to introduce photo metallic inkjet paper to the market in 2010. Metallic paper is a unique inkjet paper that closely matches the look of photo lab metallic prints. It is good for photographic prints featuring metal, reflections, water, brilliant color, high dynamic range (HDR), or stunning black & white images. Everything from airplanes to flowers will look bolder and more saturated.
By far, the best selling surface is luster. This is because luster has been the default surface used by photo labs for decades. Most luster papers are also resin coated (RC), which look and feel like a traditional lab print. Luster inkjet paper has a repeating textured surface. At certain angles it can look like the surface of an orange or automotive paint. You can see examples of this at the Red River Paper website (from which I got much of this information). This texture serves two important functions:
- It allows the paper to better withstand handling. The texture hides minor scratches and scuffs from wear and handling.
- There is less direct reflection of light to the viewer. This makes for less glare, shine, and makes the image easier to see at all angles.
The luster surface is also called satin, pearl, and sometimes semi-gloss. Semi-gloss is a bit smoother and more reflective, while semi-matte is a little less glossy. For a more traditional look, better handling, and more subtle surface, luster papers are the most popular. Although we use both Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper (260) and LexJet Sunset Photo eSatin Paper 300g, the Epson is becoming my favorite. Because of its durability (and good color gamut), luster photo paper has become our default paper for our matted prints.
Matte papers can be smooth or have some texture, but have no reflections. With matte photo papers details are king. Every detail you worked so hard to capture will be beautifully displayed. They also provide amazing color reproduction. Try matte papers for landscapes, still life, architecture, graphic design, and so much more. The textured fine art inkjet papers are papers that look and feel like watercolor paper. They are archival or museum grade products that you can trust for your best work.
Canvas, long used by those pre-photographers (also known as painters), seems to have magical properties. When displayed in our booth at an art festival next to our framed images printed on paper, people regularly point at the canvas piece and ask "is that a painting?" Also, for some strange reason, a given image (in digital form) can be printed much larger on canvas than on fine art paper without complaint. We believe that Nancy's process for applying a protective coating after printing enhances those magical properties.
Although there are now many options for canvas similar to those discussed above for fine art paper, like glossy, satin, and even metallic, we work with the regular (old fashioned) matte canvas. Our current favorite is Breating Color Lyve Matte Canvas. We still keep LexJet Sunset Select Matte Canvas for our customers who prefer it.