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September, 2013

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Photo Paper Types

While we spend a lot of time talking about ink, paper choice is another important factor in how you want to present your prints. For fine art or photographic prints, the paper you choose does matter and you have a number of options to pick from to get your desired look.

Photo Paper typically has three different aspects you need to think about when purchasing- Weight, Brightness and Finish Type.

Weight is the thickness of the paper and there are two types of measurements-American and Metric. American measurement is typically in pounds per 500 sheets, this is called Basis Weight. Basis weight can be a bit confusing because it changes depending on what kinds of paper you are talking about. Basis Weight does not take into account the size of the pages involved so as a measurement it is not ubiquitous like the metric system. So if you want a very thick paper and buy a 70lb poster, it will be significantly thinner than a 70lb regular paper size.

For this reason it is always better to use the metric system whenever possible just to make sure you are getting what you want. The metric system uses Grams divided by Square Meters (weight/area or gsm). This gives you a consistent measurement of the actual weight of the paper rather than a relative weight based on its comparison to other similarly sized pages.

For reference standard copy paper is 20lbs or 75 gsm. Regular photo paper can be anywhere from 40lbs to 80lbs or 150 gsm to 350 gsm. Here is a conversion chart for paper weight based on standard sized pages-

Basis Weight
16 .0032 0.081 60.20 Newspaper
18 .0036 0.092 67.72
20 .0038 0.097 75.20 Standard copy paper
24 .0048 0.120 90.30
28 .0058 0.147 105.35
29 .0060 0.152 109.11
31 .0061 0.155 116.63
35 .0062 0.157 131.68
36 .0068 0.173 135.45
39 .0072 0.183 146.73
40 .0073 0.185 150.50 Light Photo Paper
43 .0074 0.188 161.78
44 .0076 0.193 165.55
47 .0078 0.198 176.83
53 .0085 0.216 199.41 Standard Photo Paper
54 .009 0.229 203.17
58 .0092 0.234 218.22
65 .0095 0.241 244.56
67 .010 0.250 252.08
72 .011 0.289 270.90
76 .013 0.330 285.95
82 .014 0.356 308.52 Heavy Photo Paper
87 .015 0.380 312.00
105 .0175 0.445 385.06 Cardstock

Brightness, another factor in paper types is also measured using two systems, the TAPPI and ISO systems. These two systems measure the amount of light able to reflect off a page. Because photo paper is built for performance, almost any photo paper you buy will have immaculate brightness and so their ISO/TAPPI numbers will be largely irrelevant. This is mostly for other kinds of paper.

Finish type is the last element in paper types. Essentially with photo paper you are choosing between gloss and matte finishes. Gloss finishes come in different levels (low, medium, or high usually) and are good for getting traditional shiny prints that resemble film. Matte paper is better for photos placed under glass as the reflection of the glass combined with glossy paper will weaken the clarity of your prints. Most of the time it is simply personal preference for which is better.

Choosing the brand of paper is fairly simple if you are just looking for something that will work but there are also some premium options available to you. All the major printer manufacturers make their own brand of paper and claim to offer better performance when their paper and ink are used together. There are many independent companies that also make photo paper either with the advantage of lower prices or higher quality. Companies like Hahnemuehle offer specialty paper made from 100% cotton and are acid free. Other companies focus on environmentally friendly paper or other features.

Any question regarding this or any other article please feel free to email me at

  1 Comment

Jim K    2.19.13

Tyler, I photograph historic tractors and print in sizes mostly 8.5 x 11 or less. I do some photoshop and usually add line/scroll work, text, etc. I want them to have a historic look. They are both color and b/w. Also, I prefer to have prints made by a printing firm.

I've used both satin and glossy finish over the years. But ... is there a paper finish that comes to mind that may add interest ... quality, etc., for this subject matter? Thanks, JIm

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