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Quick Tip: Understanding Printing Paper Types

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Read Time: 5 min
This post is part of a series called Printing.
Finishing Your Photographs: Choosing Printers, Paper, and Ink
How to Get the Best Results From Online Photo Printers

If you have just started doing digital photography, you might still be printing onto plain white paper with slightly dull results. Learn about what you could be printing your images on and how different papers can transform your photos.

Matte Paper

Matte Paper looks dull and lusterless. It is used in industry to produce good quality prints but it doesn't have a vibrant colour finish. Matte paper is not glossy and therefore finger marks or glare from the sun are not a problem.

A good use of matte paper would be inside a shop in which the lighting might cause reflections. Due to the non-reflective nature of this paper, it would be ideal.

Disadvantages of matte papers include the fact they soak more ink into the paper, this will effect the sharpness of the image. When printing macro shots, portraits or other images that rely in small details, you may be better off using glossy paper.

There are many different types of matte paper so pay close attention to what you purchase. A semi-matte or luster paper may have totally different look than traditional matte paper.

Matte paper typically costs from around $8-20 USD for 50 A4 sheets, depending on brand and quality.

Glossy paper

Glossy paper is the most common paper for printing photos. It produces a sharp and vibrant image. Glossy paper is also very smooth to touch.

Disadvantages include the fact it is easy to mark them with fingerprints or dust. Glossy photos are best framed so that no dirt or fingerprints can touch the image. Glossy paper is also more reflective and shiny which is a problem if you plan to view the image in a sunny area.

If you need your images to be as sharp as possible then you might want to think about using glossy paper.

Glossy paper is cheaper than matte paper (on average), I found 100 sheets from Canon to be around $16.

Variations of glossy paper include:

Semi-gloss is cheaper and more affordable than glossy paper. As the name suggests, it is simply less glossy.

Premium-grade is a higher quality paper and will produce the sharpest results.

Brand specific papers are produced by companies to be be used with their own printers. (eg: Canon, Epson)

Gloss Laminated

The best example of a gloss laminated paper is in the form of a postcard. The main photo is on the front, along with a gloss laminate coat applied, which makes it even shinier. The back has the texture of plain card stock

Laminating the paper makes the colours even more vibrant. If you plan to do any sort of advertising, then glossy laminated paper stands out above others and should be your choice of paper.

UV Gloss

It is possible to print an image on standard glossy paper then coat it with a ultra violet garnish before finally drying it by exposure to UV radiation.

It makes the image extremely shiny and glossy. UV gloss can also be used on specific areas to make them appear bolder and stand out above the rest of the design. This is often advertised as spot UV.

You can use UV gloss for business cards (often the logo stands out) or just as easily for fliers.

Because of the process involved printing at home becomes near impossible and therefore you will need to use a printing company. The cheapest printing company I found offered to print 250 pages of A4 for £340 ($549.45 USD).


Stickers are often printed onto glossy paper with a sticky back which you simply peel off. The glossy paper gives the stickers the shiny look.

If you shoot young children as a studio photographer, giving a sticker to a child as a reward for sitting quietly is a nice thing to do. So why not create your own?  They can be designed to advertise your business, and be printed with your own images. had 15 sheets for $13 which could be printed onto with a standard ink jet printer.


Pulp is a dry fibrous material prepared by chemically or mechanically separating fibres. Pulp is normally used for business cards and beer mats. When using this style of paper, you often have to make your photos slightly lighter to compensate for the darker style of paper.

Images are not as sharp on pulp and they don’t appear very vibrant.

Recycled pulp

Recycled pulp is the same as pulp, but made with fully recycled paper. If your business is promoting a ‘green’ image, then using this paper could help maintain that principle. After all it often costs the same price and can yield the same results.

Silk coating

Silk coating produces a result somewhere between matte coated paper and glossy paper. The colours are still vibrant, but the shininess is reduced.

Using silk coating over the top of glossy paper is also common. It can enhance text without compromising the final image.

Iron on transfers

If you have always wanted your designs on a T-shirt, then iron on transfers are the cheapest way for you to do it yourself. Using a standard inkjet printer you are able to print your designs and then iron it onto your T-shirt.

The paper itself is not too expensive ($15 USD for ten 8.5x11 inch sheets) but you will need a high quality printer. Companies charge a lot of money for transfers, and this will be due to their ink prices rather than the paper costs.

Learning and Sharing

If you are still unsure about what types of paper you wish to print on then take advantage of the sample packs that many companies offer. You can sometime request to be sent one for free on their websites.

If you have any comparsion photos please post them in the comments! We would love to see them. We'd also love to know you prefer to print on. Post your favorite papers below.

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