Choosing a Paper for Your Art Prints

“I need to print some of my work but don’t know what paper to choose.” 

This is a common question we receive. You may be asking this yourself if you are planning on using FinerWorks to print your images for the first time. Choosing the right paper should be important but there is no absolute answer to which paper is best. It basically comes down to deciding what you like.  When we talk to people direct, we try to go over three characteristics to help them make that decision:  paper brightness, texture and reflection levels (glossy vs. matte). In addition we may ask how they plan on displaying (or sell)  the print and possibly the style of images to be printed. For instance if you are a black and white photographer you may want something which is capable of outputting the widest range of grays, while if you are a watercolor artist you might be more interested in a paper with texture.

Before going into further detail, we highly recommend ordering a sample kit from us. The sample kit simply consists of some swatches of the papers and canvas we offer which will allow you to bettter guage the different papers. If you are getting a sample kit. There is nothing like actually feeling and seeing how images look printed on the different media types.

The next thing is to read up about the details of the different papers and understand what is meant by the weight, thickness and other characteristics of the paper you will be printing on. If you are planning on offering your customers a certificate of authenticity (read up about creating your own certicate of authenticity), you will probably want to list some of the details anyway.The bottom line is it almost always comes down to a personal preference so it is best to experiment before settling on a specific paper.

Remember, that the giclee printing process is essentially an inkjet process in which archival grade inks are deposited onto the surface of the paper in the form of a spray. This allows for unrivaled color accuracy and consistency. Even with the advantage the modern printing methods offer, the paper you select can make a difference in how the image appears. 

Paper Brightness (White Levels and OBAs)

 The brighter the paper white the wider the color gamut which means more accuracy in prints.  Colors stand out better, you have greater contrast from white to dark and the colors gradients are smoother. Cooler tones such as black and white images, colorful landscapes with brighter colors such as blues and greens will take advantage of these papers the best.

While a wide color gamut is great, there is a potential downside. In order to get those bright white levels bleaching agents need to be used; otherwise the paper would look yellow. In the paper industry, these whitening agents are called optical brighteners or optical brightening agents (OBAs).  If you have heard the term in the past you might have been told to stay away from papers which rely heavily on OBAs . The reason being is with exposure to UV light over time, the OBAs will begin to break down leading to changes in coloration of the prints as a result of fading or yellowing.

However, the OBAs of today are engineered better than they were in the past and most major paper manufacturers who produce fine art papers for digital printing don’t have a problem with relying on OBAs.  

If you want to stay away from OBAs  we have some papers which are OBA free and produce outstanding and accurate prints. Also, if you have ordered a sample kit, compare the papers. Normally the more yellow or off white the paper is, the less amount of OBAs are used. 

Paper Texture

The texture of the paper can be both an advantage and disadvantage to the artist. First is the disadvantage:  If the print is on display, you will need to be more consciences of how any light is directed at it. Light not hitting it directly could cause some of the details to be lost in the shadows of the texture. This is going to be more of a concern with small prints whose there might be a lot of tiny details. This may seem like nitpicking but for some people this is important.

The advantage of a textured paper is the appeal to fine art enthusiasts. The texture itself gives a greater sense of quality to the print. Sometimes a potential buyer will unconsciously perceive the print to have greater value. The other advantage is lower resolution images tend to work better on a textured surface versus a smoother surface since it will better minor defects within the images.  Overall, most artists do tend to favor the textured papers over all others while photographers seem to prefer something more smooth.

Glossy vs. Matte Surfaces

This is going to be the most polarizing characteristic for people. In most instances we find our customers will prefer one over the other. In general artists tend to favor a matte surface which would describe most of our fine art papers while a photographer, unless they are shooting fine art photography, tend toward glossy or luster papers.

There is no right answer to which is better, but you may want to consider the following: Glossy papers tend to give the image more pop or contrast. Images with a lot of blacks and dark tones may look better. The paper usually will be very smoother in texture so in combination with its glossy levels, you will want to stick with higher resolution, high quality images.

Matte papers on the other hand tend to be more natural and less distracting as a result of light reflecting off the surface of the print. The tones don’t have as much pop but you still will get good contrast as long as the image being printed has good contrast. Brighter, airier images with a lot of bright colors tend to take advantage of matte the best.

The important thing is to test both types since you may find you unexpectedly like one over there other.

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