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Paper Brightness Explained

What is inkjet paper brightness and is it important?

The brightness of paper has recently come to the front of many marketing efforts. A quick discussion of paper brightness is in order.

What is Paper Brightness?

Paper brightness is a vital characteristic that profoundly impacts the visual quality and appeal of printed materials. It refers to the level of light reflectivity from the paper's surface. The higher the paper brightness, the greater the amount of light it reflects, resulting in a sharper, more vibrant image.

When you examine a piece of paper, the extent of light reflection determines the clarity of text and images printed on it. Enhanced paper brightness enhances contrast, making text and graphics pop against the background. This is especially important for documents with detailed images, such as photographs and marketing materials.

How is Paper Brightness Measured?

Paper brightness is measured on a scale of 1 to 100, where higher values indicate increased reflectivity and brightness. Most standard printer paper falls within the 80 to 100 brightness range. For professional and top-quality printing, papers boasting brightness values above 90 are often preferred, as they yield crisper and more dynamic prints.


A light source shines a beam of light measuring 457 nanometers onto the paper at a 45 degree angle. Another device measures the amount of reflection from the paper. a scale from 1-100 is set, and the reflected amount will fall within that range. A brighter sheet (higher number) tends to reflect more light from the paper surface thus intensifying the vividness of color. Slight increases at the higher end of the scale change the paper's appearance more dramatically than large changes at the lower end.

Different Uses for Levels of Brightness

  1. Photography and Graphics: Higher paper brightness levels in photography ensure that printed images maintain their true colors and intricate details, capturing the essence of the photograph and making it a prime choice for photo printing.
  2. Marketing Materials: Marketing materials like brochures and flyers as well as posters require heightened paper brightness to make graphics and text stand out. Bright paper not only enhances the overall appearance but also leaves a positive impact on readers.
  3. Professional Documents: When printing professional documents such as presentations or reports, utilizing paper with elevated brightness levels enhances readability and imparts a polished look to the content.
  4. Art Reproduction: Artists and art galleries often opt for high-brightness paper for reproducing artwork, ensuring that the prints faithfully mirror the colors and intricacies of the original piece.

Choosing the Right Paper Brightness

The choice of brightness for your photo paper hinges on intended use and the desired visual impact of the printed materials. For applications emphasizing sharp images and vibrant colors, like photography and marketing, higher brightness levels are recommended. Conversely, for documents with minimal graphics or requiring a subtler appearance, slightly lower brightness may be suitable.

Paper Brightness vs Paper Whiteness

Brightness is often confused with "whiteness." People might perceive a paper with a clean white appearance as brighter. However, the human eye cannot gauge brightness levels.

Paper whiteness was devised for manufacturers to differentiate their papers and to help printers and ad agencies know what to expect from paper to paper, job to job. When printing a million copies of an annual report, a printer needs to know as much about the paper as possible because re-printing large runs is costly and generally not possible. Luckily for ink jet printer users, no such limits exist!

The brightness number given can be misleading and ultimately unimportant to the inkjet user. There are set standards for paper brightness in the graphic arts industry (GE in the USA, ISO in Europe and Asia), but many ink jet paper suppliers do not seem to follow them. Different manufacturers' numbers do not necessarily correlate with competing papers. Brightness scales can change from company to company and can be subjective from observer to observer. In addition, there are other factors which could improve or compromise a paper's appearance. Rate of absorption, gloss, type of ink and smoothness can affect the quality of the image in spite of its brightness.

What is Paper Shade?

Paper shade refers to the color tone of paper, spanning from bright white to warmer or creamier hues. It is a pivotal consideration for printing and design, as varying shades can influence the perceived contrast and overall appearance of printed materials. Selecting the appropriate paper shade should align with your desired aesthetic and the type of content being printed, guaranteeing the final result accurately reflects the intended visual impact.

To add to the difficulty, paper shade or color can make a technically 96 bright paper appear more dull than another 92 paper which is a lighter shade.

The point to remember is that the scales are arbitrary and that what you think is bright may not appear so on the same scale. At Red River Paper, we would rather make you personally happy than to offer a definition which may mislead you to select a paper that is not your optimal choice. 

In Summary

Venturing into the realm of paper brightness offers an illuminating journey through the vibrant interplay of light. This paramount characteristic, often accompanied by discussions of paper whiteness, showcases how various shades respond to the dance of blue light reflected upon them. As you embark on your next print project, remember that paper brightness measures the radiant allure of each sheet, inviting more light to reflect from optical brightening agents. 

This orchestration of bright white papers and cool, warm, and whiter indoors shades amplifies the visible spectrum, producing images that burst forth with vibrant colors. By measuring brightness levels alongside whiteness measures, you can capture the essence of your print projects, ensuring that the paper's brightness enhances each image printed. As the human eye perceives these nuances, the contrast between brighter and whiter papers becomes evident, painting a vivid example of the power of light. 

Whether you're navigating the art of printing, embracing the challenge of shade selection, or striving to produce printed masterpieces that tell a vibrant story, understanding paper brightness adds a layer of brilliance to your creative endeavors.

Red River Paper's Paper Options

At Red River Paper, we offer a diverse array of paper options with varying brightness levels to cater to different printing needs. Our selection includes photo papers with brightness values ranging from 90 to 98, ensuring you can choose the ideal paper for your projects. Whether you're printing photographs, marketing materials, or professional documents, our high-quality papers with optimal brightness will help you achieve the finest results.

To help our customers find the "Perfect Paper" we offer a wide selection in our Inkjet Sample Kits for a modest cost.

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Last updated: August 30, 2023