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Photo Paper vs Cardstock: What Are the Main Differences?

In the digital age, where sharing photos and images has become effortless, there's still something magical about holding a physical print. Whether you're an amateur photographer, a professional artist, or simply someone who cherishes memories captured on film or camera, choosing paper or cardstock can significantly impact the quality and longevity of your prints.

Two popular options often come to mind when selecting the suitable medium for your prints: photo paper and cardstock. Let's explore these two mediums' characteristics, uses, and differences to help you make an informed decision.

What is Photo Paper?

Photo paper is a specialized media that produces high-quality prints with excellent color reproduction and sharpness. It is coated with chemicals that allow ink to rest close to the surface, resulting in vivid images. The coating also ensures the ink is locked in place, minimizing bleeding or smudging. 

Whether you're printing a landscape photograph or a family portrait, photo paper can bring out the depth and saturation of the colors, enhancing the overall visual appeal. 

Another crucial factor to consider when using photo paper is its durability. High-quality photo papers are often archival, designed to resist fading and yellowing over time. Suppose you intend to display or store your prints for an extended period. In that case, archival photo paper can help preserve the original quality of your images, ensuring they last for years to come.

In terms of finishes, photo paper offers a variety of options to suit different preferences and applications. Glossy photo paper provides a shiny, reflective surface that intensifies colors and creates a vibrant look. Matte photo paper, on the other hand, has a non-reflective surface, reducing glare and providing a more subdued, professional appearance. There are also semi-gloss and satin finishes that balance the two extremes.

What is Cardstock?

As the name implies, cardstock is thicker and more robust than photo paper. Cardstock works for applications such as greeting cards, invitations, scrapbooking, and other crafts. Cardstock has advantages that make it a popular choice for particular printing needs.

One of the benefits of cardstock is its sturdiness. The thickness and weight of cardstock make it a durable medium that can easily withstand handling, folding, and transportation without creasing or tearing. This feature is valuable for greeting cards or invitations requiring a more substantial feel and durability.

Cardstock also offers a broader range of textures and finishes than photo paper. You can find options like linen, canvas, or embossed, adding an extra dimension and visual interest to your prints. These variations make cardstock a versatile choice for creative projects where the tactile feel and texture are as important as the visual aspect.

What Are The Main Differences Between Photo Paper and Cardstock?

The main differences between photo paper and cardstock thickness, paper weight, texture, coating and cost with paper being thinner than cardstock. 

Thickness and Weight

 One of the primary differences between photo paper and cardstock is their thickness and weight. Photo paper is generally thinner and lighter, designed specifically for printing photographs. In contrast, cardstock is thicker and heavier, providing a sturdier and more substantial feel.

Texture and Finish

Photo papers come in various finishes, such as glossy, matte, semi-gloss, and satin. Glossy finishes provide a shiny, reflective surface that intensifies colors and adds a vibrant look to prints. Matte finishes offer a non-reflective surface, reducing glare and providing a more subdued appearance. You can find card stock that is glossy or matte as well. You can also find a broad range of textures and finishes beyond what is typically available in photo papers. Options like linen, canvas, embossed, or metallic finishes allow for expanded creativity and tactile experiences.

Coated vs Uncoated

Photo papers are always coated so that print quality is excellent. The same cannot be said of card stock. You can find card stock-coated inkjet paper for photo and art printing. You can also find cool card stock that is uncoated plain paper. It may look neat, but print quality will not be true photo quality. In some cases, this is perfectly OK. You will be the judge of that! 


Generally, photo papers tend to be more expensive than uncoated cardstock, especially when considering higher-quality archival options. If you choose a cardstock that is coated for photo or art printing, expect the price to be higher than typical photo paper.


 Photo paper is primarily used for printing photographs, fine art prints, and other high-quality images that require excellent color reproduction and detail. It is well-suited for professional photography, exhibitions, and framing.

Cardstock, with its thickness and versatility, is commonly used for various creative projects such as greeting cards, invitations, scrapbooking, and crafts. It offers a sturdy surface that can withstand handling, folding, and other manipulations.


Deciding between photo paper and cardstock ultimately depends on your prints' purpose and desired outcome.

If you prioritize the look and feel of a photo lab or darkroom print, photo paper is ideal. People who see and touch print will immediately know they are holding a "real photograph."

If you intend to display or preserve your prints for a long time, archival photo paper is the superior option. It is formulated to resist fading and yellowing, ensuring your prints look good over many years. 

On the other hand, cardstock is the best option if your project is for another purpose, like greeting cards, trading cards, scrapbook pages, etc. 

Lastly, consider your budgetary constraints. Photo paper can be more expensive than uncoated cardstock, especially when opting for higher-quality archival options. You may pay more than photo paper prices if you choose a coated cardstock. The benefits though are more thickness, heavier weight, and specialty surfaces. Remember that uncoated papers work but print quality will not be as sharp and bright as coated inkjet papers. 

Last updated: July 28, 2023