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Types of Photo Paper: A Complete Guide

Types of Photo Paper

Artists, graphic designers, marketers, and a myriad of professionals rely on the unique qualities of photo paper to bring their visions to life. Whether it's a photographer capturing a fleeting moment, an artist experimenting with mixed media, or a business showcasing their products, the choice of photo paper can profoundly influence the final presentation. 

This guide delves into the intricate world of photo paper, helping you navigate its diverse finishes, textures, and applications across various professions.

Understanding Photo Paper 

Photo paper isn't just regular paper. It's specially designed to reproduce an image with the highest quality possible. The coating, weight, and finish all play a role in how the final image will look.

Types of Photo Paper and Their Features

When you're selecting photo paper, the finish you choose can dramatically influence the appearance and feel of the printed image. Each finish has its unique characteristics, and understanding them can help you make an informed decision based on the desired outcome.

Satin Finish

The most popular choice among photographers and hobbyists,  Satin finish photo paper is often described as a hybrid between matte and glossy. It offers a slightly textured, lustrous surface, less reflective than glossy but more so than matte. This finish enhances the depth of images, making them appear more vibrant. It's an excellent choice for landscapes and portraits, where the depth of color and detail can truly shine. Additionally, satin paper is less prone to showing fingerprints, making it a favorite for frequently handled photos.

Matte Finish

Matte finish is the go-to choice for a softer, more subdued look. It lacks the shine of glossy paper, which means it doesn't suffer from the same glare issues. The non-reflective surface of matte photo paper is excellent for images that will be viewed under bright lights or showcased in frames without protective glass.

Semi-Gloss Finish

Striking a balance between glossy and matte, the semi-gloss finish offers a slight sheen without the high reflectivity of a full glossy finish. This makes it versatile for various applications, from photo albums to framed pictures. It provides vibrant colors, similar to glossy paper, but with reduced glare.

Photo Metallic Finish

Metallic photo paper is a unique choice that offers a shimmering effect reminiscent of a pearl. It's especially effective for images featuring metal, reflections, vibrant color, and HDR.  Photo metallic is available in a high-gloss and luster finish paired with a pearlescent base stock that graces your images with an exquisite iridescence.

Glossy Finish

Glossy finish photo paper is known for its vibrant color reproduction and sharpness. Its shiny surface reflects light, making colors pop and giving images a bright and lively appearance. However, this same shine can lead to reflections and glare, especially when viewed under direct light. Additionally, glossy paper tends to be more susceptible to fingerprints and smudges, so it's essential to handle them with care.

Photo Paper Textures

The texture of the photo paper plays a pivotal role in the final appearance of your image. Unlike the finish, which primarily affects the shine and color reproduction, the texture determines the tactile feel and the depth of the image.

Smooth photo papers are often the first choice for many, especially for modern photography. They offer a clean and contemporary look, ensuring that nothing distracts from the details of the image. This type of texture is particularly suitable for portraits or any photography where fine details, like facial features or intricate patterns, are the focus.

On the other hand, rough or textured photo papers can add an artistic flair to your prints. They can imbue the image with a vintage or rustic feel, reminiscent of traditional darkroom prints. This kind of texture can be especially effective for black and white photos, landscapes, or any image where you want to evoke a sense of nostalgia or timelessness.

There are also specialty textures that mimic certain surfaces, like canvas or watercolor paper. These can transform a photo into something that looks and feels like a painting, making them ideal for artistic prints or when you're aiming for a more decorative piece.

In essence, the texture of the photo paper you choose can either enhance or change the mood and intention of your photograph. Whether you're aiming for a sleek, modern look with smooth paper or an artistic, timeless feel with a textured surface, understanding the nuances of paper texture can elevate your photo printing endeavors to new heights.

Photo Paper Quality

Color Accuracy: This determines how true the printed colors are to the original image. High-quality papers will reproduce colors accurately.

Contrast Ratio: This refers to the difference between the darkest and lightest parts of an image. A higher contrast ratio means deeper blacks and brighter whites.

Brightness and Whiteness: Brightness affects the reflective quality of the paper, while whiteness refers to the tone - warmer, neutral, or cooler - of the paper . Both play a role in how vibrant and pure the colors appear.

Thickness and Weight: Heavier and thicker papers tend to feel more professional and are less prone to damage.

Photo Paper Sizes

Just as a painter selects a canvas size to match their vision, the dimensions of photo paper should align with the purpose and presentation of the print.

For intimate settings, smaller sizes are often preferred. They're perfect for family albums, personal portfolios, or any setting where viewers will be up close. These sizes are also ideal for events like weddings or birthdays, where photos might be handed out or shared among attendees.

Conversely, larger photo paper sizes are typically chosen for professional displays, exhibitions, or when the image contains a wealth of detail that deserves a grander scale. These larger prints can be framed and hung in galleries, offices, or homes, serving as statement pieces that draw the viewer's attention from a distance.

It's also worth noting that the aspect ratio of the original image can influence the choice of paper size. Cropping an image to fit a particular photo paper size might result in losing essential parts of the image. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure that the chosen size complements the image's aspect ratio.

Here are some standard photo paper sizes:

  • 4x6 inches (Standard snapshot)
  • 5x7 inches (Slightly larger, often used for invitations or greeting cards)
  • 8x10 inches (Ideal for framing)
  • 11x14 inches (Used for larger displays)
  • 16x20 inches and above (Perfect for gallery displays or significant wall hangings)

In addition to these standard sizes, there are also panoramic sizes for wide-angle shots, A-series sizes (like A4, A3) are European sizes you might see from time to time, though not often if you live in North America.

Remember, the size of the photo paper is not just a matter of scale but also of intention, presentation, and content. Whether you're printing a cherished personal memory or a professional piece for exhibition, selecting the right size can make all the difference in how your image is perceived and appreciated.

Types of Printers for Photo Paper

Inkjet Printers: These are the most common for home use. They spray ink onto the paper and are compatible with a wide range of photo papers.

Laser Printers: These use toner instead of ink. While they're fast and can produce sharp images, they might not offer the same color depth as inkjets.

See more comparisons in our guide on Laser vs Inkjet Printers

Choosing Photo Paper Based on Purpose

Black and White Photos: Opt for a paper with a high contrast ratio.

Portraits: A soft finish like matte or satin can be flattering.

Landscapes: Glossy or semi-gloss can make colors pop.

Greeting Cards: A thicker paper with a matte finish is ideal.

Calendars: Consider a durable paper with a semi-gloss finish.

Albums: Matte or satin finishes reduce glare, making photos easier to view from different angles.

Popular Photo Paper Brands

Red River Paper

We source our paper from the same mills as the large retail brands and we are able to offer a wide variety of high quality inkjet photo papers at a more affordable price.


Known for high-quality photo papers compatible with a range of printers.


Offers a variety of finishes and sizes.


Renowned for black and white photo papers.


Offers fine art photo papers.


Known for archival quality papers.


Has a rich history in paper making and offers a range of quality photo papers.

FAQ Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of photo paper?

The four main types of photo paper include glossy paper, matte, semi-gloss/satin and luster/pearl. 

Which type of photo paper is best for inkjet printers?

Most brands offer papers specifically designed for inkjet printers. Glossy and matte are commonly used.

What is the difference between glossy paper and photo paper?

Glossy paper refers to the finish, while photo paper refers to the paper's quality and purpose.

What are the advantages of using Metallic photo paper?

Photo metallic paper offers a unique shimmer, adding depth and dimension to images.

What are the grades of photographic paper and how do they differ?

Photo paper grades range from consumer to professional, with differences in color accuracy, longevity, and texture.

What are the most common sizes of photo paper?

Common sizes include 4x6, 5x7, 8x10, and 8.5x11 (A4 in Europe and Asia). However, many other sizes are available.

We hope this guide helps you navigate the world of photo paper, ensuring that your memories and artworks are displayed in the best possible way. Happy printing!

Last updated: April 29, 2024