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A Guide to Inkjet Paper Types & Finishes

A LOOK AT DIFFERENT TYPES OF INKJET PAPER AND WHICH SUBJECTS WORK BEST FOR EACH.

Not all types of inkjet paper are the same. This sounds obvious, but you might be surprised by how many questions we receive about the difference between satin and matte, or matte and art paper. Because it is so important to consider which surface will make your projects look their best, we're going to look at each type of inkjet paper, and what types of images are suited to each.

You can think of this as the 40,000 foot view of the different paper types, and what you should know about each choosing one for different types of projects.

Editor's Note: There are thousands of subjects, genres, and topics of interest in the world of photography. Our take on the different types of inkjet paper finishes and best images takes years of customer feedback and printing into account. However, we will never say you should not use one finish or another for printing photos. The choice is ultimately yours to make and enjoy.

Satin / Luster

Satin and luster are the most popular kinds of inkjet paper and represent the "universal" photo, the vast majority of lab prints worldwide are printed on these surfaces.

Most other subjects benefit from the satin finish because the slightly textured surfaces lower reflectivity while maintaining good saturation and detail. Portraits are a popular genre for this surface. Digital cameras tend to capture every detail, some in high.

While images are still sharp, they have reduced hyper-detail and help mask some imperfections in skin and body features.

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Images to Try with Satin / Luster

  • Most image subjects
  • Portraits
  • Landscapes
  • Scenics
  • Various B&W subjects


Glossy

Because glossy paper is highly reflective, colors can appear more saturated and bold. The smooth finish also helps print look slightly sharper. However, reflections from polished surfaces can be distracting and actually reduce the viewer's ability to see all of the details in an image. Competition prints for the Professional Photographers of America are often on papers with a highly glossy finish under special lighting conditions. 

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Images to Try Printing with Glossy

  • fashion,
  • car photography
  • aircraft,
  • high contrast images
  • head shots
  • high contrast black & white


Photo Metallic

Metallic paper is a close equivalent to the look of photo lab metallic such as the Kodak Endura™ and Fuji Pearl™ processes. The surface features a high glossy finish, pearlescent look that yields an elegant iridescence in your images.

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Metallic paper is much more versatile than many customers think at first. Images from flowers to waterfalls to custom motorcycles look great. We recommend you give it a try!

Images to Try with Metallic 

  • Planes, trains, and automobiles
  • Images with reflections
  • Bold colors
  • High contrast black & white
  • Flowers
  • Black & white portraits


    Matte

    Matte paper is the go-to media for graphic design, artwork reproduction, architecture, landscapes, black and white, and lower contrast images. No reflection or gloss means that details are the primary focus of the print. This type of paper is available in many weights and double-sided versions. That makes it attractive for book and portfolio production.

    Shop Matte Paper

    Special Notes

    Pigments do not fully sink into the coating and are therefore subject to abrasion, scratching, and offsetting to a much larger degree than gloss, satin or semigloss media. Sprays, laminate, and interleaving sheets solve the problems presented by matte with pigment inks.  

    Images to Try Printing with Matte 

    • Art prints
    • Graphic design
    • Landscapes
    • Nature and wildlife
    • Flowers
    • Lower contrast images
    • Artistic black & white


    Digital Fine Art 

    This inkjet paper (made with 100% cotton rag) can have a smooth or textured finish. You can print any subject on this paper type because art is a bit subjective. The point of this media is to add one of the following to your work: depth (surface texture), warmth (most art paper is a warm white), or cache from the feel or the brand name of the paper. Nature, fine art portraits, artwork, and black & white are often printed on cotton art papers.

    This class of inkjet paper can have a matte or reflective coating. The earlier has no gloss or sheen. Reflective finish papers are typically semi gloss or satin and not overly glossy. Matte papers use black pigment inks while the reflective stock uses Photo Black pigment inks. Papers with reflective surfaces have more dynamic range - deeper color saturation and black density. Your choice depends on the look, feel, and mood you desire for your image. 

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    Try Printing These With Art Paper

    • Fine art - paintings, drawings, etc.
    • Nature & wildlife
    • Portraits
    • Black & white
    • Abstract subjects


    Specialty

    Any of a wide variety of papers made from substrates other than tree or cotton fiber. Images with softer contrast, delicate feel, or more subtle content might work well with these. Inkjet papers made from recycled content, bamboo, mulberry, and rice papers are all in this category. Because this type of printer paper is specialized, the photographer is likely to first seek a "special media" for a specific print project or piece, therefore, recommendations of type are difficult. 

    Specialty inkjet media

    Images to Try Printing with Specialty

    • Your choice