How do I choose photo paper?

The goal of this article is to show professional photographers how to choose the best photo paper for their photography style and their client’s demands. Zno offers a total of 11 photo papers across our range of printed products. The first step towards choosing your photo paper is understanding some photo paper terminology.

What are the different photo paper terms
I should understand?

All photo papers can be broken down by the following terms:

What are the different photo printing
methods?

Your understanding of photo papers should start with the printing method.
Printing methods for photo papers can include:

What is Silver Halide printing?

Silver Halide printing is a photo printing method that is over 100 years old. This method for printing photos is considered by many professional photographers to be the gold standard of photo printing. Silver Halide printing is sometimes also referred to as a “Chromogenic Print”, “C-Type”, “C-Print” or “Dye Coupler Print”.

The Silver Halide printing method involves coating a photo paper with a light sensitive formula that has dyes embedded in it. The photo paper is then exposed to light to bring out the image. With Silver Halide printing there is no actual transfer of ink from a printing nozzle to the photo paper. Silver Halide prints will produce a continuous tone known as “Contone”. This Contone results in smooth transitions and a greater range of lights and darks.

What are Silver Halide prints best for?
Silver Halide prints are best suited for photos that prioritizes natural looking colors, smooth skin tones and details in shadows. Silver Halide prints are less suitable for illustrations, graphic design or anything that includes solid blocks of color with defined edges. This is one reason why text is less sharp with Silver Halide prints.

In terms of archival value, Silver Halide prints offer a unique additional protective layer. As a result of dyes being embedded into the photo paper rather than having ink sprayed on top, the dyes are more scratch and water resistant than Giclée prints. But it should be noted that Silver Halide photo paper on average is archivally rated to last 60 years. This is less than Giclée photo paper, which on average is rated to last 100 years.

A limitation of Silver Halide photo paper is that the photo paper is a heavier weight. This is relevant if you want to bind together your Silver Halide prints into an albums or books. At Zno, our lightest weight Silver Halide book, the Slim Photo Book, is capped at 100 pages (or 50 sheets). Whereas our Digital book, the Press Photo Book, is capped at 160 pages (or 80 sheets).

One other consideration is that Silver Halide photo papers contain gelatin content and therefore aren’t 100% vegan friendly.

Zno offers five Silver Halide photo papers, which include Glossy Photo Paper, Metallic Photo Paper, Lustre Photo Paper, Silk Photo Paper, and Matte Velvet Photo Paper.

What is Offset printing?

Offset printing differs from Silver Halide, Digital and Giclée because it requires a “pre-press” stage. During the pre-press stage, an image goes through a process called “color separation”. During the color separation process, each separated color is laser etched onto its own aluminum plate, which will be put inside a Printing Unit.

Each Printing Unit will only print a single color onto a print. Each aluminum plate is wrapped around the Plate Cylinder inside of a Printing Unit. The image on the Plate Cylinder will then be “offset” onto the Blanket Cylinder. Finally, the print will pass between the Blanket Cylinder and the Impression Cylinder. An Offset Printer will typically consist of four Printing Units and a print will pass through all four Printing Units, receiving a single color from each Printing Unit.
What are Offset prints best for?
Offset photo prints are best suited for prints that demand low cost printing and large runs. Both Offset and Digital will be lower cost than Silver Halide or Giclée printing, but the price per piece on Offset will be even lower than Digital. But Offset printing, unlike Digital, has a pre-press setup fee, so the price per piece is only cost effective at a certain piece volume. As an example, Offset printing is typically only recommended when printing more than 500 pieces. If you’re printing 500 pieces, then the initial setup fee is effectively negated by the low price per piece.

Since the main benefit of Offset printing is a low price per piece, Offset printing is rarely used in the context of a professional photo lab. This is because photographers are typically doing one-off photo prints for a single client. Offset is more often used for creating high volume promotional material such as business cards, flyers, brochures etc.

Offset prints will not perform as well as Silver Halide or Giclée in reproducing natural colors, smooth skin tones or details in shadows. However Offset prints usually are higher quality than Digital prints. Offset prints can also allow for better color matching for those who want to use something like the Pantone Matching System. Illustrations, graphic design and text will typically be sharper with Offset than Digital, Silver Halide or Giclée.

At Zno, we do not offer Offset printing on any of our printed products.

What is Digital photo printing?

Digital photo printing is an umbrella term that can utilize multiple printing technologies. Sometimes Digital printing is also referred to as “Press Printing”, “Digital Press Printing”, and “Digital Offset Printing”. At Zno, we refer to “Digital” as “Digital Press Printing”.

Digital printing is different from Offset printing. Unlike Offset printing, Digital does not use an Offset Printer. So there are no pre-press aluminum plates. Digital printing uses a type of printer known as a Digital Press. And Digital Presses can use one of several printing technologies.
What are the different Digital photo printing methods?
Digital photo printing technologies can include:
  • Inkjet
  • Laser
What is Inkjet printing?
Inkjet printing is one technology used in Digital printing. Inkjet printing works by spraying paint through small nozzles directly onto the photo paper’s surface. Unlike Offset printing, inkjet printing does not use cylinders at all. Inkjets will produce Halftone due to the inkjet process. This results in sharper transitions and a narrower range of lights and darks. Digital Presses that use inkjets will typically be limited to 4 or 6 colors, which is significantly less colors than Giclée printing.
What is laser printing?
Laser printing is another technology used in Digital printing. Laser photo printing works differently than inkjet printing. With laser printing there are also no aluminum plates but Laser does share other similarities with Offset printing. In laser printing, laser light will project an image onto a Drum. The areas of the Drum that have been lasered will then attract toner from a Toner Coated Roller. A photo print will pass under the Drum. As with Offset printing, the print will typically pass through four Drums, receiving a different coat of color from each Drum.
What are Digital prints best for?
Digital prints are best suited for photos that demand low cost printing and small runs. For this reason, Digital is preferred over Offset as a low cost printing option by most photographers, due to it not having a setup fee. Digital can be thought of as something like Offset, albeit more suited to the low print volume of most photography projects.

Digital prints, whether they’re printed on a Digital Press that uses inkjets or lasers, will not perform as well as Silver Halide or Giclée in reproducing natural colors, smooth skin tones or details in shadows. Illustrations and graphic design however, do usually perform better with Digital prints than Silver Halide.

One reason to choose Digital printing over Silver Halide or Giclée would be photo paper thickness and the ability to print on both sides of a photo paper. Both of these attributes allow for printing photo books with a much higher page count. As an example, Zno’s Press Photo Book has a capacity of 160 pages (or 80 sheets) due to the Semi Gloss Paper being only 135# (200gsm). Our Press Photo Book is our only book where printing is done on both sides of a single printed page. For these reasons, our Press Photo Book page capacity far exceeds Zno’s Silver Halide or Giclée based albums and books. Our highest page count Silver Halide based book, the Slim Photo Book, tops out at 100 pages (or 50 sheets). Whereas our highest page count Giclée based album, the Fine Art Album, tops out at 70 pages (or 35 sheets).

Zno offers two Digital photo papers, which are Semi Gloss Photo Paper and Pearl Photo Paper.

What is Giclée photo printing?

Giclée prints are a variation of inkjet prints. As with inkjets in Digital Presses, the inkjets in Giclée printers spray paint through small nozzles directly onto the paper’s surface. The name Giclée derives from “gicler”, which in French means “to spray”.

There are fundamental differences between the inkjets that are used in a Digital printing and inkjets used in Giclée printing. Ultimately Giclée printing can be thought of as very high-end inkjet printing, which has comparable print qualities to a Silver Halide print.

Below is a table of the differences between Digital and Giclée prints:
What are Giclée prints best for?
Giclée prints have a comparable printing quality to Silver Halide and therefore are also suited for photos that prioritize natural looking colors, smooth skin tones and details in shadows. Both Giclée and Silver Halide printing methods will produce superior prints compared to Digital. Since Giclée prints use inkjets, they will also produce better illustrations and graphic designs than Silver Halide. Because Giclée prints lend themselves better to illustrations, some photographers choose Giclée prints to add a “painterly” or “fine art” look to their photographs.

An advantage of Giclée over Silver Halide is that Giclée prints offer a wider range of papers. Our Pearlescent Photo Paper as an example offers a unique sparkling texture that cannot be reproduced with any Silver Halide photo paper.

In terms of archival value, Giclée photo paper is rated to last longer than Silver Halide photo paper. Silver Halide photo paper, on average, are rated to last 60 years. Whereas Giclée photo papers, on average, are rated to last 100 years.

A limitation of Giclée photo paper, as with Silver Halide, is the photo paper weight. This is relevant if you want to bind together your Giclée prints into an album or book. At Zno, the only book or album that we offer Giclée prints on is our Fine Art Album, which is capped at 70 pages (or 35 sheets).

A consideration for some photographers is that Giclée photo papers do not have gelatin content derived from animals and therefore can be considered vegan friendly. Similarly, Giclée photo papers can use papers derived from cotton, which is considered more sustainable than wood pulp.

Zno offers four Giclée photo papers, which include Art Photo Paper, Canvas Photo Paper, Ivory Photo Paper, and Pearlescent Photo Paper.

What are the different photo paper coatings?

A photo paper’s coating refers to the sheen and texture of the photo paper. If a photo paper has more sheen, then it will also have more color vibrancy and a deeper dynamic range of lights to darks. There is a spectrum for vibrancy with “Uncoated” having the least vibrancy and “Glossy” having the most vibrancy. Each coating type will also have its own texture. A trade off with having more sheen is that while it will produce more vibrant photos, it will also have more glare. The primary coating choices in the photo paper world are between Glossy, Lustre and Matte. All other coatings are a minor variation on these three core choices.
Different photo paper coatings can include:

What is Glossy photo paper?

Glossy photo papers have the most vibrancy and the greatest dynamic range of lights to darks. They are also the most reflective photo papers. Due to their reflectivity, it’s advised that they should not be used for prints that will have light sources directly hitting them. Any direct light source will cause large unflattering glare. Glossy photo papers tend to have an ultra smooth, textureless surface that is not meant for touching. Any touching results in accumulating fingerprints quite easily. The ideal use case for Glossy photo paper are photos that are extremely vibrant and have a wide range of lights to darks. Wall Arts are a great application for Glossy photo paper since the viewing angle can be fixed and since there is limited surface touching. At Zno, we offer one Glossy Photo Paper.

What is Metallic photo paper?

Metallic photo papers have a similar sheen to Glossy photo papers. However, they differ by having a somewhat 3D effect. They also appear sharper than Glossy photo papers. On Wall Arts, this effect is most pronounced when the Metallic photos are printed without a glass protective layer. Similar to Glossy photo paper, the ideal use case for Metallic photo paper are photos that are extremely vibrant and have a wide range of lights to darks. Wall Arts are a great application for Metallic photo paper since the viewing angle can be fixed and since there is limited surface touching. At Zno, we offer one Metallic Photo Paper.

What is Lustre photo paper?

Lustre photo paper goes by multiple names. This can include “Satin”, “Pearl”, “Semi-Gloss” or the technical industry term known as “E-Surface”. Lustre photo paper can be best understood as a photo paper that sits right in the middle of the photo paper spectrum. Some photographers say that Lustre photo paper takes the best of Glossy photo paper and Matte photo paper, without the extremes of either. Lustre photo paper has significantly more vibrancy than a Matte photo paper, but is less reflective than Glossy photo paper or Metallic photo paper. Another reason that Lustre photo paper is loved is due to it having the closest true-to-life skin tones of any photo paper type. Glossy photo paper and Metallic photo paper tend to have more saturated skin tones, which can be perceived as less natural. Matte photo papers on the other hand tend to have underwhelming skin tones. An added benefit of Lustre photo paper is that the Lustre coating tends to handle finger prints better. For all of these reasons, it’s considered a very safe photo paper to use in a variety of print applications. The decent range of vibrancy, coupled with higher fingerprint resilience, makes Lustre photo paper particularly well suited for albums and books where touching photos surfaces is expected. At Zno, we offer two Lustre photo papers, which include Lustre Photo Paper and Semi Gloss Photo Paper.

What is Silk photo paper?

Silk photo paper, like Lustre photo paper, sits in the middle of the coating spectrum. Silk photo paper has significantly more vibrancy than a Matte photo paper, but is less reflective than Glossy photo paper or Metallic photo paper. It has slightly lesser sheen than Lustre photo paper but primarily differs by having a linen-like fabric texture. Silk photo papers tend to give images a nostalgic and vintage look. Silk photo papers offer a decent range of vibrancy with higher fingerprint resilience, which makes Silk photo paper particularly well suited for albums and books where touching photo surfaces is expected. At Zno, we offer one Silk Photo Paper.

What is Matte photo paper?

Matte photo papers have the least coating of all photo paper types. The only photo paper with less coating than a Matte photo paper is an Uncoated photo paper. For this reason, Matte photo papers have little to no glare and therefore can be viewed from any angle without reducing visibility. Matte photo papers also have the least vibrancy and dynamic range. While some photographers will frown on Matte photo papers for having less vibrancy, there are a few scenarios where this is an asset. For photographers who are seeking a more muted feel, this can be used to great effect on watercolor or pastel like photos. Low contrast black and white photos also tend to look better on Matte photo papers because they don’t benefit from the added color or dynamic range of photo papers such as Silk photo paper, Lustre photo paper, Metallic photo paper or Glossy photo paper. Matte photo paper papers, like Lustre photo paper and Silk photo paper, are also well suited for albums and books where touching photo surfaces is expected. Some people find the texture of Matte photo papers more pleasant to touch than Lustre photo papers or Silk photo papers. Matte photo papers are also preferable for using markers on, which is relevant for wedding guest books. At Zno, we offer six Matte photo papers, which include Matte Velvet Photo Paper, Art Photo Paper, Canvas Photo Paper, Ivory Photo Paper, Pearlescent Photo Paper, and Pearl Photo Paper.

What is Uncoated photo paper?

Uncoated photo papers are the least used type of photo paper in the photography world. They have zero coating and therefore have even less vibrancy, dynamic range and contrast than Matte photo papers. Since there is zero coating, inks will blur slightly to create less sharp images. A characteristic of Uncoated photo papers is that you can literally see the photo paper’s fiber, which creates a very rough texture. The primary reason for using an Uncoated photo paper is if you want to intentionally create a specific artistic look. Some photographers feel that this raw appearance adds a sense of authenticity, prestige, warmth and elegance. As with Matte photo papers, the best photo candidates will be photos with a muted look similar to watercolor or pastels. Uncoated photo papers will have zero sheen and therefore will have zero glare from any angle. Like Matte photo papers, Uncoated photo papers will absorb markers well but can tend to bleed more. At Zno, we do not offer any Uncoated photo papers.

What are the different photo paper weights?

A photo paper’s weight is expressed in “pounds” or “grams per square meter”. The United States printing community uses “pounds” and this is expressed as “#”. The international printing community uses “grams per square meter” and this is expressed as “gsm” or “g/m2”.

Whether you’re using pounds or grams per square meter, the higher the number, the thicker the photo paper will be. If a photo paper is not thick enough, it will lead to prints bleeding. This is mostly a concern for home printing, because even the thinnest photo paper in a professional photo lab will be suitable for photos.

The primary reason to consider a photo paper’s weight is in regards to binding prints together into an album or book. A heavier weight photo paper will necessarily have fewer pages in an album or book. It’s for this reason that our lower weight 135# (200gsm) Semi Gloss Photo Paper supports 160 pages, whereas our heavier weight 163# (242gsm) Lustre Paper can only support 100 pages.

As a rule, Silver Halide photo paper and Giclée photo paper will usually be heavier than Digital photo paper. The exception to this are Digital photo papers that are intended for cards. Something to be aware of is that Silver Halide photo papers can only print on one side. Whereas Giclée photo paper and Digital photo paper can take prints on both sides. Most labs do not print on both sides of a Giclée photo paper but this is hypothetically possible.

What are the different color spaces?

There’s an entire science behind color space that is not practically relevant to photographers. The relevant information for photographers to understand is that there are two main color spaces, which we’ll elaborate on below. Each color space has its own “gamut”, which is the range of available colors in the space. And the gamuts between color spaces will differ.

When a color exists in a “source” color space’s gamut, but not the “target” color space’s gamut, the color is called “out of gamut” in the “target” color space. The main issue that photographers need to be aware of is that each printing method will map to a given color space. Your printing method will be your “target” color space. Something called “color shift” can occur when your source color space in your image file differs from your target color space in your printing method.

Color shift occurs when a color becomes “out of gamut” in the target color space and is “shifted” to a replacement color in the target color space. A real world example of this could be that a photo is created in a RGB source color space of the camera but is then printed in a CMYK target color space. In such a scenario, the printer will replace an original RGB color with a CMYK color. One way to manage color shift is to have your source color space match your target color space. This greatly reduces color shift. A second way to manage color shift is to use a lab’s ICC Color Profile. You can find Zno’s ICC Color Profiles here.

The two main color spaces are:
  • RGB
  • CMYK

What is RGB?

RGB is an umbrella term for a family of similar color spaces. This family includes sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB and more. Of these RGB variants, sRGB is the most common RGB color space. Silver Halide will always use RGB based color spaces. However, which RGB color space is used will depend on each lab. At Zno, we print Silver Halide prints in sRGB. Since RGB is the native color space in most monitors and cameras, there is less default color shift with Silver Halide. However, even within two different variants of RGB, color shift can occur. As an example, Adobe RGB has a significantly bigger gamut than sRGB. So, if a photographer’s source file is Adobe RGB and they intend to print in sRGB, color shift will occur.

What is CMYK?

CMYK is a color space that is used with Inkjet and Giclée prints. Since CMYK is not the native color space in most monitors or cameras, color shift occurs by default with Inkjet and Giclée. While this sounds horrendous, it is in reality handled very smoothly through modern highly sophisticated color lookup tables. These color tables attempt to substitute an out of gamut color in a source RGB color space with a color in the target CMYK color space.

What is archival photo paper?

When it comes to photo paper, the printing method and material determines how archival a photo paper will be.

Silver Halide photo papers derive from silver gelatin-based emulsions. The main archival concern with Silver Halide photo papers is not the material but the application of fixatives with the printing method. Typically, Silver Halide photo papers are not certified as archival in the same way as Giclée photo papers, but Silver Halide photo papers on average are rated to last 60 years.

Digital photo papers derive from wood pulp but usually are not acid free. Inkjet printing also uses dye-based inks that are not considered archival. Since Digital papers are not considered archival and inkjets use dye-based inks, Digital printing is considered the less archival when compared to Silver Halide printing or Giclée printing.

Giclée photo papers may derive from wood pulp or cotton. Typically cotton based photo papers are considered more archival since wood pulp degrades more than cotton. All Giclée photo papers will be Acid-Free and Lignin-Free. Giclée photo papers will also use pigment-based inks, which are more archival than dye-based inks used with inkjets in Digital printing. Typically, Giclée photo papers that are derived from cotton are considered “Museum Grade” photo paper, whereas Giclée photo papers derived from wood pulp are considered “Archival Grade” photo paper. Giclée photo papers on average are rated to last 100 years.

What photo papers does Zno offer?

  • Photo Papers that use a Silver Halide printing method are called “Photographic Papers”.
  • Photo Papers that use a Digital printing method are called “Press Papers”.
  • Photo Papers that use a Giclée printing method are called “Fine Art Papers”.
Zno offers a total of 11 photo papers. This includes:
  • Zno’s Five Silver Halide based Photographic Papers include: Glossy Photo Paper, Metallic Photo Paper, Lustre Photo Paper, Silk Photo Paper, Matte Velvet Photo Paper
  • Zno’s Two Digital based Press Papers include: Semi Gloss Photo Paper, Pearl Photo Paper
  • Zno’s Four Giclée based Fine Art Papers include: Art Photo Paper, Canvas Photo Paper, Ivory Photo Paper, Pearlescent Photo Paper

Glossy Photo Paper

Zno’s Glossy Photo Paper is a 163# (242gsm), Silver Halide based Photographic Paper with a Glossy coating.

Glossy Photo Paper is offered on:
  • Flush Mount Album
  • Album Set Collection
  • Photographic Print
  • Matted Print
  • Flush Mount Print
  • Standard Photo Print
  • Print Set Collection
  • Matted Print Stand
  • Slide-in Print Stand
  • Wood Frame Stand
  • Metal Frame Stand
  • Matted Image Folio

Metallic Paper

Zno’s Metallic Photo Paper is a 178# (264gsm), Silver Halide based Photographic Paper with a Metallic coating.

Metallic Photo Paper is offered on:
  • Flush Mount Album
  • Album Set Collection
  • Mounted Print
  • Standard Frame
  • Float Frame
  • Metal Mounted Print
  • Acrylic Mounted Print
  • Acrylic Print
  • Collage Frame
  • Photographic Print
  • Matted Print
  • Flush Mount Print
  • Print Set Collection
  • Matted Print Stand
  • Slide-in Print Stand
  • Wood Frame Stand
  • Metal Frame Stand
  • Acrylic Block
  • Matted Image Folio

Lustre Paper

Zno’s Lustre Photo Paper is a 163# (242gsm), Silver Halide based Photographic Paper with a Lustre coating.

Lustre Photo Paper is offered on:
  • Flush Mount Album
  • Layflat Photo Book
  • Little Black Book
  • Slim Photo Book
  • Album Set Collection
  • Photographic Print
  • Matted Print
  • Flush Mount Print
  • Print Set Collection
  • Proof Print
  • Mounted Print
  • Standard Frame
  • Float Frame
  • Metal Mounted Print
  • Acrylic Mounted Print
  • Acrylic Print
  • Double Glass Frame
  • Collage Frame
  • Crystal Plaque
  • Acrylic Plaque
  • Acrylic Block
  • Little Print Stand
  • Matted Print Stand
  • Slide-in Print Stand
  • Wood Frame Stand
  • Metal Frame Stand
  • Matted Image Folio
  • Flush Mount Card
  • Foil Card
  • Little Moments Calendar

Silk Paper

Zno’s Silk Photo Paper is a 176# (260gsm), Silver Halide based Photographic Paper with a Silk coating.

Silk Photo Paper is offered on:
  • Flush Mount Album
  • Album Set Collection
  • Photographic Print
  • Matted Print
  • Flush Mount Print
  • Print Set Collection
  • Matted Print Stand
  • Slide-in Print Stand
  • Wood Frame Stand
  • Metal Frame Stand
  • Matted Image Folio

Matte Velvet Paper

Zno’s Matte Velvet Photo Paper is a 180# (267gsm), Silver Halide based Photographic Paper with a Matte coating. The Matte Velvet Photo Paper, is Zno’s only Silver Halide Photographic Paper based paper with a Matte Coating. The coating of this photo paper has a particularly soft touch that is like velvet.

Matte Velvet Photo Paper is offered on:
  • Flush Mount Album
  • Album Set Collection
  • Photographic Print
  • Matted Print
  • Flush Mount Print
  • Print Set Collection
  • Matted Print Stand
  • Slide-in Print Stand
  • Wood Frame Stand
  • Metal Frame Stand
  • Matted Image Folio
  • Wrapped Image Folio

Art Photo Paper

Zno’s Art Photo Paper is a 155# (230gsm), Giclée based Fine Art Paper with a Matte coating. This photo paper uses an optical brightening agent (OBA) to create a cooler tonality compared to Zno’s other Giclée based Fine Art Papers. This results in a whiter white-point. It is made from wood pulp and therefore considered