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Yeah but WHICH photo paper?


Ok ok so we all love photo paper. 

Photo papers are as common as the printers used to print on them.  

That was the introduction line to my very last blog article, and it seems fitting for this one too. They are common, very common in fact that it’s hard to tell the difference from one to the other. Some may argue that there’s really only a few finishes, but even with that selection the choices can fill an entire store. Just do a search for “glossy photo paper” on Amazon and you’ll have pages of results. Pages. 


Both in brand name and in type of paper, remembering what paper is best for which uses can be daunting for even intermediate users. This article seeks to better define the finishes of photo papers and what they’re best used for in each case.  

Let’s do this! 


Types of Photo Paper 

I’ve mentioned finishes before but in discussing varnishes. The same principles are true for photo papers as with varnishes: There is glossy, matte, satin/luster as well as metallic, and pearl papers. We’re going to break down each type and include some examples of best uses. 


When people think of “photo prints” they think of glossy as this has been the standard format for most photographic prints for some time. Glossy photo papers have a shiny finish that helps to enhance color intensity, vibrancy, and contrast. The paper reflects light with the glossy surface, creating a sheen or glare giving the print a high-quality appearance. 

Ideal For: Professional photographs such as senior portraits, marketing materials like print samples, or vibrant art with rich colors such as artist Romero Britto’s work. 

Colorful photo with hearts surrounding it

Image Courtesy Of Britto.Com - Link 



With a non-reflective surface that reduces glare and sheen, matte photo papers have a smooth or stippled texture and are the perfect companion paper to gloss. The surface prevents fingerprint transfer unlike glossy paper. A common misunderstanding about matte papers is that the colors aren’t as brilliant or saturated as glossy papers, the truth is that the matte black ink provides a denser black print on matte papers. That’s the whole point of matte paper.  

Ideal For: Any display scenario where bright lights or direct light would cause a lot of reflection and glare in a glossy photo paper. Great for posters, presentations, and crafting, matte photo papers are versatile for more than just portrait photography.  

Green Trifold Brochure on a Table

Example of trifold brochure using a matte photo paper 


Satin / Semi-Gloss / Luster 

These photo papers are an ideal finish for those who want something in between matte and gloss. The semi-gloss sheen of a satin photo paper reflects some light but reduces glare better than a full gloss. Photo black ink is used with satin photo papers to give your satin prints vibrancy while intensifying the black and color tones. 

Ideal For: High-end portrait photography such as wedding photos where some reflection and texture is desired. For example in the following photo, the bride’s hair, ring, and sunlight will reflect the most light and bring focus to those areas to make for a beautiful shot.  

Man in a tuxedo and woman in wedding dress dancing

 Photo courtesy of Natalie J Weddings Photography - Link 



It should be pretty obvious from the name that this type of photo paper is metallic in nature and comes in a variety of colors and styles of metallic effect for a truly unique result. Silver, gold, and glitter are just a fraction of the examples of metallic photo paper that can be used to create amazing art and consumer goods.  

Ideal For: Text and graphics with a lot of high contrast. The Cricut community of creatives frequently use them in making mugs or cups with inspirational quotes or sayings on them. Metallic reflective stickers are popular and fun to make with equipment like the Cricut system that can cut out custom shapes like hearts or logos easily and quickly. The mugs below weren’t hand-painted but rather have metallic adhesive photo paper affixed to them, shapes impossible without an advanced design software like the Cricut has. 


Black and white coffee mugs with metallic ink printed on front

Image courtesy of Creations By Carol R. - Link 



Last but certainly not least is the pearlescent photo papers that are similar to outright metallic paper but with more subtle tones and sheens. Pearlescent photo papers aren’t as common as the rest since they are a cross between a satin and metallic paper both in sheen and appearance.  

Ideal For: Suitable for any composition that has high contrast and bold color spaces like car photos or nature scapes. For example, a pearlescent paper would be perfect to showcase the pearlescent paint of this luxury sports car.  



We’ve learned in this article that photo papers are as versatile as the people using them! 


Photo papers have a variety of finishes and uses for those finishes. Each type has their own strengths and ideal usage applications. Remember to consider the intended display location, desired level of reflection (if any), and the environment where the photo prints will be displayed. Choosing the right photo paper will make all the difference in creating a perfect print.  

Here’s to a great print! 

  • R. Carnie Littlefield 


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