Photo Printing Explained

R&R Printing

Finding the correct printer paper or materials can be challenging at the best of times. You can use many different paper types and materials for your projects. They vary in composition, design, purpose and even weight and thickness. Each one offers bespoke design options you can utilise in your print. Because of this, each type is exciting in its way. 

I started printing my photography in 2014 and haven’t looked back since. There are many print options to choose from instead of your standard paper print, such as modern or classic-looking paper print mediums, metal, canvas wraps, matte, gloss, silk and acrylic etc.

By printing your work and storing it safely, you’re also protecting yourself if you lose your digital copies or your devices are damaged or stolen.

Printing your work means you also learn a new skill. If you want to ensure your printed work looks its absolute best, then knowing the steps to prepare your files for print is essential. This might include understanding why images come out darker than your screen or digging deeper into colour science or print profiles. This may all seem a bit complicated to some but those who want to spend the time to understand all of this will stand the best chance of getting a print that properly reflects the work they see on their screen.

Printing at home or in a small commercial environment is cheaper in the long run if you’re printing standard-size prints. An office or home printer is usually the more affordable option for smaller numbers of standard-sized printing projects. That said, when it comes to printing commercial materials – brochures, business cards, newsletters, and catalogues – your at-home or office printer might not be the best or the cheapest option.

Printing your work can make you a better photographer. As you hold your printed work in your hands and study it, what you are doing is logging both the good and the bad within the image, so if there is something you spot that works well, you know to continue doing it and on the flip side, learn from any mistakes you made while taking the photo.

Printing from home or a small working environment is the best option for hobbyists or small commercial businesses. However, please don’t ditch your local printer because you may still need their service for larger specialist prints or if your printer breaks down.

Below I’ve listed various paper types and print projects I’ve tried and tested, ranging from standard coated and uncoated paper to specialist prints that require a specialist or commercial printer.

Standard COATED Paper

Standard coated paper comes in various weights, thicknesses and compositions. There are four common types of photo-coated paper: glossy paper, matte paper, satin/semi-gloss paper, and lustre/pearl paper.


Until recently, I used glossy photo paper; I found it worked well; unfortunately, it’s not practical for commercial photography or larger print projects. Glossy paper is prone to fingerprints and smudging, and it’s challenging to view the image in bright light or when the sun is shining on the print because it emits a soft glare and reflection.

Credit: Photo Paper Direct

That said, gloss paper works well for smaller prints. Gloss enhances the colours more and adds definition to the image borders. In addition, gloss paper provides a modern and contemporary look and is inexpensive for small print projects.


Matte-coated paper is a non-glossy, flat looking paper with minimal sheen. These papers are more opaque, contain greater bulk, and are higher in cost. The matte coating prevents the ink from absorbing into the paper, leading to dull and often flat colours.

When printing with matte-coated paper, I found images boring and lacked sharpness and clarity. Matte also reduces the edge of an image. Matte finishes require more ink to give your colours good saturation, so it’s more expensive to print on matte in the long run.

Credit: Spiral

Matte’s anti-reflective characteristics make it better for framing. In addition, If your desired appearance is more solemn, muted or mysterious, matte photo prints are the ideal choice.

Matte-coated papers add more detail to the photo with less distraction. However, I stopped using matte-coated paper for larger prints, mainly landscapes, because the colours looked solemn, and the prints lacked sharpness.


Satin-semi-gloss photo papers are particularly dynamic, and the paper offers beautiful subtleties when rendering shading. But it’s different from glossy paper because it reflects very little light on its surface. This is a real advantage when you want to exhibit your photos.

Credit: HP Support

Satin paper provides a finish midway between matt and gloss. Satin paper has a slightly glossier appearance than matt paper and is ideal for printing larger prints.

The quality of the satin photo paper is as good as that of matte or gloss, the only difference being the finish. Satin photos can have sharp and vibrant colours that last longer than most coated papers depending on the printer and the ink you are using.


I started using lustre/pearl paper during the pandemic, which is very nice to print on. Lustre paper and pearl paper, like satin paper and semi-gloss paper, are just two names for the same thing.

Credit: LexJet

This heavy-weight paper provides exceptional image results with ample colour space and excellent image sharpness. High colour density and brilliant elegance from lustre finish ensure high resolution and vivid images for black & white and colour photography, digital art, and fine art reproduction.

Lustre/pearl paper is similar to glossy paper; however, the shine is less notable. Lustre/pearl is more than suitable for portraits and shows more accurate skin tones. A lustre/pearl finish is more resistant to fingerprints, smudges, and scratches. However, lustre/pearl paper is the more expensive fine art paper option.


Smooth fine art photo paper is for professional photographers requiring high-quality printing paper. The difference between fine art paper and standard photo paper lies in the composition of the paper itself. Natural fibres (usually cotton or alpha-cellulose) must be included in fine art paper’s composition. The paper is not artificially bleached with chlorine, thus ensuring that the photos stand the test of time. A significant asset in the sphere of art photography!
Regular photo paper meets the needs of some users when it comes to printing photos to be viewed occasionally. In contrast, fine art paper will ensure that images are shown off in their best light and provide good performance when exhibiting prints.

Credit: Adorama

The term “fine art prints” refers to archival pigment giclee prints. Unlike a c-type print, giclee prints use high-quality pigment-based inks and acid-free fine art paper. Also, these prints, which are also sometimes referred to as pigment prints, are made without any light sensitivity or chemistry.

Fine art paper is probably the best choice for professional gallery prints, exhibitions, prints sold commercially in supermarkets, portraits, and wall art where the image/images will be viewed often.

There are many different types of fine art paper on the market from which you can chose from however the very best fine art photo paper I have come across is Hahnemühle.

Hahnemühle is the inventor of digital fine art papers for photographs, digital art and art reproductions. With the Digital FineArt Collection and the Hahnemühle Photo line, the paper manufacturer offers a high-quality and broad product range. Depending on the application, various inkjet papers meet different quality requirements and artistic demands.  

Credit: Klein Imaging

With its combination of high-purity artist papers, characteristic surface structures and various inkjet coatings, the Digital FineArt Collection guarantees extraordinary printing results with brilliant colours, deep blacks, best contrast and detailed reproduction, and captivating image depth. With an ageing resistance of more than 100 years, the inkjet media of the Digital FineArt Collection are ideally suited for acceptable art applications such as high-quality fine art prints, editions, long-term exhibitions and art collections.  

Textured Fine Art Photo Paper

Textured photo papers feel pleasant when handled. The surface grain becomes an integral part of the photograph. The texture of the paper will be visible in the light-coloured areas of the image, such as clouds, whereas they will be less evident in black areas.

Printing onto textured papers with a flatter pattern can work perfectly well. Digital printing may not be suitable for many types of textured paper, but some people like the mottled effect it can give!

The vast majority of printing is done onto smooth white paper, be it gloss, silk or uncoated. This is perfectly fine for most types of printing, and since many different paperweights are available, there is usually sufficient choice for most applications. When creativity comes into play, other kinds of paper are considered. Paper with a textured finish is often one of the first that comes to mind, especially if you want to design a flyer, business card or leaflet that stands out from the competition.

Many fantastic textured papers are available, with brands like G.F Smith producing huge ranges of beautiful papers. Specialist textured papers are also often coloured, although bright white textured papers are available.

If you’re printing colour images onto coloured paper, it’s essential to be aware that the colour of the paper will affect the colours in print. Therefore, the textured coloured paper may not be suitable for you. However, as mentioned, most textured paper manufacturers offer a bright white option for photo printing.

Acrylic prints 

Acrylic prints look incredible when hung on bright pastel-coloured walls. Acrylic prints work well in modern buildings, open-planned living areas and narrow and tall corridors. In addition, they look incredible when hung on bare brick walls. An acrylic print is a reproduction of your photo displayed behind acrylic glass. Part of the appeal of the acrylic print lies in its simplicity. Your print has a borderless construction that lets the photo image speak for itself.

Credit: Bay Photo Lab

If you’re concerned about the longevity of your wall art, acrylic prints have an advantage. Acrylic prints are shatter-resistant, provide UV protection to protect your image, and are lighter than glass! Some acrylic prints are even resistant to scratching. In addition, they’re easy to clean and hang (depending on size and weight).

However, there are several disadvantages regarding acrylic prints that may put you off investing in acrylic printing; for example, they’re expensive and will not work with all décor or photography types, such as wedding photos. In addition, they emit a lot of glare, and they’re expensive to ship because of their weight and size.

That said, acrylic paints can be hung or placed in most environments, including outside. They’re waterproof, last much longer than canvas prints, and durable enough to handle being displayed in high-traffic areas where people might touch them.


A canvas print is the result of an image printed onto canvas which is often stretched, or gallery-wrapped, onto a frame and displayed. Canvas prints are used as the final output in an art piece or as a way to reproduce other art forms.

There are several benefits to printing on canvas, such as style and versatility. Canvas prints are classic and timeless, making them a natural fit with all décor styles and winning them a spot as one of the most popular photo gift ideas.

Credit: Pictorem Custom Wall Art

Leading supermarkets and home and hardware stores opt for canvas prints over framed pictures because they’re eco-friendly and cheap to make. In addition to being budget-friendly, canvas prints come in all shapes and sizes. Most photos look good on canvas, there’s no glare, and they’re made with premium materials designed to last a lifetime.

One of the benefits of canvas printing compared to other photo art products with smooth surfaces, like Poster Prints or Acrylic Prints, is its beautiful textured canvas weave. The texture adds a layer of visual interest to your décor and helps soften photo imperfections. 

Source: AliExpress

Canvas prints have several disadvantages; for example, images often look blurry, which is unsuitable for professional photographers. Images often look pixelated and lack detail too. Canvas prints tend to crack over time and aren’t suitable for hanging in humid environments such as kitchens and bathrooms. That said, a waterproof coating can be added; unfortunately, adding extra layers does lead to a lack of image sharpness.

Credit: Printoot

Overall, canvas prints are cheap, affordable, eco-friendly, and can last up to seventy-five years. However, on the downside, and in my opinion, they’re not suitable for professional photography.

metal PRINTS

Metal prints are great for high-contrast photos or artwork with rich deep colours, such as nature or night-time photography. They are suitable for outdoor settings or modern, sleek indoor settings. The stunning visuals of HD Metal Prints are a must-have for an art museum gallery, commercial art galleries or luxury homes.

Metal prints can have a slightly softer overall look to them. During the sublimation process, ink droplets expand ever so slightly. This causes the metal prints to look softer than acrylic, which is printed directly onto traditional photo paper.

Source: Foto Works Pro | Credit: Sam Yu

Metal prints are made from a three-part composite panel consisting of two slimline aluminium sheets on either side of a lightweight black plastic core.

This ingenious combination is the secret behind the defining quality of a metal print – although it’s sturdy, it’s still remarkably light. This means that it’s all but effortless to move around.

Metal prints come with various mounting options, including magnetic brackets, kickstands, acrylic display stands, and floating wall mounts. 

Credit: Northwest Fine Art Printing

Metal prints come in various styles; however, matte is preferred if you’re showcasing dark or high-contrast images. Metal prints offer all-around protection from UV and humidity. Therefore, your image will not suffer from any form of fading effects.

While metal prints experience less glare than framed artwork because there’s no glass for the light reflection to interfere with, glare is somewhat problematic if your images are hung in rooms with lots of direct sunlight, as seen in the image below. Although metal prints are an excellent value for money, they’re not cheap. They usually cost more than traditional prints of the same size.

Credit: Printique

Some metal prints are heavier than other prints due to their durable materials. You have to use the most appropriate hooks for wall hanging. Moreover, you can’t swap out pictures like you can with traditional frames.

It’s not advisable to DIY metal printing. They can have sharp and dangerous edges if not correctly trimmed. Metal prints can look out of place in more traditional settings. You have to think carefully about where you want to place them before you go ahead with printing.


Wood prints are excellent for interior and exterior designs, so as long as the wood is smooth, you can print most photos onto wood, and it’s easy. Wood printing has been used in the interior design industry for many years, but the photography industry hasn’t yet caught up.

You can use either reclaimed wood from an old house (as long as the piece is smooth) or a fresh square of new wood from your local home improvement or hobby store—the lighter the wood colour, the better the result.

Credit: Bay Photo Lab

Various online videos instruct you how to print onto wood; however, if you have never printed onto wood before, see a professional who can show you how it’s done correctly.

Plywood is an excellent material for printing because every print is unique. No two sheets of plywood have the same grain signature, so every image becomes a unique piece of art. 

When printing onto natural grain wood, lighter colours will be more transparent and show more grain, whereas darker colours like black and blues will print more opaque, show less wood grain and will darken.

Some printers print in HD white. When this finish is selected, no wood grain will show through your image, but you will still see the texture of the wood in the print, making it stand out when printed. This finish is a perfect option for close-up family photos, black and white photography, pictures where colour is essential and fine art images.

Wood is a natural material, and as a result, some pieces of wood will have imperfections. Most wood prints are sealed and protected from wet and humid conditions making them ideal for hanging or displaying in the bathroom, wet room or kitchen. Wood prints do not emit glare like standard glossy or some metal prints. However, your photos will fade over time if left in direct sunlight.

In addition, and depending on size, weight, thickness and shipping costs, wood prints can be more expensive than regular prints.

Fabric Prints

Photo Fabric is a paper-backed fabric you can run through your inkjet printer. It’s as easy as print, peel, rinse and sew. Many quilters use Photo Fabric to make memory quilts. You can print family photos, pictures of your beloved pets, and even your children’s artwork.

But why stop there? You or a specialist print manufacturer can print your photos onto more oversized fabric products such as quilts, curtains, pillows, blinds, and fabric shower curtains. The possibilities are endless.

Credit: Bags of Love

Printing photos onto fabric has several disadvantages; for example, prints are not so durable, and depending on your project, fabric printing can be costly. In addition, photos printed onto fabric lack sharpness and clarity, colours can run in the wash, and fabric degrades over time, especially in direct sunlight. Moreover, if the material is marked or stained, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

That said, fabric printing does make for great shower curtains, window blinds, pillow cases, curtains, sheets, rugs, etc. It’s also important to note that the larger the print, the more megapixels you will need for a quality image. In most cases, a 12MP camera will be sufficient for making high-quality digital images and standard prints; however, printing onto blinds, quilts and shower curtains will require a 26-30MP camera.

Photo fabric is sufficient for small projects where detail doesn’t always matter; however, it’s unsuitable for professional printing. You will need a specialist printer or manufacturer for professional printing of more oversized fabric items.


Epoxy art-resin prints are still relatively new to the photo printing market. I discovered art-resin printing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. The hospital’s walls are decorated with some of the most stunning resin seascapes, landscapes, long exposures and architectural prints.

Resin prints are made from thick, glossy epoxy art resin. Your photo is covered in a thick layer of shiny epoxy resin that gives the image a sleek and modern look you can’t get from traditional framing. Epoxy resin takes photos from good to gorgeous, saturating the colour and adding depth and shine for a gallery-worthy aesthetic.

Credit: Nolan Akin

Art-resin prints offer long-term clarity and superior protection against UV yellowing. Art-resin photos are easy to clean and maintain. Moreover, epoxies have high corrosion resistance and are less affected by water and heat than other polymeric matrices. Therefore your image will be safe in humid and wet environments.

Epoxy art-resin prints can be ordered online, or you can make them yourself; however, if you’ve never worked with epoxy art resin before, it may be best to seek a professional printer or artist.

Credit: Make Something

That said, covering a glossy photo in a coating of art-resin is easy. In fact, epoxy resin takes photographs next level, sealing and protecting them with a professional-looking finish and a glossy sheen that makes the colour pop!

Some resins can yellow if exposed to excessive sunlight. Therefore, you must keep your image out of direct sunlight to reduce yellowing. Art resin is prone to trapping air bubbles or dust. These bubbles usually appear after it has dried and settled. This is very common with resin coating because of its dense nature, so it’s best to seek a professional or artist who works with resin if you want a professional finish.

Epoxy prints are heavy and expensive to ship; the materials are also costly to purchase. Moreover, epoxy resin borderless frames are more difficult to hang than your traditional photo frame.

Credit: Art Resin

You can use any paper with resin, provided it has been sealed first.

Epoxy resin will not harm your image in any way, though it is permanent and cannot be removed without damaging the print. The viscosity of the polymer will sit on top of the canvas and act like a seal, protecting your photo from water damage and scratches.

Epoxy resins have a high gloss finish that gives your canvas a glassy look. This feature can enhance the colours within the image. However, you can opt for a dull shine. Some photographers and artists prefer to add a coat of matte or satin lacquer, which will work fine and give you a satin or flat finish. You can also try sanding the surface with 300 grit sandpaper and then wiping it with beeswax.

Lenticular Prints

I first discovered lenticular prints in 2017 when visiting Norwich Castle Museum. The portrait was of gallery size, illustrating an older woman dressed in medieval clothing with striking eyes. Every time I moved, the image moved in a sense. Lenticular medieval-style pictures work well if you’re into that type of artwork.

Credit: Twent3

Lenticular printing is a printing process that utilises lenticular lenses. Lenticular lenses are used for 3D displays and produce photo prints that illusion depth. Alternatively, lenticular prints can change or move if you view them from a different angle.

Lenticular printing creates one of the more unique types of photo prints. This printing method changes an unmoving or static image into a changing and interactive medium. The viewer can change what they see based on where they are standing.

Credit: Red Bull

It’s important to note that lenticular printing isn’t suitable for every photography project. While it may work well with themed and dress-up portraiture, it may not work well with landscapes. That said, lenticular prints work exceptionally well with architectural, portrait and product images.

Lenticular printing is suitable for postcards, book covers, posters, credit cards etc. lenticular printing can be expensive, and in some cases, it won’t make economic sense to use it. But as long as you print at least 500 pieces and your message has a high-value target, it can be cost-effective and perhaps even the most efficient way of reaching your customer. For example, if you want to stand out from the rest with a unique business card or maybe you want to offer your customers a personalised card service, then lenticular printing could be beneficial for you. However, regarding individual photos, lenticular prints may not be up your street.

Lenticular printing is purely for themed photos, portraits, souvenirs’ and some styles of digital art created in Adobe Photoshop. Lenticular prints make for great showcase galleries and exhibitions too.


Glass is another medium for photo prints. This medium can create unique effects and is more functional (i.e., glass bottles or a window) than other mediums. Printing on glass requires LED UV printing or digital ceramic printing. This medium is popular with businesses seeking to brand their goods (alcohol bottles, food containers, fragrance bottles, etc.).

Additionally, glass prints can be decorative and beautiful. This medium offers an opportunity for photographers to create photo prints that have unique effects. Unfortunately, printing on glass requires complicated technology and can be expensive if not done in large quantities.

Many people confuse glass prints with acrylic prints, but they are different. Acrylic is plastic, and glass prints are actual glass.

Credit: Brad Scott Visuals

Printing pictures on glass provides the most professional display possible, your photos won’t wrinkle or fade, and you don’t have to worry about keeping a frame or the inside glass clean. Glass printing works well for privacy screens, awards and even shower doors.

Glass printing is not a standard process. Therefore, locating a specialist printer to print your photos may be challenging in the United States and Canada. Fortunately, in Europe, glass printing is now quite common. However, as mentioned, glass printing is expensive, too.

Source: Photo Work Out | Credit: Prints On Glass

There are several disadvantages to printing on glass. Glass is easily breakable. In addition, light passes through glass, leading to diminished colour accuracy and vibrancy. Glass can have slight imperfections such as divots or bumps. Furthermore, UV protection is never guaranteed with glass. Some types of glass may have UV protection while others don’t; therefore, it’s best to consult with an experienced glass worker before printing.


There are numerous printing styles, mediums and materials available on the market for photographers; however, If you don’t choose a suitable material, your photos won’t look good; therefore, it’s essential to experiment with what works best for you and your customers.

Printing your images increases your perceived value as a photographer. Everyone has digital files sitting on hard drives or memory cards. Offering a beautifully finished printed piece shows that you care about your photography and put effort into the presentation of your imagery for your clients.

It’s also important to note that a photo print doesn’t always have to be enjoyed on a screen or in a traditional photo frame. We as photographers can utilise many materials for ourselves and our clients, such as shower curtains, wooden and fabric blinds, ceramics, glass doors, tin, copper, fabric, acrylics, resin, etc. The possibilities are endless. In addition, when we implement new materials and ideas into our portfolio, we attract new customers.

As a photographer or aspiring professional, you must consider offering printed products to your clients. Besides the nostalgia, and the emotional and logical reasons for enjoying the printed image, there are also many business benefits to being a full-service photographer, such as:

  • Printing your images can make you a better photographer that stands out from the rest.
  • Printing your images increases your perceived value as a photographer. 
  • Making prints for your clients shows that you care about their customer experience and delivering their images in their finished form; it also shows that you are a full-service photographer when many these days are not.
  • As a photographer, if you are trying to make a living with your camera, offering printed products allows you to make additional income instead of just making money from your session fees.
  • When you make a print for a client, you control the output quality and the finished product and don’t leave it up to them to produce their prints from a consumer-grade lab. Quality control is essential for a professional.
  • Ultimately, when you offer prints and other professionally produced physical products, you support the industry.

Printing is not dead; in fact, it’s better than ever”

Thank you for reading.

Published by J. J. Williamson

Prints, frames, stock images and portrait services.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: