While digital image files can be shared and sent easily online, nothing beats having the actual printed photo there for you to touch, admire, or even gift to friends. But you can’t just print your photograph on any paper – you’ll need a high-quality paper that will make your images stand out and look good.
Fine art paper is the top choice for printed photography – there’s nothing quite like a fine art print to bring out the best qualities of a photograph. However, not all of these products are made equal. What works to print one type of photograph may not work for another.
Whether you’re printing a photo for display or as a gift, you’ll need the right type of paper. Read on for our guide to the 7 best fine art paper products for photography!
The Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta is a glossy 100% cotton paper with a density of 315 GSM. The barium sulfate in the baryta paper allows colors to come through especially well, making it excellent for high-contrast prints and anything that needs high visual impact.
Even better, Hahnemuhle provides ICC profiles for download on their official page – letting you fine-tune your settings based on your specific printer, ink, and paper setup. It even comes at quite a reasonable price as photo papers go, so new professional photographers don’t need to worry about breaking the bank.
This combination of upsides and the extra color capacity of the coating make the Photo Rag Baryta our top choice, both for a glossy fine art paper, as well as overall the best fine art paper for photography.
Moab’s Somerset Enhanced Velvet is a 100% cotton paper with a matte finish and a grammage of 330 GSM. Matte papers typically print a lower color range than glossy papers, but Moab has compensated for that with this product.
In most other photo papers, the paper itself is just a surface, with the coating doing most of the work. In contrast, Somerset uses the paper surface as well, providing a depth of color that most other matte papers can’t match. Couple that with Moab’s ICC profiles, and you can get prints almost as good as glossy papers.
Somerset Enhanced Velvet comes at a quite reasonable price for all the qualities it has. It’s the top choice for when you want the best matte fine art paper.
The Hahnemuhle FineArt Baryta Satin photo paper is made of alpha-cellulose, with a grammage of 300 GSM and a luster finish. Despite the material, this is not a conventional wood-pulp paper, and it meets all the standards that cotton-based fine art papers do.
The satin gloss surface makes it an excellent choice if you need to balance the virtues of both glossy and matte paper for a print, making it a good addition to your usual finish preference. The cost may run a bit higher than usual, so consider if the luster finish is worth the extra outlay.
Innova Art’s Etching Cotton Rag paper is made from 100% soft grain cotton rag with a paper weight of 315 GSM and a matte finish. Despite the finish, Innova’s coating provides the paper with an excellent maximum density and color gamut. This means that it displays color quite well – especially for a matte paper – so don’t hesitate to use it for colorful prints.
If you need a matte paper but don’t want to sacrifice any color qualities, then the Etching Cotton Rag is an excellent choice. Further, it’s also a quite affordable purchase for its type. You can’t go wrong with Innova Art Etching Cotton Rag for fine art printing!
Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl is made of 100% alpha-cellulose with a grammage of 260 GSM with a metallic finish. While this is lighter than average, it’s still comparable to typical magazine covers. Think of metallic papers as a subset of glossy finishes. They tend to do less well with sharp detail and definition, and are better at showing off shadow and light.
Metallic paper also does well in depicting images with a shine or gleam, so subjects like cars, industrial equipment, jewelry, or polished fixtures will come out excellently on Slickrock Metallic Pearl. If you have a lot of metallic subjects or want to play with chiaroscuro for a print, Slickrock Metallic Pearl is the right fine art paper for you.
Ilford Galerie Cotton Artist Textured paper is mould-made from 100% cotton rag, manufactured in a traditional paper mill, and weighs 310 GSM. It has a matte finish, but that’s not the only visual kick it has.
The manufacturing process gives it a textured, semi-smooth surface that most other photo papers don’t have, lending a more traditional, watercolor feel to anything that’s printed on the surface.
This makes Cotton Artist Textured a bit different from the other products here, and more of a niche pick. Experiment with the textured matte finish and its visual effect to see if it works for the type of photos you want to print. If you need a paper that can print a photograph to look like a traditional painting, then go with Ilford’s Cotton Artist Textured.
Epson Exhibition is a fiber-based paper weighing 325 GSM and with a glossy finish. It has excellent color gamut and maximum density, giving your images deep blacks and more color richness compared to other papers.
However, a large part of this excellent performance is because Exhibition paper incorporates optical brightening agents (OBAs). This does do quite a lot for color gamut and density, but it also means that image quality will degrade as the OBAs do. For wedding prints or similar mementos intended to last years or decades, this will be a major factor.
Still, it does run fairly cheap. If you need excellent image quality without having to pay through the nose for fine art prints, Epson Exhibition will do the job nicely.
There’s a difference between your average photo paper and a fine art paper. Both serve the same purpose, but there’s several qualities that make fine art paper a much more interesting choice for photo prints than typical photography paper.
While we have our top picks from the whole product list, each project and photograph is unique. To help you make the best decision for you, here’s a quick guide to choosing the right paper.
One important difference between typical photo papers and fine art paper is longevity. You don’t want precious memento photos and original fine art prints to just rot away after a decade, which is what happens to typical paper.
Fine art papers are acid-free and lignin-free, which ensures a durable paper and an archival-grade surface for your prints. Unlike typical photo papers, fine art papers also have no optical brighteners – these can also degrade and ruin image quality over time.
This characteristic has the greatest effect on visual quality, so it’s important to understand what it does and get the right finish for your intent. You’ve got three major choices here: glossy, matte, and luster. Any other finish is simply a variation of one or more of these.
The finish you should choose depends on the visual effect you want to achieve as well as the qualities of the photograph you’re printing. We recommend experimenting to see which one suits your needs best.
A glossy finish is smooth and reflective – this is likely the type of finish you’re thinking of when it comes to photographs. Glossy paper bears deeper and more vibrant colors than the other finishes, and also preserves detail and definition.
If you want to maximize the visual effect (e.g. colors popping off the page) and get the most gorgeous prints possible, go with glossy. However, there is a major problem with glossy paper – it tends to show stains and blemish easily, and the finish itself sticks to glass.
A matte finish has a textured, non-reflective surface that provides your prints with a classic paper feel. In terms of color, it does best with black-and-white photography and sepia tones.
The lack of reflectivity also means that it’s less sensitive to light and won’t be as easily blemished. So, if you plan to display it under glass or pass it around to a lot of people, matte is better. However, matte surfaces won’t provide as much vibrancy of color or sharpness of detail the same way that a glossy finishes will.
A luster finish is the middle option between glossy and matte. You may also see it billed as satin, semi-matte/semi-gloss, silk, or other similar names.
This finish incorporates the best of both worlds for printing. You get all the texture of matte and all the vibrance of glossy, but without their respective weaknesses (e.g. loss of contrast, vulnerability to glare).
Grammage refers to how heavy and how thick a paper is. You may also see the terms “density”, “paper thickness”, or “paper weight”. This is typically measured in grams per square meter, abbreviated as GSM or g/m2. A higher number means a thicker, heavier paper. The standard range is between 200 and 300 GSM. For comparison, average printer paper usually ranges from 90-100 GSM.
Of course, high grammage may not be entirely necessary. The main determining factor here is toughness. That is, how much handling is your print expected to take? Something that you expect to be framed and not moved very much won’t need as dense a GSM as a photo you intend to pass around to a lot of viewers. Consider your intent to select how dense a paper you need.
Whichever need you may have, there’s a paper for it.
Are you photographing metals or anything that shimmers? Get a box of Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl.
Do you want to show off a photograph underneath a glass frame? Moab Somerset Enhanced Velvet is the paper for you.
Do you need shine and visual pop, or just the best fine art paper available? Our top choice, the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta, has never let down a buyer.
The right paper can make or break a print as much as the camera does. With this guide, you can be sure that you’ve got the fine art paper you need for the job.