The Importance of Paper Attributes

Ilford Print SamplesI recently had the opportunity to test out some fine art papers from Ilford, and this got me thinking about photo papers in general.

First off, one of the challenges of evaluating papers is that so many papers are so very similar. Differentiating between the many options in semi-gloss papers, for example, can be an exercise in futility. There just isn’t all that much difference all things considered, especially when you consider the print is going to be coated (more or less) with ink and then (quite likely) placed behind glass.

But working with the four papers from Ilford that I was evaluating also reminded me of just how important certain attributes can be when it comes to selecting a particular fine-art paper for printing your photographic images.

One of the first things I look at when evaluating a paper is the surface texture and color. Texture can really make a huge difference. I like something that is more organic, and that doesn’t even remotely resemble a repetitive pattern. But color, I think, tends to get ignored all too often.

It seems to me that many photographers assume (incorrectly) that the color of the paper doesn’t have an impact on the final print. After all, the ink will be covering up the paper, in theory hiding the color of the paper. But that color can be critically important. This is especially the case with the relatively bright areas of the image, where there won’t be very much ink being put down on the paper. In those areas, the color of the paper will show through.

For example, one of my favorite papers among the four Ilford varieties I was testing was the Ilford GALERIE Gold Cotton Textured. This paper has a very nice texture to it, and a wonderfully warm creamy color. The texture added depth and character to the print, and the color caused brighter areas of the print to appear with a wonderful warm tone.

But perhaps the most often overlooked attribute for paper is the weight. This is often thought of as a thickness, but it is actually not so simple as thickness because there is a density of the material to take into account. Therefore, in most cases instead of a value for paper thickness, you will find a weight. That weight is generally described as a “gsm” value, which stands for grams per square meter.

I really like that weight is used instead of thickness, because to me that’s actually the more important attribute. Granted, this is only important if the print will be held in the hands, not when the print is framed. But the “heft” that comes from a paper with a higher weight can really have a tremendous impact on the perceived quality of the paper the photo is printed on.

As I thought about how important some of these issues are, and how often it seems these factors get overlooked by photographers, I decided to write an article that expands upon these issues and more when selecting a paper. That article will appear in an upcoming issue of Pixology magazine (

About Tim Grey

Tim Grey is in the business of making photographers smarter and happier. He is the author of more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, has written hundreds of magazine articles, and publishes the Ask Tim Grey e-mail newsletter as well as the Pixology digital magazine. He also speaks at a variety of events and leads photography workshops around the world.
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One Response to The Importance of Paper Attributes

  1. David Clark says:

    I’m really glad to read that you’re going to tackle the issue of choosing papers. I’ve been overwhelmed by the amazing variety of papers available to me and have been frustrated by not knowing how to begin a systematic evaluation. I look forward to your upcoming Pixology article.

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