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Inkjet Paper - Why Inkjet Printer Paper Matters

inkjet paper

Inkjet printers are arguably today's most versatile printers. They print black and white documents quickly and flawlessly, and they can be used for a variety of different color printing needs including photographs, signs, invitations, labels, cards and presentation materials.  Need paper? We recommend Amazon: Buy Inkjet Paper Now

Successful printing requires the inkjet paper to have exactly the right degree of absorbency to accept the ink but prevent its sideways spread. And for whichever type of printer paper you select, the settings in the printer driver must be adjusted to suit the paper, so that the right amount of ink is delivered.

Inkjet Paper Characteristics

There are really five main characteristics to consider when selecting inkjet paper for a project:
  1. Weight

    Printer paper weight refers to the weight of a 500-sheet ream of 17" x 22" paper. Each of these sheets is equivalent to four letter size sheets. Therefore, 500 sheets of standard 20# paper weighs 5 pounds. The higher the paper weight, the thicker the sheet of paper. Higher weight paper is more durable and has a more substantial feel. It also allows less light to pass through. Standard 20# paper is used for everyday printing and copying, and for high-volume needs.

    Weight refers to the thickness of paper. Paper weight may be expressed in pounds (lb.) or as grams per square meter (g/m2). Different types of paper have their own weight scale. The bond papers which include most inkjet photo papers are found in the 24 to 71 lb. (90 to 270 g/m2) range. Terms such as heavyweight do not necessarily indicate a heavier paper than other comparable papers. Paper used to print photos is usually thicker, with the average about 62 lbs.

    Heavier, thicker inkjet papers feel more substantial and can lend visual weight to a project. Heavy weight paper can lend an aura of importance and seriousness not found in flimsier products, and they will give you crisper text and less ink bleed, however if you're buying heavier weights of paper do bear in mind that every inkjet printer has a maximum paper thickness it can handle. Be sure to consult your printer documentation before you feed very heavy paper through it - otherwise you risk seriously damaging your printer.

  2. Brightness

    Contrast is a key element between the ink and the paper. The whiter the paper the better your copies will look. The brightness of a piece of paper is typically expressed on a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the brightest. The multipurpose bond paper used in copy machines and desktop printers generally has a paper brightness in the 80s. Photo papers are normally in the mid to high 90s.

    Paper brightness affects the images printed on the paper, especially the vibrancy of the colors. Photos appear brighter and colors clearer on inkjet photo papers with higher paper brightness ratings. With matte finish papers a higher paper brightness can make a greater difference than it does among gloss finish papers of varying paper brightness.

    Even when the inkjet paper manufacturer supplies a paper brightness rating, the true test is how your images print on that piece of paper with your particular printer. Before making a sizable investment in a specific type of paper, print some images on in-store printers like your own, ask for paper samples to try at home, or ask your commercial printer or paper supplier for samples printed on paper you are considering. The best way to determine brightness is simply to compare two or more papers side-by-side.

    Don't be fooled by the name a manufacturer gives the brightness. Manufacturers often use terms such as Bright White or UltraBright instead of numbers. These labels can be deceiving and not truly indicative of the brightness or whiteness of the paper. When buying paper for printing photos, check its number rating. For top quality prints, get photo paper with a brightness rating of around 95 and above.

  3. Finish

    Inkjet photo paper comes in various finishes. Which finish produces the most satisfying results is a matter of personal taste, but always make sure to set the printer driver to match the paper finish you've selected.

    • Gloss Finish

      Photo paper with a gloss finish has a high shine with the look and feel of traditional glossy photo lab paper. The finish may be described as high gloss, gloss, soft gloss, or semi-gloss, each reflecting the amount of shine. Satin is a less shiny coated finish.

      If you want the best possible results in terms of color richness, clarity and sheen then glossy inkjet photo paper is the way to go. This type of paper has several layers within each sheet. There are top layers to help with ink absorption, and intermediate layers to store the ink and prevent bleeding. The coating keeps the paper from readily absorbing the ink and therefore may dry more slowly, so look for a quick-dry gloss finish.

    • Matte Finish

      Matte photo paper has a smooth, almost velvety, finish. Any image printed onto a matte photo paper will have a richness of color and overall softness but it won't resemble a lab processed photograph. Matte photo paper is less shiny and has less of a glare than glossy paper. It is often used to produce superior text results.

      Images printed on photo matte papers appear soft and non-reflective, not shiny. Matte finish photo papers are thicker and are specially formulated for photos. They are often used when prints are displayed under glass. Many matte finish papers are printable on both sides.

  4. Opacity

    Opacity is a measure of how well a material prevents light from passing through it. Standard 20# copier paper is somewhat translucent, while heavier papers are more opaque. The higher the opacity, the less that printed text and images will bleed through to the other side. This is especially important for double-sided printing. Inkjet photo papers have a relatively high opacity (94-97 usually) compared to ordinary inkjet or laser papers so bleed-through is less of a problem.

  5. Caliper

    Photo papers are heavier and thicker than typical multi-purpose papers. This thickness, known as caliper, is necessary to accommodate the greater ink coverage typically found in photos. Typical inkjet paper caliper may be anywhere from a thin 4.3 mil to a thick 10.4 mil paper. Photo paper is usually 7 to 10 mils.

Photo Paper

Photo paper comes packaged and precut in the most popular sizes. When selecting your ideal photo paper, remember to consider what type of finish you'd like your pictures to have. Higher quality photo papers for more critical work are thicker and have advanced coatings, sometimes with quick-drying properties. They can normally only be printed on one side, because only one side has the special coating. There are a few papers suitable for double-sided printing.

Top brands like Epson make glossy, semi-gloss, matte, semi-matte, fine art and luster finish papers for different kinds of printing projects. If you're feeling really creative, try using Lexmark or Xerox transparency film to create masterful presentations or eye-catching overlays for invitations.

The type and texture of the photo paper you use directly relates to how well your prints will look. If you treasure photos, use photo paper and ink that help ensure prints last long and are light and water resistant. Some premium photo papers resist fading for 25 to 50 years and have the look and feel of traditional photographs.

Specialty Papers for Printing Projects

  • Bright White Paper - for important documents, business correspondence
  • Recycled or Copier Paper - the least expensive choice for everyday printing needs
  • Card Stock - heavier paper stock for greeting cards, business cards, brochures, marketing materials, name badges, invitations
  • Envelopes - for business and personal correspondence, greeting cards
  • Photo Paper - matte, glossy, photo professional
  • CD Labels - print professional-looking labels for your CDs
  • Shipping Labels - standard sizes

So which inkjet paper is the right paper for the job? Actually, all of the above: you probably need to keep more than one type of inkjet paper on hand, because the one you use will depend on the type of project you're working on.


The above factors are the most important to consider when choosing paper for your projects. Be sure to use the right paper for your printer. When choosing copier paper, weight and brightness are most important. For inkjet and laser printers look at opacity and finish. If you will be printing images or creating publications, choose a heavier weight paper with extra brightness.

TL;DR - Quick Guide to Buying Photo Paper

Last week we released a post offering twelve tips to print better photos. As a follow up now, we bring you a quick guide to buying the right photo paper for your prints. According to Ben Jones of PC World, some people will spend very little on the paper, despite spending time and money researching the camera.

While on the surface, all photo paper looks the same, in reality there are several differences and each type is best suited for a specific use. No matter if you are an amateur or professional photographer, it is essential to know how to match up the paper to the photo.

Your primary concern when it comes to paper should be its finish. There are several different options which include glossy, matte, or textured finishes. Below we have outlined characteristics of all of these.

Inside of the "glossy" category, there are two options: gloss and semigloss. A novice may gravitate toward glossy papers because of the seemingly rich colors. This may be perfect for just handing snapshots around with family or friends, but if you are planning on putting the picture in a frame, you will not get the desired results. A gloss finish is very shiny and thus creates reflections that obscure your image. Putting the picture under glass with double the glare created by the finish.

The second option as we said before was a matte finish. Matte paper does not create any reflections and will actually give you darker blacks than gloss paper which will improve your contrast. In situations where detail and texture are critical, matte paper is preferable over gloss because of its ability to show finer detail. Another option for showing off your photos is canvas. This is ideal for photos you want to frame because it combines the fine detail of the matte finish with the vibrant colors of gloss. The lack of glass in front of the image also helps to prevent reflections. However, you should be aware that because canvas generally has a rough surface, that it is susceptible to showing off the bumps on the surface when under lighting from the side.

The final option in this section is "art" paper. These, too, have a matte finish and have some texture to them, much like paper that would be used for doing a water color picture. They may also have different degrees of color and contrast which can look more "painterly" with a strong yellow or beige background. This type of paper is best suited for things like landscapes or other images with broad ranges of flat color.

Now that we have talked about the various types of paper, we will turn our attention to the durability and longevity of photo paper. As a general rule, any pictures hung or displayed in direct light will fade over time. While pigment-based ink prints will last longer than dye-ink prints, both ultimately will fade. Pigment-based inks are engineered to resist fading the best and can last for over a 100 years without changing and your better dye-based prints can last for 20 years or more. Keep in mind, too, that any claims over the fade resistance of a photo are based on the use of very specific paper guidelines which should be outlined in the fine print of your printer manual. Also, if the paper is supposed to last 50 years, that does not mean that in the year following, your picture could be gone. The year marker is just how long it will go without beginning to show any signs of change.

Another variable to consider is the whiteness of the paper. If you want bright white paper, that is certainly up to you, but be aware that to create that level of brightness, there are whitening chemicals involved. This means that while the printer may be perfectly white when it is run through your printer, but the whiteness may shift towards yellow in just a few weeks which may subtlety change your picture. For the best results, it is safer to not use paper with artificial brighteners in it. If you can't tell, look at both sides of the paper and if the printing side is considerably whiter than the other, it most likely has been brightened.

The next consideration are your printer settings themselves. If you haven't noticed before, in the print dialog box it gives you the option of selecting the type of paper you want to print on. In the case of third-party paper, there should be instructions as to what to select for best results with respect to your brand of printer. If color management is also part of your printer setup, then check with your paper vendor to see if they have pre-made color profiles that match up to your printer as well. As we have said before, the brand of your paper and your printer have a considerable amount to do with the overall quality of what you print. To really get the best results, you should only use HP paper in an HP printer, as so forth. HP, Canon, and Epson all sell a wide variety of paper so you should be able to find something suitable for your needs. The specific paper will also likely be included in your printer driver as well. There are other choices in terms of quality paper. PC World specifically mentions Hahnemuehle, Red River, Moab, Ilford, Inkpress, Museo, and Innova. For $20, you can get a sample of nine different types of paper from Hahnemuehle. If you are feeling particularly brave or bold, you can buy handmade paper, but it is best to avoid one with a lot of dust because it can impact the insides of your printer.

Basically the key thing to keep in mind when you look at all of these factors is that you get what you pay for. Cheaper paper while it will cost you less initially, and the results will not be of the same quality if you had bought more expensive paper. The only way you can tell how your prints will look though is to experiment.

Updated: 10/28/19

About William Elward

Founder of Castle Ink, William Elward has 20 years experience in the printer industry. He's been featured on CNN Money, Yahoo, PC World, Computer World, and other top publications and frequently blogs about printers and ink cartridges. He's an expert at diagnosing printer issues and has published guides to fixing common printer issues across the internet. A graduate of Bryant University and Columbia's Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program, he's held various leadership positions at The College Board, Bankrate, Zocdoc, and Everyday Health. Follow him on Twitter at William Elward's Twitter Profile