Paper choice is important if you want high-quality, long-lasting prints. The paper must be compatible with your printer and have the right look and feel for the image printed on it. Its surface should also be able to accept the ink without letting it spread. To achieve these objectives, all inkjet papers have coated surfaces that impart certain qualities with respect to flatness, surface texture and ink absorbency.


Paper choice is important if you want high-quality, long-lasting prints. The paper must be compatible with your printer and have the right look and feel for the image printed on it. Its surface should also be able to accept the ink without letting it spread. To achieve these objectives, all inkjet papers have coated surfaces that impart certain qualities with respect to flatness, surface texture and ink absorbency.

The three main paper types used for photo inkjet printing are largely defined by their surface coatings: swellable; porous (or microporous); and cotton rag. It’s important to understand the differences between them because some types of paper perform better with certain inks types and different paper types require different handling.

Swellable papers
Swellable papers should only be used with dye-based inks because the coating expands when it comes in contact with ink, allowing the inks to penetrate the top layers.


Most swellable papers consist of five layers:

1. The top layer has a protective coating that expands on contact with the ink droplets, preventing the dyes from spreading. It also excludes atmospheric pollutants.
2. Beneath it is a layer that fixes the ink droplets in place.
3. Below that is a layer that absorbs additional ink components.
4. Like traditional photographic papers, the actual paper base is sandwiched between two polyethylene layers to prevent the dyes from penetrating.
5. An anti-curl coating and anti-static layer are applied to the back of the paper to keep the print flat and repel dust.

Porous papers
Porous papers are often referred to as ‘instant dry paper’. Their coatings contain microscopic inert particles that create cavities in the surface into which ink is deposited. These cavities prevent the ink from spreading and give prints a dry-to-the-touch feel.


Porous papers are more resistant to moisture and humidity than swellable papers. However, without a protective polymer layer, the ink droplets are vulnerable to atmospheric pollutants. They are also more susceptible to physical damage when handled.

Porous paper is the preferred paper to use with pigment-based inks, which are less affected by atmospheric contaminants than dye-based inks. Pigment-based inks also have much better lightfastness characteristics and ozone resistance on porous papers than dye-based inks.

Cotton rag papers
Cotton rag papers, which are made from cotton fibres (as distinct from wood pulp), are generally used for ‘fine art’ printing because they provide excellent image quality and the longest overall print life on the market. Often supplied with matte or textured surfaces, they are best suited to pigment-based inks. Cotton papers are generally acid free and lignin free. Some manufactures add alkaline buffers for increased protection from atmospheric contaminants.

Other Media
A number of additional media options are available for inkjet printing. The most popular is canvas, which is available through many photolabs and online printing services. It’s particularly good for images that will be framed and displayed and an excellent way to make your photos stand out as works of art. Prints on canvas also make great gifts.

Most canvas media is fairly thick; typically between 350 and 450 grams/square metre (gsm) so, if you wish to make canvas prints at home, your printer must be able to handle media of this thickness. Very few desktop printers can – and those that are capable of printing on canvas are mostly professional models.

Canvas is usually sold in rolls, which are designed for large format printers. However, cut sheet packs of canvas are distributed by the following companies:
Breathing Color Inc. (;
DES Pty Ltd (
Giclee Media Supplies (;
Longbottom Digital Papers:

If you’d like to explore printing on canvas, Hahnemuhle’s Gallerie Wrap system provides an easy way to mount canvas prints and requires no special tools. Each kit contains one or two sheets of canvas media plus adhesive-coated stretcher bars and full instructions for printing and mounting the image for display. A step-by-step demonstration can be viewed at Click on the Gallerie Wrap link.


Hahnemuhle’s Gallerie Wrap system provides an easy way to mount canvas prints.

For environmentally-conscious photographers who would like to use non-timber-based media, Hahnemuhle produces fine art papers from bamboo and sugar cane by-products. Both are certified as archival grade and acid free.


Hahnemuhle’s new Bamboo and Sugar Cane papers are designed to appeal to environmentally-conscious photographers.

Booksmart has recently introduced a range of inkjet printable fine art metal media with a coating that accepts most popular inkjet printer inks. The metal sheets have an adhesive backing to make mounting easier. Five surfaces are available: Matte Silver, Satin Silver, Satin White, Satin Gold and Brushed Silver.


Booksmart’s Fine Art Metals media give photographers the opportunity to print on metallic surfaces which impart a radically different look and feel to images.

The media range in thickness from 0.127mm thick to 0.3mm thick, depending on sheet size. A4 and A3 sheets are available in both thicknesses. Larger sheets (up to 508 x 1372 mm) are mainly 0.3mm thick. Full details of this range can be found at

Do-it-yourself photographers who would like to create their own media can take advantage of the Ink-Aid products from Image Products ( These specially-formulated coating materials can be applied to substrates like paper, plastic, metal, glass and vinyl. (Make sure your printer is able to handle these media.) Several surfaces are available, including white matte, clear gloss and iridescent gold. A sample pack containing six 125 ml bottles of each coating (enough to coat three A4 sheets) is available for $46.14.


The Ink Aid sample kit provides enough coating material to cover three sheets of A4 paper for each of six different coatings.

Sample Packs
Readers who would like to try out some of the different ‘fine art’ papers without the expense of purchasing a full pack should consider companies that offer sample packs. This is an inexpensive way to discover which papers best suit your digital photographs – and your inkjet printer. The following companies offer sample packs:

Image Science stocks A4 Sample Packs for Harman, Museo, Ilford Galerie, Canson Infinity and Hahnemuhle. Details from

Giclee Media Supplies offers several A4 sample packs covering the Eterna Fine Art Paper, GMS Photographic paper and Moab fine art papers for RRPs from $15 to $22.50. Single-sheet samples of Breathing Color Brilliance 1 and Breathing Color Brilliance 2 canvas are also available in A3+ size. For details, visit

Other distributors may also offer sample packs but details were not provided on their websites.


Sample packs allow you to try out a range of different surfaces and weights without having to invest in a full pack of one particular paper.

Weight and Thickness
When buying paper the weight rating provides the best guide to how heavy the paper will feel (heavier papers have a higher-quality feel than lighter papers). Thicker papers are also stiffer than thinner papers. The ‘weight’ of a paper is usually expressed in grams per square metre (gsm). It’s a good indication of the thickness of the paper, although for some highly-textured papers, the paper may be actually thicker than the weight measurement suggests.

Photo printing papers should be at least 170 gsm in weight; preferably 190-250 gsm, although some glossy papers are available with 300gsm weight. Paper thickness is usually expressed in millimetres. The table below provides some equivalents for popular photo papers.

Paper type


Thickness (mm)

Glossy Photo

260 gsm


Semigloss Photo

255 gsm



192 gsm


Smooth Fine Art

325 gsm


Velvet Fine Art

260 gsm


Photo Rag

310 gsm



340 gsm


Unfortunately, most home printers are unable to use heavy papers as their paper feed mechanisms are not robust enough to handle the weight and stiffness of thicker media. Some printers can accept heavier papers through a special chute or slot and most will only accept one sheet of heavy paper at a time. Check your printer’s specifications to find the maximum paper weight it can handle.

Be cautious when buying lighter-weight papers, especially if they are very cheap. Thin, lightweight papers may not be totally opaque. This factor is particularly important when selecting double-sided paper for printing photo books, as you need to be sure the image printed on the reverse side of the sheet does not show through and affect the picture on the front. Opaque papers are also better for prints that will be framed or put into albums because they prevent backing colours from influencing the appearance of the print.

Fine Art Printing Papers
Printer manufacturers Canon, Epson and HP all offer ranges of fine art media that are suitable for use with the A3+ and larger printers in each company’s product portfolio. In all cases, ICC profiles for each type of paper are built into the printer driver so all users need to do is select the relevant paper type when making prints.

Among the specialist paper manufacturers, the leading brands of fine art inkjet printing media are Canson, Hahnemuhle, Arches, Somerset, Innova, Ilford, Harman, Museo, Chromajet, Lumijet, Lyson and Moab.

Suppliers of these papers include:

DES Pty Ltd (
Giclee Media Supplies (
Image Science:;
Image Products:;
Kayell Australia:
C.R. Kennedy & Company: (distributor of Ilford papers);
Longbottom Digital Papers:

Always look for media with ICC profiles and buy from suppliers that offer these profiles as free downloads from their websites. Having an ICC profile for a particular paper makes it easier to ensure that what you see on your computer screen will be a good match for the printed output. This can be a significant time- and cost-saver when you are printing your digital images.


If you want your prints to retain their colours for the longest possible time, look for Fine Art papers with no optical brighteners, such as these heavyweight papers from Canson.