How To Choose The Best Paper For Photo Prints

When decorating your home, it’s common to include plenty of memorable photographs of family, friends and favorite vacation spots. But the task of decorating is easier said than done. With so many printing options available, it can be hard to know what photo paper and finish to use to properly enhance the beauty of each photograph. And depending on where you choose to place the photos in your home, or how you choose to frame them, some sizes and finishes just won’t work.

To help even the most novice decorator get a handle on the best sizes, materials and finishes to use for their favorite portraits and landscapes, we’ve put together an in-depth guide for choosing the best paper for photo prints. From family portraits printed on pearlized lightweight photo paper to fine art reproductions on stretched canvas, our guide covers options for every style and taste.

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What Is A Photo Print?

Framed prints hanging above table.

A photo print is a physical copy of a photograph, printed on paper (although some are chemically treated, about 80% of what’s sold is acid-free and lignin-free paper) or other materials of varying sizes. Photo prints are used in frames, collages, and invitations and can help add a personal element to your home or mailed invitation.

To make sure that the photo paper you choose fits the project you’re planning to use it for, there are several things you’ll need to consider, including photo paper sizes. If you’re printing photos to put in frames, they will need to be the same size as the frame (generally, frames come in 8×10 and 11×14 inch sizes). Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of having to cut the photo down to size which can reduce a portion of the beautiful photography you want to display.

Framed prints hanging over chairs.

In addition to size, it’s also important to take into account how you want the finished photo to look. Different types of finishes and materials can greatly change the style of your photo, so doing your research before printing can help make sure you get the final product you want.

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How To Choose Photo Paper Finishes

The finish of the paper you choose to print your photo on can make a huge difference in its visual appeal. The finish can also determine how long the photograph holds up over time, how easily it shows blemishes, and the type of matting or frame that will work best. Below, we break down the most popular print finishes and the types of frames you should use to show them off.

Matte

A matte finish means that the photo doesn’t have any shine, making it a great option for photos you want to display in a glass frame or in brighter areas. Because light doesn’t bounce off this finish, there isn’t as much of a glare, which can be beneficial in calmer areas like living rooms or doctors’ offices.

Framed gallery wall over entryway table.

Without this final reflective gloss, matte photo paper can often come across as darker and less structured than their glossy counterparts. They also show fingerprints more easily than other finishes, meaning you need to be careful when handling and framing your premium matte photos.

Glossy

Glossy photo paper is a great way to add extra shine, dimension and color to your photos. Before printing your photos with this sheen, it’s important to decide which category of gloss you want: high-shine or semi-shine. Although all glossy finishes add a bright and reflective layer to your photos, a semi-shine finish is slightly more matte while still highlighting the beautiful colors in your photographs. Alternatively, high-shine provides a more intense gloss and gives your photo an overall crispness with a smooth surface.

Square photo prints pinned on wooden post.

This modern finish is beautiful on holiday cards or wedding invitations, or photo prints on fine art paper that will be hung without a glass frame. It’s important not to use a glass frame with this type of finish for several reasons. First, the photo paper itself will already be highly reflective, so adding glass around it can cause an unpleasant glare. Glossy paper is also kind of sticky, and can get stuck on glass frames and ruin the photo during removal. Photos with this finish are often recommended to be matted and hung without a frame, or used in a collage without glass.

Pearl

A pearl finish, sometimes referred to as luster, is a good balance of both matte and semi-shine. Known for having an almost iridescent quality, pearl finishes allow for some shine and contrast but don’t show blemishes as easily as glossier options. Pearl is often used for high-quality prints and photographs (such as wedding portraits or framed professional photography) as it has a unique texture that feels much more upscale than other similar finishes.

Metallic

Metallic photo finishes look very similar to their name: they have a metallic, almost three-dimensional quality to them that helps them stand out in comparison to other popular finishes like pearl and glossy. Metallic finish photo paper is sturdy, resistant to fingerprints and has a pearl-like sheen. It’s best suited for photographs with a lot of colors as the finish helps to bring out the contrast between light and dark. Because of its shine, much like with glossy finishes, it’s not recommended for glass frames.

Satin

Similar to pearl, a satin finish is a combination of matte and glossy. With only a slight shimmer, it’s a great option for a photo you wish to display behind glass or in a brighter space as there won’t be much glare. This finish also allows for better viewing of the photograph from all angles, making it the standard option for event and wedding photography. A bit more durable than glossy finishes, satin can stand being handled by multiple people and will last a long time.

Some experts say that a satin finish is great for highlighting bright whites, yellows, and oranges, as it provides an added element of brightness. Because of this, printing photographs with darker colors and adding a satin finish is not often recommended.

Photo Printing Options

In addition to paper finishes, you will also need to decide the size and material for your printing paper. Depending on how you plan to display your photos throughout your home, you may need a variety of smaller and larger prints to create a collage, or only a few canvas prints to hang above your bed. Below, we break down all the available print sizes and materials to suit your visual goals.

Canvas prints hanging over bench in kitchen.

Print Sizes

No matter your printing job, there are many sizes available to meet your needs. From 4×6 glossy photos for collages to panoramas on matte paper, our online portal has a wide range of standard and unique print sizes. Other sizes available for online ordering include 5×7, 5×15, 8×24 and 20×30. Each option allows for matte, glossy, and pearl finishes as well as cardstock and traditional paper prints. Below is a full list of sizes available for purchase, some of which qualify for one-hour pickup:

  • 4×4
  • 4×6
  • 5×7
  • 8×8
  • Wallet (4)
  • 11×14
  • 12×12
  • 8×10
  • 5×15
  • 12×36
  • 8×24
  • 16×20
  • 20×30

Square photo prints on wall.

Large Format Prints

Large format prints, while they may seem similar to poster prints, are a bit more customizable and upscale than posters. Printed on Fuji Crystal Archive professional-grade paper, these prints provide a crisper color contrast. And because of their size, they cannot be printed using traditional-sized inkjet printers.

When considering this type of printing for your home or project, size and finish options need to be taken into account. While other larger prints such as posters are home to glossy finishes, large format prints can be finished with gloss, matte or pearl overlays. Unframed prints could benefit from the sheen that matte and pearl overlays provide, while glass-enclosed prints should be matte to prevent any glare. Large format prints come in the following sizes:

  • 11×14
  • 12×12
  • 5×15
  • 12×36
  • 8×24
  • 16×20
  • 20×30

Art Prints

Traditionally, an art print is a reproduction of a well-known piece of art. Printed on heavyweight and higher quality paper, art prints can help bring popular works into homes across the country without the hefty price tag. But fine art printing doesn’t just stop at reproduction of famous works. These days, fine art printing is a popular option for families wanting to display their favorite vacation photos or family portraits.

Poster prints hanging on wall.

Many of our art prints are matted, adding an extra layer of sophistication to an already beautiful print. Other options for printing fine art include overlaid graphics, frames, and watercolor paper for a unique surface texture perfect for copies of painted artwork. But no matter which option you choose, fine art paper is a great way to add elegance to your home or small business.

Poster Prints

When you think of posters you may recall the glossy prints you tore out of magazines and plastered around your room as a teenager. But today, poster prints are much more complex than that, offering multiple ways to make your favorite photographs appear larger than life.

With collage posters, you can combine all of your favorite family or vacation photos into one seamless print. The format of collages are endless, offering you plenty of unique shapes and overlays to create a one-of-a-kind piece for your home. Some popular options include heart-shaped collages for wedding photos or a grid format to highlight a variety of unrelated photos in one cohesive display.

Canvas and framed prints.

Premium posters have similar customization abilities as collages, but are generally printed on higher quality paper and have more saturated colors. They are best suited for professional photos you want to highlight, as the larger size of poster prints offers a more detailed view than standard prints. If your photo isn’t high-quality or begins to look bad when blown up, you may want to consider including it in a collage to bring the size down or printing in a smaller size altogether.

Canvas Prints

A canvas print is a photograph that has been printed on a sheet of canvas, similar to the process of printing a photograph on paper. With canvas prints, however, there is an added layer of texture from the material of the canvas which is then stretched around a frame and secured from behind. This way, all you see is the printed photo. It’s often used to reprint a popular work of art for distribution or for family photos. Well-loved for its artistic elements, the canvas material has a matte surface that gives the photograph a museum-quality look.

Canvas art gallery wall.

While a frameless canvas print is the more popular option, framed canvas prints have also gained popularity in recent years. They add a more modern element to canvas photos as unframed canvas can sometimes look unfinished in comparison to other, traditionally framed paper prints.

Cardstock Prints

Cardstock prints, while not known for enhancing photographs, are generally used for their durability. Because they are thicker, they can withstand being handled without showing damage or losing their shape. Cardstock is commonly used for business cards, flyers, scrapbooking, and even postcards. If you’re considering printing on cardstock, it’s best to take into account where your prints will be displayed and how many times they will be handled. If they’ll be passed around to a lot of people or if they need to hold up for an extended period of time without any protective covering, cardstock is your best bet for long-term use.

Other Printing Options

Photo gallery on brick wall.

If you’re looking for something a bit more unique, there are a lot of other materials and styles available for printing to bring your home decor to the next level. You can display your favorite artistic photographs on glass or metal for an eye-popping display of color, or print your photo on a puzzle or phone case to add a new twist to a family portrait. Check out all of the out-of-the-box printing options below:

  • Glass Prints. Perfect for bright living rooms and hallways, glass prints can bring new life to your photos. With multiple sizes, formats, and shapes to choose from, printing on glass is a distinct format that can brighten up any room with it’s reflective nature.
  • Metal Prints. Make your colors come alive indoors or out with a metal print, which hosts a bright white colored background to bring out contrast and tone in even the darkest photos. With portrait and panoramic sizing available as well as a moisture-resistant coating, metal prints are a perfect option for any environment.
  • Acrylic Prints. To give your photo depth and vibrancy, consider an acrylic print that frames your traditional photo with plexiglass and a protective backing. Not only does this framing option provide a cleaner look than canvas or metal, but it’s also UV resistant, meaning your new purchase will be built to last.
  • Wood Prints. For those looking to bring a natural element into their home, wood prints are a great option for showcasing their favorite photos. With plenty of grains and colors to choose from, wood-printed photographs can match a variety of decors. However, it’s worth noting that with wooden prints, any white in your photos won’t show up, instead the white will match the color of the wood it’s printed on.
  • Puzzle Prints. Get the whole family involved by letting them put together their favorite pictures piece by piece. Ranging from 60 to 1,014 pieces, these puzzles have varying difficulty levels great for family members of all ages.
  • Phone Case Prints. Take your favorite photos with you wherever you go with phone case prints. Available in sizes that fit most iPhones, these phone cases are durable and come in matte or glossy finishes to suit your style.
  • Photo Book Prints. Another great way to bring together all your favorite photos from a specific vacation or event is with photo books. Our process allows you to customize every detail. Or, our experts can curate an example for you, grouping together your photos that go well together for an overall beautiful aesthetic.
  • Fleece Blanket Prints. Print your beloved pet or your favorite sunset picture on a blanket so you can snuggle up in something you love. Choose from sherpa, microfiber, or plush fleece and pair it with a matching pillow to complete your personalized ensemble.
  • Calendar Prints. A calendar full of memorable photos makes a great anniversary or christmas gift, and is something the whole family is sure to enjoy throughout the year. The calendars come in plenty of options including an easel calendar, desk calendar, and even monthly planners.

Closing Thoughts

Decorating your family home or office is a great way to show off your hobbies and personal style. And with plenty of printing options to choose from, you have a great opportunity to get creative with how you choose to highlight your favorite pictures. For example, a fleece blanket showcasing the view from your childhood home can provide much needed comfort to anyone who needs it. Meanwhile, a family portrait printed on glass can bring a new level of polish to a gallery wall. To help set the tone for your space without breaking your budget, check out our printing, pickup, and annual printing options that will help keep your home properly decorated in no time at all.