by Laura Gardiner
Studio Manager, Tribeca Printworks
You’ve decided that a fine art paper print is the best choice for your image. Now the question is: What is the best paper for my fine art giclee prints? What we love about this question is that there are so many right answers!
When generating a paper recommendation at Tribeca Printworks, we strive to strike a balance between our expertise and your preference. But no matter where you print your images the considerations should be the same, and we highly recommend choosing a printer that clearly states the manufacturer and technical specs of the papers they offer. You can read more about the technical specs of the Fine Art Papers we offer here, or click the following link to find out more about How The Process Works.
There are countless finish combinations of smooth vs. textured and matte vs. glossy, and there is a range of paper “weight.” Fine art papers are designated in “gsm” weight, which literally means grams per square meter. Typical watercolor paper is often around 300gsm, which is approximately two times the thickness of a typical business card. These are all are important factors to consider when narrowing down the options, but first we have to ask: what are you printing?
The answer to that question will generally fall into two categories: photography and artwork. The right choice for your wedding photos and fine art photography will most likely vary from the right choice for digital illustrations and artwork reproductions. So let’s start by determining your preferred finish of the paper: Matte vs. Glossy.
Matte finish means that the surface of the paper is without shine. Matte papers historically had gotten a bad rap for being “washed-out” and “lacking detail,” but that is not the case with today’s selection of fine art matte papers. These papers are specially coated to provide the deepest blacks and richest colors, without losing vibrancy or depth of your image. The surfaces are beautiful and can be reminiscent of “hand-crafted” papers. All of today’s fine art matte papers are well-suited for both artwork and photography alike. The finishes range from completely smooth to heavily textured. Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of the features and ideal uses of some of our favorite matte papers:
• Hahnemuhle German Etching: 310gsm. This is a beautiful, fiber-based matte paper with a natural white point and an organic texture similar to that of traditional watercolor and printmaking papers. The German Etching is perfect for fine art reproductions (i.e. oil paintings, illustrations, watercolors etc.), but can also do amazing things for your photography. It is especially suited for highly textural landscapes, wildlife photography, and images with subtle gradients.
• Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Bright: 310gsm. This 100% cotton paper has an optically brightened white point and an organic smooth finish. The Photo Rag Bright is a go-to recommendation for an elegant finish to fine-art portraiture and wedding photography. It is also incredibly well-suited for art reproduction if you prefer a paper with a smoother finish.
• Epson Hot Press Bright: 330gsm. A 100% cotton paper with a completely smooth finish with an optical bright white point. This is the smoothest heavyweight matte paper we’ve found. The bright white point demands crisp, high-contrast black and white as well as color photography. Great for art reproductions originally on smooth art paper and digital illustrations that you’d like to keep crisp and clean.
• Epson Cold Press Bright: 340gsm. A 100% cotton paper with a patterned, toothy texture similar to that of a traditional cold press watercolor paper. We find that the Cold Press is best suited to artwork reproduction, particularly digital illustration. The flat fields of color in any image will adopt the texture of the paper, turning it into a dimensional work of art. The optical bright white point allows for incredibly deep blacks and vibrant colors.
• Epson Enhanced Matte: 192gsm. If you are looking for a simple, smooth matte paper and a lower price-point, then the Enhanced Matte is a great solution. It is also the thinnest of the matte papers and is great if you’re looking for something a little more lightweight. Perfect for portfolio prints on a budget and just about everything else. This paper has a bright white point like many of it’s matte counterparts, allowing for balanced contrast and vibrant colors.
Looking for a more traditional photo-finish to your images? Then glossy is the way to go. Glossy implies that the surface of the paper has an inherent shine ranging from a semi-gloss to a high-gloss finish. The gloss finishes lend themselves particularly well to all photography, but we generally do not recommend reproducing painting and illustration on these papers unless you are really looking to experiment! Here are some of our favorite giclee papers that feature a glossy finish:
• Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl: 285gsm. A fiber-based, semi-gloss exhibition fiber with a pearl finish. This is most similar to a traditional darkroom photo paper and has a slight relief texture adding dimension to any image. Give your fashion and documentary photography the touch of realism it deserves with this high-end photo paper.
• Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta: 315gsm. This is a 100% cotton photo paper with a smooth surface and semi-gloss finish. Bring serene landscapes and vintage photography to life with this darkroom emulation.
• Epson Metallic Glossy: 257gsm. Grays turn silver and yellows turn gold on this high-gloss, smooth photo paper. It is not a reflective quality, but rather a pearlescent finish that allows the metallic tones to come to life. Perfect for inherently metallic imagery or anything you wish to add a pop of luminescence to.
• Epson Premium Luster: 240gsm. Luster implies a semi-gloss finish. This economical option is comparable in weight and feel to that of traditional “snapshot” photo prints. Great for all everyday photography
• Epson Premium Glossy: 252gsm. It doesn’t get any glossier than this. This premium photo paper is unencumbered by any texture, leaving a completely smooth surface for high-gloss, high-definition photography.
Choosing the right paper is an incredibly tactile process, so if you are in the New York City area, we’d love for you to come drop into our SOHO Studio and take a look at samples of our papers. For those not local to NYC or unable to make it in, you can read more about each material on our Fine Art Printing page. If you have any questions about which paper is right for you or just want to set up a consultation, give us a call today!