Paper Choices for inks

Matching the paper to the ink set can affect print quality and durability. The paper must have exactly the right level of absorbency to accept the ink but be able to prevent the ink from spreading. It should also have a surface texture and thickness that complements the image and suits the final use for the print.

All inkjet papers have coated surfaces that accept the ink (and it’s important to print on the coated side of the paper). Coatings give papers certain qualities, such as weight, 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 should only be used with dye-based inks.


Most glossy and semi-gloss papers are of the swellable type. With some ink/paper combinations, swellable inks may require extended drying times and are susceptible to smudging and water damage. They can also show fingerprints.

Porous papers are often referred to as ‘instant dry paper’ and tend to have matte or semi-matte surfaces. They work best with pigment inks because they are coated with 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.

Cotton rag papers are generally used for ‘fine art’ printing because they provide excellent image quality and the longest overall print life on the market. Offered in a variety of surface textures and thicknesses, they are best suited to pigment-based inks.

Glossy or Matte?
Choosing between glossy and matte papers is largely a matter of taste. Some images look best on glossy papers while others are best on matte or semi-matte. As a general rule, dye-based inks produce their richest colors on glossy paper while pigment inks are at their richest on matte and fine art papers. However, if you plan to frame prints behind glass, the difference between glossy and matte prints is minimized and the prints usually look very similar when framed.

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