Printing with fine art paper: choosing the right product for gallery-quality prints

Discover the benefits of printing on fine art papers with tips and advice from a paper expert, a printing specialist and a Canon Ambassador.
Fine art photographs mounted on the walls of a gallery.

Russian photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva's first major UK exhibition, Hyperborea: Stories from the Russian Arctic, went on display at The Photographers' Gallery in London. She chose to print her images on Hahnemühle's Matt FineArt Smooth Photo Rag® because she felt the paper's texture would enhance the magical realism of her photos. © Kate Elliott

When it comes to printing fine art photographs, even experienced photographers sometimes feel unsure about which type of paper to choose. Many are aware that fine art papers exist, but not of how they differ from regular printing paper and what to look for when choosing a product.

Here, award-winning Russian photographer and Canon Ambassador Evgenia Arbugaeva, Hahnemühle product manager Andrea Sippel and Canon Europe's Product Marketing Lead Suhaib Hussain answer some of the most commonly asked questions from photographers about printing paper for fine art photography.

Photographs mounted on the blue walls of a large exhibition space.

As a student, Evgenia printed her photos on standard photo paper, but as her career has progressed she has realised the benefits of using fine art paper in terms of quality and longevity. © Kate Elliott

What's the best printing paper for fine art photography?

Evgenia grew up in Tiksi, a secluded port city on the shore of the Laptev Sea in the Arctic. Although now based in London, her work often focuses on the remote landscapes and people of her birthplace. To enhance the magical realism of her images, she chose Hahnemühle fine art papers, which are recommended for Canon printers, for her first major UK exhibition, Hyperborea – Stories from the Russian Arctic, at the Photographers' Gallery in London.

"When you reach a certain point in your career, it becomes vital that your prints look their absolute best, and fine art papers enable you to achieve this," she says. "In my student days, I always used to print on regular photo papers. Nowadays, I wouldn't dream of using standard photo paper. It has to be fine art papers every time.

"I love printing on matte paper and I like the texture of Hahnemühle's Matt FineArt Smooth Photo Rag®. It's not overly textured, but it has the feel of a precious object when you hold it in your hands," she says.

Andrea Sippel of Hahnemühle agrees that a fine art paper helps photographers to get the very best out of their images. "That's down to print quality, surface texture, a tactile feel and finish, as well as longevity," she explains. "Fine art paper has a three-dimensional quality that can raise an artwork to a higher level."

How are fine art papers different from regular printing papers?

Photographs made on fine art papers are different from standard prints in their appearance, texture, tonal rendition and longevity. Fine art papers are based on cotton 'rag' or premium cellulose fibres and are created to the highest standards with specialist manufacturing processes. They tend to be significantly heavier and have a range of smooth or uniquely textured finishes that give them a much higher quality appearance and feel.

A wide range of finishes is also available. Superior inkjet coatings ensure that fine art papers deliver the very highest levels of image quality in terms of colour rendition, dynamic range and retention of fine detail. Archival quality is another key benefit, enabling photographers to sell prints safe in the knowledge that they will last a lifetime.

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Paper manufacturers such as Hahnemühle have long made traditional fine art papers for all types of painting techniques. Adding an inkjet layer to the top of these fine art papers made it possible for artists to make reproductions of their work. "You get an inkjet reproduction that has the same texture and tactile feel of the original," explains Andrea. "However, the ink stays in the top layer rather than sinking into the underlying paper, ensuring the same brilliant range of tones and colours as in the original artwork. Photographers became aware of these papers and were really excited about the opportunities to make fine art prints from their photographic images.

"Crucially, the inkjet coating is laid directly onto the base paper with no other layers in between. This is why the texture is still so pronounced in Hahnemühle's fine art papers."

A black and white close-up of a cylinder mould paper machine.

Paper was traditionally made on a cylinder mould machine. The devices are now very rare, but Hahnemühle still operates two machines to make top-quality fine art papers, such as William Turner. © Jan Christian Zimara

Two Hahnemühle sample packs containing Natural Line and Glossy FineArt papers.

Hahnemühle's Natural Line range is based on bamboo, hemp and agave fibres, which are particularly eco-friendly. The sample pack of Hahnemühle's Glossy FineArt papers includes FineArt, PhotoRag® and Baryta styles in a range of pearl, satin and metallic finishes.

What kind of fine art paper is best for photographic prints?

"When you're showing images online, you have no control over how they're viewed on somebody else's screen," says Evgenia. "Creating photo prints is completely different. The variety of subtle textures in alternative styles of fine art paper, their feel and the way they take colour and tone can make a huge difference to the quality of the print."

But a fine art paper is not just a fine art paper. A good place to start when choosing paper for your photo prints is deciding if you require a matte or glossy finish. Naturally, matte papers, such as Canon Pro Premium Matte, are non-reflective which can avoid the risk of glare under harsh lighting and work well for mounting behind glass. Matte papers are also often preferred for black and white photo printing.

Glossy fine art papers are ideal for punchier, high-impact prints with vivid colour rendition, high contrast and sharp detail. Hahnemühle's Photo Rag® Metallic, for example, is a particularly bold high-gloss paper with a metallic coating that brings out the shine in reflections, ice and glass, making it a popular option for architectural and landscape shots. The glossy heavyweight Canon Pro Platinum offers outstanding quality and fade resistance and wide colour reproduction.

A mirrored image showing a model dressed as a mermaid underwater.

How to prepare photo prints for an exhibition

From paper choice to profiles and proofing, discover all you need to know about printing for an exhibition.

Fine art papers come in a variety of textures, which is also important to consider. Hahnemühle's William Turner, a traditional mould-made paper, or Canon Premium Fine Art Rough give a realistic watercolour feel and add depth and three-dimensionality to digital prints. Papers in the Hahnemühle Matt FineArt Smooth range, or Canon Premium Fine Art Smooth, have a lighter, less textured feel that works well with vibrant colours, deep blacks and fine detail.

A Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer and Hahnemühle fine art paper.

Hahnemühle offers a comprehensive range of downloadable ICC profiles to support its fine art papers, ensuring accuracy when printing with Canon printers such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300.

Which is the best printer for fine art papers?

Professional-level printers such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 use pigment inks, which work well with fine art papers. "Pigment inks provide a wider colour gamut and deeper colours compared with traditional dye-based inks, and pigment inks also create longer-lasting prints with superior archival quality, explains Suhaib. "That makes them ideal for exhibition use or when selling your work.

"The new matte black ink on the imagePROGRAF PRO-300 produces especially deep blacks on fine art matte papers. It's great for black and white photo printing, combining outstanding shadow detail with really smooth gradations. Further bonuses include this printer's ability to create borderless prints on fine art papers, and it also supports Hahnemühle's panoramic paper."

A Canon printer with a certificate of authenticity from a paper manufacturer.

Hahnemühle's certificate of authenticity is based on a high-quality paper page and the use of matching, individually numbered pairs of holograms for attaching to both the certificate and the artwork.

How can I add value to my prints by using fine art papers?

"When I'm submitting prints to a gallery and they're offering them for sale, they expect a certain standard of quality and a certification of authenticity can add value," says Evgenia. The high quality of fine art prints means they are age-resistant, and additional longevity, as well as protection from fingerprints and scratches, can be obtained by using a protective spray and varnish.

Hahnemühle's certification of authenticity is a two-part process to guard against fakes. "Many photographers find the certification of authenticity to be valuable," explains Andrea. "There's the paper certificate itself, which is created with a high-quality mould-based paper that has deckled edges and the Hahnemühle watermark. Photographers can use this to make their own certificates, which can be particularly useful for one-offs and runs of limited-edition prints. Every certificate also comes with a matching pair of individually numbered holograms. One is applied to the certificate itself, the other to the back of the print with an archival-quality glue. Each hologram has a range of security features that can't be copied, some of which can only be seen under a microscope."

Are fine art papers eco-friendly?

Hahnemühle uses a combination of about 50 different fibres in the creation of its range of fine art papers. "We're very focused on minimising our environmental impact and all of the fibres that go into our fine art papers are FSC/PEFC certified," says Andrea. "For example, the Natural Line range uses bamboo, hemp and agave, which grow quickly, require relatively little water and don't need pesticides. Our use of synthetic rather than gelatin sizing is also a contributing factor in making our papers vegan."

Matthew Richards

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