Industry News

Selecting the Best Paper for Competition Prints

February 18, 2016

By RF Staff

After producing thousands of competition prints over the last 25 years, one of the most common questions I get from photographers is “what paper should I choose?” Paper selection definitely plays a big role in how your images are presented and viewed. Here's an array of papers I'm currently using, along with some suggestions. 

Baryta Semi-Gloss is master printmaker Jonathan Penney’s go-to paper for black-and-white images because it provides the deepest black and best shadow detail, he says. Photo © David Sixt 

Baryta Semi-Gloss
This paper has a rich, soft-gloss finish that looks and feels just like the beautiful exhibition darkroom fiber papers from years ago (Fig.1). It is my go-to paper for black-and-white images because it provides the deepest black and best shadow detail. It is excellent for brilliant color and especially for low key images. Print tonality holds up well under strong competition lights because images can be printed especially “deep.” This paper is not typically paired with a float mount/deckle-edged presentation, but in an 8-ply bevel cut mat and optional 1/4-inch white border reveal, it is truly elegant. When you get your prints back, you can pop them into a thin black frame for an instant museum piece for your studio wall. 

Watercolor paper offers a textured matte, excellent for images that have a fine-art feel, Penney says. Photo © Lester Miyashiro

Watercolor Paper 
This is a textured matte paper, excellent for images that have a fine-art feel (Fig.2). It is well matched to full color images as well as sepia and muted color looks, especially when a painterly effect is employed in the processing. It performs well with images of medium to high key tonality, but for low key images where much of the “story” is way down in the low tones, this paper will not perform as well as the Baryta Semi-Gloss or Photo Luster Papers (below). When a float mount/deckle-edged print presentation is used, this paper is ideal. The print texture might be too strong for subjects where a very delicate skin tone is desired. Black-and-white images, because of their inherent “filmic” look, would be better matched to Smooth Matte, Baryta Semi-Gloss or a Photo Luster Paper.

Penney suggests that images with specular highlights work best for Metallic Luster paper because the metallic effect will be the strongest (think wedding rings). Photo © Anthony Vazquez 

Metallic Luster 
This is a specialized paper that can add a stunning visual dimension to the properly chosen image, especially product photos, cars, motorcycles, some wedding detail images (ring shots, etc.), some landscapes and certain types of black-and-white or monochrome images (Fig.3). Images with specular highlights work best, where the metallic effect will be the strongest. Low key images may not display the effect as well. The metallic look and luster finish would not pair well with fine-art imagery and most portrait work.    

Smooth Matte Paper 
This paper is similar in print characteristics to the Watercolor paper above, except with a smooth surface. It is an excellent all-around paper, a very common choice for competition prints.

Photo Luster
This paper has a classic photo luster finish and tonal characteristics like the Baryta Semi-gloss (above). It delivers brilliant, faithful colors and deep blacks under competition lighting, and it works well in an 8-ply bevel cut mat.

Click here to view an extended gallery of competition prints.

For more than two decades, Jonathan Penney’s skilled eye has been instrumental in refining thousands of images created by portrait, wedding, commercial and fine art photographers. He has helped WPPI and numerous other award-winning artists transform good photographs into great ones.

Related: The Everlasting Power of Print
6 Reasons to Entrust Your Competition Prints to a Master Printmaker
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