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In this article we’re going to touch upon the topic of why you should invest in a good quality paper vs. saving a few dollars and using a normal quality one. As the saying goes “you get what you pay for” and this really plays true when it comes to selecting a paper to print on.

Below is some of the key differences between a high quality and normal quality paper.

Material usage

High quality papers are typically made from premium materials such as cotton fibers/rags or alpha-cellulose, the latte of which is a high grade wood pulp. These materials are typically used in fine art papers and come with excellent age resistance of 80+ years. They are free from acid and lignin which are both elements that cause rapid deterioration of paper over time.

Lower grade or “normal” quality paper unsurprisingly uses much lower grade materials or recycled fibers in their production. They will not necessarily be free of acid and lignin, which in turn means they are very likely to deteriorate quickly and show signs of yellowing and discolouration.

Print quality output

Papers from established manufacturers such as Hahnemuhle have been tested extensively with printers such as Canon and Epson to ensure their media produces excellent results from these machines. These manufacturers also create what are known as ICC profiles which help to improve the quality of the printing by maximising the colours that can be reproduced by the printer.

Normal quality paper is often from unknown manufacturers that haven’t extensively tested the compatibility of their paper with various makes & models of printers. They almost certainly don’t have a website that allows your printer to identify, download, and install ICC profiles. These aspects combined will ensure a far lower quality print output relative to using a higher quality paper from an established manufacturer.

If maximising the quality of your print is important to you – choose a higher quality paper.

Established and known manufacturer

Not all papers that are advertised as “premium” will indeed be premium. They may for example come from manufacturers who have poor quality control which may leave imperfections in the paper. There is also manufacturers who may claim their papers are free from acid and lignin, but if the papers were thoroughly tested in a lab environment this may not end up being wholly true.

It is best to look for established and known manufacturers when paying a premium for fine art paper. We solely use Hahnemuhle in our printing, but there is other vendors such as Canson, Ilford, SIHL, and others who are known for producing high quality art papers that pass all the industry standard tests.

Weight of the paper

Generally speaking, a higher quality paper tends to be heavier in terms of the gsm [grams per square meter] which makes it feel more substantial to the touch. This additional weight also increases the papers durability and reduces the chances of damage when handling or mounting inside a frame. Normal quality papers will more often than not be lighter and thinner which makes them extremely prone to getting bend marks, impact damage, tearing, and curling.

Higher end papers for fine art printing will typically fall into the range of 280 – 310gsm.

Lower quality papers that you might see used for mass produced posters are typically around 110 – 140gsm.

Texture and finish

This is something you really need to see and touch to appreciate, but higher quality papers often have elements that just make them look and feel more luxurious and premium. The manufacturers are able to combine high quality base materials with various finishes such as matte, satin, high-gloss or metallic.

Normal quality papers tend to look and feel rather basic and lack specialist finishes.

You can read more about texture and finishes of paper in our guide on which fine art paper to choose.

Environmental impact

Lower quality papers generally have a higher environmental impact due to less stringent sourcing of base materials and manufacturing processes. These papers are your typical “stack em high, sell em cheap” and there is little to no investment or incentive to necessarily consider the environmental impact.

Higher quality papers from manufacturers that are moving with the times will certainly have a lower environmental impact. Using Hahnemuhle as an example we can see their efforts and investment in R&D to identify new material sources to produce paper. They’ve now got an entire range of more environmentally friendly papers to choose from where the base materials involved in the production come from fast growing sources such as Bamboo, Sugar Cane, Hemp, Agave etc.

Another perhaps more longer term consideration is that using a higher quality paper is likely to ensure your print also lasts considerably longer. If you use lower quality papers then you may find you need to reprint sooner than you expect. In the short term you may save some money, but in the long run you’ll lose out both in terms of time and money.

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