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In of this two-part series I discussed the standard paper options as well as the “upgraded” standard options offered by the various photo companies.  In Part 2, I’ll be taking a look at what I’ll call specialty papers which includes photo paper, matte paper and gloss paper.

Photo Paper

A traditional photograph is made by exposing a light sensitive paper to light whereas digital press printed photo products are created with ink.  Most photo book companies going the digital press route, use an HP Indigo Digital Press which uses a special “liquid pigment ink electrophotographic process” to produce high quality photographic products.

Some folks argue that the traditional photo print process produces higher quality images than digital printing. When you zoom in on a book printed on a digital press, you may notice that the image is made up of tiny dots (raster). When you zoom in on a book printed photographically, you don’t see the individual dots and therefore the image may appear smoother and more continuous. Another criticism against digital printing has to do with image permanence. Of course no one wants their images to fade. I have been asked my opinion about longevity of printed photo books. I can only speak to my own experience over the last 6 to 7 years and I haven’t noticed any issues with fading, but obviously it’s not a long enough time period to make an informed opinion, so I have to rely on what I’ve researched on the Internet. From what I’ve read, the earlier criticisms that images printed on a digital press are quicker to fade haven’t held up. Additionally many companies (if not all) use archival paper and archival ink. If you’d like to read more on this topic, I found a very informative article on image permanence by . If you don’t have time to read it, to sum it up, your digitally printed photo books will be just fine.

As for how a photo book printed on real photo paper looks, the choice of media results in a significantly different look from the typical digital press printed photo book. Is it better? To some yes, to others no. It’s subjective because it involves aesthetics. The best way to describe how a photo book printed on photo paper looks, think of those prints you used to have made at your local drugstore. They are printed in the same manner. You may see the photo paper option called “silver halide paper” on some sites and in most cases the paper is made by familiar names such as Kodak or Fuji.

AdoramaPix paper review 2012

AdoramaPix uses Kodak Lustre photo paper with lay flat spreads and no gutter in the middle of the page. (Fuji HD paper also available.)

Photo books printed on photo paper are typically glossier in finish than the typical digital press printed photo book (such as , , etc.) and result in thicker pages as the two sides of a page are fused together.  Companies that offer books printed on photo paper are , , , , (flush mount books), and any company that offers (flush mount books are printed on photo paper).  Remember all flush mounts lie flat, but not all lay-flat books are flush mounted.  Additionally, not all lay-flat books are printed on photo paper.

So, is a photo book printed on photo paper for you?  Some folks prefer their books to look like those you would find in a bookstore versus the glossy thicker pages you would get with a book printed on photo paper.  (My mom is one of those folks!) There is also the practical matter of page count.  Books printed on photo paper have lower page maximums since the resulting pages are thicker – for example, AdoramaPix has an upper page limit of 76 pages.  Lastly if cost is a factor, books printed on photo paper are typically more expensive than their digital press counterparts.

flush mount photo book review 2012flush mount photo book review 2012

Flush Mounts

Flush mount books technically fall under the heading of “photo paper” but I’m giving it its own section as I get a lot of questions from readers about them. Flush mounts are at the luxury end of the photo book market. They cost a pretty penny and are typically the albums shown by pro photographers to prospective brides and grooms. They are printed on real photo paper and mounted onto heavy board or card stock resulting in thick, unbendable pages. They typically have very small page counts (20 to 50 pages max.) and are quite expensive relative to size (about 0.00 for an 8×8 20-page album). Oftentimes folks ask me what I consider to be the “best photo book”, but they neglect to tell me what their budget is. As with everything else, the “best house” or “best car” or “best TV” all depends on how much money you have to spend. If I had an unlimited budget, I may wish to be surrounded by stacks and stacks of high quality flush mount books, but even so, price is not the only factor. Many of my books – especially the vacation ones contain several hundred photos. There’s no way I could fit all the photos I would like into a 20-page book and I would have too hard a time editing down to a number that would fit a flush mount. Even if I made a series (multiple volumes) of flush mount books of a single vacation the number of books I would have to make and the overall weight and thickness of the resulting books, wouldn’t be appealing to me. So for those reasons, it’s a bit impractical aside from price. Regardless, the flush mounts I’ve seen are beautiful and make perfect sense for wedding and heirloom albums, when you want to showcase a smaller number of key photos. Check out my . I hate to say it, but it’s so nice (and so pricey), that I’m a bit wary of taking it out to show folks!

Matte vs. Glossy Paper

Matte versus glossy paper is definitely a personal preference. I personally prefer matte finishes to glossy, but as a downside, matte paper can mute colors somewhat. If you like colors that pop, then matte may not be the way to go. The most matte paper I’ve seen is Blurb’s Pro Line Uncoated paper. Matte papers may work best with certain types of subject matter.  I could see it working very well to showcase an artist’s portfolio or nature photographs. It could also work very well for a family heritage photo book or any book that you want to look more classic or antique. On the extreme opposite end of the spectrum is a specialty paper offered by MyPublisher called “super gloss”. It’s slick, it’s bright and it’s very modern.

blurb upgraded papers

Blurb’s Pro Line Uncoated paper is at top with the Pro Line Pearl paper at the bottom, both 140 lb. papers. Notice how the pearl paper gives off a slight pearlescent sheen.  My mom preferred the bottom finish.  The top uncoated paper is very, very matte.

photo book paper review 2012

MyPublisher’s super gloss is very, very glossy. The pages kind of stick together because they are so glossy but the colors are undeniably bright and vibrant.

Look here for a .

Another option is somewhere in the middle.  Photobook America has a paper upgrade called photo lustre paper (currently however, it’s not in stock, so you won’t see it as a option when ordering – it should be in stock later this Fall according to the company.)  It’s an interesting paper because it’s not photo paper, but it does have that look.

photo lustre paper

I did a big book of my travel and landscape photographs using the photo lustre paper.  You can check out my . Similarly has a Pearl Photo paper in their Pro Line that has a similar sheen.


Besides the specific notes I wrote about each category of paper, here’s my overall thoughts on upgrading.

When would you choose upgraded paper?  

1) If bleedthrough is a concern (if you have lots of text that may be hard to read if the image on the other side is showing through;

2) If you want a more high quality feel to the book (if it is a gift or for a special occasion);

3) If you are using the book as a guest book for a wedding or anniversary special event and you plan to have guests sign the book (thicker paper will hold up better and the ink is less likely to show through);

4) It enhances your book in some way (for example, matte paper may be appropriate for a portfolio of an artist’s work or for a family history book with a more “antique” look); or

4) It’s within your budget (why not?)

When would you not choose upgraded paper?

1) If your book has a lot of pages (for Blurb for example, premium papers can only go up to 240 pages – this has to do with binding strain);

2) You want to make a nice looking, but more economical book to keep costs manageable (such as parents’ versions of wedding albums); or

3) The standard paper is just fine for your particular project.

How do you choose what type of paper to use in your photo book?  Please comment below…




Be sure to check out my !