Paper selection for analog photography


When you start making your own analog photos, you'll be faced with many different decisions about choosing the right paper. As with everything, there are pros and cons to each choice, and each type of paper can serve different purposes for the desired end result. Below is a quick guide to choosing photo paper, where you may find what works best for you.

Plastic or paper?

The first thing you need to decide when choosing photo paper is whether you want cellulose fiber (FB) or plastic based (RC) paper. Each has its own strengths, so you'll have to decide what's best for you.

Paper based on synthetic pulp (RC)

RC photo paper is cheaper, which is the first thing you'll notice. If you are starting to develop your own photos, this is an advantage, because in the process of learning, you will reprint many photos in search of good and suitable lighting. Another advantage of RC paper is that it dries fairly quickly and remains flat. Due to its synthetic base, this paper does not absorb chemicals and is therefore easier to wash. Unfortunately, RC paper is more susceptible to scratches or damage than fiber-based paper. For archival purposes, RC paper is not the best because it will start to crack over time. After all, most photos have a lifespan of 50 years, which may be enough for you.

during paper processing, the paper is not soaked or impregnated with chemicals, so it is easier to wash, since only the emulsion coating, which is very water-permeable, needs to be thoroughly washed. Since there are no chemicals trapped in the paper, there is no fear that it will degrade over time due to the residues of these chemicals. These are relatively cheap papers. 

polyethylene is not very stable and can degrade over time, so these papers are not considered "archival", i.e.


Fiber-based paper (FB)

Paper, often called "barite" is the next choice. Although more expensive, the fibers are strong and your photo can last a very long time. Fiber-based paper is also thicker, so photos are sturdy and less susceptible to damage from careless handling. The main thing you will encounter with fiber based paper is that it takes a while to dry and is prone to warping. The photos must therefore be aligned first or glued to the base, but this should not deter you from using fiber-based paper. You can also do multiple toner treatments with fiber-based paper that normally don't work on RC papers.

deep black color, without plastic, due to the nature of the material, this type of paper is considered "archival"

the paper is not protected from chemicals during processing, so it must be rinsed excessively to avoid residual effects of chemical residues over time. It curls a lot when drying. It is more expensive than RC paper.


Surface appearance

There are a few different surfaces for photo paper; smooth, semi-matte and matte.

Smooth paper
it makes the photo stand out and gives it a nice shine. Smooth paper is really good when you want to display high contrast and vibrant images. However, a smooth surface can also be problematic because it is more susceptible to glare and any small flaw stands out more (like a fingerprint). Photos with a smooth surface are also more susceptible to scratches or other handling damage.

Matte paper
it does not have the same sharpness and shine as photos on smooth material, so you should first make sure that such a photo will look a little softer and the details less pronounced. On the other hand, this look might be exactly what you're looking for, especially if you want a low-contrast or subdued feel. Other advantages of matte paper are that the surface is much LESS susceptible to defects such as fingerprints and scratches.

Semi-matte paper
naturally falls in between the aforementioned categories. If you want the pros (and cons) of both papers, this is the perfect paper for you. You can still get some definition in your photos without having to deal with every little flaw, and you'll still retain more vibrancy than a matte photo.


Variable or constant contrast?

This is a very important consideration when deciding on the paper to use for your photography. You have the option to decide how much contrast you want to have in your photo. With constant contrast paper, you can get material that has a "built-in" contrast that ranges from 00 to 5 (5 being the most contrast). If you know what contrast you want in your photo, you can buy the appropriate degree for the desired result. This is good for series because the contrast should be mostly the same from photo to photo.

For variable/variable contrast paper, set the contrast level using the contrast filters on the enlarger you are using. The filter levels are also the same, 5 being the most contrast. This way you have more control over how much contrast you want in your final photo. You can play with different contrasts by making test strips before making the final photo. Also, by using masks, you can apply different contrast to different parts of the photo, which is otherwise quite a difficult thing to do.

This should be a good start in choosing the right photo paper. It is recommended that you try different papers and brands to see what works best for you. As with everything in photography, the more you do it, the better master you will become.