The 21st century has brought technological advances to every aspect of our lives, including photography. Advancements in printing technology and printing mediums have given photographers more types of photo prints than ever before.
Some of these printing technologies are fading into obscurity. Digital printing methods dominate the media, but there are many printing options that an experienced photographer would be remiss to ignore. Former industry standards are quickly going the way of the dinosaur.
However, this provides a unique opportunity. Many alternative printing technologies and mediums create incredible photographs that you cannot replicate via digital printing methods. The unique characteristics that alternative or older photo printing techniques provide is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and create moving photographs.
Keep reading to learn about the various types of printing technology and print media available to the modern photographer.
There are a variety of printing technologies available to photographers in the 21st century. Each of the options below has a different process and creates different types of prints.
Giclee (zhee-clays) is a printing method for making copies of existing photographs and other types of art. Not to be confused with digital C prints, Giclee is a French word that means “to spray.” Giclee prints use inkjet printers equipped with small spraying nozzles. These inkjet printers can match the colors of the existing piece of art and “spray” ink to precisely match the original work of art.
To create high-quality giclee prints, a camera or scanner used to capture the image must do so at a high level of resolution. For example, an art print image needs to be at least 300 dots per inch (DPI) for use with the giclee printing method. In comparison, most digital photos have a resolution of 72 DPI.
In order to capture the actual color of the original photographic print, the giclee printing method uses more ink colors than a traditional inkjet printer. Larger giclee printers can use up to 12 different ink cartridges compared to the three ink cartridges in many conventional inkjet printers.
Due to the high quality and cost of giclee prints, this printing method is best for limited edition prints or prints with a large run. Using this method for a small run of cheap photo prints is not practical.
Lenticular printing is a printing process that utilizes lenticular lenses. Lenticular lenses are used for 3D displays and produce photo prints that illusion depth. Alternatively, lenticular prints can change or move if you view them from a different angle.
Lenticular printing creates one of the more unique types of photo prints. This printing method changes an unmoving or static image into a changing and interactive medium. The viewer can change what they see based on where they are standing.
3. Offset Lithography
Lithography is one of the oldest printing technologies available to photographers. Offset lithography is a riff on this classic technique—traditional lithography results in an image reflecting the original print.
Before creating the final photo print, offset lithography transfers the original image to another surface. As a result, the image is the same as the original, rather than a reflection.
Flexography is a classic printing process. It is a modern version of the original printing press that uses a rotating relief plate with rubber printing plates. This printing method uses ink that dries rapidly. The rapid drying nature of the ink makes this a popular printing technique for food wrappers.
Flexography cannot recreate complex or intricate designs. Companies generally use it in industrial photo printing settings to rapidly copy simple designs onto packaging or labeling. In the last 50 years, flexography has become a popular method for printing newspapers.
5. Digital Printing
Digital printing is rapidly becoming the industry standard for creating different photo prints. It is more expensive than other printing methods (i.e., offset lithography). However, technical steps to make the images are much simpler, and the turnaround time is faster than many other printing methods.
Digital printing often uses laser or inkjet printers and can print on a wide variety of mediums. In addition to quickly creating inkjet prints, digital printing is widely available to consumers and small businesses.
6. Screen Printing
Screen printing is a printing process that creates an image by forcing ink or metal through a screen onto the desired medium. Screen printing is one of the oldest forms of printing known to man, and it dates back over 1000 years. Artists and companies commonly use screen printing to create t-shirts and other clothing items.
7. 3D Printing
3D printing is one of the newest types of printing, and it has created many new opportunities for both art and industry. 3D printing creates a three-dimensional object from a digital file. This printing process uses an extruder to create layers of materials in a pre-programmed shape.
You can create the digital file the extruder follows using various software programs. The artist or engineer can create any design they can think of, and the 3D printer will turn this design into a reality. There are almost limitless possibilities and uses for this new technology.
8. LED UV
LED UV printing is another high-tech process that takes the printing world by storm. This printing process uses ultraviolet digital printing to print a two-dimensional image onto a three-dimensional object.
This unique printing process uses an inkjet printer to place the ink onto the desired surface. Then, the ink is exposed to UV light and sets immediately. UV setting prevents the ink from bleeding and creates a sharp image. This printing process is common on pens, flash drives, and golf balls.
Gravure printing is another printing method that utilizes a rotating plate. In gravure printing, you etch the image or photo into the plate in the form of depressions or recessions. Gravure printing is the opposite of relief printing, where the image is raised on the surface of the plate.
As the desired medium passes over the rotating plate, the artist creates the photo print or image by using chemicals to mark the medium along the lines of the rotating plate. Then the medium is covered in ink, and the ink pools in the recessions made on the printing medium.
Types of Printing Mediums for Photo Prints
In addition to printing technologies, there is a wide variety of printing mediums. Photographers can use each of these mediums to create different photo prints. The mediums on this list all have unique characteristics and can create original and creative photographs.
10. Canvas Photo Prints
Canvas photo prints are one of the most common mediums used for printing photo. This medium is widely available and affordable. Photographers often use canvas with the giclee printing process. This combination creates a photo print that looks like an antique oil painting. The artists then usually stretch the canvas photo prints around a wooden frame.
The most significant appeal of canvas is its price point. However, canvas photo prints will lack the vibrant color or sharpness possible on metal, acrylic, or paper prints. Furthermore, canvas is not as durable as some of the other mediums on this list, and as a result, the photo print will fade.
11. Metal Photo Prints
Metal is one of the most popular photo prints because it combines durability and affordability. Additionally, metal prints can be hung immediately and don’t require special care or treatment.
Most photographers create metal prints using chromaluxe dye-sublimation. This metal photo print is created by etching an image onto an aluminum sheet under intense heat and pressure. This print type is strong and will last far longer than a canvas or paper print. Unfortunately, metal prints are not as sharp or vivid as what is possible with an acrylic print.
Furthermore, the dye-sublimation process is complicated and can quickly turn out poor results if not done appropriately. Metal prints can suffer from inaccurate color and soft images. That said, metal photo prints are excellent for prints intended for outdoor and high-traffic areas.
12. Acrylic Photo Prints
Acrylic prints are the gold standard on our list of different types of photo prints. Acrylic prints are brilliant, sharp, and vibrant. Acrylic prints will reflect light, and this can cause the prints to seem back-lit. This print type is also durable due to the scratch-resistant and UV-blocking material. The material makes acrylic far more durable than fine art paper or canvas prints, placing it in the same class of prints as metal.
Fun Fact: Acrylic is the generic name for Plexiglass™. While it may be confused for actual glass, it’s really a hard plastic.
Acrylic prints are one of the most popular on the market, and they are popular for consumers and businesses. However, acrylic prints can be expensive due to their popularity and quality.
13. Glass Photo Prints
Glass is another medium for photo prints. This medium can create unique effects and is also more functional (i.e., glass bottles or a window) than other mediums. Printing on glass requires LED UV printing or digital ceramic printing. This medium is popular with businesses seeking to brand their goods (alcohol bottles, food containers, fragrance bottles, etc.).
Additionally, glass prints can be decorative and beautiful. This medium offers an opportunity for photographers to create photo prints that have unique effects. Unfortunately, printing on glass requires complicated technology and can be expensive if not done in large quantities.
Many people confuse glass prints with acrylic prints, but they are different. Acrylic is a plastic, and glass prints are actual glass. See more about their differences and similarities in our article: Acrylic vs. Glass Photo Prints.
14. Paper Photo Prints
Paper is one of the most common and popular mediums for photo prints. It is a popular medium because of its compatibility with digital inkjet printers and its affordability. There are four common types of photo paper, and each has its appeal. A photographer should not get locked into using the same type of photo paper all the time.
15. Luster Photo Paper
Luster photo paper is also known as pearl paper. This type of photo paper gives photo prints some texture and can produce vibrant colors. Pearl photo paper will give your photographs a gorgeous finish without the smooth look associated with glossy paper. This type of photo paper is popular with wedding and event photographers.
16. Glossy Photo Paper
Glossy photo paper creates sharp prints with brilliant colors and a smooth surface. Glossy photo paper is an excellent medium for beginner photographers. However, many more experienced photographers find issues with the lack of texture. The lack of texture makes photos printed on glossy photo paper less artistic.
Another problem with paper with a glossy finish is that photo prints tend to be vulnerable to glare. The paper will reflect too much light, effectively washing out the image. The glass on photo frames can also increase glare, making for a bad combination.
17. Matte Photo Paper
Matte photo paper is popular with experienced photographers. Like other paper prints, this is an affordable and easy-to-find medium. Additionally, the paper gives matte prints more texture. The texture is appealing for photographers interested in a more artistic vibe for their photographs.
Finally, matte photo paper does not have the glare that glossy photo paper has. The lack of glare makes it a better choice for prints displayed in an art gallery or a home.
19. Semi-Gloss Paper
Semi-gloss paper is also known as satin paper. Semi-gloss paper is halfway in between glossy and matte photo paper. This type of photo paper will give photo prints a smooth finish that isn’t shiny. This medium will give your photo prints beautiful color and detail without the glare of glossy photo paper.
20. Wood Prints
Wood is another interesting medium for photo prints. It allows the photographer to add unique characteristics to their photo prints like glass. LED UV printing methods are popular for printing on wood. However, inkjet printing methods are also viable.
Printing on wood offers various options for customizing everyday objects such as picture frames, drink coasters, toy blocks, and signs. Furthermore, wood prints can add a unique texture and color to photo prints that are impossible with any other medium.
There are many different types of photo prints and printing technologies. Some technologies and photo prints are relatively new, while others have been around for millennia. Each printing method and printing medium have unique characteristics and can create fantastic photo prints. I hope this list of nine types of photo prints helps you on your next photography project.