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Understanding Paper Brightness

Not all white paper is the same


Paper Shadow by Jin Choi CC BY-SA 2.0

White paper varies in its brightness and in its underlying color tones.

Paper Shadow Image by Jin Choi via flickr.com | CC BY-SA 2.0

How white is white? In terms of paper, there are many different levels of whiteness or brightness. Paper brightness affects the images printed on the paper, especially the vibrancy of the colors.

Measuring Paper Brightness

The brightness of a piece of paper is typically expressed on a scale of 1 to 100 with 100 being the brightest. The multipurpose bond paper used in copy machines and desktop printers generally has a paper brightness in the 80s. Photo papers are normally in the mid to high 90s. However, manufacturers often use terms such as Bright White or UltraBright instead of numbers. These labels can be deceiving and not truly indicative of the brightness or whiteness of the paper.


    Shades of White

    Individually white paper appears quite white. But placed side-by-side, white papers show a range of colors from very bright cool white to a softer, warmer pale ivory white. Technically, the more blue light reflecting off the surface, the brighter and whiter the paper appears. For ordinary usage, the best measure of paper brightness is your eye and the appearance of your image on the paper.


      Paper Brightness and Image Color

      The brighter and whiter the paper, the brighter and lighter the images. Colors on less bright papers are noticeably darker. For the most part, images on brighter white paper have more vibrant colors. However, some light colors in an image can appear washed out on the whitest papers.


        Paper Brightness and Finishes

        Photos appear brighter and colors clearer on inkjet photo papers with higher paper brightness ratings. With matte finish papers, a higher paper brightness can make a greater difference than it does among gloss or glazed finish papers of varying paper brightness.


          Eye vs. Paper Brightness Rating

          Even when the paper manufacturer supplies a paper brightness rating, the true test is how your images print on that piece of paper with your particular printer. Before making a sizable investment in a specific type of paper, print some images on in-store printers like your own, ask for paper samples to try at home, or ask your commercial printer or paper supplier for samples printed on paper you are considering.


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