Choose the right media for your prints!

The most important thing you can do to ensure a successful print project when starting a new print project is to choose the right media for the application. Choose the wrong media and you’ll fail — disappointing both yourself and your customer, not to mention wasting time and resources.

The final application dictates your media choice. You must fully understand the application first — before all other considerations and before choosing the media.

So, before beginning, you must answer these two questions right away:

  • Is it an indoor or outdoor application?
  • How long are the prints expected to last — a couple of days, a couple of weeks, months, years?
14448652432_3b5d44be7f_zPhoto by by Plotterpapier, on Flickr,
licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0

Once you’ve answered those questions you can start choosing your media. Of course, the media choices you have are also limited by the type of printer you have. Do you have an aqueous, a UV-curable, or a solvent (eco-solvent) inkjet printer? In fact, if you don’t have a the proper type of printer, media choice becomes irrelevant - you might not be able to do the job anyway. For example, if you’re looking to do a vehicle wrap and you only have an aqueous inkjet printer, you’re out of the job anyway.

Here’s a general list of media types for wide format inkjet printers, their properties, and recommended applications. But be sure to check the list of supported media for your printer before making your final choice.


Papers are suitable for a wide variety of applications including posters, line art (technical documents), billboards, mounted prints, banners, and even some backlits. For most applications it’s coated and often requires lamination – according to the demands of the application.

ruby-gardens copy

Paper - Uncoated

All papers are created from the ground pulp of wood chips and start out as uncoated. They’re good for printing vibrant images where color quality is the main requirement. But they’re not meant for prints intended for use over a long period. For example, you wouldn’t choose plain, uncoated paper for prints meant to be hung in a store window for several months. And they’re definitely not intended for outdoor use without some kind of lamination or chemical overcoating.

Since they’re uncoated, they’re porous, and they soak up more ink than coated papers or synthetic media. They’re often used with aqueous inkjets, where the type of ink used also drives media choice. Dye inks have a wider color gamut than pigment inks, so produce more brilliant colors. But they’re more susceptible to degradation — UV exposure can make them fade in a few days. Pigment inks will resist water far better than dye inks but only for short term use.

Paper - Coated

Starting with uncoated paper, manufacturers spread a clay or caulk filler over its surface. The coating fills in the uneven gaps in the paper substrate to create a smooth surface. The coating then limits the amount of ink that gets absorbed into the substrate — most of the the ink sits on top of the coating rather than sinking into it. They’ll usually add chemicals to bleach out the coating to boost its brightness and widen its color gamut.

Coated papers are usually classified as “glossy” or “matte”. They’re well-suited for posters, photographs, door hangers, and so on. Like uncoated papers, though, they’re short term solutions - not what you’d choose for a poster that’s meant to be hung outdoors unless you laminate or overcoat them.


Film media are made from synthetic materials such as polyester and polyethylene which makes them plastic-like and pliable. They’re waterproof and tear-resistant, meaning they’re great for outdoor applications. They’re widely used in graphic arts applications and are suitable for backlit applications such as lobby signs, parking garage signs, transit shelters, kiosks and directories, and menu fixtures.

Mounting the film print to a solid substrate like Plexiglas or Lexan helps with rigidity and further mounting in a fixture. If they’re to be used outdoors they should be laminated. Lamination also helps to diffuse the light shining through the print. You’ll also find them used for decals or “window clings” to be hung in business and store windows.

flickr-6950390942_9713657f6a_k copy

Photo by Elliot Brown, on Flickr,
licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0


Vinyl media are often used as signage for theatre lobbies, restaurants, and retail stores. Although it’s quite durable it can also be laminated to provide further durability and improve light fastness. Vinyl also lends itself to finishing operations like grommeting and stitching to provide pockets for mounting. Pressure-sensitive vinyls have an adhesive backing that can be applied directly to flat surfaces such as glass, steel, floors, and so on.

If your project is for vehicle wraps or floor graphics - you’ll almost certainly be wanting to use vinyls.

bigstock-Shop-Window-With-Sale-Banners--16658675 copy


If you’re looking to produce banners, flags, or hanging panels, your best choice would be woven fabrics. Some fabrics are even fire-retardant - meaning that they’re quite useful in public venues like museums, schools, convention centers, and so on. When you have large assemblies of people you’ll most likely also have government regulations requiring the use of fire-retardant materials to protect the public.

Lamp post banners

Use ICC Profiles

No matter which media you end up using be sure to use the proper ICC profile for that media to ensure the best possible quality print. If you choose the right media, but use the wrong profile (or forget to choose one) you can easily end up with poor prints. Color management is a whole discipline in itself. If you can’t create your own ICC profiles you should at least be able to get one from the media vendor.

Store Your Media Properly

You want your media in good condition and ready for use when it’s time to print. So be sure to store unopened media in the original wrappers in a environmentally controlled room. Temperature and humidity can greatly affect media condition and performance. Also, be sure to keep unused media away from direct sunlight. If you don’t use all the media - wrap it up and put it back into its original container and store accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the best approach — especially if you’re unsure of what media is best for your particular project — is to check with your media vendor! They’ll most definitely be able to guide you to the best choice. And be sure to check the list of approved media for your particular printer. If your printer can’t handle that kind of media you’ll need to re-think the project and send it to a different printer.

So, ALWAYS START by thoroughly understanding your project’s requirements. First, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it an indoor or outdoor application?
  • How long are the prints expected to last — a couple of days, a couple of weeks, months, years?

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