Why we use Cotton Rag stock

We print all of our works on Ilford Prestige Galerie 310gsm 100% Smooth Cotton Rag stock. For anyone outside of the printing industry this might read like another language, so we thought we’d break down what it is, why we use it and what it means for both practicing artists and those printing personal works. 

Firstly, what is GSM? 

GSM stands for grams per square meter and typically indicates a paper’s thickness. 

Think about the ubiquitous ultra white A4 paper that sits in home and office printers Australia-wide. This is 80gsm. Our stock comes in higher at 310gsm meaning it’s stiffer but still bendable. Thicker stock typically increases durability and perceived quality.


What is cotton rag? 

Cotton Rag (terms that are also used separately and interchangeably) refers to papers made from cotton textile remnants. 

The majority of fine art papers are produced from either cotton linters or cotton rag. Linters are the short fibres that remain stuck to the cotton seed after the cotton ‘fluff’ has been removed. Rags, however, are longer fibers which provide additional strength and are accumulated in the textile-making process. 

So why use cotton rag over paper from traditional timber fibres? Cotton rag stock is considered the paper for photographic printing mainly due to three reasons: sustainability, quality and longevity. 


Whilst much of today’s conventional timber paper is FSC certified, this still requires the cultivation and harvesting of forests. 

Producing paper stock from cotton rag does not add demand to the cotton industry or require the planting of more cotton. Rather, it eliminates a by-product of the industry which would otherwise be left to landfill. 

In a world where cotton is the most widespread profitable non-food crop and notoriously unsustainable, cotton rag stock reduces some of the negative effects of this industry in its own small way. 

So long as there is cotton production, there will be linters and rag. We’d rather see that repurposed than discarded. 


Smooth surface

We use Ilford’s smooth cotton rag stock, so there’s ‘no texture to impair detail, no specular highlights or optical flare to worry about’ which are common hindrances of gloss and semi-gloss papers. This clean, matte surface renders the image in its purest, crispest, most stable form. 

No optical brighteners 

Much of the paper on the market contains chemical agents to make a paper appear ‘whiter’. The chemicals cause fluorescence, though this will fade over the course of several years or months, meaning the brightness of your work will decrease. Using natural paper ensures that what is printed today will appear the same in decades to come. 

High colour consistency and gamut

Especially relevant for those printing editions where consistency is essential, the cotton rag stock, in combination with our use of pigmented Epson Ultra-chrome Pro inks, produces a consistently rich and saturated outcome, and colour permanence that is superior to other papers. See our article What is Giclée Printing? for more on our fine art inkjet printing process. 


Cotton stock is considered stronger than wood-pulp papers and, unlike other stocks, does not yellow over time. 


What does this mean for artists?

In our article, Do artists need a certificate of authenticity?, we explore the many elements that contribute to the perceived quality of your work. From the certificate of authenticity, framing quality, inks used, to the paper stock itself… each of these elements culminate to provide a superior product and, by extension, positive brand association and increased value as an artist. 

We also know that many artists prioritise sustainability; as do their clients and customers when purchasing or commissioning a work. If printing on cotton stock, and framing with Format, you can communicate the ways in which this product is a more sustainable option. We elaborate on this here.

If it's a priority for you and your customers, choosing to work with like-minded sustainable brands is important. 


Kate the Bare-Nosed Wombat for the Emerald Monbulk Wildlife Shelter from Marnie Hawson's Prints for Wildlife series.

A praiseworthy example of this is Marnie Hawson, a purpose-driven photographer with clear environmental and social values. It makes sense that her Prints for Wildlife collection, which gives 100% of profits from each sale to Australian wildlife sanctuaries, is printed on sustainable stock and framed in FSC certified timber. 

What does it mean for those printing for home? 

Whilst we founded Format to make printing and framing accessible to all, we do understand that all good things require an investment. We know it’s tempting to print at your local office supply store but the disparity in quality is simply immeasurable.

If you’re printing a significant and special memory - like a wedding or family photograph - or even printing as a gift for a loved one, printing well is a worthwhile investment. You print well, you print once. 

Cotton rag stock will ensure your photograph remains richly saturated and crisp for years to come. Plus, when framed in our hand-made FSC certified timber frames with UV protectant plexiglass, they will be protected for up to 100 years. 

Experience the quality of our cotton-rag stock first hand through a print-only order. All prints will have a 10-20mm border and are shipped in a tube or flat packed. It’s an effective way for artists to test the water before committing to printing and framing a full edition. 

Looking to print and frame? Begin your upload here.

As always, if you have any questions email us at info@formatframing.com.au.