Paper prints are what you would get in the old days when you went to a store with your film to have it processed. You’d receive an envelope with all of your photos printed on paper in standard sizes.
The same holds true today when you have your digital photos printed as standard. The only difference is that, at the click of a button or a tap on the screen, you can have the photo printed in a different size. That is provided that it has the resolution needed for the size that you want it to be.
The print option is only that. You get the print and nothing to display it. If you want the photo to be ready to display, choose a print and frame option, otherwise, it will not be ready to hang. You would have to get a frame, and the mount board if you wanted one, then frame the print for display.
The only other option you may have to decide on is the quality of the paper and the inks. Using a specialist print company, you should be assured of the quality of materials. That is acid-free everything and top-of-the-line inks. In terms of assessing the quality of paper prints, the higher the GSM, the better quality the paper. GSM stands for Grams per Square Meter. Not all “photo paper” is equal.
Lighter paper (low GSM number) is more prone to wrinkling and creasing. And, unless it is acid-free paper, expect the photo to yellow too.
Additionally, thinner/lightweight paper lacks the structural integrity for ink saturation. The lack of depth on the paper means the ink will lack the colour intensity it should have, even if using genuine ink. High quality inks only yield superior colour saturation when used in tandem with superior grades of photo paper.
The difference canvas prints have
Having your photos printed on canvas is effectively printing to fabric instead of paper. It has huge advantages. Mainly, colour saturation because being fabric, the ink saturation can get deeper into the fabric making the colours pop.
As it is textile, it is, therefore, matte. It has no sheen. With photo paper, if it isn’t displayed behind anti-glare glazing, you will notice that there is likely some glare when the print is viewed from a certain angle. On canvas, it has no glare because the finish will always be matte. Not glossy.
When you order a canvas print, it is stretched over canvas bars and has corner tightening wedges included. These are like small triangle pieces of wood. The purpose of them is to tighten the canvas if it becomes slack. Over time, the canvas can slacken. When it does, simply tighten it with the wedges and it will be back to its former glory. In comparison to a paper print, if that were to crease, you would need a whole lot more effort to smooth it out without further damaging it.
Both are great printing options, but for different reasons.
Framing a paper print needs to have a lot more protection. Mainly, it has to have glazing to protect it from UV radiation, which is what will cause the paper to yellow and degrade. Any glazing does it, but you can also increase its protection by using UV-resistant acrylic glazing. Whether you need it depends on where you intend to hang the print.
Canvas prints need no further protection. If you want the look of a traditional frame, you can display it within a canvas floating frame, purely for aesthetic purposes as no further protection is required for the print to stay vibrant over the long term.