Photography Backdrops: The Difference Between Seamless Paper and Cotton Muslin Backdrops
Published 29th March 2019
When choosing a photography backdrop, photographers need to choose what type of backdrop material is right for the situation. Broadly, the two main types of photography backdrops are Paper Rolls and Cotton Muslin.
The main difference between the two is that cotton muslins can be washed and re-used many times, whereas the paper backdrops come on a roll that will eventually need to be replaced.
There are, of course, more differences between them. This article is going to look at the advantages of using each type of backdrop, and why you may decide to use one or the other.
Paper backdrops consist of thick paper rolls that are mounted on stands. You simply pull the paper out to the length you need, and you have a seamless backdrop.
You can pull it out longer than floor length to make an infinity sweep, or you can have it shorter if you want headshots. When you’re finished shooting, simply discard any torn or dirty lengths and roll the paper back up again. With care, you can get a good number of shoots out of one paper roll, so they are quite cost effective.
Paper backdrops such as the Hypop Backdrop Stand and Paper Roll (2.72 x 10M) Kit are often used by fashion and portrait photographers for that flawless background finish. As they are naturally wrinkle-free, they make retouching in post-processing far easier and quicker. Clients may also want a crisp background, which paper backdrops provide.
A set of clamps come in handy when working with backdrops, like the Hypop Small Backdrop Peg Clamp (10cm) - 4 Pack.
Paper backdrops come in many different colours, so you’re sure to find the exact shade that is right for you. The exclusive Spectrum "Custom-Cuts" Non Reflective 272cm Paper Roll Backdrop for Custom Sizing are the perfect solution if you want your paper rolls cut to a specific size to suit you.
As the rolls weigh in around 6kg, they aren’t that easy to transport. As a result, paper backdrops tend to be used mainly in the studio, where they are easy to roll up and store.
Cotton muslins give a background a unique, textured look, and they have the advantage of being non-reflective, so will give you a true rendition of colours.
One big advantage that cotton muslins have is that they are lightweight and easy to transport. Just fold them up and pack them in a bag and go. This is one of the reasons photographers who travel a lot to shoots like them.
A solid and reliable stand is absolutely essential for travelling with muslin backdrops, such as this Heavy Duty 8kg Stand, which will take not just cotton muslin but heavier paper roll backdrops as well, allowing you to adapt your backdrop to your photographic needs, but muslins can be tacked to a wall or you can find an improvised way to hold them up in a pinch. As with seamless paper backdrops, clamps like the Hypop Small Backdrop Peg Clamp (10cm) - 4 Pack have many uses on a shoot.
If cotton muslins get dirty on a shoot, you simply put them into the washing machine and they’re as good as new. Muslins will last for many years if you look after them and store them properly.
Muslins come in different colours, just like paper backdrops. Why not move away from the traditional black or white backdrop with the Spectrum Kaleidoscope Cotton Muslin Backdrop 3m x 6m - Chocolate Ganache Brown? This rich chocolate ganache cotton muslin is a modern, dramatic, yet timeless colour, ideal for fashion, portraits, corporate headshots etc.
Cotton muslins do get wrinkled, however. Unless you want that creased look in your images, you have to iron them before the shoot, or steam them to get the creases out. You can also shoot with a larger aperture and get your model to stand some distance in front of the backdrop to reduce visible creases.
Rolling cotton muslins up to store them instead of folding them can help reduce the creasing when stored.
Main Differences Between Cotton Muslins and Paper Backdrops
- Paper backdrops are generally available in two widths – full and half width.
- You can get them cut to custom sizes for a little extra cost
- Eventually the roll will run out and you will have to buy a replacement
- Cotton muslins are available in different sizes, from full-body length to shoulders and above for headshots, and the smaller they are, the less they cost.
- Cotton muslins are slightly more economical than paper backdrops on price, due to the size variation, and also because they can be washed and used again.
Portability & Storage
- Paper backdrop rolls need to be stored upright, or the cardboard core can get squashed and cause wrinkles in the roll.
- They are harder to transport without a vehicle, so are best suited to studio use.
- If you have a small studio space, you may need to get your paper backdrop rolls cut to a custom size, as they only come in full and half width.
- If your backdrop gets dirty on a shoot, you simply cut off the dirty length and pull fresh paper down.
- Cotton muslins take up much less storage space than rolls, and can be folded or rolled up to store.
- They are easy to transport, and perfect if you need a backdrop on a location shoot.
- They come in various sizes.
- They are reusable – simply wash when dirty.
- Perfect for high-key shoots
- Ideal for seamless, crisp backgrounds
- Comes in chroma-key green for video shoots
- Wide range of solid colours available
- Great for textured backgrounds
- Comes in chroma-key green for video shoots
- Not as many solid colours available as in paper backdrops
- Available in tie-dye colours for unique-looking backgrounds
The main accessories you will find useful with your backgrounds are:
- Backdrop stands for holding your paper backdrops or cotton muslins
- Backdrop pegs/clamps to keep backdrops tight or to stop the paper rolls from unravelling when on a stand.
- Sand bags for keeping your backdrop stands stable and safe
Here’s a couple of extra tips about storing backdrops:
- Store your paper rolls upright in their box or a plastic covering, and keep them somewhere with low humidity.
- You can get the wrinkles out of a cotton muslin by hanging it up and using a steam mop or iron to gently steam the creases out.
The type of backdrops and backdrop stands you choose are ultimately going to be the ones that suit your budget, photography style and your requirements. Whatever ones you choose, cotton muslins or paper backdrops are a good investment for your photographic future.