The majority of my photography work is done on location, but when it’s not wedding season, I tend to do some other types of photography as well. This last year I started doing school photos, and I’m now up to three schools. I also will occasionally do some portrait work for my church. In these situations, I’m indoors, have to move quickly, and have to setup a backdrop. Over the years I’ve purchased several different backgrounds. For the past two years or so, I’ve worked only with seamless paper backgrounds because I didn’t like cloth backgrounds. Well, I’m jumping back and forth again! I recently bought a cloth backdrop and now I’m considering going that route. It’s hard to keep all of it straight so I decided to write out the pros and cons in this post: Cloth Backdrops vs. Seamless paper Backdrops for Photographers.
Cloth Backdrops vs. Seamless paper Backdrops for Photographers
Ease of Use
One of the things that matters most to me is how easily I can use either a cloth or seamless paper background. I want things to be quick and I don’t want to have to deal with a bunch of issues. Unfortunately, neither one is perfect, so I’ve found issues with both.
Let’s start with cloth backdrops. They are pretty easy to deal with for the most part. I can fit them under a seat or in a box or whatever, so I can take them anywhere, they’re lightweight so I won’t have to struggle with them, and I just have to unfold it to set it up.
The main issue with cloth backdrops is making them look good. Wrinkles! I hate wrinkles and cloth backgrounds will be wrinkled. This is why I initially moved away from them. So every time I set up a cloth background, I have to bring an iron to steam out the wrinkles. This doesn’t take a ton of time, but it is annoying. It’s also hard to keep the material pulled tight to avoid folds and shadows.
Seamless paper is nice because you don’t have to worry about wrinkles. It stays rolled up so unless you’ve smashed it in the past, it should be wrinkle free. It’s also a heavier material so you don’t get have to stretch it out like you do with cloth backgrounds.
The problem with seamless paper is getting it places. Like I mentioned, it’s in a roll which means it doesn’t always fit in a vehicle. For the most part, I have to carry it in the bed of my truck. That means I can’t use it when it rains. It’s also a pain to carry places because it’s just awkward. Then, setting it up involved rolling and unrolling the paper.
When I buy something, I want it to last, so I don’t have to go and buy it again. The same thing goes with my backgrounds. Some of them I tend to reuse a lot, so I need them to be able to last.
As far as I know, I don’t think I’ve ever destroyed a cloth background. In the past, I used a really heavy duty cloth background, so that probably had something to do with it. I abused those things, though. I used them mainly for newborn shoots, so they got all forms of bodily fluid on them. The only thing I could imagine happening to a cloth background is it getting torn or frayed from over use or it fading. Again, I’ve never had this issue, so all of my cloth backgrounds are still going strong.
Another good point is that most cloth backgrounds can be washed. This means you can get out stains or dirt of whatever just by washing it. Paper backgrounds don’t have that luxury.
Paper backgrounds aren’t really meant to last. It’s basically use and toss away. That’s why there’s like 36 feet of it in the roll. It’s not that bad though. I often will use the same part of a paper for around 8 shoots or more before I have to throw it away and use a new section. The problem with the paper is that it’s paper. That means it gets dirty and gets torn. I’ve had kids run and fall on it and then that spot has a giant dent. Things are going to happen to it, so you have to expect to replace this. On average, I think a roll of paper will last me a year or two.
Most people will own at least 2-3 backdrops. Others will own like 20. The problem I’ve run into is storage. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but storing these backdrops can really be a pain.
The cloth backdrops are the easier of the two to store. You can fold them up and they take up very little space. The problem, though, is that this causes wrinkles. Another option would be to roll up the cloth backdrops and have them stored on some kind of wrack system. I’ve looked into these, but the wracks will take a up a large amount of space and I don’t own that many anyway.
Seamless paper backdrops are a real mess to store. The paper is on a roll, so that means it is stuck in that width. All of my paper backdrops are 9 feet wide, so I have to find a big area for them. I could lay them on the ground, but right now I have them propped up in a corner of my garage. This works alright, but it’s ugly and still gets in the way.
Cost for both items is going to vary greatly depending on the different sizes and manufacturers. I used to buy cloth backdrops from Drop It Modern and they averaged anywhere from $90 to $500. Just recently I bought one from Backdrop Outlet for around $80. Most papers are going to range from $50 to $200 depending on the width. The big thing is to remember is that the shipping for the paper is going to be much higher.
As far as cost goes for these two, I don’t really see a clear winner up front. The paper will most likely be cheaper, but then you have to remember that at some point, you will have to replace it. The other thing to really pay attention to is quality. Most papers are going to be the same, but cloth backdrops will vary drastically. Some are super thin and look cheap, while others are thick and high quality.
In the end, I’m still confused on which one I prefer. I love that paper doesn’t get wrinkles, but I hate that it takes up so much space. I love that cloth backdrops take up so little space, but I hate having to deal with wrinkles. The good thing is that I don’t use backdrops that often, maybe once a month. If it was a daily thing, I’d probably have to actually make up my mind. If you have any opinion on Cloth Backdrops vs. Seamless paper Backdrops for Photographers, feel free to drop them in the comment section.