Who loves a plain white background? I mean, what's not to love? White is a neutral color. It makes just about everything look good. It gives a really clean look. And it's kind of simple to use!
I've rounded up all the options I could think of that you could use as a plain white background. There are some I love more than others, but you might have different thoughts. I've compared the pros and cons for each option so you can be the judge of which plain white background best suits your needs.
(My definition of a plain white background is something that doesn't have any pattern or grain to it. Sorry, marble and wood, you didn't make the cut.)
1 | PAPER
Paper gets a lot of respect in the prop world and rightly so. It's easily available and everyone is familiar with it. Have some small trinkets you want to shoot? Grab a sheet of copy paper from your printer and boom! Instant backdrop.
You can also buy large rolls of this stuff at your art supply store, which you can then hang from a drapery rod on a wall. Roll the end down onto your table surface and you've got a seamless background! This is great for product photography where you don't want to see the break in horizontal and vertical surfaces.
But you know what sucks about paper? They crease and tear easily. Smudge and dirt marks are hard to clean off. Therefore, they require a lot of replacing. But since they don't come super expensive to begin with, it's not a big deal.
2 | POSTERBOARD
Posterboard is a thicker sheet of paper that you probably have used at some point in your life if you've ever made signs to cheer on your favorite sports team at a sporting event. #gohawks
While thicker than your standard copy or butcher paper, posterboard still has all the same disadvantages, but none of the advantages other than being white and smooth. But if you're in a pinch and you happen to have an old Beastmode sign laying around, you can use the back side for a background. Hopefully, it's clean and not too wrinkled.
3 | FOAM BOARD (or Foam Core)
OK, my next words aren't meant to be a dig, but you're not a true prop stylist if you don't have a few foam boards in your prop closet. They are SO handy to have around! First off, they are much sturdier than paper, but still have a paper surface. Secondly, because they have a thickness to them, you can stand them upright to use as a bounce card (one of those reflector thingies to bounce light back onto your subject).
Unfortunately, their downsides are like paper: creases easily, hard to clean, and needs to be replaced often. But good news! Replacements are cheap and convenient. Just head down to your nearest dollar store and find them in the crafts aisle. (Don't go to the art supply shops. You'll pay 1000% more. Highway robbery.)
4 | PAINTED MDF
Let's talk about MDF. Don't know what that is? It stands for medium density fiberboard and comes in sheets as large as 48" x 96". You can find them in the lumber aisle of Home Depot.
Unfortunately, MDF comes in its natural color, which is kraft paper brown. So you're gonna need to paint it to get it white. But the surface is smooth, so you won't get any grain to it, unlike its more famous cousin plywood.
Also, unlike plywood, MDF is slightly, well... denser, so it's heavier and more difficult to move around. It's best to use MDF in small sizes.
Another downside is if you paint it white, it is hard to keep it white. Paint can chip and scratch, which is awesome if you want a scuffed up surface with character, but not so great if you're trying to go for clean and crisp all the time. You'll likely have to repaint it to keep it fresh.
5 | IKEA TABLE TOP
The IKEA Linnmon table tops are an excellent option for a white background. They are (super duper) lightweight which makes it easy to move around and store away. The surface is smooth with a flat sheen. Plus, they're incredibly affordable. However, you're limited to the sizes they come in. So, if you need something larger that also cleans easily, then I recommend the next item on my list.
6 | MELAMINE
Melamine is my favorite option for a white background any time I need it. Like the IKEA table top, melamine is also smooth with a flat sheen. I like that it's smooth so that clean-ups are easy. This is very handy if you're a food stylist. The flat sheen is every photographer's dream: you won't catch any glares or bright spots on the surface.
Melamine comes in sheets as large as 48" x 96" and they're readily available at Home Depot or any of the major hardware stores. Few of us prop stylists ever need to use a background prop that big, so it's a good thing that Home Depot can cut the sheet down to any size you want. Once cut down to a manageable size, they may not be as featherlight as the IKEA top, but they're still easy to move.
A small melamine board also makes a great bounce card. You would use it like a foam board, but it's not as flimsy and can stand up on its own.
7 | WHITE PAINTED WALL
A white painted wall is the best option for a plain white vertical background. It's likely you can find one in your home. If you don't have one, it's easy to paint white and you never have to store it away. You can set a table in front of it for styling small objects or move the table aside if you're styling outfits for a portrait session. For obvious reasons, you can't use the wall for flatlays and it would be hard to move that wall to a natural light source (like a window).
8 | FABRIC
Fabric is an easy plain white background prop. It's so lightweight that you can take it with you anywhere. Have you ever been at a restaurant where you want to take some Instagram photos of your dinner, but the table is hideously old school Formica laminate? Grab a white linen napkin to cover the table! (As I wrote those last two lines, it occurred to me that white linen napkins and old school Formica laminate would probably never be seen in the same room together. Hm. Well, I can tell you're a smart cookie and know what I'm trying to explain without needing to explain.)
The other thing I love about fabric is that it can soften up the styled scene. Fabric can be draped and manipulated to make things look casual and natural.
You know what I don't love? Wrinkles. Unless you're using felt or 70's thick ass polyester, fabric can wrinkle very easily. The weave is likely to show on camera as well. But texture never hurts a photograph, amiright?
So there you have it! Eight wonderful options you can use for a plain white background. Which one is your favorite? Is there something else you use for a plain white background?