As photographers in the digital era, we tend to view our photos on screens, whether it's on your computer, your tablet or your phone and don't print them anymore. I, myself, am guilty of this but I am trying to print more work as it is great to touch, feel and look at a printed photograph. When I received an email asking if I would consider a guest post about photographic paper, I was obviously interested! Buying a good printer and doing my own printing is something I've been thinking about and this post helps me better understand what goes into choosing paper. So, without any further ado, I give you Joseph. — josh
The world of inkjet printing media has progressed in recent years in line with printer and ink development, allowing photographers to print high quality work using ordinary printers. Printing results often intertwine with choosing the correct type of photographic paper for the job. In this guide to choosing printer photo paper we will talk through your options that are applicable regardless of the photographic paper vendor.
Structure Of The Paper – There are two common types of base paper that eventually become ‘photo paper’. The budget option known as Normal Base Paper is made on the base of a single sheet of normal printer paper, while the other is made on the base of printer paper pressed between two layers of polyethylene. Known as PE Base Paper, the latter is more stable and less likely to absorb humidity. Depending on the precise vendor, Normal Base Paper may allow ink to penetrate pass the coating into the paper, resulting in a cockling effect (wave like patterns on the paper due to ink saturation). On the other hand, PE Coated Base Paper has a barrier in the form of the polyethylene material that helps insure that ink does not penetrate the base.
When evaluating your options, take a moment to read the description to find out which type of base paper was used.
Receiving Layer - Both types of base papers are coated with a chemical layer called the Receiving Layer. The quality of the receiving layer is the single most important aspect of ‘quality’ in photo paper. It is the feature that separates mediocre from excellent photographic paper vendors. Common options revolve around Cast Coated and Pore Base receiving layers.
Cast Coated – Of the two options, cast coated is the cheaper chemical to apply and the one you would often find in budget everyday options. The process involves feeding the paper by way of hot metal rails resulting in the glossy finish. The chemical is effectively carried on the surface of the paper which makes it susceptible to smearing and smuggling.
Pore Base Coated – Used in professional grade photographic papers, pore based coating is available as Microporous or Nanoporous. While in cast coated paper the ink is absorbed by both the coating and the paper, in pore based coatings, the ink is held within micro or nano pores in the receiving layer chemical. The end result is a type of photo paper with significantly more vibrant colours, better archival properties, instantly dries and is highly stable.
When evaluating your option, take a close look at the type of receiving layer which is displayed in the paper’s description. Opt for pore base when possible.
Finish Of The Paper – There are really three common options for photo paper, but different vendors use different terminology which makes the job of knowing which is which tricky. These three options are measured on a scale of glossiness or in other words, level of shine.
Glossy – The most common option is the glossy option which as you have gathered by the name, includes high glare. It is useful in most situations, however viewing the print from certain angles in direct light can prove trickily. For example, images that are to be displayed in galleries will often choose a less shiny finish to improve viewing angle.
Satin – Different suppliers have their own description for a finish that is satin in all respects. Satin includes a level of gloss, but far less than the glossy option. You will come across satin as ‘semi-gloss’, Pearl and Luster finish though they are all variants of the original satin finish with perhaps a slight difference in texture.
Matt – The only option with zero glossiness is the matt finish. It makes the paper cheaper to produce resulting in a less expensive option. The lack of any glare is often suitable for printing black and while images, less so when printing full colour images.
Weight – The last consideration is the weight of the paper measured in GSM. GSM or grams per square metre - g/m² - is an indication of paper density in m² and despite common belief, it has nothing to do with quality. GSM is important for the ‘keepsake’ impression effect when you hand the printed photography to someone. Heavier weights, feel heavier to touch and are therefore considered more ‘invested’, though type of base paper and receiving layer will have a far greater impact on quality. Photographic paper weight when printing photos vary from 120gsm used for budget prints like brochure making (when there’s no real ‘keepsake’ value) to 300gsm and even more in the case of fine art papers.
When evaluating the most suitable weight for your printings needs, take into account the keepsake element and whether your printer can support this weight without jamming. Printers can normally feed up to 280gsm paper easily were heavier weights should be checked against the printer’s manufacturer guidelines.
Leave your comment below if you have any questions.
About the guest poster
title photo credit: Travis Isaacs