These days, even the most basic printer can produce results that were reserved for professional printers just a few years ago. Improvement in printer technology, ink and of course paper means that no matter whether you are printing purely for the pleasure or you are looking to promote your small business, your printer can open up a whole host of opportunities for you.
In this guide we will explain how to decide which photo paper is most suitable for your needs with emphasis on professional inkjet photo papers due to their popularity. Unlike laser, which is far superior in printing plain text documents due to the speed of print, Inkjet prints at higher DPI (Dots Per Inch) and colour representation is more realistic. It is therefore the choice of professional and armature photographers when printing photos.
What Does ‘Professional’ Stand For
Photo papers vary from plain copier paper by including a barrier that keeps the ink from penetrating and causing cockling. As many of us have done in the past, when printing an image on plain paper you quickly get wave like shapes that are caused by over inking and the absence of a suitable barrier and receiving layer.
The quality of the chemical receiving layer separates the man from the boys or in our case, normal photo paper from professional photo paper. Budget and lower quality examples use ‘cast coating’ a type of receiving layer available only for glossy finish photo paper. Cast coating results in the ink ‘sinking’ into the paper, which can cause the image to appear slightly duller than PE coated paper.
Professional and higher quality photo papers use ‘micro porous’ or ‘nano porous’ coatings which allows the ink to sit within the coating only, appearing more vibrant and colourful. PE coated paper, because of the barrier and the superior chemicals, improves the archival properties and is less likely to smear from touch or rubbing. Porous based coating are available in a glossy or satin finish.
When evaluating various options, be it from a major brand or specialized suppliers, look at the type of receiving layer.
Type Of Ink
The type of ink together with the type of receiving layer will impact the quality of the print. Inkjet printers use 4 common colours (some can support up to 9) of CMYK in liquid ink form. Using microscopic Jet (hence Ink Jet) the ink is dispersed onto the paper producing accurate results. When it comes to Inkjet inks, your choice is either Dye based Inks or Pigment based Inks depending on the manufacturer.
Dye Inks – These are water based with particle free water-soluble dye. Main benefits include higher quality of print to the smallest detail and colour gamut. In addition you will find more photo papers supporting dye inks vs. its alternative.
Pigment Inks – These are made of liquid and tiny pigment particles. The tiny particles do not dissolve in the solution and the result is water-based powder like mixture. Main benefits include better anti-fading properties and higher water resistance. It is worth bearing in mind that both types of inks can be made waterproof by using a fixative spray.
Photo Paper Finish
Photo papers are available in two finish options. They differ in the level of glare measured in a scale of shine. An additional finish called matt is also available, though rarely used to print photo reproduction.
Glossy – Glossy is the most common option, particularly because many individuals are unaware of the difference between glossy and other finishes. When viewing directly, the high shine allows for the tiniest to become apparent, however when viewing from an angle and under certain light conditions viewing may become difficult. If an image is to be framed and placed behind glass, glossy is less suitable due to glare.
Satin – The difference between the two is the level of shine. Satin is also known as Semi-Gloss (Canon), Pearl (ILFORD) or Lustre (Epson) depending on the brand. It includes less shine than glossy and often makes viewing angles better which can become important when images are hung on display and individuals may congregate around it such as in a gallery situation.
Photo Paper Weight
The weight of each sheet is measured in GSM. GSM stands for Grams per Square Meter and traditionally it was thought that the higher GSM the paper is, the better results will be. We now know that together with the paperweight the type of ink and receiving layer is as important.
The key is to source a high GSM photo paper with a suitable micro porous coating.
About The Author:
Joseph Eitan is the MD of Photo Paper Direct, vendors of professional media from branded papers such as Canon photo papers to specialized ILFORD.