Photographic photo papers are designed to produce a high quality image in an effort to best reproduce the photographed object. How good or bad the paper is at meeting this objective will depend on the type of printer, type of ink and of course the subject of this guide; the type of photo paper. In this guide we will explain the various considerations to take into account when evaluating your options.
Inkjet Vs. Laser Photo Paper
The mostly widely adopted technology by the professional printing community is the Inkjet printer technology. Laser printing is able to outperforming Inkjet printing in terms of speed, but it lacks the accuracy that high quality photographs require. Laser uses melted powder-like substance in CMYK colours, while Inkjet uses the same colours though liquid ink form that are delivered to the paper by means of small jets (hence Ink-Jet). This method of printing can achieve 2880Dpi vs. 720Dpi commonly found in laser printers. Therefore from here on, the various parameters for choosing photo paper will refer to the Inkjet type.
Photo Paper Brands and Printer Profiles
Most printers will support universal compatibility. The fact that you own a major manufacturer's brand of printer does not limit you to its range of printed media. For example, an HP printer will naturally support its range of papers as well as these papers produced by other manufacturers. The difference lies in the setting part of the printing process, in which you have to decide on paper size, quality, finish and other printing attributes. Choosing your own printer's brand of paper will mean that settings are pre-configured, though do not let this put you off from considering other brands. Many manufacturers and particularly the professional niche players the likes of Ilford, Hahnemuehle, Innova, etc. are able to provide you with a colour profile file. This computerized file will adjust the printer settings for you. During your research, keep an open mind as to your options and consider photo paper from various brands as long as they meet your criteria.
Photo Paper Finish
The first aspect that consumers often evaluate is the photo paper finish. It is a translucent chemical coating that is designed to improve the appearance of the print which otherwise may appear dull. The problem lies in the inconsistent terminology that brands use to describe their finish and the headache of making sense of which is which. Common options include matt, glossy and satin, but when consumers come across terms such as semi-gloss, pearl, luster and other finishes, confusion is likely to occur. Here are the most common options you will come across.
Glossy – The most widely used finish is the glossy finish which comes in degree of glossiness from normal to high glossy. The shine from the chemical coating helps distinguish the smallest details of the photograph, however the resulting glare makes viewing the print from certain angles challenging on occasion.
Matt – Depending on the brand, you will come across this finish as Matt or Matte. It is situated on the other side of the scale with zero glossiness. The lack of expensive finish makes the photo paper slightly cheaper to produce and more affordable to buy which helps explain why it is commonly used in brochure and flyer printing. It is also commonly used when printing black and white photos, as glossy finish can diminish from the photo's credibility.
Satin – The satin finish is situated precisely in the middle, between the glossy and matt finish. It benefits from a level of glossiness, but nowhere near that of the actual glossy finish. Certain brands such as Epson call their range of satin finish, semi-gloss so the best description will be a toned down glossy finish.
Pearl and Luster – These are offered by the more professional manufactures and represent a type of satin finish with a textured feel. The normal satin or semi-gloss finish is flat, but these two include a delicate texture to make the print feel more special when held.
Photo Paper Quality
The quality of photo paper is measured in colour range, archival properties, instant dry to touch and other factors of quality. It is the 'receiving layer' that determines it. This chemical layer is designed to receive the huge amounts of ink laid by the printer during the printing process. Without one, the paper will soak from ink, the ink will penetrate to the other side and will fade in a matter of months. Basically, the result you get when printing a photograph on copy paper. There are two common type of receiving layer that cover most photo papers:
Cast Coated Receiving Layer – The cast coated receiving layer is commonly found in the budget and "Every Day" range of the various manufacturers. It yields satisfactory results, but often may appear slightly duller than the Micro Porous alternative. Because there is no barrier coating on the paper, ink sinks deeper into the product and will fade quicker with time. Cast coated paper is instant dry but if pigmented inks are used (especially black), may be susceptible to some smearing. Cast Coatings have limited archival properties.
Micro and Nano Pores Receiving Layers – These two are the ones used in the professional and high-end range of the various manufacturers. In complete contrast to the previous type, the ink sits within nanoscopic pores in the chemical so it is instant dry and the archival potential is much improved. It is the receiving layer choice of most photographers.
Photo Paper Weight The last consideration that consumers are faced with is the weight of the paper measured in GSM or if you will, the weight of paper per one square meter of area. Contrary to what you might think, GSM does not equal quality of print but higher GSM leads to thicker photo paper which at times can be useful but in other times, a waste of money. As a measure of paper density, higher GSM weight feel thicker when held hence you will often come across greeting card papers boasting GSM weight on the high end of the spectrum, while prints with low keepsake potential such as brochures that will likely be discarded quite quickly will feature more modest GSM weight.
We hope this has helped evaluate your photographic photo paper options.
This guest post was written by Joseph Eitan, the managing director of Photo Paper Direct. Joseph has over 25 years experience working in the paper and printing industry as the managing director of several companies.