The Complete Guide To Choosing Photographic Paper

Guest post by Joseph Eitan

In the digital world we live in, there is no dispute that most pictures we take retain their digital form to be saved on a hard drive, cloud image hosting or social networking profile. Despite all odds, images are still been printed, in fact more than ever due to the impressive advance in printing and ink technology.  As a photographer, choosing the correct type of media to print your work is essential, as poor printing results will hinder all the work you have invested in capturing that perfect image.

There are a number of technical aspects in choosing photographic papers that as a photographer you should know.

Suitable Printer Technology 

The Complete Guide To Choosing Photographic PaperPrinting professional photos is done using Inkjet rather than laser technology.  While laser printers are fantastic in mass printing plain documents in a speedy and cost effective manner, they simply lack the required DPI and colour accuracy that high quality photos require in order to handle sub tones to their full potential.

To scatter ink evenly on the paper, laser technology use polymer based dust powder in CMYK range that undergoes hot fusion to become solid on the paper. On the other hand, Inkjet uses the same CMYK (and sub shades) range in the form of liquid ink (either Dye or Pigment base) that is microscopically dispersed onto the paper by way of an accurate jet (therefore it is called Ink-Jet). This delivery system allows for fine colour accuracy and wide tonal capability, making it the preferred choice for photographers.

Inkjet Receiving Layer 

Most individuals only distinguish various types of photographic papers based on the brand and maybe based on that brand’s model. If you look closer, a better way to evaluate quality photo papers regardless of the brand is by the type of chemical receiving layer that is used.

There are two types of Inkjet receiving layers, one called cast coated which tends to appear on budget papers and micro porous, PE coated, which is the preferred option of professional photographers. Cast coated photographic papers are based on normal printer paper that undergoes heating by way of metal rollers. This process gives the paper a glossy look, which is why cast coated are only available with a glossy finish. Because there is no barrier between the coating and the paper, the ink is susceptible to sinking deeper into the paper making the image appear a little duller than when printed on PE coated paper.

On the other hand, micro-porous or nano-porous receiving layer is based on PE paper (an amalgamation of normal paper pressed between two layers of polyethylene on both sides), a higher quality base that does not absorb humidity and is more stable overall. This coating holds the ink closer to the surface, making the image appear brighter and colours more accurate.  This coating also has a water resistance element and is very fast drying allowing immediate handling and multi-copy printing.  It also provides a better colour definition with a deeper, more solid black than the cast coated paper. Micro-porous and nano-porous papers are available in Glossy, Satin and Matt finish.

Photographic Paper Finish

There are three common alternatives to give the print a desired look. These three are measured on a scale of sheen from the most to the least. The choice of one over the other is often a personal one, though there are also some practical considerations to take into account.

Glossy – The most widely used is the glossy finish, which includes the highest levels of sheen. It gives the print a highly colorful look with a wide colour spectrum. However, when viewed from an angle in strong lighting conditions, the print may be harder to see due to reflection of the surface. In the right conditions, glossy finish can make the print look vibrant and a real feast for the eyes.  Glossy paper is also least suitable for framing behind glass.

Satin – You may come across satin as semi-gloss, pearl and luster depending on the manufacture. These are all essentially light sheen options that make viewing from angles in strong lighting conditions easier to view. In one word, satin is a more ‘flexible’ option.

Matt – Also referred to as matte, this option does not contain any glare and will rarely prove to be the preferred choice when a wide colour gamut is required. However, high quality matt photo paper with 15gsm of coating can help produce artistic looking prints, often when black and white photos are concerned.

Photographic Paper Weight – The last consideration is the weight of the paper, measured in GSM or Grammes Per Square Meter. In the not so long past, the higher the weight was, the better quality the paper was thought to be. We now know (and so do you) that other factors such as receiving layer are as important to determine quality. When incorporated with a suitable receiving layer, higher GSM will equal a print that feels heavy when held and pleasing to look at.

Enjoy your printing. If you have any questions, leave your comment below.

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