by Gerald Boerner
Today we start our examination of the characteristics of the photo paper that you will use in your inkjet printer. Not all inkjet printers will print on all surfaces of media and some types of media require certain types of ink that are only found in specific printers. Thus, we have a situation where the printer, ink and paper must be carefully selected.
Add to this quandary the whole issue of the permanence of the ink used in inkjet printers, we have a very important set of choices that must be made by the photographer when choosing his/her inkjet printing setup. This is the chief reason that many photographers only use their inkjet printers for proofing, not for final images. Professional quality images require the more expensive printers that use the more expensive inks.
Fortunately, for most people, including the casual photographer, the decision is much easier. Most inkjet photo printers are capable of producing adequate output for the photo album, scrapbook and home display photos. It is only when we get into the high-end, fine art printing that we encounter the complication.. GLB
“It’s called a pen. It’s like a printer, hooked straight to my brain.”
— Dale Dauten
“The darkroom is just the means to an end.”
— Kim Weston
“For me the printing process is part of the magic of photography. It’s that magic that can be exciting, disappointing, rewarding and frustrating all in the same few moments in the darkroom.”
— John Sexton
“I never stopped photographing. There were a couple of years when I didn’t have a darkroom, but that didn’t stop me from photographing.”
— Imogen Cunningham
“When I’m about ready to press the cable release on the View camera, I’ve tried to anticipate some of the challenges I’m going to encounter in the darkroom.”
— John Sexton
“Eventually, if you had a printer that is IPP compliant, that printer will have a Web address and anyone around the world who can get on the Internet can print to that URL.”
— Robert Palmer
“It was amazing to watch him in the darkroom at an advanced age, still get excited when the results were pleasing. He still struggled like we all do in the darkroom and he struggled behind the camera, and when he had a success he was beaming.”
— John Sexton
“I’m pretty selective. I generally edit the contact sheets and then do work prints. Because I have my own lab and printers, I can afford the luxury of going through the contact sheets for black-and-white, making up work prints, seeing them big, and honing them down.”
— Herb Ritts
This posting is intended for the educational use of photographers and photography students and complies with the “educational fair use” provisions of copyright law. For readers who might wish to reuse some of these images should check out their compliance with copyright limitations that might apply to that use.
Choosing a Photo Printer: Characteristics of Paper
An inkjet printer is a type of computer printer that reproduces a digital image by propelling variably-sized droplets of liquid material (ink) onto a page. Inkjet printers are the most common type of printer and range from small inexpensive consumer models to very large and expensive professional machines.
The concept of inkjet printing dates back to the 19th century and the technology was first developed in the early 1950s. Starting in the late 1970s inkjet printers that could reproduce digital images generated by computers were developed, mainly by Epson, Hewlett-Packard and Canon. In the worldwide consumer market, four manufacturers account for the majority of inkjet printer sales: Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Epson, and Lexmark.
Key Issue: Preservation of the Print
Preservation of document, pictures, recordings, digital content, etc., is a major aspect of archival science. It is also an important consideration for people who are creating time capsules, family history, historical documents, scrapbooks and family trees. Common storage media are not permanent, and there are few reliable methods of preserving documents and pictures for the future.
Color negatives and ordinary color prints may fade away to nothing in a relatively short period if not stored and handled properly. This happens even if the negatives and prints are kept in the dark because the ambient light is not the determining factor, but heat and humidity are. Because color processing results in a less stable image than traditional black-and-white processing, black and white pictures from the 1920s are more likely to survive into the long term future than those color films and photographs from the last 20 or 30 years. The cause of the color degradation is the result of the dyes used in the color processes.
Color prints made on most inkjet printers look very good at first but they have a very short lifespan, measured in months rather than in years. Even prints from commercial photo labs will start to fade in a matter of years if not processed properly and stored in cool, dry environments.
Black and white photographic films using silver halide emulsions are the only film types that have proven to last for archival storage. The determining factors for longevity include the film base type, proper processing (develop, stop, fix and wash) and proper storage. Early films were coated onto a nitrate base material which was prone to combustion if stored in uncontrolled temperatures, Nitrate was replaced with acetate-base films. The acetate films have now been discovered to outgass acids (also referred to as vinegar syndrome). Acetate films were replaced in the early 1980s by polyester film base materials which have been determined to be more stable that nitrate and acetate base films.
Inkjet paper is a special fine paper designed for inkjet printers, typically classified by its weight, brightness and smoothness, and sometimes by its opacity.
Inkjet paper is made from high quality deinked pulp or chemical pulps and requires good dimensional stability, no curling or cockling, good surface strength, and surface smoothness. Sufficient and even porosity is required to counteract spreading of the ink. For lower quality printing, uncoated copy paper will suffice, but higher grades require coating. The traditional coatings are not widely used for inkjet papers. For matte inkjet papers, it is common to use silica as pigment together with polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH). Glossy inkjet papers can be made by multicoating, resin coating, or cast coating on a lamination paper.
Comparison to Standard Office Paper
Example cheap uncoated paper
heavily soaked with ink, showing the
back of the paper. The moisture-soaked
fibers swell and revert to their original
shape, showing the mesh belt webbing
used in the paper manufacturing plant.
Standard office paper has traditionally been designed for use with typewriters and copy machines, where the paper usually does not get wet. With these types of paper, moisture tends to wick through the fibers away from the point of contact to form a disk. For an inkjet paper, this spreading results in the ink spreading out in the fibers to form a large smudge, and which lacks pigment intensity.
High-quality inkjet printing with dark, crisp lines requires the paper to have exactly the right degree of absorbency to accept the ink but prevent its sideways spread. Many general-purpose office papers of weights around 21 to 27 lb (80–100 g/m²) have been reformulated so that they can be used equally well with both inkjet and laser printers. However, this category of paper is only suitable for printing text, because the ink load is light.
When paper is manufactured, it is formed from a fiber mat that collects on an open mesh screen, which is then dried and pressed flat and smooth. Large areas of inkjet color, such as found in graphics and photographs, soak the paper fibers with so much moisture that they swell and return to their original shape from before pressing, resulting in a wavy buckling of the paper surface.
Double-sided inkjet printing is usually not possible with inexpensive low-weight copy paper because of bleed-through from one side to the other. Heavier weight paper works better due to the thickness of the fibers limiting bleed-through.
These papers are also unsuitable for photographic work because standard office paper is usually not "white" enough. This results in a poor color gamut and leads to colors being described as "muddy".
For all types of paper, the settings in the printer driver must be adjusted to suit the paper, so that the right amount of ink is delivered.
Inkjet Photo Paper
Photo paper is a category of inkjet paper designed specifically for reproduction of photographs, which is extremely bright white due to bleaching or substances such as titanium dioxide, and has been coated with a highly absorbent material that limits diffusion of the ink away from the point of contact. Highly refined clay is a common coating to prevent ink spread.
The best of these papers, with suitable pigment-based ink systems, can match or exceed the image quality and longevity of photographic gelatin-based silver halide continuous tone printing methods used for color photographs, such as Fuji CrystalArchive (for color prints from negatives) and Cibachrome/Ilfochrome (for color prints from positive transparencies). For printing monochrome photographs, traditional silver-based papers are widely felt to retain some advantage over inkjet prints.
Photo paper is usually divided into glossy, semi-matte or "silk", and matte finishes. The thickness of photo paper varies over a wide range. The lighter weights are not much different from general-purpose office papers as described above, and can be used for all types of printing, although these are the least expensive lowest-quality photo paper.
Photo papers for more critical work are thicker and have advanced coatings, sometimes with quick-drying properties. They can normally only be printed on one side, because only one side has the special coating. There are a few papers suitable for double-sided printing.
Glossy photo paper, which is generally the most popular, has a shiny finish that gives photos a vivid look. It will generally be smooth to the touch and will have some glare to it. Matte photo paper is less shiny and has less of a glare than glossy paper. It is often used to produce superior text results. Matte and glossy prints will typically feel different to the touch, but when displayed under glass their results will often look very similar. To increase the resemblance to oil paintings, papers with an imitation canvas texture are available. Photo papers are usually high-brightness neutral white papers, but a few off-white papers are made.
As in offset litho printing and traditional photographic printing, glossy papers give the highest color density (or Dmax), and therefore the widest color gamut. Photo papers vary in their longevity and their color gamut. Ink suppliers often provide color profiles for their ink systems when used with specific papers. Longevity depends on the specific combination of inks and paper. For maximum life, the paper substrate will be "woodfree" (i.e. wood-based but without lignin), or cotton-based, or a combination of the two. Plastic substrates also exist.
Currently there is no official designation of what constitute glossy, semi-matte, etc., although an objective measuring scale is available for the glossiness of papers used in offset litho printing. Leading paper manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, Epson and Kodak all use their own terms to describe their paper, such as Everyday (HP), Premium High Gloss and Lustre (Epson) and Ultima (Kodak). ECI (www.eci.org)have catogorised papers for proofing simulation of litho papers (type1/2 etc)
Types of Paper Available
Freestyle Photographic Supplies identifies a number of different types of Inkjet papers available. (See the Reference section for the specific link for this site.)
A more detailed look at these different types of papers will illustrate just how many choices there are for the photographer, including:
Real canvas with an inkjet emulsion for photographic printing in inkjet printers.
- Double-Sided Papers…
Inkjet papers in this category feature inkjet emulsions on both sides for creating portfolios, greeting cards and presentations.
- Dye Compatible…
These papers will yield superior results with Dye based printers such as Epson Stylus Photo 870, 890, 900, or 1280. They do not have the instant dry emulsions necessary for use with pigment or pigmented based printers.
- Fine Art Papers…
These papers are categorized as “fine art” as the base used in their manufacture is the same as the papers used by fine art printmakers, painters and other types of artists the world over. Used with pigment or pigmented based inkjet printers they offer your best chance at archival permanence.
- General Purpose Papers…
Inexpensive papers used for proofs, photos, presentations, text and letters.
- Greeting Cards/Card Size…
Inkjet papers sized for greeting cards, postcards, invitations, etc.
- Pigment Compatible…
These papers are compatible with Pigment or Pigmented ink printers such as Epson Stylus Photo 2000P, 2200, R2400, R800 or R1800. They generally feature fast or instant dry emulsions and can also be used for Dye based printers.
Inkjet paper in roll format for use in printers that have roll paper feed capability
- Specialty inkjet…
Inkjet material that is not paper such as Overhead Transparency Material (OHP), Polyester Glossy White Film, or Iron On transfer material.
Qualities of Inkjet Photo Paper
About.com provides a good guide to the different features that you will find in Inkjet Photo Papers available in the present marketplace. Check out the full article and its references via the link in the Reference section below.
The variety of photo quality inkjet papers can seem overwhelming. However, there are really only five main differences in all these papers with four of these playing a critical role: brightness, weight, caliper, and finish.
Learn how to choose the right paper for your needs based on these criteria and see how a few different types of paper stack up against each other:
How see-through is the paper? The higher the opacity, the less that printed text and images will bleed through to the other side. This is especially important for double-sided printing. Inkjet photo papers have a relatively high opacity (94-97 usually) compared to ordinary inkjet or laser papers so bleed-through is less of a problem with these papers.
How white is white? In terms of paper, there are many different levels of whiteness or brightness. Brightness is expressed as a number from 1 to 100. Photo papers are usually in the high 90s. Not all papers are labeled with their brightness rating; therefore, the best way to determine brightness is simply to compare two or more papers side-by-side.
Paper weight may be expressed in pounds (lb.) or as grams per square meter (g/m2). Different types of paper have their own weight scale. The bond papers which include most inkjet photo papers are found in the 24 to 71 lb. (90 to 270 g/m2) range. Terms such as heavyweight do not necessarily indicate a heavier paper than other comparable papers as you will see in the Weight comparison.
Photo papers are heavier and thicker than typical multi-purpose papers. This thickness, known as caliper, is necessary to accommodate the greater ink coverage typically found in photos. Typical inkjet paper caliper may be anywhere from a thin 4.3 mil to a thick 10.4 mil paper. Photo paper is usually 7 to 10 mils.
- Gloss Finish…
The coating on photo papers give your printed photos the look and feel of photographic prints. Because the coating keeps the paper from readily absorbing the ink some glossy papers dry slowly. However, quick-dry gloss finishes are common today. The finish may be described as high gloss, gloss, soft gloss, or semi-gloss, each reflecting the amount of shine. Satin is a less shiny coated finish.
- Matte Finish…
Images printed on photo matte papers appear soft and non-reflective, not shiny. Matte finish papers are not the same as regular inkjet finish papers. Matte finish photo papers are thicker and are specially formulated for photos. Many matte finish papers are printable on both sides.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Printers (Computing)…
Wikipedia: Inkjet Printers…
Wikipedia: Media Preservation…
Wikipedia: Inkjet Paper…
Web Sites and Blogs:
Freestyle Photographic Supplies: Inkjet Papers…
About.com: “Before You Buy Inkjet Photo Paper”…
Brainy Quote: Darkroom Quotes…