by Gerald Boerner
Today we continue 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: Selecting the Best 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.
One of the best sources of information about digital imaging and cameras is found on the Short Courses web site. The ebooks on this site provide a wide variety of great information on topics, including printing paper. Below, I have excerpted a brief summary from one of these books for your convenience. Please check out the full source via the link provided in the Reference section.
Although silver-halide and thermal printers require special papers, inkjets will print on almost any surface. In fact, the way your printed digital images look, and how well they age, depends a great deal on the paper you print them on and how you store them. If you’re just printing copies to hang on the refrigerator door, you’re probably not thinking about this. After a few months, when the pictures have shifted to green, or faded, you’ll just toss them. But there are times when you don’t want to be so casual with your prints. Since it takes time to capture, edit, and print images it’s nice if they last long enough to be enjoyed by generations to come.
There are four common types of photo-quality inkjet paper: RC, cast coated, and swellable papers usually used with dye inks, and cotton rag fine art papers used with pigment inks.
- RC (Resin Coated) Papers…
These papers are constructed much like silver-halide resin coated paper so they feel like traditional pints. A sheet of paper is sandwiched between layers of plastic and the top layer is coated with a polymer designed to receive the ink. If you put a drop of water on this layer, it is slowly absorbed and dries without leaving ripples in the paper. Images stay glossy because the ink is absorbed by the polymer layer and not the paper base although the water resistance of the top layer varies from brand to brand. These papers have the widest color range (gamut) and can be divided into three sub-categories based on their finish:
- Glossy Papers…
These papers, called an F surface, has a very shiny, almost reflective surface.
- Luster/Satin Papers…
These papers, called an E surface, has a bumpy repeating surface that varies in depth depending on the manufacturer.
- Semi-matte Papers…
These papers, called an N surface, has a luster without any texture.
If you gently bend a corner of an RC paper, you’ll hear a slight cracking sound. You can even bend a print somewhat without creasing it. The paper also resists tears, kinks, and abrasions. An anticurling layer on the back side keeps the print flat, even when it’s humid or large amounts of ink are used on the front side.
- Porous papers…
These papers, also called microporous, nanoporous, nanoceramic, microceramic or photobase, often have banners on the package reading "Quick Dry" or "Instant Dry". They have short drying times because they are so absorbent that water in the ink evaporates more quickly. However, their longevity is less than that of other papers. When combined with dye-based inks,these papers are susceptibility to damage from ozone. One way to identify a microporous high-gloss paper is to rub your finger across its surface. It will squeak and prevent your finger from sliding smoothly because the paper is so absorbent it absorbs the tiny traces of oil and moisture on your finger that would otherwise act as a lubricant on a smooth surface.
If you immediately frame one of these prints behind glass, the inside of the glass may fog. This fog, which looks something like a ghost image, is created by ink solvents leaving the paper before it is completely cured. These solvents dry at a slower rate than water so even when a print feels dry, they may not have completely dissipated. This process, called outgassing, occurs with all porous papers because these papers have a barrier that creates brighter, glossier prints by keeping the inks near the surface, but which prevents them from penetrating into the paper where they can dissipate. Other types of papers absorb the inks and do not have this problem. To prevent outgassing, Epson recommends you let a new print sit for 15 minutes, then place a sheet of inexpensive plain uncoated paper on top of it for 24 hours to absorb the solvents and accelerate the outgassing. If you are stacking prints, interleave plain paper between each pair. After 24 hours, if the paper is still wavy, replace the plain paper sheets and let the prints stand for another 24 hours. It also helps if you use proper framing procedures, including preventing contact between the print and the inside of the glass or UV acrylic.
How to Choose the Right Photo Paper?
Let’s start out by considering two main questions. Rick Tunning, in his HubPages posting, addresses these questions in the following ways. Please check out the full article via the link in the Reference section below.
Getting the best prints on your inkjet printer is usually comes determined by selecting the right paper. You’ve probably seen beautiful samples of what the latest photo inkjets can do. Getting those results at home can be difficult, especially if you don’t use a professional grade of photo paper. And by printing your digital photos at home; you keep control over every aspect including color and cropping.
What About the Printer Manufacturer’s Papers?
The big printer companies like Canon, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard, offer their own complete lines of inks and papers. And it’s no surprise each manufacturer claims that you’ll get the best results when you use their paper and ink. They even claim third party products will void your warranty. This is not true!
Their photo printers are typically designed to work by using inks and paper to yield the best results. Using cheap office supply paper with your inkjet printer, may cause the ink to spread too far into the paper before drying, which causes bad colors, lower print resolution, and a dull image.
Which Paper Is Best for Everyday Printing?
The paper offered by your local camera, computer, or office supply store can be fraught with many dangers.
Use the least expensive papers you can buy. They are usually sold for everyday printing "inkjet paper" or just "photo paper." This type of paper is porous and usually lacks a protective polymer coating. It’s very inexpensive, and your prints will dry much more quickly than when you use photo-grade papers.
The downside is the prints will be somewhat dull; the colors won’t look as good; and the inks will fade much quicker; but you’ll pay fraction of the cost of professional paper.
However your photos may last only a few months if they’re left exposed to direct sunlight or contaminants in the air. Of course, if you’re just printing letting the kids print web pages or homework assignments, that won’t matter.
Picking the Perfect Photo Paper
PCWorld, in its Digital Focus blog, extends the above questions in its recent article “Digital Focus: Pick the Perfect Photo Paper”. Check out the full series of posts starting at the link in the Reference section below.
In the old days, printing photos was easy. You’d take a roll of pictures to the corner drug store, and you’d have your prints a few days later. There were disadvantages, of course: You had no control over the color, cropping, or exposure, and the quality of the prints was totally out of your control. But it was easy.
These days, printing your digital photos is a very different experience: You have tons of control. But even after using an image editor to make all the tweaks you need to get an outstanding image, a great printout can still be elusive as that gopher in the movie "Caddy Shack." So what’s the final component to a top-quality print?
Getting great results with your inkjet printer usually comes down to picking the right paper. We’ve all seen gorgeous prints on display at the computer store–samples of what you could accomplish with the newest photo-quality inkjet printers. But getting those same results at home can be difficult if you don’t feed the right paper into your printer. This week, let’s talk about how to choose paper.
Believe the Printer Manufacturer
It’s no secret that the big names in printers–companies like Canon, Epson, and Hewlett-Packard–offer their own complete lines of inks and papers. Each manufacturer claims that you’ll get the best results when you use their products with their printers, and they warn you to steer clear of paper sold by other companies.
And believe it or not, they’re generally right. Photo printers are typically designed to work with specific inks and papers to yield the best results. Using Brand X paper with your particular inkjet printer, for instance, may cause the ink to spread too far into the paper before drying, which causes inaccurate colors, lower print resolution, and a dull finish. In most cases, you really do get the best results by sticking with the inks and papers recommended by your printer’s manufacturer.
Which Paper Is Best?
Once you’ve decided to stick with your printer’s brand of paper, you still have some decisions to make. The paper section at your local camera, computer, or office supply store can be fraught with many seemingly similar choices.
Consider Epson, for instance. The company offers a broad selection of papers with names like DuraBrite, Premium Glossy, Photo Quality Glossy, and ColorLife. But let’s keep it simple. You’ll get the best results when you match the paper to the kind of ink you are using. Epson’s Premium Glossy Photo Paper is the right choice for most Epson printers, but if your printer uses DuraBrite ink, then use DuraBrite Ink Glossy Photo Paper instead. For less formal photo printing–and where print quality and longevity are not the prime factors–you can use Epson’s less-expensive All Purpose Glossy Paper.
Canon has made your choice easier. Just look for the colored stripe that runs down the center of all its paper packages: Papers with a gold stripe are premium blends intended for the highest-quality prints, while bronze identifies the paper as an everyday variety.
HP sells a line of paper called Premium Plus. This is the top-of-the-line photo paper for HP printers. For routine photo printing, you want to print on HP Premium paper–which, HP claims, is slightly better than the kind of paper used by your local photo lab.
Where Do We Go from Here?
To get a a more specific idea of what papers are available, you can check the catalog from your local office supply store, like a Staples or Office Depot, for their selection. Generally these stores only carry their store brand or the papers put out by the major printer manufacturers. These papers will generally work for for your proof prints and snapshots.
For papers used for fine art prints, exhibition prints, or sale, you will probably want to consider some of the more advanced papers. These can be found in the catalogs from photographic supply vendors like Freestyle Photographic Supply. These papers each have their own special characteristics and may cost from $1 to $5 per page, depending on the paper and size. These papers may also require the use of specific high-end printers and special types of ink.
Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Printers (Computing)…
Wikipedia: Inkjet Printers…
Wikipedia: Inkjet Paper…
Web Sites and Blogs:
Hub Pages: “How to Choose the Right Photo Paper?”…
PCWorld: “Digital Focus: Pick the Perfect Photo Paper”… http://www.pcworld.com/article/121535/
Short Courses: “Displaying and Sharing your Photos”…
Brainy Quote: Darkroom Quotes…