Photographers spend many hours perfecting their image capturing skills and a lot of money obtaining the most advance photography equipment. When images remain in the digital realm all is well, but when images are printed on an inferior photo paper all that hard work and money often goes down the drain. This can be avoided and rectified by using a suitable photographic paper and here is what to look for.
Manufactures of photo paper often brandish a budget line and a premium line so ‘brand name’ alone is less important than you think. In fact, users often limit their choice of paper to one made by their printer manufacture due to incorrect information. Printer manufacturers do not produce photo paper, which are made by external suppliers on their behalf. Therefore, having a certain brand of printer does not limit you to its range of photo paper alone. External suppliers often produce photo paper with universal compatibility that is made to a higher quality than your printer’s own range of photo paper. As long as you ensure to adjust the printer settings to the correct finish, grade and size of photo paper results will match and often exceed your printer manufacture photo paper results.
Inkjet Vs. Laser Printers
Printer technology is divided into Inkjet and Laser technology. The choice of most photographers is Inkjet due to higher DPI (Dots Per Inch) of 2880 vs. 720DPI achieved by Laser printers. Higher DPI ensures accurate image details, true colour representation and high quality photo paper support over bigger areas (A3 and A3+ sizes for example). Inkjet uses dye or pigment based inks propelled on the media by means of an accurate jet (hence, Ink-Jet). It results in slower printing time compared to laser, but higher accuracy. On the other hand, laser uses powder based ink which melts on the media after going though heat fusion. It results in shorter printing time that is fantastic in a commercial office environment for example when large amounts of ready prints are needed quickly. However printing quality of laser printers will not be accurate to the digital image as much as Inkjet will.
Photo Paper Structure
The difference between budget and premium photo papers by the same manufacturer or even between completely different makes is in the structure of the paper. Understand the various options and you would be able to choose the most suitable media for your printing job.
Base – Photographic papers are made from either normal uncoated base or one that has a pre-coating of polyethylene – PE, on which an inkjet receiving layer is then added. PE photo paper base which are present in premium examples has superior of significant amounts of inks. The PE coating helps ensure that ink is not allowed to penetrate the paper.
Receiving Layer – Unlike the base which is visible to the eye, the receiving layer is invisible, however it makes ALL the difference between the average and the high end photo papers. The receiving layer is a chemical coating, which is applied onto the paper. It is tasked with welcoming the ink and ensures it is held in place. Smudging after printing, ink that has run to the other side of the paper, poor colour representation and other quality indicators are often linked to the type of receiving layer used.
Budget lines use a ‘cast coated’ receiving layer, which is suitable in most cases. It is a far cheaper coating to produce, which explains why you would often come across cast coated in budget lines. The chemical is placed on the paper so prints would often be prone to smearing if touched immediately after printing. Cast coated is made from uncoated base paper without the PE pre coating.
Superior models often use pore based receiving layer either nano or micro pore in which ink ‘sits’ within tiny pores in the chemical. Therefore, the print can be held immediately after printing and longevity of the print is far longer. Prints printed on the pore based receiving layer are instant dry, will cope better with UV light and water as well as having a better archival properties such as anti-fading and anti-yellowing.
Photo papers come in three common finishes which are designed to enhance the image. The three are measured to a glossy scale from the most to the least and naturally the options in between. It is often a question of personal taste, though it can also take a practical angle. The three are glossy, satin and matt, though variations such as semi-gloss, pearl and luster are also available.
Glossy – The finish with the highest level of glare is the glossy finish, though some brands use higher level of glare than others. Glossy will suit most circumstances as it has the potential to sharpen the image. On the other hand, behind glass and from certain angles the glare can make the image hard to see.
Satin – Satin includes certain gloss but to a lesser degree. Versions of satin that you are likely to come across include Pearl, Semi-Gloss and Luster. They are all extremely similar to satin, perhaps with a slight difference in texture.
Matt – Matt include zero levels of gloss. It is rarely used in the reproduction of high quality imagery, more for printing in bulk and on a tight budget.
Photo Paper Weight GSM
Weight is measured in GSM (grams per square meter – g/m²) and indicates perceived appearance than anything else. Unlike common belief, it isn’t an indication of ‘quality’ but does play an important role in the perceived value of the print. Higher GSM photo paper often feel heavier to feel, which when giving the print away makes for a good first impression. Heavyweight photo paper which carries the budget structure characters of normal base and coast coating will often prove inferior to a lighter weight photo paper which carries the premium structure qualities.
Enjoy your printing now that you are aware of the difference in photo paper qualities and options. Please leave your comments below.