Photo Printer Paper The Ultimate Guide

The world of photo printer paper is moving forward in a rate not too dissimilar to other aspects of photography such as digital capturing, lighting and lens technology. Most photographers will need to print their work at some point at which point it will be helpful to come to terms with the most recent options for true photo paper printing.

Brands – Perhaps the biggest misconception relates to your choice of photo printer paper brand. Most users consider their only option to be that of the brand of their printer. In reality, printer manufactures do not produce photo paper. It is the work of external supplier who specializes in the chemical knowhow that coats the paper to create ‘photo paper’.

Your Options – If you eventually decide to use your printer’s own brand, the benefits are easy setup as the printer will likely include preset settings in terms of finish, grade of paper and coating side to produce the ultimate printing result in terms of colour range, amount of ink used in the process etc. Otherwise, third party suppliers can often supply you with a ‘profile file’. This small-computerized file is uploaded to your machine to alter the printer settings to achieve the paper’s full potential.

Type Of PaperPhotographic paper is made for Inkjet or laser technology. A specific type cannot be shared across both technologies. Therefore you must first determine if your printer uses Inkjet or laser technology.  Inkjet is often the choice of most photographers due to the higher DPI potential (DPI: dots per inch, a measure of the printing resolution). To disperse ink, inkjet uses liquid ink by way of microscopic jet (hence Ink-Jet), while laser uses powder, which melts after undergoing extreme hot fusion. This results in laser printing been quicker (useful for office documents printing for example), but lacks the refinement and accuracy that true photos require.

Size Does Matter – The industry offers a number of sizes to fulfill a specific needs. The most common are 10x15cm (equivalent to 6×4” photo paper) and 13x18cm (equivalent to 7×5” photo paper). These two are used to insert photos into standard size photo album. Slightly bigger are the A5 and A4 photo paper sizes (A4 been twice an A5 size). These are used to insert photos into frames (desk and wall frames for example). Significantly bigger are the A3 and A3+ sizes (A3 been twice the size of an A4 sheet) which require a special printer that can accommodate such large sheets. A3 and its slightly bigger A3+ size are used to print posters, calendars, images that are to be displayed etc. The same based model in its 10x15cm will naturally cost dramatically less than the its related A3 size, hence you must match the intended use of the print to your choice of size.

Paper Finish – There are three common options for the photo printer paper finish and a further three closely related variations. You can visualize the options on a glossiness scale from the most glossy to the least. The most popular is the glossy photo paper finish that suits most requirements. Its single downfall is the lack of clarity under certain lighting conditions due to high glare. In the scale of glossiness, satin is the next alternative. Also known as semi-gloss, pearl and luster, satin has a certain level of glossy, but nowhere near that of full glossy photo paper. Last but not least is the matt finish, which lacks glossiness completely. It is often used for budget prints as it makes the photographic paper more affordable. It is also the choice for printing black and white prints to retain an artistic look.

Printing Sides – There are various cases when photographers require an image on both sides of the photo paper. Most common uses are photo greetings and invitation cards and brochures. Unless stated otherwise, photographic paper are only printed on one side making it impossible to accommodate a high situated image on either side. If you require such capabilities, you must source ‘double-sided’ or ‘two-sided’ photographic paper.

Budget vs. Premium – All brands be it printer manufactures or third party suppliers offer a range of budget and a range of premium quality photo paper. The difference between the two relates to aspects such as how quickly the print dries, archival potential (how many years before the image fades or yellows), color gamut, accuracy of color tones and in the case of Inkjet, compatibility with pigment and dye inks.  In inkjet printers, budget range will often lean on cast coated technology, a basic type of chemical coating that produces decent results but lacks premium quality. Nano and Micro porous coatings are the two premium models which offer instant dry prints and extensive archival durability. Contrary to common belief, the weight of the paper in GSM will not influence the quality of the print as much as the coating will.

Weight In GSM – Weight was often regarded as in indication of quality, simply because heavier weights feel heavier to touch. Nowadays the coating, the printer settings and the quality of the printer will have a much greater impact on quality than simply its weight. Nevertheless, weight does matter when you are looking to hand your printers and you wish to make a statement. Measured in GSM (Grams per Square Meter) photographic papers vary from 120gsm to 300gsm and even higher for fine art photographic paper. Therefore you choice for weight often depends on the intention of the final item.

Type Of Ink – Inkjet uses one of two liquids either pigment or dye based. These will have an impact on the print quality so in the case of Inkjet printers. Dye based inks are water based, using particle free water-soluble dye. Main benefits include higher quality of print to the smallest detail and colour gamut. In addition you will find more photo papers supporting dye inks vs. its alternative.  On the other hand, pigment based inks are made of liquid and tiny pigment particles. The tiny particles do not dissolve in the solution and the result is water-based powder like mixture. Main benefits include better anti-fading properties and higher water resistance.  If your printer can accommodate either, you should determine the most suitable for your circumstances.

Avoid Costly Mistakes – There’s little dispute that photographic papers cost many times that of normal printer paper. You can avoid expense mistakes by ensuring that you print on the coated side, that you have adjusted the printer settings and paid particular attention to size and often, printing a test print on a non coated paper makes for good practice.

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