Choosing The Best Photographic Paper

Digital photographic paper has come a long way in recent years thanks to universal compatibility of a single manufacturer’s paper to many other printer manufacturers and improvement in ink technology making it easier than ever to print high quality photo reproduction. No longer are you limited to a small selection from your printer manufacturer’s own range and no longer are you limited to one type of printable media. In this guide we will explain how to determine the most suitable photographic paper for your project.

Types Of Photographic Papers:

Photographic papers are different from normal ‘copy paper’ in that they are coated with a chemical designed to accurately absorb ink. Without it, the ink will flood the paper, penetrating through it making the image appear dull and washed out.  Your first decision is to decide between single sided and double sided photographic paper which are the two common types.

Single Sided – These are coated on one side and printing high definition images on the reverse side is impossible. Most common applications for single sided photographic printing are photo reproductions for display (wall and desk mounted) as well as photo album inserts.

Double Sided – These are coated on both sides to allow printing images in either side or image on one side and text on the other (for example, when making greetings cards). The finish of either side may be the same or more commonly, different such as glossy on the inside and matt on the outside. Depending on the manufacturer, you may come across this type as ‘two sided’ photographic paper. Most common applications are brochure printing, photo calendar and invitation cards.

Size Of Photographic Papers:

 After deciding on type, comes the stage of deciding on size. Obtaining a size too big will result in waste and obtaining a size too small will often render the print obsolete. The most popular sizes vary from photo-lab size to poster size (using a suitable printer).

6×4” and 7×5” – The two are extremely similar in size to 10x15cm and 13x18cm respectively. Both are used for photo album insert, though the 7×5” is also popular as an RSVP type card. In the days of photographic film, your local photo-lab would have printed on the 6×4” or 7×5”. These sizes are extremely popular to this day.

A5 and A4 – A5 is slightly bigger than the 7×5” and often used for table mounted photo frame and for the creation of greeting cards. The A4 size, which is precisely twice an A5 in surface area, is used for folding applications (brochures, greeting cards etc.) and unfolded such as for wall mounted photo reproduction.

A3 and A3+ – While they might sound like natural successors to the A4 in terms of size they are almost an entirely different industry. First the printer of choice must be an A3 printer and secondly the cost of the media being twice the surface area of an A4 sheet means that it is most commonly used to print commercial work.  Potential customers must take note of the A3+ (or ‘oversized’ A3 as some manufacturers call it) is larger still and again requires a printer that can handle it.

Photographic Paper Finish:

Two different types of chemicals are applied to photo paper. One has a functional role in that it is tasked with accepting the high amounts of ink your printer applies to it. The second chemical has a visual role in order to help show the image. Options vary from Glossy to Satin to Matt and a few curve balls in between.

Matt – Matt is absent of any glare. It is rarely used in the reproduction of photographic images. The lack of expensive finish makes matt photo paper the cheaper of the bunch and so you will often find it used in prints with a limited or short lifespan such as brochures which might be disposed of without a second thought.

However, those individuals who print in black and white adore it. In this case the lack of glare improves the authenticity of the photographed object when printed in B&W.

Semi-Gloss – In the glossiness scale one level above matt is the semi-gloss or satin finish. Its slight soft shine allows the finer details of the image to shine through and often a safer option if you suspect the dull finish of matt will undermine the photograph. Another close alternative is the Pearl finish, which again contains some level of shine, but nowhere near those of the full glossy finish.

Luster – Lustre or luster is a type of semi-gloss finish with the added difference of a textured surface. As it sounds, when you run your fingers over the print you will notice a slight texture, which is also visible when looking at the print.

Glossy – The most common and widely used is the glossy finish, which comes in normal or high gloss options depending on the manufacturer. Glossy is suitable in most circumstances however under certain lighting conditions, light might bounce off the print making viewing impossible.  Adjusting the angle of the view will compensate for this.

Photographic Printer Settings:

The benefit of using your printer’s owns photo paper is the auto adjustment of printing settings. However, when you are required to do so manually it isn’t rocket science.  You should pay attention to the following:

Type of Paper – Your printer can print on normal paper, fabric transfer paper, sticker paper, overhead projector film and of course, photo paper. You must ensure to select the appropriate paper.

Print Quality – Simply feeding the paper and hitting print will result in printing under the default settings, often designed to print text and basic graphics not colorful images. For printing throwaway prints consider printing in basic quality to reduce your expenditure on expensive ink. For prints with high keepsake value, use the highest quality option.

Size – Naturally pick the correct size as well as adjust the tray area. When smaller sizes are concerned, individuals are often unsure when it comes to choosing borders. You can run a test by adjusting the settings and choosing preview option before hitting the print button and printing on expensive paper.

Niche manufactures such as Ilford, Innova and others now offer an ‘ ICC Profile File’. This is a computerized file that when opened will auto adjust your printer’s setting to their papers, neat! It is worth asking your supplier of choice whether ICC profiles are offered.

If you have any questions, leave your comments below.

How to determine photographic paper by Joseph Eitan M.D. of Photo Paper Direct. For over 25 years Joseph has been dealing, speaking and explaining about the world of photo paper.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

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