Photographic photo papers are designed to produce a high quality image in an effort to best reproduce the photographed object. How good or bad the paper is at meeting this objective will depend on the type of printer, type of ink and of course the subject of this guide; the type of photo paper. In this guide we will explain the various considerations to take into account when evaluating your options.
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Inkjet Vs. Laser Photo Paper
The mostly widely adopted technology by the professional printing community is the Inkjet printer technology. Laser printing is able to outperforming Inkjet printing in terms of speed, but it lacks the accuracy that high quality photographs require. Laser uses melted powder-like substance in CMYK colours, while Inkjet uses the same colours though liquid ink form that are delivered to the paper by means of small jets (hence Ink-Jet). This method of printing can achieve 2880Dpi vs. 720Dpi commonly found in laser printers. Therefore from here on, the various parameters for choosing photo paper will refer to the Inkjet type.
Photo Paper Brands and Printer Profiles
Most printers will support universal compatibility. The fact that you own a major manufacturer’s brand of printer does not limit you to its range of printed media. For example, an HP printer will naturally support its range of papers as well as these papers produced by other manufacturers. The difference lies in the setting part of the printing process, in which you have to decide on paper size, quality, finish and other printing attributes. Choosing your own printer’s brand of paper will mean that settings are pre-configured, though do not let this put you off from considering other brands. Many manufacturers and particularly the professional niche players the likes of Ilford, Hahnemuehle, Innova, etc. are able to provide you with a colour profile file. This computerized file will adjust the printer settings for you. During your research, keep an open mind as to your options and consider photo paper from various brands as long as they meet your criteria.
Photo Paper Finish
The first aspect that consumers often evaluate is the photo paper finish. It is a translucent chemical coating that is designed to improve the appearance of the print which otherwise may appear dull. The problem lies in the inconsistent terminology that brands use to describe their finish and the headache of making sense of which is which. Common options include matt, glossy and satin, but when consumers come across terms such as semi-gloss, pearl, luster and other finishes, confusion is likely to occur. Here are the most common options you will come across.
- Glossy – The most widely used finish is the glossy finish which comes in degree of glossiness from normal to high glossy. The shine from the chemical coating helps distinguish the smallest details of the photograph, however the resulting glare makes viewing the print from certain angles challenging on occasion.
- Matt – Depending on the brand, you will come across this finish as Matt or Matte. It is situated on the other side of the scale with zero glossiness. The lack of expensive finish makes the photo paper slightly cheaper to produce and more affordable to buy which helps explain why it is commonly used in brochure and flyer printing. It is also commonly used when printing black and white photos, as glossy finish can diminish from the photo’s credibility.
- Satin – The satin finish is situated precisely in the middle, between the glossy and matt finish. It benefits from a level of glossiness, but nowhere near that of the actual glossy finish. Certain brands such as Epson call their range of satin finish “semi-gloss” so the best description will be a toned down glossy finish.
- Pearl and Luster – These are offered by the more professional manufactures and represent a type of satin finish with a textured feel. The normal satin or semi-gloss finish is flat, but these two include a delicate texture to make the print feel more special when held.
Photo Paper Quality
The quality of photo paper is measured in colour range, archival properties, instant dry-to-touch and other factors of quality. It is the ‘receiving layer’ that determines it. This chemical layer is designed to receive the huge amounts of ink laid by the printer during the printing process. Without one, the paper will soak from ink, the ink will penetrate to the other side and will fade in a matter of months. Basically, the result you get when printing a photograph on copy paper. There are two common type of receiving layer that cover most photo papers:
- Cast Coated Receiving Layer – The cast coated receiving layer is commonly found in the budget and “Every Day” range of the various manufacturers. It yields satisfactory results, but often may appear slightly duller than the Micro Porous alternative. Because there is no barrier coating on the paper, ink sinks deeper into the product and will fade quicker with time. Cast coated paper is instant dry, but if pigmented inks are used (especially black), may be susceptible to some smearing. Cast Coatings have limited archival properties.
- Micro and Nano Pores Receiving Layers – These two are the ones used in the professional and high-end range of the various manufacturers. In complete contrast to the previous type, the ink sits within nanoscopic pores in the chemical so it dries instantly and the archival potential is much improved. It is the receiving layer choice of most photographers.
Photo Paper Weight
The last consideration that consumers are faced with is the weight of the paper measured in GSM or, if you will, the weight of paper per one square meter of area. Contrary to what you might think, GSM does not equal quality of print but higher GSM leads to thicker photo paper which at times can be useful but, at other times, a waste of money. As a measure of paper density, higher GSM weight feels thicker when held hence you will often come across greeting card papers boasting GSM weight on the high end of the spectrum, while prints with low keepsake potential such as brochures that will likely be discarded quite quickly will feature more modest GSM weight.
We hope this has helped you in evaluating your photographic photo paper options.
This guest post was written by Joseph Eitan, the managing director of Photo Paper Direct. Joseph has over 25 years experience working in the paper and printing industry as the managing director of several companies.
What are options for quality inkjet printer photo paper that doesn’t have any logos on the back? Specifically I’m looking to print Actor theatrical headshots on them.
Nice blog I found from your side.
You really are a deep source of knowledge when it comes to printing on photo paper. I have a slightly different angle: is it possible to print regular text on photo paper on a “regular” color laser jet printer? Or will the photo paper show some kind of chemical reaction and fade or discolor over time if it’s framed and exhibited on a wall, for instance?
Thanks so much for your insights,
I would like to know where can i get the traditional silver halide photo paper in UAE?
I need yr kind advise. I hv HP Deskjet Ink Advantage 3515 printer. Today I tried to use Kodak Hi Gloss 180 g/m2 (230 microns, 9.1 mil) paper but it does not fit into my printer. It is thicker.
Pls advise which High Gloss paper, the thickness size I shud use in the abv printer ?
Thanking U n best regards,
Best consolidation of to-the-point info on the subject I’ve found so far. Thanks!
Thanks, this is what I think, Epson has a site disclosing all their paper colour profiles. HP no, I used Epson UPSP profile for several test prints, the result looks better, still has light greyish, not match with Epson paper, or Moab papers ( I downloaded Moab profile) Will not buy HP papers in future. The Kirland paper from Costco are very good too when using Epson PGPP profile.
Regarding inkjet papers, I have a box of 5 X 7 HP glossy photo paper, I am using Epson 1400. I need to get the ICC profile for this paper from HP, I tried, could not find any link from HP Official site, If I use printing managed by Epson printer, the result is not satisfy at all, could you help.
The problem is that HP sells printers too and they don’t want you to use an Epson printer so they aren’t going to give you a color profile allowing you to do so. Epson isn’t going to give you a profile for HP paper either because they want you to only use Epson papers with your 1400. That is your problem.
If you check around on line you will be able to find people who will make a profile for you for a price. My feeling is that it is not worth the cost because you only have a small amount of that paper. The easiest way to deal with your problem is to get another brand of paper, maybe even Epson paper which is your easiest solution. I know it seems wasteful.
You can try to download many other manufacturers glossy paper profiles but you are going to use up all of your paper just testing all of the profiles. Sorry.
I tested several Luster papers for my Epson 3880 printer because I needed a luster paper in the 4×6 and 5×7 sizes and Epson does not make those sizes for some unexplained reason. I settled on the Ilford Smooth Pearl and I love it because the print quality is excellent with good color and really good resolution because the surface is slightly smoother than the luster papers and it is also a heavy paper which lends a professionalism to the presentation that thinner papers just don’t.
I did learn something interesting in my testing and that is that the Epson Luster paper will yield better results with the Ilford Luster color profile than it will with the Epson profile. I found that the Ilford profile gives better shadow detail and better color in the shadows. My point is that if you are going to test papers, you might want to cross test the papers with a number of different color profiles. You might find that a paper you are using now can be made better with another manufacturer’s color profile.
Good luck and best regards everyone.
I just bought an epson pro 3880 for Christmas, I added over 200 sheets of epson ultra premium glossy photo paper (100 8.5X11., 200 4X6 Premium photo paper, 160 5X7 Premium glossy ), because they were sold at half price. I am so amazed at the quality this printer prints, but I am also very worried of head cloggings for low production work. Do you have any comments other than printing every week ?, if so I would like to read your recommandations and your experience with the 3880. What do you think of using a Color Munki or use a spider3print to create .icc profiles for different papers ?. Did you ever use inks from inkjetmall in vermont ?
Epson says that you should turn the printer off when you aren’t using it and that will help keep the print heads from clogging. When you turn the printer off the print head carriage parks itself in such a way that the surface of the heads is resting against something that more or less seals them off preventing them from drying out, sealing in the freshness as it were.
This only happens when the printer is turned off and not just merely resting. My 3880 turns itself off automatically overnight which is an Epson software setting. If I’m printing a lot I turn that feature off, leaving the printer on all the time. I’m not sure how much if any ink is wasted every time you turn the printer back on but it’s an interesting question.
I know that manufacturer’s profiles can be flawed because I have tested various papers using various different profiles and have seen interesting results but I think that the Ilford profiles are excellent. I have been told however by a few people I trust that I should make paper profiles because I would get even better results. I’m curious enough to plan on buying the Spider print profiler sometime this Spring. I have spoken to the person at Spider who is in charge of that piece of gear and he seems to really know his stuff and I know that having those types of relationships can transform the experience of using a particular piece of equipment.
I have not used the Jon Cohen ink because I like the convenience of just buying the Epson carts with no fuss involved. I met Jon Cohen some years ago though and I am convinced that he knows more about scanning and printing than anyone else alive and I trust that his ink is fantastic. He showed me a black and white inkjet print he made years ago on an Epson printer with black and only three dilutions of gray inks and it was the most incredible black and white inkjet print I have ever seen and maybe just the best black and white print of any type that I have ever seen.
As far as the 3880 goes, there really isn’t that much that can go wrong. Just be aware that when you switch from Matt to Glossy or back the printer does have to waste several milliliters or ink that will cost you a few dollars each time so plan accordingly.
I say that you should experiment with different papers and really experience how they can really change your images. The different papers are just more tools at your disposal, like different lenses are. You have to know that thicker papers require different platen settings which you can research in the printer manual. It’s easy but you have to know about it. Good luck.
Thanks a lot for your comments. I asked you about Jon Cone beacuse I have spent als close to 600$ of inks (Ink Thrift 220 ml, ConeColor Pro 110 ml), PIezoFlush 700 ml ) and fill carts (2 sets) from Jon. I am not sure if I will use them during my first year epson warranty.
This is a known feature of the printer. I do use the ICC profiles but have not used a spyder. For the moment the settings seem to able compensate. I would be grateful for your suggestions. I have looked at the cost of the Spyder4elite following your post and am considering my options.