Choosing the ideal texture to showcase the details and colors in an image
Experimenting with photo papers is one of my favorite things about printing. Besides the usual suspects—premium gloss and semi-gloss—I try different textures to see how they affect a photograph. Deciding which type of paper will best reproduce an image or series of images is subjective, though. It depends on the subject matter, whether I’m going color or monochrome, and the desired visual impact.
Gregory Colbert, in his Ashes and Snow exhibition, displays his large sepia tone photos on handmade Japanese rice paper, suspended by twine. The effect is visually stunning. It gives the images a dreamlike quality that adds to the overall effect of the show as you move through the exhibition space. It also unifies the collection with a signature style.
This is a case where the texture of the paper works well with Colbert’s on going subject matter—wildlife portraits that capture extraordinary interactions between people and animals. If Colbert had printed his photographs on gloss paper and had them matted and displayed behind UV-protected, non-glare acrylic, the whole mood of the show would be very different, as would the impact of the images, the emotions they evoke.
While Colbert isn’t making his prints on an inkjet, the principle is still applicable. The kind of paper and the texture matters. It’s not just a question of having good photos. Different textures all have subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, effects on how an image looks.
How Texture Affects Color, Tone And Detail. Keep in mind that textured papers typically absorb more ink into the paper, muting colors and softening sharp details a bit. If you don’t darken the contrast before printing, shadows typically lighten and lose some of their depth. You may also want to increase the brightness at the same time. I’ve noticed that, while shadows have a tendency to lose depth, the overall tone of the original photographs can end up darker on textured paper.
Textured paper absorbs more ink than traditional photo paper, so colors tend to be muted and sharp details soften, almost like a soft-focus filter.
The main thing to remember is that photographs definitely will look different on texture compared to traditional, smooth photo paper. How different will depend on how pronounced the texture is and the material of which it’s made.
Somerset Enhanced Velvet from Moab by Legion (www.moabpaper.com) has a subtle but visible texture, while its Somerset Photo Enhanced Textured is noticeably more porous, like watercolor paper. Both papers are 225gsm and 100% cotton, with no artificial brighteners that can affect print longevity.
If you want to replicate the tone of your original photo as close as possible in the print, the brightness and contrast will have to be increased. You’ll also see a noticeable difference in the overall color. Because the ink is absorbing into the paper and drifting, the colors will blend a bit like in a watercolor painting, so you’ll lose some distinctness of individual colors. There also will be softening of details, almost like a soft-focus filter.
The Anasazi Canvas paper, in terms of color, tone and detail sharpness, performs somewhere between traditional photo paper and the Somerset Enhanced Velvet. Colors reproduce well, although they change slightly, and you’ll still have some tonality issues to deal with before printing. Like the Velvet and the Enhanced Textured, you may want to increase brightness and contrast a bit.
As far as textured surfaces go, the texture itself is one of the most visible. It’s a very strong aesthetic, and you’ll always see the weave of the canvas, regardless of viewing angle or how light is illuminating the print. It becomes part of the piece because a viewer will always notice the photo and the texture together.