Inks designed and produced by the leading printer manufacturers, including Canon, Epson and Hewlett-Packard, are unique and exhibit distinct qualities that impact color, tone and print life. Available in a variety of surfaces, these papers can include glossy, matte, satin or luster finishes that deliver distinct looks.
A glossy finish results in prints with bright, saturated colors, for example, while a matte surface delivers more muted colors with less contrast. The exact same image file will look very different as a result. Even different papers that are labeled as “glossy” will deliver different appearances because of varying degrees of whiteness and the quality of the finish.
There’s no “best” paper, but if you want consistent results with no fuss, it’s best to stick with paper from the printer manufacturer. The software drivers that come with the printer include profiles that you’ll select when setting up your print. This will optimize the ink output for the selected paper.
Papers from third-party manufacturers can deliver great prints as well, with results that may not be available from the printer manufacturer. Specialty papers that include canvas, watercolor or silk often appeal to photographers who want to bring a fine-art quality to their photographs.
Although some of these papers use preexisting profiles, others feature paper profiles that can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s Website. These profiles are printer-specivid and deliver greater color and tonal accuracy than those using generic profiles. Be sure to check for these profiles online when you use third-party papers.
There are four key characteristics to consider when choosing a paper for a particular image. These elements make a huge difference in the final look and durability of your photograph.
Weight . Weight reflects a paper’s thickness. A heavier paper is more durable and can withstand greater handling. Many photographers will prefer a heavier weight paper that compares to those used in traditional printing. It’s important to make sure that the thickness of the paper doesn’t exceed the maximum allowable by your printer, however. Top-loading printers that use a straight paper path generally can accept heavier papers than front-loading models, which pass the paper over a roller in the printing process.
Whiteness. The whiteness of a paper has a dramatic effect on the color balance of your print, as well as the neutrality of black-and-white prints. Compare two different papers of the same surface type, and you’ll notice a difference in the color of the paper. Although some papers are rated for whiteness, photographers often must depend on direct comparisons to decide which paper best suits their needs. If achieving a neutral cast to your color or monochrome printing is important to you, it’s best to choose as white a paper as possible.
Surface . The surface of the paper has a direct impact on how the ink reacts to the paper. Papers that are specifically intended for use with inkjet printers are designed to handle the native qualities of the inks, including their absorption characteristics. Matte surfaces absorb more ink than do glossy papers, and the final look of the image is impacted as a result. Because of its smooth, uniform surface, glossy paper provides strong colors and contrast.
Archival. The latest generation of inks offer decades of fade-resistance, but that duration is dependent on the paper used to print the photograph. Increasingly, more and more papers are sold that promise archival quality, but there’s no industry-accepted standard for measuring this. Although paper from the printer manufacturers likely will deliver the promised longevity when used with compatible inks, this may not be the case with some third-party papers. If fade-resistance is important, we suggest visiting Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com), an in-dependent organization that tests inks and papers for lightfastness, and posts results on its Website.