Digital Photo Paper Guide
A Guide to Different Types of Digital Printer Paper
In the digital world we live in, traditional media such as printed photographs plays second fiddle. When photographers look to print their work, the lack of readily available information makes it hard to decide on the correct type of digital photo paper. In this digital photo paper guide we will talk you through your options.
Printers use either liquid ink in the case of Ink-Jet printing technology or micro polymer powder in the case of laser printing technology. While both use the same principle of mixing four base colors to generate colorful images, the method of dispensing the color is different. It means that Inkjet photo paper will not suit laser printers and naturally the other way around.
Therefore you must first match the intended paper to your printer’s technology. Overwhelmingly, Inkjet is the choice of photographers who are serious about printing detailed images due to its ability to print at up to 2880dpi vs. 720dpi of most laser printers.
Photo Paper Size
The most common sizes are 13x18cm, A5 and A4 sizes. Other sizes to consider are the smaller photo lab size of 10x15cm and the commercial size of A3 (in which an A3 printer is required). It is imperative to match the size with the intended use to limit waste. The most common combinations of size and use include:
Photo Album Inserts - Sizes to consider are the 10x15cm (or 6×4”) and the 13x18cm (or 7×5”). Using an A5 sheet and trimming it to size will result in waste.
Invitation and Greeting Cards - Sizes to consider are A5 and A4. Each can be folded to allow for double sided effect, in such case you will end up with an A6 and A5 printing area.
Photo Reproduction - Sizes to consider are A5, A4 and A3 (double an A4 size). A5 and A4 will traditionally be framed and hung on the wall or placed on a desk, while the larger A3 size is normally wall mounted to become the focal point of attention on the wall.
Photo Paper Weight - GSM
Weight of digital photo papers is measured in GSM or in plain English, the weight of paper in one square meter of area. Contrary to what you might think, GSM does not equal quality of print. More often, higher GSM leads to thicker photo paper which at times can be beneficial.
For example, handing a greeting card to someone on thick GSM example feels more invested and luxurious, while on the other hand producing brochures to promote your business does not make sense on thicker higher GSM paper as it has a short lifespan and no keepsake value. The most common combinations of weight and use include:
100gsm to 150gsm Photo Papers - Printing on lighter weight paper is cheaper, therefore, work which has little future value such as a presentation, marketing charts and even commercial flyers are better printed on the more cost effective option.
150gsm to 200gsm Photo Papers - The industry loves to call these papers every day paper or value range because they will do for most photographers. Photo papers in this range are also safer alternatives when users are concerned about possible jamming problems that heavier weights can cause during the feeding stage. Take particular notice of this if you are using an old printer that has been through the hoops.
200gsm to 300gsm Photo Paper - These are used for photo reproduction, especially when the print is likely to be cherished i.e. has a high keepsake value. Most printers can safely accommodate up to 260gsm or 280gsm, above it, you are recommended to consult with your printer manual to check the maximum supported paper weight.
Photo Paper Brands
The biggest myth in the printing world has to be suitability of other makes to your printer. Your printer, whether Canon, HP, Epson or any other brand CAN accommodate other makes provided the printer technology is the same (Ink-Jet vs. Laser), size is supported (A3 being the abnormal size) and weight in GSM is not exceeded. Don’t limit your options.
Photo Paper Finish
After evaluating size and weight, comes the more creative part of deciding on the finish. Different manufactures use different descriptions to describe their finish, which can become confusing. The finish is a transparent chemical layer that affects the final look. It is measured on a glossiness scale, from the most to the least and those in-between.
Matt / Matte Finish - The easiest to come to terms with is the matt finish, simply because at has no glossiness about it. It is rarely used for colorful image reproduction as it comes across dull, though it has a rightful place when it comes to printing B&W images. In this case, the matt finish gives the B&W print more authentic look.
Satin / Semi-Gloss / Pearl / Luster Finish - Depending on the manufacturer you will come across one of the four terms when a balance between matt and glossy is required. These are closely related alternatives in which a degree of glare can be found.
Glossy Finish - In this case, the print will have a maximum level of glare. It is suitable in most cases, except in certain lighting conditions when the reflections of the print make the details hard to see. Particularly noticeable when glossy prints are framed behind glass and viewing takes place from the sides (imagine a gallery in which people congregate to view the print from all sides).
Photo Paper Quality
Quality of photo paper isn’t measured in GSM, nor by manufacturer and nor by how much you spent. It is measured in the quality of the receiving layer that is responsible to absorb the huge amount of ink your printers throws at it. Quality is measured in longevity of the print (before it yellows for example), how quickly the ink dries, how well the image details appear in the print and how close the colors are to true tones. The most common coatings are the cast coated and micro-porous.
Cast Coating - It is common in budget and everyday photo papers, as the chemical is cheaper to produce. Ink is absorbed both into the coating and the paper making it "sit" a little deeper in the paper. This makes the print comparatively slightly duller. The coating gives a lower UV protection to the ink and images printed on this type of paper will fade quicker. With some pigmented inks, there might be a slightly longer drying time although it is instantaneous on dye based ink systems.
Micro-porous Coating - This time, the ink sits within small pores in the chemical. These micro and nano pores are invisible to the eye and absorb dye and pigment inks. Further, it makes the print water resistant and instant dry. Colors are also better represented with deeper definition and due to the high concentration of ink at the face of the coating, UV stability of the image is enhanced.