Choosing a Print Paper for an Inkjet Printer

March 28, 2014

By Bruce Burkhardt

Choosing a Print Paper for an Inkjet Printer

In today’s world, viewing photographic images on electronic devises is becoming the norm. It is ironic, therefore, that most people still feel that viewing a large print beautifully matted and framed is the ultimate experience in studying a photograph. There is something about standing in front of a well lit, framed print on a wall which gives it a sense of value and importance. The exact same image on a telephone screen makes it feel cheap and disposable.

One of the most important variables in creating a beautiful print is choosing the right paper to help create the aesthetic for which you are going. There is a strong basis for experimenting with a variety of papers and discovering which ones you like and which work best to complement your images. I always recommend having a stable of different papers at the ready if you print more than one kind of photographic subject; fashion, tabletop, still life or black and white fine art. And with image diversity, it’s fun and rewarding to give different papers a try.

To help simplify things, inkjet papers come in two basic categories: “photo paper” for all of the varieties of RC ( resin/polyethylene coated ) paper, including high gloss, luster and semigloss; and “art paper,” which includes all of the better grade fiber-based non-RC coated matte and textured papers.

The popularity of polyethylene-coated papers comes from their look and feel, which simulates RC prints made in the old, traditional film/silver darkroom days. Glossy surfaces make for an apparent increase in contrast and detail. One aesthetic advantage is that the pigments don’t get absorbed into the base paper as much because of the coating, so they tend to reflect brighter or “more saturated“ colors. This is referred to as having a larger color gamut. Because of this, it may be a major consideration if the images you are printing feature highly saturated colors.

Art papers, on the other hand, offer a different dimension and feeling than photo papers. They are often thicker and heavier and sometimes textured. The base, sometimes referred to as substrate for these papers, is usually made from either wood pulp or cotton rag or a combination of both. They come in varying colors from bright white to very warm white. Choosing one over another sometimes is done because of a desire to have the highlights in an image be bright and clean or, conversely, muted and subtle. This variance is caused by the paper brightness. Texture is another consideration in an art paper as they can come in a range from very smooth surface mattes to very coarse, pebbled watercolor type paper.

Here are a few terms to help you understand better what is written on the box when choosing a paper.

I would suggest trying several different makes and surfaces of printing papers to find ones that suit your aesthetic. Almost all manufacturers offer sample packs, which include a selection of different papers. Collect a few different surfaces, both coated and uncoated, so that you can best pair an image and a paper. Most importantly, have fun printing!