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All photo papers are not created equal. While there are many brands of paper that will lead to great prints, it is helpful to understand what you need in a paper to make that happen. There are several important factors to consider beyond the brand name.

*Brightness & Finish:

A paper’s brightness is normally determined by its smoothness. A coarse paper will scatter light in different directions, while smooth paper reflects more of the light back in the same direction. This makes the paper appear brighter, which in turn makes any image on the paper appear brighter. Any paper that is listed as being bright is generally a smoother-than-normal paper. The finish may be described as high gloss, gloss, softgloss, or semi-gloss. Each of these terms reflects the amount of shine. Satin is a less shiny-coated finish. That said, some coarse papers are brighter than others. I find Epson’s Enhanced Matte (used to be called Archival Matte) to be very white.

*Absorption:

When the printer sprays ink onto the paper, it should stay in a tight, symmetrical dot. If the ink is absorbed too much into the paper, the dot will spread out in an irregular fashion to cover a slightly larger area than the printer expects it to. The result is a fuzzy page. The coating on photo papers gives you the look and feel of photographic prints.

How does this information help you pick the right paper? Think about how bright or white you want your image to be. Some fine art printers prefer a slightly yellow paper. Others prefer white. Determine which you like and then use the brightness rating to select a paper. Then look for papers that have a low absorption rate.

One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re getting the right paper for your photo printer is to use the paper the manufacturer suggests. While I have tried and used many photo papers, I often find myself being drawn back to the Epson papers. They just produce superb results in my Epson printer. Chances are that if you use a Canon or HP printer, you’ll have the same experience when using the papers recommended for those printers.

There are of course exceptions. Many paper companies make premium papers that work as well or better in inkjet printers than the manufacturer’s papers. But the ones that work best tend to cost more.

Cheap office supply paper is the worst thing you could put in your printer, both in terms of maintenance issues and print quality. Avoid it at all costs. Stick with name-brand photo papers unless you have a good reason to switch.

Join the conversation! 16 Comments

  1. Scott:

    Thanks for posting this. I am starting to look into printers and I really have no idea where to start. This gives me some good info to consider at least wit the paper.

    Where does one go to find reviews and sources for photographic printers? There aren’t any places in my area that handle anything other than office color ink printers that “can” print photos, but I doubt that’s what I want…right?

    Thanks.

    Matt

  2. Scott:

    Thanks for posting this. I am starting to look into printers and I really have no idea where to start. This gives me some good info to consider at least wit the paper.

    Where does one go to find reviews and sources for photographic printers? There aren’t any places in my area that handle anything other than office color ink printers that “can” print photos, but I doubt that’s what I want…right?

    Thanks.

    Matt

  3. This might be a little off-topic from the paper, but Matt started it. ;-)…

    I have a Epson 2000P I got soon after it’s release. I used it quite a bit at first and then not at all. I’ve started trying to use it again, but man, it is a finicky beast. I will have to print images multiple times as it will put a streak in every once in a while or not blled off the side of the paper or any number of things. There don’t seem to be updated drivers for it for Vista, so maybe that is my whole problem.

    I’m sure it’s out of warranty, so I’m concerned a service call on it will cost me as much as a new printer. I’ve considered getting a new Epson as I read (here and elsewhere) they lead the pack, but I’m concerned that I will just have to replace it when the next new Epson comes out and they stop updating drivers, run out of warranty, etc.

    Sorry for the long post….but again, Matt started it.

  4. This might be a little off-topic from the paper, but Matt started it. ;-)…

    I have a Epson 2000P I got soon after it’s release. I used it quite a bit at first and then not at all. I’ve started trying to use it again, but man, it is a finicky beast. I will have to print images multiple times as it will put a streak in every once in a while or not blled off the side of the paper or any number of things. There don’t seem to be updated drivers for it for Vista, so maybe that is my whole problem.

    I’m sure it’s out of warranty, so I’m concerned a service call on it will cost me as much as a new printer. I’ve considered getting a new Epson as I read (here and elsewhere) they lead the pack, but I’m concerned that I will just have to replace it when the next new Epson comes out and they stop updating drivers, run out of warranty, etc.

    Sorry for the long post….but again, Matt started it.

  5. @Scott: The photo of the bird. It looks like there was a post-production blurred on the foreground (maybe background, too). Is that correct?

  6. @Scott: The photo of the bird. It looks like there was a post-production blurred on the foreground (maybe background, too). Is that correct?

  7. Scott, I hope this is the first of several blogs on paper. The basics are nice, but it would be nice to continue the disscussion, such as what might be good papers for B&W, or to reproduce the look of film color prints or slides. What type of paper may be better for portraits, wildlife, landscapes, buildings… etc. Maybe even how different paper manufactures may specialize in different looks. I understand you can get sample packs and try all this, but it would be helpful to have a viewpoint that might help the less experienced. If these types of discussions already exsist then maybe a pointer the right direction is all that is needed. Thanks again

  8. Scott, I hope this is the first of several blogs on paper. The basics are nice, but it would be nice to continue the disscussion, such as what might be good papers for B&W, or to reproduce the look of film color prints or slides. What type of paper may be better for portraits, wildlife, landscapes, buildings… etc. Maybe even how different paper manufactures may specialize in different looks. I understand you can get sample packs and try all this, but it would be helpful to have a viewpoint that might help the less experienced. If these types of discussions already exsist then maybe a pointer the right direction is all that is needed. Thanks again

  9. I second Scott’s recommendation. I love Epson’s Enhanced Matte, Brilliant Watercolor, and Satin photo papers. I’ve had moderate success with Ilford and Red River papers too. Just be sure to buy paper that is meant for your inks… dye or pigment based. That maked a world of difference. for my dye-based Canon i9900. I know lots of photographer’s who have used Staples photo papers and sell them to clients, either for portrait, wedding or fine art photography. While I have used these papers for my personal use, I would never use them for business. Both tacky and not great quality.

  10. I second Scott’s recommendation. I love Epson’s Enhanced Matte, Brilliant Watercolor, and Satin photo papers. I’ve had moderate success with Ilford and Red River papers too. Just be sure to buy paper that is meant for your inks… dye or pigment based. That maked a world of difference. for my dye-based Canon i9900. I know lots of photographer’s who have used Staples photo papers and sell them to clients, either for portrait, wedding or fine art photography. While I have used these papers for my personal use, I would never use them for business. Both tacky and not great quality.

  11. @mark no post and let’s stay on topic please.

  12. @mark no post and let’s stay on topic please.

  13. In the early inkjet days, it seems it was a lot easier to pull off okay prints on other than brand papers. Nowadays, varying from the printer mfg’s papers seems to be a fairly certain course to poor printouts to near print head damage.
    As much as I resent being strong armed into using the mfg’s branded inks and papers (read pricey), at least they work as promised, and generally deliver simply stunning prints…lightyears better than what I used to get from the lab anyways.
    All hail the digital photography era!! :grin:

  14. In the early inkjet days, it seems it was a lot easier to pull off okay prints on other than brand papers. Nowadays, varying from the printer mfg’s papers seems to be a fairly certain course to poor printouts to near print head damage.
    As much as I resent being strong armed into using the mfg’s branded inks and papers (read pricey), at least they work as promised, and generally deliver simply stunning prints…lightyears better than what I used to get from the lab anyways.
    All hail the digital photography era!! :grin:

  15. I know the magazine is designed more with the newcomer in mind and as a result is not as useful for the more serious “prosumers” and professionals, but there were a few excellent articles on how to select papers for your printer a while back in PCPhoto. I wrote an essay myself on the subject which referenced those and other resources as a reference guide for a regional photo club. That article is available for free at the photo club’s website: http://www.scphotogs.com/articles/printingpictures.pdf

    Enjoy!

  16. I know the magazine is designed more with the newcomer in mind and as a result is not as useful for the more serious “prosumers” and professionals, but there were a few excellent articles on how to select papers for your printer a while back in PCPhoto. I wrote an essay myself on the subject which referenced those and other resources as a reference guide for a regional photo club. That article is available for free at the photo club’s website: http://www.scphotogs.com/articles/printingpictures.pdf

    Enjoy!

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About scottbourne

Founder of Photofocus.com. Retired traveling and unhooking from the Internet.

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