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Deciphering Photo Paper

Picking The Best Ink And Paper For Your Inkjet Printer
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Stepping up to true photo-quality artwork requires photographic paper, which you can generally break down into three groups.

  1. Matte Photo Paper
  2. High-Gloss Photo Paper
  3. Resin-Coated Photo Paper

Matte Photo Paper

Matte photo papers are better suited for well-lit environments or situations where you want the widest viewing angles. The lack of a glossy finish means that you're not going to get any glare (great for black and white pictures or a newspaper effect).

With that said, you need to understand the advantages and disadvantages.

Matte Photo Paper
Advantages
Disadvantages
Quick-drying because ink is absorbed into the paper pulp
Prone to light fade because there's no protective coat
Compatible with a wide range of printers and large pigment molecules will be directly absorbed into paper
Prints will feel light due to a lack of a paper base

Paper is easy to tear and crinkle

Images can appear less sharp due to absorption into pulp layer


High-Gloss Photo Paper

High-gloss photo paper feels more like a sheet of heavy stock matte paper than it does true photo paper. Generally speaking, it's cheaper than the best photo paper, but it offers more color vividness than matte photo paper.

List of High-Gloss Photo Paper

  • Epson Photo Paper Glossy
  • Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Glossy (high-gloss with base)
  • Canon Photo Paper Glossy
  • HP Premium Photo Paper Glossy
  • Kodak Photo Paper Gloss


High-Gloss Photo Paper
Advantages
Disadvantages
Relatively fast drying because ink settles in top layer
Still suffers from fade
Brighter white than matte photo paper
Some sharpness loss in pictures due to ink bleed
Semi-water resistant due to top coat
Not good for pigment inks
Heavier stock makes it easier to handle

Relatively cheap photo paper


Resin-Coated (RC) Photo Paper


Resin-coated photo paper is the most expensive of all photo papers, but it also gets you the best results. Not only are your prints waterproof, but they're also full of color and at their sharpest.

Resin-Coated Photo Paper
Advantages
Disadvantages
Sharpest detail
Expensive
Extreme vividness

Brighter white than matte photo paper
Waterproof

Good fade resistance

Near-perfect saturation

Resistant to tears and kinks


Not all resin-coated photo papers are created the same. For example, photo labs and kiosks where you submit digital images for later pick-up use wet-process photo paper. This is probably the best of the best in terms of quality, but it involves time-intensive process employing a darkroom and special equipment. Obviously, that isn't something you can do at home. But you can get close with paper you pull off the shelf. You just need to know the differences between the two types of resin-coated photo papers: swellable and porous.

Both types have a resin coat on the top and bottom, which makes prints waterproof. That's where the similarities end, though. Swellable resin-coated photo paper can only be used with dye-based inks, as pigments are too large to be absorbed. This allows swellable to be much glossier than porous paper. And since the ink is restricted to the top coat, the print is more resistant to abrasions or fade from airborne pollutants. The problem is that you need to wait several hours for the print to dry. If you handle the pictures while they're still wet, the dye smears and you end up with a blurry print.

Porous resin-coated photo paper actually refers to three sub-types: macro-, micro-, and nano-porous. All three have small pores that absorb ink, but they differ in the composition of the coating and size of the pore. Generally speaking, nano-porous photo paper appears glossier than the macro or micro papers. Smaller pores are difficult to produce, though, which is why nano-porous paper often costs more.

Regardless of pore size, you can use this paper with dye- and pigment-based inkjet printers, but the prints are not as glossy as what you get with swellable photo paper. Another problem is that the pores stay open, which leaves the print vulnerable to scratches, fading, and environmental contaminants.

Manufacturers often don't tell you if their paper is swellable or porous, but there's usually a clue or two in the description. Porous papers are advertised as "instant dry," while swellable papers are usually listed as "fast-drying" or "high-gloss."

Resin-Coated Photo Paper
Advantages
Disadvantages
Swellable
High image quality, very glossy
Less common, slow drying, incompatible with pigment inks
Porous
High image quality, near-instant dry times
Not as glossy as swellable, more sensitive to abrasion and fade
Traditional Wet-Process
Long life
Complicated to process


List of resin-coated photo paper:

  • Epson Premium Photo Paper Glossy (porous)
  • Epson Premium Photo Paper Semi-Gloss (porous)
  • Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster (porous)
  • HP Premium Plus Glossy Photo Paper (swellable)
  • HP Premium Plus Soft-Gloss Photo Paper (swellable)
  • HP Advanced Glossy Photo Paper (porous)
  • Canon Photo Paper Pro II (porous)
  • Canon Photo Paper Platinum (porous)
  • Canon Photo Paper Plus Glossy II (porous)
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