The Ultimate Guide to Inkjet Photo Paper

Photographers often spend a great deal of time perfecting their technique, investing in lighting, lenses and other digital equipment, but fail to recognize the important role that image printing will have on their work. This is particularly true when hardcopy work is handed to a client or even when work is wall or desk mounted for personal use. In this guide we aim to explain the various factors and technologies which impact the print.

Inkjet printers are traditionally the choice of photographers looking to print their work. Its colour palette, true sub-tones and 1440 DPI (at the least) far exceed the capabilities of laser printers when it comes to photo print quality.

Ink Type:


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The world of Inkjet ink is divided into original and compatible inks and in many occasions each further types are available based on dye or pigment technology. This is where many photographers find it difficult to choose which type to use.

Dye Based Inks – The main substance in the cartridge is liquid solution in the form of water. Elements dissolve in this liquid like sugar dissolved in water. It means that the end product is particle free liquid ink hence ‘dye based’. The lack of particles makes for a smoother print in which colour palette and wider sub-tones are more vividly presented. Furthermore, while any photographic paper will support dye based inks, a much smaller number will support pigment based inks as well.

Pigment Based Inks – The main substance in the cartridge is pigment particles in the form of microscopic, powder like elements that do not dissolve. The end product is thicker liquid ink. Pigment based inks are immune to the effect that UV light may impose on printed images so durability and anti-fading properties are better. Furthermore, pigment based inks have better waterproof qualities so work which is displayed outdoors will benefit from better durability when exposed to the elements.

Photo Paper Sizes:

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There are common preset sizes for photo paper depending on the intended use. Photo albums carry 6×4” and 7×5” sizes (you may also come across them as 10x15cm and 13x18cm) which are intended to fit a photo album without the need to crop the print. Wall and desk mounted work is traditionally displayed using A5 and A4 sizes, with A4 being precisely twice the size of an A5 sheet. Posters, calendars and photo gallery exhibition prints are often printed in A3 size (twice the size of an A4 sheet) or A3+ size which is a slightly bigger version of A3. A common mistake to make is sourcing an A3 sheet without checking that the printer can accommodate this size or sourcing an A3+ size thinking it is a normal A3 size sheet.

Photo Paper Finish:

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Each of the mentioned sizes is available in a number of finishes measured in a glossiness scale. Different manufactures use different terminology, which makes the job of choosing your desired finish, complicated somewhat.

Glossy Finish – Of the various options, the glossy option is the most widely used, often because other options are poorly described. Glossy will bring out the finer details in the print and has a very commercial nature. However in certain lighting conditions and from certain angles the glare from the finish can make it difficult to see the print well.

Satin Finish – Satin is a finish includes a level of glossiness though to lesser degree. Variations of satin according to the particular manufacturer are available as Pearl, Luster and Semi-Gloss. To all intense and purpose, they are variations of satin. These are better when mounted behind glass or where viewed at an angle.

Matt Finish – The only finish that does not include glossiness is the matt finish. It makes the photo paper slightly cheaper to produce so will often be used in bulk printing such as photo brochure printing. Interestingly, in recent years it has been widely adopted for the purpose of artistic printing (especially in black and white) due to its less commercial more realistic visual affect in black and white.

Photo Paper Technology:
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Regardless of the manufacturer whether it is Epson, Canon, HP or niche suppliers, photo paper use one of two technologies to accommodate large amounts of ink. This technology is called the ‘receiving layer’ and it is one of the features that differentiate between true photo paper and normal copier paper. The two are cast coated and pore based.

Cast Coated – The cast coated receiving layer is often used for budget models of photo papers such as those designed for day-to-day use. The chemical coating sits on the paper making it susceptible to smearing because it isn’t always instant dry. Cast coated works with both dye based and pigment bases inks.

Pore Based – Micro and Nano porous receiving layer is used for professional models in which archival properties are important. Contrary to cast coated, in this case the ink is contained within microscopic pores in the chemical which makes the print instant dry and reduced fading over time.

Photo Paper Weight:

The last consideration that most photographers will make is deciding on the weight of the paper. Weight of paper is measured in GSM and relates to the density of paper in one square meter. Heavier weight photo papers feel heavier to touch, but will not affect the quality of the print as much as ink type and receiving layers will. Options for weight vary from 120g to 300g and before opting for the heavier weights, check that your printer can accommodate this weight or else face possible jamming problems.

Enjoy printing your work.

Joseph EitanJoseph Eitan is the M.D of Photo Paper Direct, an online brand dedicated to all that is photographic paper and printed media. For over 25 years, Joseph has been involved in the small and large format printing industry.

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Author: Mark

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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