Photo Paper Tutorial For The Professional Photographer

Photo Paper Tutorial

Nowadays a great number of photos retain their digital identity. Digital technology is used to capture and store images, while digital innovation allows for easy sharing. In spite of all this, many images are printed on hard copy and learning to better your photographic skills, should encompass better understanding of the printed world. In this tutorial we aim to cover the most important aspects of printing your work to the highest quality.

Photo Paper Size – Photo papers are available on a small number of sizes designed to cater for different purposes. Some are designed to print photographic brochures, others to simply fit into an off the shelf photo album. It is important to get familiarize with the various sizes as matching the correct size to the print work means that you are not over spending. Common sizes include:

  •  6×4” and 7×5” – These are very similar to 10x15cm and 13x18cm so you may come across either of the sizes. The two are designed to fit into standard photo album without the need to crop the print. 
  • A5 and A4 – Perhaps the most popular size for the professional photographer is the A4 size.  This and its smaller A5 size (half an A4 precisely) is often framed for keepsake. Both could be cropped should you decide to fit the print into a standard photo album, though highly unadvisable due to excess waste.
  • A3 and A3 + – A3 is precisely twice the size of an A4 sheet and used by printers that can cater for this unusual size. While A3 is twice an A4 size, the next level A3+ or oversized A3 is often used to accommodate notes around an A3 size image. Both are exclusivity used by commercial businesses.

Type Of Printer – The printer you possess will determine the type of photo paper you should obtain. Printers use either Inkjet or Laser technology to generate colour onto the paper. Because each uses a different method to lay out the ink (laser uses static to position powder on the paper and Inkjet uses liquid ink), a paper designed for Inkjet should not be used in a laser printer and naturally the other way around. Most photographer use Inkjet as this technology allows for higher DPI and colours are closer to reality.  Laser printers are limited to a maximum resolution of 720dpi which is sufficient on normal print paper for quick document printing, but for images you would be looking at higher 1440dpi (and above) supported by Inkjet.

Photo Paper Quality – You may come across photo paper brands using superlatives such as premium, high quality, heavyweight and other magnifying terms, but what actually constitutes ‘quality’ is often misunderstood.  Quality is basically how well the images print and the longevity of the work before colours fade. It refers to the type of receiving layer, the type of ink and weight of the paper measured in GSM.

  • Receiving Layer – In order to accommodate ink without allowing the ink to bleed, photo papers use a barrier or receiving Layer. Better or worse receiving layers will impact how stable to colours are, water resistance, instant dryness and cockling (waves on the paper cause by over inking).  Premium papers use PE coating, which is an amalgamation of normal paper pressed between two layers of polyethylene on both sides. Budget or lower quality papers use cast coating and the photo paper will only come in a glossy finish. Quality of course, varies between different manufacturers and some will provide better quality imaging than the others.
  • Type Of Ink – Many inkjet printers can support either pigment or dye based ink. Pigment inks, which are made from carrier liquid and tiny pigment particles, offer better UV light resistance and better any fading properties. However, dye based inks which are made from water-soluble dye offer higher colour gamut so the choice to type of inks often revolves around the aim of the print.

Artist See Differently by ~Xayias

Paper Weight – The weight of each sheet is measured in units of product density (g/m²). GSM short for grams per square meter varies from 120gsm to 300gsm or even heavier in the case of art papers. Normal printer paper for comparison uses only 80gsm. While the type of receiving layer and type of ink will play a role in the quality of the paper, weight is an important indication of quality. Generally speaking, the higher the weight is, the higher its quality is.

Final Notes – Your final decision when sourcing photo paper is to decide on the type of finish. Your options vary from that with the most glare (glossy) to a photo paper without (matt). In between you will find satin and its sub-finish options of pearl and lustre. The finish of choice is often down to personal choice and the visual representation you wish to achieve.