So you’ve taken a stack of holiday pictures, and you print them at home because the digital camera has killed the traditional photo development industry and… your photo comes out awful.
The ink has smooshed all over the page, the colours are dull, and it just looks unprofessional. The pictures look fine on the computer, you had your printer set up right, what’s the problem? The problem is paper. When choosing paper for printing photographs, it’s pretty much vital to choose the right kind of paper for the job. The right type of paper will almost never be normal copier paper.
These are some factors to consider when looking at photo paper.
Is this the right paper for my printer?
You may need different types of paper depending on whether you are using an inkjet or laser printer. Paper formulated for laser printers won’t perform well if you’re using an inkjet printer, and paper formulated for inkjet printers may actually damage your laser printer. Make sure that your paper type matches your printer! Inkjet printers also need a bit more specific matching, because the printers may use dye or pigment ink, and if you use paper formulated for dye in a pigment printer, bad things happen.
Some printers may require special setup to print on paper that isn’t from their own manufacturer, and usually you will need to discover this through trial and error. If you’re not a hundred percent sure what you’re doing, and if it’s a possibility, you should probably stick to the paper recommended by the printer manufacturer. You’ll be able to tell which one that is because, in most cases, the brand of paper recommended by the printer’s manufacturer will have their logo on it. If you don’t like the recommended brand, or don’t want to pay an arm and a leg for it, choose another with similar properties and you will probably be okay after a bit of fiddling with the settings.
So, step 1 of choosing paper is to know your printer: know what kind of printer it is, what kind of ink it uses if it uses ink, and what kind of paper it accepts.
Is this the kind of paper I want?
Photo paper comes in a wide variety of formats which vary in almost every particular, from coating to weight. It would be helpful to decide before you go shopping what kind of paper you are looking for. Are you looking for thick, solid paper or are you looking for something a bit lighter? The paper weight or GSM is how you measure the thickness of paper – the higher the GSM, the more sturdy your paper will be. 240 GSM is a good start if you’re not sure – 240GSM photo paper will feel sturdy, like a real photo from the days before digital photos and at-home printing.
Are you looking for a glossy or a matte finish? Metallic or Satin? Glossy-finish photo paper will be sharp and bright, while matte will give you a softer finish. There’s an option called semi-gloss as well, which is a good choice if you are trying to replicate the feel of a traditional photograph. If you want to do black-and-white photography, you could do worse than going with a matte finish, which gives that really old-fashioned look.
If possible, ask if you can see some examples of the same photograph printed on the different types of paper, so that you can judge for yourself. Remember that the finish will also affect the feel of the finished photograph, so ask to touch it to make sure that it’s what you want.
Colour or brightness can be a tricky question. Mostly you will be safe going with the whitest, brightest paper you can find, unless you’re making something that is intended to last for decades. If you want your grandchildren to see the same picture you do, consider the professional’s choice, which is a vanilla-like colour that doesn’t have any bleaches or dyes that will react with your ink over the years.
Do I need archival paper?
Archival paper is free from chlorine and acid. That’s it, no negotiation, no take-backs. Over time, both these ingredients will react with the ink, the paper, and the air, to eventually destroy your photograph. If you want to make sure that your pictures last, make sure that your paper is archive-quality. If it’s just printing off a few pictures to show around at a party, of course, that doesn’t matter, and you can feel free to ignore this last part.
This is especially true because the whitest paper, which makes for the brightest photographs, will usually contain some kind of bleach, which means that in a few years that photo will be nothing but a vague blur.
And that’s it! Those are all the factors you need to consider when choosing paper for photographs. Good luck!