Deciding On Suitable Photographic Paper

In recent years greater and greater attention has been given to technology and techniques that allow the capture and editing of high quality images. Little has been discussed in the way of printing techniques and photographic papers despite the fact that many photos are constantly printed. In this guide to photographic papers we aim to address the recent progress in printed media.


Paper Manufactures – Many photographers unintentionally limit their choice of suitable papers by settling on the photographic paper made by their brand of printer because they mistakenly think it is the only paper that will work.

The truth is that printer manufacturers do not produce photographic papers themselves. It is the work of external companies who specialize in the chemical knowhow that is required to produce these papers. In some cases your printer manufacturer might have a suitable solution, in other cases you will be limiting your potential by overlooking specialized suppliers such as ILFORD, Innova, Hahnemühle and many other suppliers who offer universal printer suitability and high quality media often at a fraction of thebranded option.

Main Point – On occasion you should broaden your search to brand and non-branded alternatives.

Inkjet Vs. Laser Printers – Accurate prints with wide colour palette and true sub-tones are achieved using Inkjet rather than Laser ink technology. To spread colour, Inkjet uses liquid ink that is forced by way of a powerful jet onto the paper. This method as opposed to polymer-based powder that is used in laser technology allows for higher DPI and greater accuracy. Laser printers are fantastic at printing documents in a much quicker manner, but at maximum 720DPI they lack the wide tonal capability that photographic images require.

inkjet printer

Main Point – Accurate photographic printing results are only available using Inkjet technology

Inkjet Photographic Paper Coating– Suppliers of photographic papers differ in quality based on the chemical coating that is used to accommodate the ink. If you have ever attempted to print an image onto a normal non-coated paper you must have quickly noticed that the paper became situated with ink and received a wave life look. It is also likely that the image quality was poor and if you look at the results after a matter of months, the image will have likely faded away.

Photographic papers benefit from a chemical layer called the receiving layer which is designed to accommodate the ink without bleeding, smudging and has a certain level of archival properties. The most common types of receiving layers are cast-coated and micro-porous.

Coat Coated–This coating technology uses a chemical that sits on the surface of a normal printer paper. While printing results will often look satisfactory at first, the fresh print is often susceptible to smearing as it sits on the surface. The coat-coated technology is an older technology, which is used nowadays in budget photographic paper lines.

Micro-Porous – Micro and nano-porous technology uses a chemical on a PE based paper that can accommodate the ink within micro or nanoporous, thereby making it possible to hold the print straight after it was printed. The micro-porous coating will provide a better colour definition with a deeper, more solid black than the cast-coated layer.  PE paper as opposed to the base paper used in the previous coat-coating technology is an amalgamation of normal paper pressed between two layers of polyethylene on both sides. It means that the print result is better resistant to water, humidity, smearing and overall has better archival properties (archival in paper is the duration in time before the prints display signs of fading or yellowing).

Main Point – When evaluating your options between various suppliers, look the type of receiving layer that is used

Inkjet Paper Weight – Each photographic sheet is available in varied weight measured in GSM. Short for ‘grammes per square meter’, unit GSM is a measurement of paper density that makes the paper feel lighter or heavier to touch. Together with a suitable receiving layer, higher GSM will indicate better quality, however many printers are limited in the max GSM that they can safely feed without compromising the image quality and without damaging the printer in the process. There is little gain in trying to print on a 300gsm heavyweight paper if the printer struggles to feed it, as it will lead to inaccuracy.

Main Point – Choose a suitable weight that your printer can accommodate to benefit from the accuracy in Inkjet

Photographic Paper Finish – Until now, most of the steps in this guide are practical steps designed to ensure you have a good base on which to build print on. Choosing the finish is where you are allowed to think creatively, though some practical considerations should be taken into account. The three common finishes are glossy, satin (and its variations) and matt.

Glossy – The glossy finish photo paper is the most widely used. As the descriptive name suggests, it include a glossy layer, which is essentially a high glare.  Print definition is fantastic provided lighting conditions are optimal. In bright conditions and from certain angles, the print is hard to see.

Satin – Satin include a level of glare, but not to the extent of glossy photo paper. It also includes variations such as pearl and luster, which are satin papers with a slightly different level of glare and different texture. Some suppliers call their line of satin ‘semi-gloss’.

Matt – Matt or Matte as some photographers call it, does not include any level of glare. It is often used for black and white prints to achieve an artistic look.

If you have any questions, leave your comment below.

Joseph Eitan M.D of He has been working in the professional printing industry for over 25 years helping amateur and professional photographers source photographic papers suitable for their needs.

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