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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Paper Chase - Selecting The Best Paper

One of the least considered, yet most used materials in the photographer's arsenal, a paper's fundamental construction can have a profound impact on how images print

The Paper Chase For most photographers, the ultimate goal is a print. When inkjet printing hit photo quality, the choices were very limited. Every manufacturer went to great pains to supply papers that mimicked traditional darkroom papers in an effort to lend a more legitimate feel to digital printing. Photographers didn't take long to try alternative media, though, looking for that perfect surface and finish that would bring out the best in their images.

Today, there's a wide variety of paper types available, but with choices come options. Along with choosing the right surface, you need to consider compatibility with your printer—is it too thick, does it work with dye or pigment ink? And perhaps the most critical question for pros who sell their work: what are the archival properties of the paper?

Paper Attributes

The most common attributes with papers are brightness, weight and surface. Brightness, sometimes referred to as whiteness, is the limiting factor of how white your brightest highlights will appear. Photo papers typically have brightness ratings in the mid to high 90s. In order to increase the apparent brightness of the paper, optical brightening agents (OBAs) are used in some papers, which has generated a great deal of discussion among printmakers over the quality and life of the print.

Weight, measured in grams per square meter (gsm), is an indication of the thickness of the paper. Typical photo papers run around 220 to 285 gsm, while photo rags are often in the 300 gsm range and fine-art papers are in the 300 to 400 gsm range. Before buying any paper, check your printer's specs for the thickness limit. Printers like those in the Epson and Canon series and the HP large-format printers that have a straight paper path will be able to handle thicker media than a printer that feeds in a curved path from a tray.

There's an amazing number of choices in surfaces. The paper manufacturers have gotten the message that digital printing doesn't need to mimic traditional photo printing, but can go well beyond what was possible in the darkroom. Along with the standard gloss, luster and matte finishes from silver-halide papers, a variety of textured surfaces are available to digital printers, especially those using pigment inks.


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