The Lowdown On Inkjet Paper; What You Need To Know, But Probably Never Asked Page 2
Contemporary Fiber-Based Papers
Shopping for photo gear and supplies today is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago. Today, if you are looking to find a 12-megapixel digital point-and-shoot you could go to a Best Buy or similar chain outlet--they all look pretty much alike whether in Sacramento, Denver, or Orlando--and you will find the same selection of camera brands at around the same prices. Even the sales personnel will be of about the same age and educational level and will be equally uninformed about what they are selling. This tedious sameness and lack of any significant choice (probably all of the 12-megapixel point-and-shoots have virtually the same sensor chip) pervades almost everything you might shop for--except inkjet paper.
Fiber-based paper for making fine photographic inkjet prints offers a great diversity of selection and printing performance typical of photo printing products two or three generations ago. In fact, you can do as much to stylize and personalize the look of an inkjet photo print by the selection of the paper it's printed on as you can individualize your image with Photoshop.
The selection in brands and kinds of fiber-based inkjet paper is enormous. Although I make a concerted effort to try as many as possible, I've barely scratched the surface and am constantly surprised by a new brand and type popping up from a company I've never heard of before. In fact, I think the worst disservice a photographer can do to one's print output is to relegate all images, whether a portrait or a landscape, color or black and white, to just one brand and type of paper.
However, making a selection can be confusing, and the paper companies and sellers don't help a lot by providing scant information about the products and virtually no support in understanding how and why papers differ. So, I will devote the remainder of this article to a bit about what's in inkjet fiber-based paper, how it's made, and to what I consider the most important performance attributes.
The base, sometimes referred to as substrate, for fiber-based inkjet paper
is made from either wood pulp or cotton rag, or a combination of the two. This
paper base applied to both source types can be finished in one of two ways,
with cold or hot rollers in the final stage. The hot press roller compression
results usually in a smoother and sometimes harder finish compared to cold press
papers. Besides either wood pulp or cotton rag as the base material, there is
usually a "sizing" agent which holds the fibers together to strengthen
the paper, included before final pressing (or calendaring) or as a coating afterward.
The common agent for adding strength and integrity to paper is a specially processed
cationic starch, usually derived from potatoes or corn. After the paper base
is finished a coating is applied to support inks applied by digital jet printers
to prevent bleeding into the base and enhance ink density. This usually consists
of one or more layers of a very finely refined clay, or kaolin. However, inkjet
paper technology is being advanced rapidly to include a wider variety of paper
surface finishes, including textured luster sheen as well as a high-gloss finish.
These newest paper coatings may also involve the use of polymers and microporous
coating similar to those developed for RC papers.
In addition, because of the higher material cost of cotton rag, there is ongoing refinement in paper bases made from wood pulp to make the printing performance more competitive with 100 percent cotton rag papers, which have been the print performance leaders. More and more photo inkjet papers utilize a base that is described as alpha cellulose, which is really just the highest degree that is practical in the removal of naturally occurring contaminates in a wood paper pulp that has already been processed to remove lignin. In other words, you have to assume that even ordinary plain paper made from pulp has undergone processing using various chemicals, including sodium hydrosulphite, caustic soda, chelating agents, methanol, sodium borohydride, peroxide, soda ash, sodium sulphite, and sodium metabisulphite to bleach and remove naturally occurring impurities.
Lignin is the component of wood which provides the plant strength, and is darkest and most obvious in very hard, dense woods like that used for furniture as opposed to the soft woods preferred for paper pulp. Nevertheless, even newsprint contains lignin that turns the paper a yellowish brown over time and with exposure to the atmosphere and light. In addition to the "natural" white brightness of an alpha cellulose paper as a matter of purity, papers designated "bright white" may also have artificial brighteners, or OBAs, some form of phosphor added to increase their reflective index when illuminated by light with a UV content.
In addition to the kind of base, whether alpha cellulose (wood) or cotton rag, whether cold or hot pressed paper, and the surface coating whether matte, luster, or glossy, as well as references to being acid-free and lignin-free, or whether natural or bright white, other dimensions of choice involve the paper weight and thickness. The most usual measure on labeling is the weight that is now typically stated metrically as gsm, or grams per square meter of size. Thickness is referred to as caliper and is expressed in so many thousandths of an inch, and may roughly correspond to the weight, but some papers that are thick may have a relatively low gsm, while another paper that is thinner, like a hot press paper, may have a fairly high gsm for its thickness. Most of the remaining attributes of difference like feel, whether soft and smooth or hard and toothy, or whether textured, like watercolor or very smooth, are more a matter of taste than they are effective dimensions of performance. How much of a D-max a paper can generate with a particular printer varies relative to the printer and ink, of course, and can be assessed after the fact by visual comparison or measured with a reflective densitometer.
How To Choose Inkjet Papers
There are a number of paper sellers on the Internet, in addition to local big city pro photo dealers that may stock a number of brands. Most paper companies offer swatch books, a book of small sheets a few inches square that provide a visual example of color, surface, texture, and weight of their selection of different papers--these sample books are usually provided free for the asking. In addition, for a nominal price, you can purchase a letter-size sample pack with two or more sheets of each paper a brand offers. Most major paper dealers and some brands also provide canned printer profiles for their papers with many popular models of inkjet printers, while some Internet dealers also provide custom profiling specifically for your printer at reasonable rates.
In other words, there is a well-supported basis for trying a variety of papers and discovering which ones you like and work best to complement your photographs. You will probably find that a selection of a few rather than just one is preferable if you print more than one kind of photo subject, like portraits, nature, and black and white landscapes. And with such diversity, you owe it to yourself, and your images, to give them a try.
Image And Paper Matches
The selection of a particular brand and type of inkjet printing paper should be made almost entirely on the basis of how the subject is rendered by a printer's output. Subject characteristics like color, internal contrast of lights and darks, as well as the intent involved in why the image was made all need to be considered. While each person's choice will of course be personal and subjective, I have included mine to give you some ideas about matters to consider when matching your images to the wide variety of papers available.
A Sampling Of Paper Companies And Contact Info
Hawk Mountain Papers: www.hawkmtnartpapers.com
Hiromi Paper International, Inc.: www.hiromipaper.com
Ink Press Paper: www.inkpresspaper.com
Innova Digital Art: www.innovaart.com
Inveresk (St Cuthberts Mill--Somerset): www.inveresk.co.uk
Legion Paper: www.legionpaper.com
Magiclee (Jet Set): www.magicinkjet.com
Mitsubishi Paper Mills Limited: http://web.infoweb.ne.jp/mpm/inkjet/english/index.html
Océ North America: www.oceusa.com/cp_printer_paper.html
Papierfabrik Schoellershammer: www.schoellershammer.de
Premier Imaging Products: www.premierimagingproducts.com
Red River Paper: www.redriverpaper.com
Sihl Digital Imaging: www.sihl.com
Internet Paper Sellers
In addition to the usual outlets photographers are familiar with, including B&H Photo-Video, Adorama, Samy's Camera, and Calumet Photographic, plus the printer manufacturers like HP, Canon, and Epson, there are a number of websites on the Internet that specialize in selling products for digital inkjet printer users. Some of these Internet sellers are the most knowledgeable about the products, because it's what they do--deal with inkjet paper and its users every day.
Booksmart Studio: www.booksmartstudio.com
Digital Art Supplies: www.digitalartsupplies.com
Freestyle Photographic Supplies: www.freestylephoto.biz/e_main.php
Printworks USA: www.printworks-usa.com