How To Get The Most Out Of Your Photo Printing Paper

Third-party inkjet media come in a wide range of textures, weights, and other characteristics.

If you have a Canon, Epson, or HP inkjet printer and you use Canon, Epson, or HP ink­jet papers with it, you'll get more or less predictable results. Each printer's driver is expecting its own company's papers, and its inks are made to interact with them. That's great -- unless you want to mix it up and print on any of a huge variety of interesting third-party inkjet papers.

In the chemical darkroom, unless you're will­ing to invest time and effort hand-coating paper with light-sensitive emulsion, your choices of both surface and image tone are increasingly limited. But one of the advantages of inkjet printing is that you can print on almost any surface thin enough to fit through your printer. Products from independent inkjet paper makers include everything from reflective metallic and cloth canvas surfaces to heavyweight matte.

When you find a paper that piques your interest, how do you make it work with your printer? You probably won't find third-party offerings pre-installed in your printer's menu of paper profiles, which auto­matically tell the printer how to distribute its ink for best results.

A third-party paper may come with a recommendation that you set the driver to a specific, often similar paper in the printer company's own line, which will appear in the driver's pull-down menu. And some third-party paper makers offer downloadable profiles for their products on their Websites; these can be automatically installed into your printer driver so that the paper appears as a choice in the menu. When you have no profile or recommendation to start with, make your first test print with plain paper selected in the driver. That low-flow setting may provide more than enough ink for a good print.

Even if your system is color-managed, you'll probably have to do more tests than with paper from your printer company. The cost of these papers varies widely. The least expensive are often affordable alternatives to basic papers made by your printer's manufacturer. Fine-art papers are pricier, since you're paying in part for archivally sound ingredients; metallic or coated-fabric surfaces will be more expensive too. But all of these materials can be purchased on the Web, so search to find the best price.

Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl: Designed to feel like an RC (resin-coated) paper straight out of the old-fashioned fixer, this inkjet photo paper features the Ilford Pearl surface that has charmed so many darkroom denizens. Its microceramic coating means it dries instantly, with no streaking. Buy It

Kodak Professional Inkjet Photo Paper, Lustre Finish: Thick and sturdy, this surface of Kodak Professional paper has a photo paper base and a wide color gamut that remind us of the company's wet-process papers. Downloadable profiles make it easier to color-manage, especially with Epson printers. Buy It

Moab Entrada Fine Art 300 Natural: This coated archival paper incorporates no optical brighteners -- whitening agents that can decompose over time and affect image quality. All cotton, it is matte-surface, warm-toned, double-sided, and comes in two weights, a heavy, thick 300 gsm and a lighter 190 gsm. Buy It

Crane Museo II Archival Double Sided Paper: Made entirely from cotton rag processed with artesian water, this paper incorporates no optical brighteners. But the company says it produces the whitest whites and densest blacks of any non­brightened paper when used with Epson's UltraChrome inks. It is actually double-sided, with one side smooth and the other velvet-textured. Buy It

Innova 280gsm Photo FibaPrint: This ultra-smooth, acid-free, "Fourdrinier made" paper is made the old-fashioned way -- the Fourdrinier brothers' machine was patented in 1803 -- and its surface is very much like that of black-and-white fiber-based silver papers. It's available in sizes ranging from 8.5x11 sheets to 24-inch-wide rolls (each 49.2 feet long), and it also comes in a heavier, natural-white, museum-quality version. Buy It

Hahnemühle Torchon: The coarse texture of this matte paper makes it an excellent choice for experiments with getting photographs to look like paintings, or for printing arty portraits in the Julia Margaret Cameron mold. It's coated, bright white, and water-resistant. Buy It

Bergger High Definition Fine Art Satin Smooth Inkjet Paper: Arches has long been known for the quality of its artists' printmaking and water­color papers. When Bergger applies its inkjet coating to Arches paper, the resulting stock works with both dye- and pigment-based inks, providing a very smooth result. Buy It

Lumijet Canvas Cloth Media: This is one of the few "canvas" inkjet surfaces that's actually coated fabric, which means you can mount the finished print on a painting stretcher if you like. Printing on canvas takes practice; be sure to start with the plain-paper setting to use as little ink as possible. If you want a smoother, more flexible material, try the Lumijet line's coated Belgian Linen. Buy It

Legion Somerset Enhanced Velvet: Available in sheets and rolls up to 60 inches wide, this archival paper has an excellent reputation among photographers who like to make large prints. But unlike most such high-end papers, it also comes in a 4x6-inch sheet size, for those who prefer to work on a small scale -- or simply want to share their snapshots in style. Buy It

Lyson Pro Photo Gloss: The gloss of tradition­al darkroom papers is one of the hardest properties to match with ink­jet printing. Lyson's pro-level entry does this well. It's resin-based, so it feels like a traditional print, and it works with both dye and pigment inks. If your printer uses dye-based inks, and you'd prefer a fiber-based print, try Legion's Darkroom Archival Gloss. Buy It

Size Matters

Here's what those inkjet-paper designations mean

Once you've settled on the kind of paper you want, you have to pick the size. In the silver-halide darkroom the four most popular sheet sizes were 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, and 16x20. But because inkjet printer companies got their start making office machines, inkjet photo paper comes in workaday sizes such as letter and legal -- designated with a baffling system of letter and number combinations. (In fact, the traditional 5x7, 11x14, and 16x20 sizes have been lost in transition.) Here's some help translating U.S. and metric inkjet paper desig­nations into old-fashioned inches.

U.S. SIZES
A (Letter) 8.5x11 inches
Legal 8.5x14 inches
B (Ledger) 11x17 inches
Super B (same as metric A3+) 13x19 inches
C 17x22 inches
D 22x34 inches
(no letter designations for 4x6, 8x10, or 8x12)

METRIC SIZES
A5 5.8x8.3 inches
A4 8.3x11.7 inches
A3 11.7x16.5 inches
A3+ (same as U.S. Super B) 13x19 inches
A2 16.5x23.4 inches
A1 23.4x33.1 inches

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