Printing your photos can turn into a struggle if you don’t know what you’re doing. Colour profiles, size, resolution and file format affect your final image.
It is always better to go to professional print labs to finalise your photos. Especially if you rarely print.
If you do decide to print from home, your printer and photo printing paper becomes crucial.
This article will help you choose the best photo printing paper for your images.
[ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
Your choice of printer is going to be one of the most important aspects of printing your own images.
There are many types of printer you could use, but only two are suitable for professional photo printing. These are inkjet and dye-sublimation.
Inkjet printers print by spraying small droplets of ink pigments on a sheet of paper. This is a controlled action. Dynamic colouring effect comes from varying the amount of ink sprayed from each colour cartridge.
Print quality depends on many things like the printer and its capacity, resolution, and compatibility. But, the most crucial factor that influences the final outcome is the paper. If you don’t choose the right paper, your photos won’t look good.
An inkjet printer uses a printer cartridge that creates an image that is 300 x 300 dpi (dots per inch). Most printer cartridge brands do not create a resolution that is true “photo quality”.
The Epson SureColor P600 is a good inkjet option.
A dye-sublimation printer is a type of thermal transfer printer. Heat is what makes the process work. The print head generates heat. It applies it to a specifically prepared ribbon that contains special pigments.
Upon application of heat, the ink on the ribbon gets vaporised and sticks to the paper. Since it uses controlled heat, print density is modifiable to a minuscule level. With this, smooth gradations appear. This process is called sublimation. The solid present here directly converted to gas. It doesn’t reach a liquid state.
The inks applied here are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and overcoat. The pigmentation used is different from inkjet printers. These colours fuse with the material of which it sublimates.
These printers can print at 5760 x 1440 dpi, with 16.77 million different colours. It can also print 256 shades of one colour on one single dot with a square resolution.
That means the colour is the same on both sides. The inkjet does not have this capability.
Sublimation printers are more suitable for technical photography printing. These are the best choices for ID cards, lots of wedding photos or anything related to cost-effectiveness.
These printers are fast, and you can print in bulk. But, the machines cost more, and you’ll need to use specific types of ink.
For the sublimation printers, you’ll not find the same quality photo papers as for inkjet as you can print various things with it. Inkjet printers are better choices for fine photo printing.
The DNP Event Photo Printer is a perfect choice.
Printer Settings and Profiles
There is a difference between the colour profile your editing software automatically chooses and what you need to use to print.
As most web images use RGB or sRGB, CYMK will not be automatically selected when you try to print.
RGB (“Red Green Blue”) profiles are what computer monitors use as their colour profile. This profile supports a much wider range of colours.
CYMK (“Cyan Yellow Magenta blacK”) is for printing. It won’t create a shift in colour tones and brightness of your image.
If you are working in Adobe Photoshop, make sure your file is open and go to Image > Mode > CYMK Color.
Which Type of Paper Should You Use?
Gloss and Semigloss
Many beginner photographers go for glossy paper. This gives the impression of very rich colours. It’s great if you are only printing snapshots to show your family. The most common types of glossy paper are high gloss, soft gloss, and satin finishes.
They are pretty but come with problems.
The glossy finish creates reflections and a shine that can obscure your image. When considering glossy paper, always think about the lighting conditions your final picture will have.
You should also take into account the type of photo you are printing. If it has black colours and intense shadows, do not go for the glossy finish paper type.
If it is a colourful portrait taken in a studio and features professional makeup, a vivid background and many details, then glossy papers might worth a shot.
If the end result is an exhibition, a glossy paper shouldn’t be your first choice. You will get glare from both the print and the glass.
Matte paper is manufactured from hot-pressed fibre. It doesn’t have a shiny coating, so it doesn’t create distracting reflections. It gives your images darker blacks than the glossy paper does, which makes it ideal for black & white photos.
It comes in various textures, and you can find even thick and dimpled versions that make your print look like a painting.
This means better contrast and finer detail. It makes matte paper the first choice for images rich in detail and texture.
Canvas is a great option for images you want to print big or frame. A quality canvas print will deliver a matte-like paper finish, keeping the contrast and colour.
The colours here are much more vibrant when viewed from a distance.
Small amounts of the canvas texture from the material come through onto the print. This can add to the texture of the print. It can also reaffirm the concept behind the image.
Canvas papers are made for inkjet printers. This paper type can weigh more than others, so you might have to change the paper handling of your printer.
Art paper delivers a matte finish with a fair amount of texture, such as the watercolour paper option. These papers offer varying degrees of contrast and colour.
Some can create a painterly look, and others may be rich in strong beige or yellow colours. You can find glossy, baryta, lustre and matte versions in art paper.
Landscapes can work very well with these papers. This is because landscapes often have large areas of flat colours.
Giclée is a French term and means ‘to spurt’. It is associated with the highest quality inkjet printing technique that can make your photos look like true art.
Giclée prints are created with very high resolution (1200dpi to 2400 dpi). For giclée printing, you need archival inks on acid-free materials. The inks used for giclée are not dye-based but pigment-based.
The paper you use for giclée printing should also be archival or museum-grade inkjet paper. These kinds of papers often come under the categories cotton-rag, matte, or canvas.
What does it mean when a paper is archival? It means that it is resistant to deterioration with outstanding longevity. This means that the paper doesn’t contain acid or lignin. This way, it can preserve the product for a long time.
Besides a high-resolution picture, the ink and the paper you use, giclée printing has one more crucial factor. The printer should be a larger format model that can hold up to 12 different colour ink cartridges.
Giclée printing is becoming an industry standard among artists and galleries because the final results look like fine art, but the production costs are lower. If you combine the right resolution, paper, ink and printer, you get the highest quality prints possible.
Finding the Right Paper
The right brand of photo printing paper is out there, but it can be difficult knowing where to start. Here are a few areas you need to think about.
Durability and Longevity
If you are planning to hang a photograph in direct sunlight, know that the colours will fade over time. A print from an ink-based printer will fade much slower than a print from a dye printer.
This is a huge problem in the art market and when selling photographs as artwork. Even the best printing techniques cannot provide the same longevity as paintings.
Good ink-based printers can provide you with prints that will last a hundred years and more. A dye-based print can last over 20 years, but its longevity depends on conditions like humidity, heat, and how much light it gets.
If you want to know more about longevity testing, check out Wilhelm Imaging Research. They’ve tested many different printer/paper combinations.
The longevity of a print will come down to the printer and paper combination.
For maximum longevity, look at the manual that comes with your printer. They will recommend the photo printing paper you should use alongside it.
The whiteness of the paper depends on the amount of whitening agent it contains.
A white paper can be a great material to print on, but be wary. Those whitening agents can change colour very fast.
A few weeks is all it could take for the colour to shift to a yellow, creating a subtle change. If you want to be certain your image will look the same over time, go for a paper without artificial brighteners.
Some of these offer sample packs, allowing you to experiment with a few different types.
Handmade or speciality papers can be fun. Be wary of papers that shed off a lot of dust, as these can block your printer from working correctly.
It is much better to use paper that has been tested. You’ll know its longevity and durability.
What Do You Need to Invest When You Print Your Photos?
- Printer. You may think that a printer will be the highest cost you will incur. Well, as an initial payment, you are not wrong. Inkjet printers will need you to buy and top-up ink levels. Some printers will not work unless all the colours are present. They even stop working before the ink has run out, so read reviews and do your research. The Epson PictureMate PM-400 Wireless Compact Color Photo Printer won’t disappoint you.
- Ink. Ink will be the most expensive area when it comes to printing, as each photograph will use a lot of colours. There are ways to refill the ink at home, which is messy but offers you the printing at a fraction of the cost. The Canon CLI-42 8 PK Value Pack Ink and the Epson T069120-BCS DURABrite Ultra Black & Color Combo Standard Capacity Cartridge Ink are recommended choices.
- Paper. You will find there is a higher cost for a higher quality paper. A cheaper paper will deliver an inferior image. The affordable, ordinary paper will give you great results. Keep the expensive paper for exhibitions or the selling of your prints. The Canon Matte Photo Paper is a good option for printing your photos at home.
Now you know enough about printers and paper to print from home. Always consider where you want to use the final prints as it influences your paper and printer choices a lot.
The key is to try to find a good combination of photo printing paper and printers for the best images. Take the time to figure out what works for you because every photographer has different needs when it comes to printing their art.