Inkjet Paper

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Why is inkjet paper different from all other photo papers?

Compared to traditional photo paper, i.e. silver-based photographic paper, inkjet papers include an extremely broad variety of fiber-based (and non fiber-based) surfaces.  What makes any given paper specifically an inkjet paper are the coatings found in the surface, which unlike photographic paper are not at all light-sensitive, but instead are designed to accept dye and/or pigment-based inks. And unlike photo paper, you can’t ruin it by opening the box in daylight.

Are all inkjet papers the same, and does it really matter whose name is on the box?

If you are looking for the easiest route to getting accurate color and optimal image quality we strongly recommended to stick with inkjet media manufactured by―and for use with―the printer you plan on using, i.e. Epson print media with Epson printers, Canon print media with Canon printers, etc. We say this because manufacturers take extreme measures to ensure your prints match the picture you see on your monitor, and once you choose to “leave the family,” all guarantees and safeguards are null and void. You might get “good-enough” results, but most likely you’ll be disappointed. In worst-case scenarios, the ink can puddle and run off the page when you hold it up.

Note: Be advised that if the ink gets on the carpet or your clothes you should hope and pray the drips match the color of whatever they’re dripping on because these ink sets are near impossible to remove.

When you select a paper surface by name in the print menu, you are selecting a profile that determines the speed and volume rates of how much ink is deposited onto the paper surface each time the print head passes over the print surface. And the volume of ink, how fast it is sprayed onto the print surface and the timing of each pass of the print head varies according to the nature of the print surface. This is called color profiling, and it’s integral to accurate and consistent print results.

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While you can certainly use non-OEM paper surfaces with your desktop printer, just keep in mind that without creating unique profiles for each “alien” media surface, there’s no guarantee you’ll be happy with the results.

I’m using an inkjet paper surface that’s recommended by my printer manufacturer, but my prints have a color cast and don’t look as good as the picture on my computer screen. What’s wrong?

Paper surfaces aren’t the only part of the digital print process that requires profiling. Your computer monitor is an equal part of the equation, and unless you take the time to calibrate the color, contrast and tonal parameters of your monitor, you can’t assume the color profile of your screen is accurate. The calibration process is relatively easy and far less painful than burning through a box of paper and ink cartridges with nothing to show for your time and efforts.

Note: Like many things in life, you get what you pay for, and the same goes for computer screens. If printing accurate photographs is important to you it would be a good idea to invest in a higher-quality screen because if you think about it, the image on your screen is the one you are tinkering with in Photoshop, and if your screen isn’t accurate (or over three  years old) chances are you are going to be disappointed in the prints coming out of your printer.

             

Look for quality monitors as well as screen calibration software and hardware to better ensure you are getting the best print quality.

Are there paper choices other than glossy, semi-gloss and matte?

Absolutely. In fact, you have more surface choices of inkjet papers than conventional silver-based printing papers, including all-rag (100% cotton) neutral pH fine art papers, posterboard, clear transparency materials (sticky-backed and non sticky-backed), iron-on transfer media and canvas. And if you really want to go exotic, try bamboo and Japanese washi  paper surfaces, as well as metallic media surfaces.

It’s also worth noting that if you are interested in trying different print surfaces without spending a small fortune, there are inkjet paper sample packs that allow you to try out various media types from almost every paper manufacturer, and they’re all priced between $5 and $20.

What sheet sizes are inkjet papers available in?

Inkjet papers are available in a variety of sizes ranging from 4x5” through 36x48”, though keep in mind that while most printers can print 4x6” prints, the maximum size you can print is limited by the make and model of your printer.

Some sheet papers have odd size designations like “A3” and “Super B.” What do these designations mean?

These are European metric ISO paper sizes, and they are carry-overs from the world of offset printing. What makes ISO paper sizes unique is that their height-to-width ratio is always the square root of two (1.4142:1), which means if you place two sheets next to each other the resulting page size will have the same width/height ratio. In the world of book and magazine publishing, this is the standard. Common ISO sizes include the following:

  • A4  (8.3 x 11.7”)
  • A  (or Letter-size, 8.5 x 11”)
  • B  (or Ledger/Tabloid, 11 x 17”)
  • A3 (11.7 x 16.5”)
  • Super B (13 x 19”)
  • A2 (16.5 x 23.4”)
  • C  (17 x 22”)

Are inkjet papers only available in sheet form, or are they also available in rolls?

Depending on the brand of paper and the specific surface, many inkjet papers are available in both sheet and roll form. And as mentioned previously, always keep in mind that all but the largest of inkjet printers have specific size and thickness constraints, so check your printer manual before purchasing anything out of the norm. Roll sizes range from 13” to 60”, and vary in length from 33’ through 100’, depending on the thickness of the paper stock.

I’ve seen greeting cards printed on inkjet printers. Are there inkjet papers made specifically for printing greeting and holiday cards?

There are many choices in this department. Inkjet greeting cards are available in a variety of sizes and formats, and many even include matching envelopes.

I really like the look of traditional fiber-based photographic paper. Are there any inkjet papers that have the same look and feel as fiber-based photo paper?

There is a variety of fiber-based inkjet papers in a variety of surfaces that strongly replicates the look, feel, and in many cases, the longevity of traditional fiber-based photographic papers. These are available in many sheet sizes as well as in rolls.

What about fine art papers?

Fine art inkjet papers are traditionally manufactured from cotton fibers and have a neutral pH, which means

they are acid-free and therefore, archival.  Being cotton, they have a finer tactile quality compared to traditional glossy and semi-gloss photo papers, which usually are typically resin-based and/or coated.

Fine art papers fall into two categories – cold press and hot press. Cold press papers tend to have more texture and usually have a softer feel to them. Hot press papers, which are produced under more (and hotter) pressure during the manufacturing process, tend to be smoother and stiffer than cold press papers. Unlike commercial printing papers, fine art papers have a tactile quality that adds to their aesthetic value.

When comparing fine art paper surfaces you’ll note a great range of brightness levels from one surface and brand to another, compared to standard inkjet papers, which tend to be brighter overall. This is because fine art papers contain less (phosphorous-based) brightening agents, which in addition to brightening the white levels of the paper correspondingly reduce the archival qualities of the paper. It is for this reason traditional print artists (and collectors) tend to prefer warmer, natural-toned papers.

Note: Many fine art papers are available in several thicknesses, and quite often roll-paper versions of a paper are thinner than their cut sheet counterparts due to the difficulty of rolling thicker paper stocks. When printing on fine art papers it’s a good idea to use heavier (thicker) papers because thicker papers handle better and are less prone to creasing, and in general have a richer tactile feel to them. With the exception of entry level and many all-in-one desktop printers, most printers can handle paper stocks up to 300gsm thick, which is approximately 0.15” thick (ordinary 20-lb bond paper is about 0.0125” thick), but verify the media limitations of your printer before purchasing heavier paper stocks.

Can you make good black-and-white prints using inkjet media?

You can make extremely good black-and-white prints with inkjet printers, but only with printers that, in addition to the standard black ink cartridge, also contain gray-scale ink cartridges. Several companies offer printers that contain multiple shades of gray, which enable smoother transitions between shadow and highlight details. Printers containing only a single black cartridge―which is primarily intended for printing text―simply cannot cover the range of a typical black-and-white image.

Are inkjet prints archival, and if so, how long can they last?

The archival qualities of inkjet prints, i.e. how long they will last before fading, is determined by three criteria: the ink, the paper and the environment in which they are stored and/or displayed.

Ink: The inks used in inkjet printers fall into three categories: dye, dye/pigment hybrids and pure pigment. Assuming the inks are used with a manufacturer-recommended paper surface and kept away from heat, bright light and humidity, in a perfect world dye-based inkjet prints can last anywhere from a decade to several decades. In the same perfect world, dye/pigment-based ink sets similarly used with recommended paper surfaces and properly displayed or stored can last even longer. The most stable of ink sets―pure pigment, printed on acid-free paper and stored under these same ideal conditions, can be expected to last 100 to 200 years.

Paper: Assuming your printer uses a long-lasting ink set, most premium glossy, luster and semi-gloss surfaces should last 40-70 years before fading becomes noticeable, when stored or displayed under ideal conditions. All-rag (100% cotton) fine art papers, again depending on the ink set used and the print’s storage or viewing conditions, can theoretically last centuries.

Environment: The environment plays as vital a role in the longevity process as the ink and paper do, with excessive heat, light, humidity and airborne pollutants being the primary villains. As such, a print hanging on the wall at your summer beach house will start fading sooner than the same print hanging on a wall out of range of direct sunlight in an air-conditioned room. Similarly, a print stored in a dark, acid-free enclosure will outlast the same print hanging on a wall. But do keep in mind a print on the wall is far more pleasurable than a print hidden from view.

Wilhelm Research

Wilhelm Research (www.wilhelm-research.com) uses accelerated-aging techniques, based on controlled levels of heat and humidity, to project the expected longevity of various ink-and-paper combinations. Wilhelm’s test results are recognized throughout the industry as a reliable source of archival data pertaining to inkjet media. 

The proprietary ink set of your printer and choice of paper is critical in determining the expected life of inkjet prints. Archival inks used on non-archival papers will only last as long as the paper surface, likewise shorter-lived, dye-based inks used on archival paper surfaces.

Dye-based ink sets commonly found in less expensive printers tend to fade more quickly than pigment-based ink sets. Prints made with pigment-based ink sets and premium paper surfaces, displayed under the proper storage or display conditions, can last hundreds of years.

The Takeaway

  • For the best results always use inkjet papers made by the manufacturer of your printer.
  • If you use third-party inkjet papers (papers made by manufacturers other than those made by the manufacturer of your printer) you should invest in profiling software to ensure you’ll get good results.
  • Your monitor should be calibrated on a regular basis to ensure the color, tone and contrast levels you see on the screen are accurate. Prints displaying color casts and poor contrast levels can often be traced to uncalibrated computer screens.
  • Papers come in a number of surfaces and textures other than glossy, semi-gloss and matte including museum quality fine art and fiber-based surfaces that emulate the look and feel of traditional silver-based darkroom papers.
  • Most inkjet paper surfaces are available in a variety of sheet and roll sizes. Just make sure the paper or roll size you buy will work with your particular printer before buying a new size or format.
  • For long-lasting prints stick to pigment-based ink sets (which will be determined by your choice of printer) and acid-free inkjet paper surfaces.
  • Images printed on acid-free papers and pigment-based ink sets can last upwards of 200-plus years if stored and displayed in an environment that has low light, low humidity and cool temperatures.
  • For monotone (black-and-white) prints, you should use a printer that features multiple shades of black. Single-black ink sets do not produce enough of a tonal range to reproduce shadow and highlight details, and more often than not, display a magenta or cyan cast that is nearly impossible to correct.