Buyer's Guide 2008: Papers & Inks
Printing your best images with the latest and greatest in inks and papers
The key to making beautiful prints is to choose the best inks and papers. By experimenting with high-quality papers and inks, you can turn your images into printed works of art. The print technology of today has given us the power to make the kind of prints at home that you used to have to go to a professional lab service to achieve. Prints look better and hold up longer.
Speaking of longevity, prints can last from 100 to 200 years when using pigment-based inks and 60 to 100 years with dye-based inks. These numbers are based on specific paper and ink combinations and optimal storage conditions behind glass and displayed in dark, dry locations.
Outputting to a printer for optimal results is also a snap if you download and use profiles for your printer, ink and paper combination. ICC-based profiles provide automatic templates for exact printing specifications based on the characteristics of your paper and printer. Many companies include profiles in your printer's driver or offer them as free downloads from their websites.
The surface of a print affects the mood of an image almost as much as the photograph itself. To that end, there's a printer paper for virtually every preference. Surface types like glossy, matte, canvas, watercolor, satin and luster provide subtle, but visual, differences in the feel of an image. Since there's no perfect paper that works for every print, having a variety of options will help you customize the look and feel of all your images.
Inkjet papers are comprised of sandwiched layers of ink-absorbing materials, often over a resin-coated base. Extra layers provide options for other features, like reflectivity and glossiness. The thicker the paper, the heavier the weight. Weight, given in grams per square meter (gsm), is also a good index of a paper's durability. Top-loading printers, in general, can accept a thicker paper than front-loading printers, which pass the paper along a roller to spread ink.
Glossy paper, probably the most popular consumer choice, has a reflective coating that provides a shiny sheen to the surface. Colors are vibrant and saturated, but the reflective surface makes the paper more prone to collecting residue like dirt or fingerprints. Matte and canvas surfaces have a classic, fine-art appeal, though colors are slightly muted and contrast is flatter. Both come in a variety of strengths.