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Buyer's Guide 2009: Specialty Papers & Inks

Conventional wisdom says that for the best-looking prints, you should stick with your printer manufacturer’s papers and inks. It’s not bad advice because their printer-software drivers are fine-tuned for those inks and papers to ensure excellent results and print longevity. But if you only print with the standard photo stock, you’re missing a chance to make an artistic choice.

Instead of using one paper type for all your prints, we recommend that you experiment with a variety of papers. The paper you use is as much a part of the final print as the image itself. Paper can add texture and tone to enhance the viewer’s experience of the image. Specialty inks also play a major role in this, as their color gamuts vary and react uniquely to different paper types.

Independent, third-party makers are taking the lead when it comes to producing exotic papers and surfaces. Baryta papers continue as a major trend, offering the traditional appearance and feel of glossy silver paper. Other fine-art papers offer a diversity of textures, weights and other unique characteristics. Many paper makers also offer downloadable profiles for your printer driver to ensure consistency from monitor to print.


Baryta may just be the hottest buzzword in photo paper these days. Typically applied to certain types of black-and-white paper prior to coating with emulsion layers, this material helps create a smooth glossy surface and increases paper whiteness. Harman Gloss FB AL Warmtone uses baryta and achieves a warm base partly because it contains no optical brighteners. The paper’s heavier weight at 320 gsm (grams per square meter) gives it a fine-art feel. It comes in sheets from 8½x11 to 17×25 inches long with 17-, 24-, 36- and 44-inch rolls. Estimated Street Price: $72 (50 sheets of 8½x11).

Hahnemühle has developed the first inkjet paper to make use of bamboo fibers. Bamboo has emerged as a sustainable, green-friendly resource suitable for a number of uses, including photo paper. Bamboo 290 is 90-percent bamboo, 10-percent cotton, and particularly nice for prints with a warm hue. With a smooth, slightly textured surface, Bamboo 290 contains no optical brightening agents, making it more cream-colored than white. The paper comes in sheets from 8½x11 to 17×22 inches, and in 39-foot rolls that are 17, 24, 36 or 44 inches wide. Estimated Street Price: $25 (20 sheets of 81?2×11).

Smooth and lustrous,Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk is a fiber-based paper coated with a baryta layer to give it the look and feel of traditional darkroom paper. With enhanced definition, extended tonal range and excellent archival properties, the 310 gsm paper has a hefty weight, like that of a silver-halide paper. It’s available in sheets from 8½x11 to 17×22 inches, as well as in 17-, 24- and 44-inch rolls. Estimated Street Price: $40 (50 sheets of 8½x11).

For deep blacks that look like velvet, try printing with Somerset Photo from Moab by Legion Paper. Made from 100-percent cotton, the paper’s large color gamut and dynamic range faithfully reproduce a wide range of hue and tonality. With a bright-white shade and smooth satin finish, Somerset Photo is excellent for color or black-and-white photographs. The paper is available in 8½x11- to 17×22-inch sheets and 17-, 24-, 44- and 60-inch rolls. Estimated Street Price: $58 (20 sheets of 8½x11).

A bright-white coating in the ProJet Elite Picture Rag CoolTone paper from Adorama makes it a versatile choice for both color and black-and-white photographs, and at a great price. The 100-percent cotton rag is acid-free and uses a special coating with unique light- and water-resistant properties to protect the print. Estimated Street Price: $37 (50 sheets of 8½x11).

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