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1.4 Paper

In this lesson you'll learn about the wide variety of papers available for photographic printing and the role paper plays in print quality.

1.4 Paper

In this lesson, we're going to talk about the different types of paper and how they can affect print quality. There's a wide variety of papers available, and the type of paper you choose can also depend on the type of printer that you're using for the job. Whichever type of paper you end up using, you want it to be acid-free and archive-safe, meaning it won't turn yellow over time. Okay. First we'll talk about the different kinds of paper available. For inkjet printers, there's a wide variety. It's usually fiber-based and non-fiber-based paper. And the coating on its surface is designed to accept pigment-based inks. There are also varying levels of paper weight and absorbancy as well. And a tip for getting accurate color is to use the same brand of paper as your inkjet printer. Now, for inkjet office copy paper, this is often referred to as multipurpose paper. It's thin and is generally used for standard office tasks such as printing text. Often this type of paper is also manufactured to work with laser printers as well. It's not recommended at all for printing your photographs. With this type of paper, when the fibers are soaked with moisture, they tend to swell and distort the image. Office or copy paper generally has a standard weight that starts at about 60 grams per square meter. It's also thin in comparison to heavier photo paper. And, as I mentioned before, it's best suited for text printing. Then you have inkjet photo paper. This is a group of thicker-coated papers made specifically for printing photos. Because it's thicker, it keeps colors from bleeding through the page. And its surface has also been treated to make it wider in many cases so that it shows the full range of colors more accurately. In addition, it has been coated with an extremely absorbent material to prevent ink from spreading once it's been laid down. Now, within this category of inkjet photo paper, they are usually divided into varying degrees of glossiness, and include matte, semi-matte, semi-gloss, and gloss paper. And there's also silk and satin finishes. With all of these, you can get a different printing result. For offset printing, paper also comes in varying degrees of thickness and glossiness as well. Glossy papers usually provide the highest color density and color gamut. Now, next, let's explore the factors that can directly affect a photo's dynamic range and how this ties into the paper that you're using. But first let's take a moment and define dynamic range. Dynamic range is the difference between the heaviest blacks and the lightest whites in your photo. Paper has a different dynamic range than your monitor, which can have a different dynamic range than your camera, which also has a different dynamic range than the human eye. Within the term dynamic range, there are two more definitions you will want to be familiar with. First we have D-max. D-max refers to the maximum density of the colors or darker tones in your image. And then we have D-min. This refers to the minimum color density or lighter tones in your image. And now that we know these definitions, let's go ahead and talk about the factors that can affect a photo's dynamic range and how this ties in with the paper. So first you have your paper's physical characteristics. The physical properties of your paper can have a direct effect on the nature of your printed image in comparison with what you see on your monitor. The brightness of the paper affects the D-max. Bright, glossy paper is capable of a higher D-max than matte paper, which reflects light equally in every direction. This means that you will get a greater tonal range using glossy paper. Also, paper, in general, has a lower dynamic range than your monitor, which means that highlights in maximum dark areas in an image can look great on your monitor, but can appear washed out when printed on paper. Why is this? It's because the white of your paper is the whitest area that can appear in your image once you print it out, and that's the limit. It's not possible for paper to achieve the brightness of the scene that you would see with your eye. This is when you begin to lose information outside of the paper's range. Also, some ink/paper combinations can have a lower D-max than others, and so this affects your image as well. Generally, coated paper is capable of a higher D-max or maximum black tones than uncoated paper because it's especially formatted to accept ink more effectively and reproduce the color and detail more accurately. And so matte and uncoated paper have lower D-maxes in general when ink is laid down on it. And finally, your lighting and environment can affect the apparent tonal range of your paper. If you're in a dimly-lit room holding your print, there will be less light reflecting off of the paper surface, and the tonal range will appear limited. Remember, color is merely reflected and absorbed light frequencies, so if you take that same printed image outdoors into a bright sunny day, the colors in your photo will appear to be much more vibrant. And that brings us to the end of this lesson. In this lesson, we discussed the different types of paper for printing as well as the factors that can affect the dynamic range of a printed image. And that also brings us to the end of this chapter where we have a pretty good overview of the course. So in our next chapter, we're going to learn how to most effectively view our images.

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