Home > Printing Essentials > Paper 101 – Part 1: Let’s go shopping!

Paper 101 – Part 1: Let’s go shopping!

OK.  So, you have your inkjet printer and now you need some paper.  Maybe a few different types of papers to start with.  You are cruising the local store or surfing the web…but, with so many papers available, which ones do you pick?  It helps to have an understanding of the different types of paper involved.
Let’s start with  the two “core” types of inkjet media, Swellable and Porous.
Swellable – With swellable paper, the moisture of the ink causes the ink receiving layer to swell in thickness, kind of like a sponge.  This receiving layer is a polymer that encapsulates and protects the ink from outside contaminants, which is good since dye inks are not encapsulated themselves.
Due to the large particle size, swellable papers are not a good choice for pigment inks because those inks tend to stay on the surface of the paper and never fully dry.  This paper is best suited for dye based printers.
Porous  – In the industry, we commonly refer to this type of inkjet paper as “microporous” while on its packaging you may often see it labeled as “instant dry”.  Whatever you call it, the coating of this paper is made up of microscopic particles that create tiny pores on its surface.  Like tiny ink wells, these pores receive the ink and block it from spreading, resulting in a relatively large, even surface area for absorption.  Porous papers have a higher resistance to moisture and humidity than their swellable counterparts.
Porous papers are compatible with both dye and pigment inks.  However, since the ink receiving layer does not offer the protection of swellable media, dye inks will be exposed to outside contaminants such as ozone which can cause rapid deterioration in color.  Pigment inks (which usually have the benefit of being encapsulated) are much more colorfast and resistant to fading and moisture than dye inks when used on microporous paper.
So…which to use?

Well, if you are reading this article the chances are pretty good that you are printing photographs or fine art with a modern printer from Epson or Canon.  These printers all use state-of-the-art pigment inks best suited for pourous papers.  In fact, you would have to go out of you way these days to accidentally purchase swellable media. But it was still important to have a handle on the characteritics of the two core types of inkjet papers before moving on to the next big decision…
Matte or Photo?
All printers these days have two primary black inks, photo black and matte black, each designed to maximize the density achievable on its intended paper type.   In fact, when someone refers to an inkjet paper as a photo paper they are really referring to a paper intended for use with photo black ink.
Photo papers are RC (resin coated) media such as photo gloss and photo luster. Most manufactures try to incorporate the word photo into the description of the paper so that’s a pretty good clue as to its intended use.  Conversely, matte papers are intended to be used with matte black and typically have matte in the name.
Photo black ink is encapsulated in resin and is made to only penetrate the surface of the paper a little bit.  The majority of the droplet remains above the surface and hardens.  Photo black appears shiny and very dense when printed on the intended RC surface.
Matte black is not encapsulated and is very dense.  That’s necessary since the droplets are intended to penetrate deeply into the relatively soft, porous matte paper coating.  Only a small portion of the droplet remains above the surface of the paper.
Choosing the right paper for the right black ink is vital.  If you were to print with matte black on a photo paper the ink could literally be wiped off.  If you were to print with photo black on matte paper the result of the ink penetrating the paper would make it look washed out and weak.  Many printers these days have both matte and photo black ink available and can switch on the fly (at the cost of a small amount of ink waste), but some printers require a purging process to switch from one to the other, so always be aware of the capabilities of your printer before making the matte or photo paper choice.
Next time we’re going to delve a little deeper into the different types of porous papers.   Specifically RC, Fiber and Art papers.
See you next week!
Categories: Printing Essentials
  1. April 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Great Post! I have been avoiding printing on Fine Art because of the fear of switching inks. Today I found out that the 9900 auto switches with minimal ink waste. I will try some Moab and see what I get for results

    • April 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      Allen, it is great to venture out. The 900 series printer as well as the new 890 series which is built on the same platform uses a valve located at the print head to switch between the blacks. There is some ink loss, about 1.13ml when going from photo to matte and 3.34ml from matte back to photo. I’m a firm believer that there is a perfect paper for every image!

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