Hello all! I'm fairly new to WP, but I've been around the printing industry for quite some time now so I wanted to share some expertise and give you some pointers that you can take and apply to your photos.
So many of us spend so much time getting the photo just right, adjusting the color balance, or bumping a level just-so to give it that look we are really hoping to come across. How many of us put the same effort into paper choices. Do you pick it? Does your lab pick it? How will the color, the finish, the texture affect how your print is finalized and displayed? These are some questions I hope to help answer.
A little about myself. I used to work for a printable material supplier here in Sarasota, FL. A quick google search should help you see who. I worked with over 400 photographers and artists nationwide, giving them advice on using the right material for the right application and dreaming up new, unique ways to display their work. I grew a passion for the printing industry that I would have never imagined. I decided to take my talents and knowledge and put them to better use. I started Royal Editions where I utilize my skills as a graphic designer and knowledge of the printing industry to create magic I'm not trying to promote my services as I don't want to break any rules but feel free to contact me if you have any questions on that front.
From pulp to paper
Some people don't realize or appreciate what goes in to getting a print in their hands and the truth is, there is a lot. Most people are familiar with the paper made from trees, but in fine art printing there is so much more. There is paper made from cotton, bamboo, sugar cane, plastics, trees, a mixture of all of these, and it keeps growing all of the time.
What does this mean for my print?
It can mean quite a lot. The different material can affect the way the paper feels, if it is stiff or soft, whether is will hold more curl than others and so on. Cotton papers tend to be the softest paper, giving you a "fluffy" feel, while things like bamboo or fiber papers tend to be stiffer and feel very high-end. It all comes down on what you're trying to convey in your photograph. Something serine and relaxing, like a coral reef may want to give a more relaxing, subtle feel of a cotton paper, while something hard and impactful like a shark on the prowl may want something stiff.
The elusive white-point
As much as printers would like them to, we can't print white. There are printers out there that can, but they're very expensive and not intended for fine art printing. So for now, we have to rely on the white-point of the paper to give us any white that shows up in the image. Not all papers are created equal and different white-points can mean very different things to your image. Any paper with the word "Natural" in it is saying that the paper has not been enhanced at all, the color of the paper is, for the most part, the color of the raw materials when blended together. This is generally a very warm tone and can mute colors on an image. Natural papers are great for top-side photography and things like portraits, because flesh-tones and other warm tones tend to pop more. For UW shots though, we spend so much money on the lighting to bring the colors back to the photo, that using a paper that can mute some seems counterproductive. Bright white papers tend to give you the best color reproduction and can really make certain colors (oranges, greens, pinks) pop off of the sheet. There are some myths when it comes to bright papers which I'll touch on later.
Not all that glistens is gold
Gloss, satin, lustre, matte, textured, smooth. Which one will give you what you're looking for?
Let's get a little scientific for a second. When you see something glossy, what makes you say, "Hey, that’s glossy!" More than likely it will be some reflection or glare that is causing that. The same reflection or glare that can make the photo a pain to view at a distance can make it awe-inspiring up close. The more reflection a paper has, the more light is refracted back into your eye, giving the image of a wider color gamut. The downfall of a gloss is that from a distance it's hard to see and they can scratch if you look at them the wrong way. They are very fragile and generally require some more care when handling.
These terms tend to be interchangeable now-a-days. A while ago, a satin was more of a semi-matte, where a lustre was in-between gloss and satin; with modern papers though, they switch the terms lustre and satin to mean the same thing. Within this category there are 2 sub-categories, E-surface and N-surface with the former being the more popular. E-surface just means textured, it gives a more elegant look and the coating technology that goes into an E-surfaced paper generally makes it more durable. An N-surface paper is a smooth surface, resembling more of a semi-matte. The choice is really up to you on this one but keep in mind, if you have a print going behind glass - it's going to appear gloss anyways.
Last but not least. The matte print tends to give you a more raw feel. You have no glare and generally a very strong paper. Matte papers are generally less expensive becuase they don't have the extra manufacturing step of coating a sheen to them. They can give you a very elegant look but do absorb more light than the previous mentioned papers, meaning not as much color is bouncing back to you.
This is a big-one and a hot button for some people, but I'm going to lay it out for you as best I can. Optical Brighting Agents (OBAs) are used to enhance the white-point of a paper and give it a very bright white. This mean very poppy colors, and the manufacture has a much greater control over how their paper looks. There are some myths floating around surrounding OBA's saying that they are bad, and to avoid them at all costs. However, research has uncovered that OBA's in papers have no effect on the longevity of the print. Any paper with a white-point other than natural is enhanced somehow, some companies use OBA's, some use bleach. If it's a big concern, feel free to contact me and I can dive further into it Ansel Adams used papers LOADED with OBA's, for reference.
This concludes my little paper lesson and I hope you found it informative. I have a huge passion for printing, and I hope to use my knowledge to help people improve the experience with their images outside of the camera.