Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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There are a number of great questions and answers which discuss the topic of (inkjet) prints (I have cited three which I have recently re-read, but surely there are many others, no disrespect is meant).

I would like to analyze in greater depth a basic point (partially already tocuhed upon in those questions & answers) and that is: what is the best way, for some definition of best, to choose the kind of paper for a given print?

I am just starting to print my photos and I have found that it's not so easy. It is not enough to buy a reasonably good printer and rather expensive inks. You also have to know what you are doing...

First of all, you need to choose which of your photo you want to print (and it is a rather humbling experience... let's say that this will hopefully teach me to shoot better pics!)

Then, you have to print it. I don't know about you, but I don't have all these different kinds of paper at home. So I have to guess if the kind of texture that I happen to have will be good for the photo that I want to print, otherwise I look for another one.

Then I print it and the results are good but maybe non optimal: is this because of the natural difference between monitor and printer, or maybe because I used wrong parameters, or I should have bumped the brightness slider (I am using LR 4)... in short, it may be for a series of motives.

So I am left with a doubt: should I print the same photo again on the same paper but with different settings (so that the first print is a sort of hard proof), should I change paper... should I stay or should I go :-) ?

After all this introduction, my question is:

  • can you provide a sensible guide to choosing the best (providing your definition of best) paper support for a photo? Fine art matte, glossy, ...?
  • can you provide a sensible guide to minimize the number of trials?

I would be glad if this could become a sort of definitive guide to choosing paper, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Prints.

Bonus points for:

  • how to make best use of soft-proofing features (like the one available in LR 4) to predict the final rendition?
  • how to make the best use of the final adjustment (non visualized, done before printing)?

Assume that issues like color management, ICC profiles, print resolution... are properly taken care of (for what is worth, assume that the monitor is calibrated, too).

ps: in any case, a printed photo is (for me) much better than an image on the monitor. It seems to me to be much more real and interesting. I am very happy of having begun this stuff :-)

pps: in my specific case the ink is pigment based, but ideally the answers should not be focused only on my specific case obviously, since other people will have different technologies.

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+1 "First of all, you need to choose which of your photo you want to print, and it is a rather humbling experience..." this is very true. –  JoséNunoFerreira Aug 23 '12 at 17:10

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You are really taking about two very different concerns here. One, the choice of paper (or other printing ground), is ultimately a subjective optimisation, at least once you've gotten past the point of deciding whether you want to go for a short-lived display piece (say for advertising) with maximum presence and splash or for a longer-lived print with a more natural rendition.

The other, and apparently more immediate, concern is accuracy of rendition, and that (luckily) is something that can be addressed objectively. The trick there is to ensure that you have an accurate colour profile for your combination of printer, inks and paper, and that you use the profile properly. The profiles that ship with your printer are usually for a "gold" version of your printer, inks that represent the optimal formulation in a best-case batch, and the manufacturer's own paper stocks (again, with no appreciable drift from the QA-optimal). Much the same can be said for ready-made downloadable paper-specific profiles. That means they'll be "close enough", if close enough is really close enough for you, but they won't accurately represent the printer, inks and paper you are actually using at the time (except if, by some accident, all of the little deviations in each of the components cancel each other out). A custom profile can make a huge difference, both in the quality of your prints and the accuracy of your soft proofs (assuming your monitor is also profiled). jrista has described the process very well in the answers you have linked to.

Both X-Rite (ColorMunki Photo) and Datacolor (SpyderPRINT) make devices that you can use to create custom printer profiles for the printer, inks and paper you are actually using at the moment, and they are wonderful things to have if you can afford them. (The higher-end Epson printers have an optional X-Rite profiler module you can use at printer start-up, and the downloadable profiles for the Canon PIXMA Pro 1 show signs of being generated with X-Rite colorimeters.)

There are also services like Cathy's Profiles (which has been recommended by Ctein) that will create custom profiles for you for a little less money (provided that you keep the number of different papers you use down to a reasonable number—twenty profiles would pay for a ColorMunki Photo). And if you are using a service to print your pictures, make sure you have their latest profile.

Once you have the accuracy under control, you're into the "feel" territory, and that is a very subjective thing. Glossy prints can look spectacular—there can be an almost sculptural quality to the depth of tone—but they're unforgiving in terms of angle of view and lighting and your image needs to have all of the detail that the ground can reveal. Upscaling and low print resolution (lower pixel-per-inch counts) are immediately apparent because the ground will show sharp edges as razor-sharp. They make absolutely beautiful jewel-like 8x10s from almost any reasonably-modern camera's output, but you really need the image resolution and carefully-positioned depth of field to support large prints. Something with a canvas-like texture, on the other hand, can hide a multitude of sins and make people see detail where there really isn't any.

It's the in-betweeners, the range from matte natural-fiber papers to luster finishes, where you have to make up your own mind (or, if you're a pro, let the clients decide).

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Thanks for your reply Stan, very useful. I can see why you see two different concerns, maybe I misformulated the question, but my real aim is the choice of the support. I don't despair that sooner or later I will achieve a good between my wish and the printer rendition: but given my lack of experience I am (still) unable to judge if the kind of paper that I am using is a good fit for my pics (or if in the end it doesn't matter so much...?) –  Francesco Apr 14 '12 at 20:05
    
@Francesco — De gustibus non est disputandum. I'm afraid that it is a very subjective matter, and that your own gut feeling is the only authoritative guide. For me, organic forms tend to go better with matte papers and geometrics with glossier presentations, but that's just my point of view with my own work; I've seen the opposite tack work quite well for other people. –  user2719 Apr 14 '12 at 20:31
    
btw, I'm afraid but I will tell to my wife that it's your fault that I discovered the ColorMunki Photo gadget... ;-) –  Francesco Apr 14 '12 at 20:54
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@Francesco — I've been blamed for worse :) –  user2719 Apr 14 '12 at 21:08
    
Stan sorry for being late in accepting your answer. I admit that at first I was surprised by your "subjective approach". Then, I begun experimenting (after a good calibration with CMP, by the way :) ) and I am forming my personal opinion on what kind of photo goes on what kind of paper. So you were right all along. Thanks for sharing your insights :) –  Francesco May 12 '12 at 13:12

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