I was wondering if I could tell a photo developed on photographic paper from an ink or laser printed photo. I used to do B&W prints from film myself, and now I always order my prints from a service that uses developing with chemicals on photographic paper, so I have no idea what would the paper feel like if I was handed an inked or lasered photo and asked for example to tell if it is safe to drop in water. Of course I believe I would recognize fine art paper from a photographic paper, but I just don't know if there is ink/laser papers that really feel the same as photographic paper. Is there a noticeable difference?


2 Answers 2


At least at the gross visual level there isn't a noticeable difference. Put it under a magnifying glass and you can tell by analyzing the actual printing technique though. If you see exposed pigments it's a photographic paper, if you see droplets, it's ink jet, if you see fused toner, it's a laser (though I'm not aware of any laser photo printers).

Laser would tend to be the easiest to distinguish as it has a waxy look and feel, but ink jet and C-types are much harder to tell apart, particularly if any finishing has been applied (such as laminate).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I have no idea how good those color laser printers are nowadays. I have b&w laser for document printing and just thought that color lasers might be good enough for printing photographs. But np, can rule laser prints out then. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 13:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a color laser that I use for my document printing and while it can recognizably render a photograph, it looks like plastic. Generally the laser approach to photographic prints is to use a laser to expose photographic paper and then develop the paper. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    May 13, 2013 at 14:04

First off, there really aren't any laser printers that do photography. Laser printers are good for text, and ok for graphics, but generally speaking, because of the heat involved, are not good for color-accurate photo reproduction.

Regarding the question about whether there are inkjet papers that "really feel the same" as photographic paper...the answer is yes. A lot of classic photographic paper is "baryta". Baryta paper is a paper base (usually natural fiber) with a Barium Sulfate coating. In classic photographic papers, baryta was what gave the paper its smooth, white appearance and semi-glossy luster surface, upon which the various color layers are placed.

Today, you can find quite a number of baryta inkjet papers that have the same, rich look. Inkjet Baryta papers have no pigment or dye layers, however they do come in a wide variety of paper bases, textures, and gloss levels.

Some of the more popular are:

  • Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk Baryta Photo
  • Hahnemuhle Fine Art Baryta
  • Moab Colorado Fiber Satine
  • Moab Slickrock Metallic
  • Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique
  • Harman Inkjet Gloss Fiber Base Alumina (FB AI)

Any one of these, especially when paired with a pigment based inkjet printer, should give you unparalleled quality that has a distinct "classic" photographic print look to it. Now, Inkjet prints are NEVER safe to literally drop into water. You can spray protect or laminate them and improve their resilience, however unlike photographic papers which are designed to be exposed and developed, I would recommend never immersing a pigment inkjet print in water.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A damn then. Last resort is to grab on your word "look" you used in "a distinct 'classic' photographic print look to it". Does that really include the way those papers feel in my fingers too? \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Got the answer to that when re-reading your 2nd paragraph. Ok. But is there a way to tell the difference, other than to tip the corner of the print in water? \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 15:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious why you want to know whether you can "tell the different" simply by feel...what is the purpose of that? What is the benefit of having that skill? There are a wide variety of true photographic (exposed by light) papers out there as well, on a variety of paper bases, with varying levels of gloss, different pigment formulations, etc. I don't think anyone who is not a professional in the business could literally just "tell the difference" by touch alone. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    May 13, 2013 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Baryta papers for inkjet are largely the same as photographic papers, with the exception of the dye layers. Once a photographic paper is actually exposed, I am not sure there is any large enough difference in "feel" to really give you enough information to tell the two apart. There may be differences in gloss differential...if you tilt the printed pages towards a light source until gloss maximizes, you might eventually learn to detect nuanced differences in gloss differential...but, again...there are a wide variety of both true photographic papers as well as baryta IJ papers... \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    May 13, 2013 at 15:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I take that as a definite No to my question. Quite satisfying, thank you. And a bad fix for a person who is trying to decide if a photo that is stuck on a glass is safe for water treatment, which was the motive of my question. \$\endgroup\$ May 13, 2013 at 15:20

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