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?
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).
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.