About Photograph Paper

Many people are choosing to print their digital pictures from their own home or business computers instead of getting them printed at a photo lab. While getting digitals printed at a photo lab is becoming increasingly inexpensive, it's often still cheaper (and often more convenient) to print pictures from your home.

The Connection Between Printer and Paper

To make digital photos look clear and sharp when printed, it's important to choose the right type of printer and the right type of paper. Multifunction printers, like the ones Canon is known for manufacturing, are practical and affordable printer options for any business or home office. Most of them are designed for printing and faxing text or scanning. If you already have one of these types of multifunction printers -- and many people do because they do more than one thing and take up little space -- you may want to purchase a printer specifically for printing photos. Many brands, like Lexmark, sell inexpensive photo printers.

Paper Choice

For quality photos you can't use the same type of paper you use for printing text. The paper is too porous, will use too much ink and still create flat looking, blurry prints. You need to use what's called photo paper. Photo paper for printer use is different than photographic paper, even though the same term, photo paper, is often used to describe these two very different types of paper.

There are several reasons why true photographic paper won't work when printing digital pictures from a computer. To understand why, you need to understand what photographic paper is and how it works.

Understanding Photographic Paper

In a nutshell, photographic paper is paper coated with special chemicals that make the paper light sensitive. Photo paper, when referring to the kind used in printers found in home and business offices, also has a special coating. This coating is not light sensitive, but it reduces the absorption of ink and helps make ink colors vibrant.

True photographic paper is designed to create images when exposed to light in a controlled way. The light can be controlled through the use of a negative, which is how traditional pictures are developed. When this method is used, the picture created is referred to as a contact print. Other methods of light control on photographic paper include using an enlarger to create a latent image. A latent image is basically an invisible image that doesn't appear unless it's exposed to the right amount of light.

Differences Between Photo Paper and Photographic Paper

Both photo paper for printers and photographic paper for image development are specially formulated to provide high quality results.

Photo printer paper is not light sensitive and can be exposed to direct sunlight without being damaged. It's made from wood pulp just like regular paper. There is also a chemical coating which affects the finish and finishes can be high gloss, soft gloss, semi-gloss, satin or matte. Each finish creates a different feel. For example, premium paper tends to be heavier with a high gloss or satin finish that's chemically treated to make the printed photos fade and smudge resistant once the ink dries. Advanced photo paper, regardless of the brand, usually has a semi-gloss finish that prints better in many humid environments.

Photograph paper is also made from wood pulp, in most cases. Then the paper receives one of two types of light sensitive chemical coating: fiber based or resin coated.

Fiber based paper is coated with baryta, a principal compound in barium. A clear gelatin layer is then hardened over the emulsion to prevent the paper from becoming damaged. This type of paper is used for medium to high quality prints and requires special processing, handling and storage.

Resin coated papers are impenetrable to liquids because the paper is sealed between two layers of polyethylene. Since fewer chemicals are used, less processing is required when using this type of paper. It's also a stronger paper that doesn't curl or damage easily.