Alex Ried, product manager, LexJet Corp.: First, understand the image and how you would like your work to be portrayed. In photography, and fine-art context especially, emotional context is very important. A lot of photographers are taking advantage of the wide range of media now available to provide their customers with something unique that is also appropriate to the image. Selecting the right weight and finish based on the image adds depth and meaning to it. Though the overall effect might be subtle and not readily apparent to the end user, the material chosen will have an impact on the viewer’s reaction to the print. Even though the print will be framed under glass, the feel of the paper, or “hand,” is also very important to photographers and artists. The lighting, frame, choice of glass, etc., all have an impact on the choice of paper.
For this reason, experimentation with different media, both papers and films, is an important aspect of photographic and fine-art reproduction.
Q. Technically speaking, what makes a good inkjet paper for photographic prints?
Clayton: The basics of a technically good paper are subjective. For the fine-art category, the first thing would be a lignin-free product. The next thing would be the ability of the coating to retain the ink in the designated spot—no bleeding or pooling. Coating consistency and retaining 100 percent reproduction color saturation is important as well. The longevity of an image on paper is based on the inks used. We haven’t actually figured out the maximum life of our paper because the testing can only go so far with today’s ink technology. I am confident that the ink market will catch up though. I have an etching that is 250 years old with absolutely no sign of degradation or ink loss. I personally like paper that is more than just visually pleasing. For example, a paper that is very tactile, engages more senses and, therefore, is more effective.
Friend: From an objective standpoint, all inkjet papers can be evaluated using ISO 13660, which is a print-quality evaluation. Objective print quality analysis uses instruments to assess the characteristics and attributes that make up a print and impact the perception of print quality, as opposed to a visual assessment, which is inherently subjective. The attributes measured are Visual Optical Density, Tone Reproduction (Graininess), Tonal Range, Mottling, Brightness, Line Quality (Blurriness), and Line Optical Density. According to the ISO, an inkjet paper that dominates in these categories objectively delivers the highest quality print. Aside from print quality, longevity is a critical factor when selecting an inkjet paper or canvas. A large component of the value of a photographic print is how long it is going to last. For many years, the industry has been plagued with inkjet papers marketed as “archival” that turned out to be the opposite. Therefore, prior to selecting an inkjet paper or canvas, consumers should make sure that the product has been independently archival certified.
Johnson: High D-max, wide gamut, good sharpness, good whites. The media needs to control both diffusion (lateral movement of ink in the layer lowering sharpness and resolution) and light scatter (reflected light scattering to reduce observed clarity and density). Inks and media also need to have a high level of longevity, but the ink plays a much larger part in this.
Ried: Primarily, the ability to reproduce color. Just as a printer has an achievable color gamut, the material being printed to has its own achievable color gamut. There is an objective way to measure this using a program like Monaco GamutWorks to provide a three-dimensional color map of the material after the material has been profiled. How the print will be displayed is an important factor as well. The ultimate answer is…it depends on personal preference, which is why experimentation with different types of materials is so important.
Q. How does fine-art paper differ from paper used for commercial photography?
Eiger: Fine-art paper generally features a matte surface, and commercial art typically emulates the shine or luster of magazine printing. Fine and commercial art have very different intents. The fine artist offers you the opportunity to experience the art. A matte paper allows one to “fall into the image,” or in technical terms, “break the ground.” It offers a participatory experience, when done well, and that means that the viewer will get the message.
The intent of commercial art is to catch the eye, to amaze, or to shock the audience into seeing the message the advertisement is trying to project. Luster and gloss papers do this well by producing very dark blacks and high-impact images. The luster surface has snap, but will not allow the viewer to “fall into it” in the same way a matte paper will.