Paper, color, and application settings for the best print you can get

By Erica Aitken

October 12, 2022

If you’ve just read Get the best print out of your printer, your files are ready and it’s time to print. Consider first what paper best fits your images, and your taste.

Finding the Best Paper: Practical Tips

Different paper types provide different degrees of apparent sharpness. The amount of gloss on the surface and the finished texture of the surface (such as smooth, rough, luster) interact to give different perceived sharpnesses when printing the same image. In general, smooth high gloss paper looks sharpest, with the crispest contrast; uncoated rag texture paper softest, and everything else falls in-between. You’ll have to decide which type of paper best represents your vision of your final print, and test samples of that type of paper.

The best way to pick a printing paper is to see sample prints. If you have access to trade shows where samples are shown, or local vendors where great sample sets are on display from multiple paper vendors (such as Keeble and Shuchat in Palo Alto, CA), you can go in and get a fairly comprehensive overview of the options on offer.

When Brightness Is a Bad Thing

Contemporary paper manufacturers add chemicals named Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs) to many papers so that the white of the paper will appear more white. Many of the most popular papers have OBAs in them. While the initial appearance is brighter, over time the OBAs will fade, and the paper will look less white than when you first made your print. For work that is temporary, OBAs may be an OK choice. For work you print aiming to have the print last a long time, OBA -infused pa-per is not considered archival quality and should be avoided.

Ethical paper manufacturers will clearly identify which papers have OBAs and which don’t. If you test samples which don’t tell you if OBAs are present, and you can’t find the information on line, you can easily test by shining an ultraviolet light on the paper (similar to the old black lights much beloved of head shops).

In the photo above, the UV light is shining on two papers; one is much brighter than the other, and is clearly manufactured with OBAs.

Essential to Print: Using Correct Color Profiles

Many paper manufacturers provide printer pro-files for their papers to use with popular printer models. Check their websites to see if your print-er and paper combinations are available. These profiles range from very good to awful in quality; you’ll have to test and see how good they are for your workflow. Of course, you can always make your own profiles or have a specialist create them.

However you get them, install these profiles in your operating system, and you can use them not only to print, but to preview your color in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. You can preview how your color will print in Photoshop by:

  • Installing the profile in your operating system
  • Opening the image you wish to print
  • Selecting View Menu->Proof Setup->Custom
  • Selecting the paper profile in the window that appears, as shown below for the Mac:
  • Turn on Preview, if it’s not already, by checking the box
  • Comparing Relative Colorimetric and Perceptual Rendering Intents, selecting one at a time, then the other, and deciding which you like best .Relative Colorimetric is the default in Photoshop, but some people prefer Perceptual Rendering for some of their images. For matching a specific shade as closely as possible, such as a product or logo color, relative colorimetric is preferred.

Note that this doesn’t work without accurate, current profiles for your display, and your paper/printer combination.

Dry-down time and the finished print

Once printed, your prints will need some drying time before they display their final appearance. In the days of darkrooms, Ansel Adams would put his test prints in the microwave oven to speed up final appearance judging. This is not recommended for most inkjet papers, which vary in dry down time needed from a few minutes to two whole days for a final, stable image appearance. In addition, heat can change the final appearance of the print, so devices such as hair driers are not recommended.

Some manufacturers make dry down time available; others make you test for your own pa-per and printer combination. It’s worth investing the time to be sure before printing a big batch of prints which dry down too dark/light/contrast/wrong color.

Proper Storage of Finished Prints

Once prints are made, best practice for storing prints requires avoiding rolling. Flat storage of larger prints can prove challenging, but it’s best for print longevity; when rolled prints are unrolled, particularly when they’ve been stored a long time, they can crack, destroying the value of the print.

A more immediate challenge is an occasional problem called outgassing, caused by vapors emitted from freshly made prints on certain papers, which can condense on the glass of the frame in which you display your print.

A good way of avoiding outgassing is to let the print dry open to the air for at least a week, allow-ing these gases to escape from the freshly-made prints. After that, place sheets of non-buffered, acid free paper between prints in your flat storage. This also helps protect the delicate surface of each print when moving them in and out of storage.

How Long Will Your Print Last On Display? A Resource for Many Papers+Printer Combinations

In general, although the numbers vary for specific papers, usually a print displayed open to the air will last a shorter time than a print displayed under glass. A print displayed under regular glass will usually last a shorter time than one displayed under UV-blocking glass, though the peculiarities of how different colors age may cause some colors to fade faster than others when under UV glass. A print coated with an anti-UV emulsion will last longer than one without it.

Reprinted and refreshed from an article written by Kevin O’Connor.

So, to Recap…

  1. Start with a clean file (no dust, scratches, artifacts).
  2. Choose your preferred viewing distance for your desired print size.
  3. Test for adequate resolution to create the perfect print at your chosen viewing distance.
  4. Preview in Photoshop on screen at size.
  5. Make a partial image test print of a critical area or areas.
  6. Use Photoshop CC or OnOne Image Resize to make a bigger file if needed.
  7. Sharpen copies of your original file for printing at the desired sizes.
  8. Choose the best paper for your image, by seeing samples first.
  9. Avoid paper with OBAs, when possible.
  10. Capture as much color as possible, and use good workflow color management.
  11. Preview the color on screen before printing.
  12. Store your prints flat, between sheets of ac-id-free paper.
  13. Display your prints under glass for better longevity.

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