14th March 2014
Most photographers who print their own images will “test” a number of papers and, in general, choose their “favorite paper” primarily on cost. They get used to preparing for and printing on this paper and are in the main reluctant to change unless problems arise. Generally it takes another pair of eyes to spot the problem and if this happens to be a judge in competition the print will suffer because of poor quality.

I have heard of a number of photographers who have had their work rejected because of “blown highlights” and they struggle to recognize the basis of their problem. In attempts to rectify this particular problem histograms are re-checked, the white point reset and some even adjust levels or curves to “bring back the whites”. The problem here is that all of these routes to rectify the problem tend to affect the overall tonality of the image. The resultant “fix” compromises the image and never quite seems to properly rectify the problem.

Few understand that a print problem with “blown” highlights or indeed a problem in transitioning between printed and unprinted sections in an image can be the fault of the paper chosen. Most papers use some form of brightening agents to improve the d-max (deep blacks) and the overall contrast. The vast majority of consumer papers are made from wood pulp or alpha-cellulose base and would have a yellow to brown base if some form of bleaching or whitening was not employed. When the paper base is made the further use of optical brighteners are employed because the demand for bright white papers forces manufacturers to add optical brighteners. Before you jump up and say “the paper I use does not use OBA’s” just remember that manufacturers use OBA’s in most inkjet media in order to supply the demand for bright white papers.

In my experience the use of bright white papers for photographic printing leads to many problems printing highlights or indeed the transitioning between mid-tones and highlights, problems like bronzing appear on these papers too. I’m not going to labour on about the problems with print longevity as this problem has more to do with the bleaching of the paper pulp used as the base. The use of OBA’s is, at this stage, a refined technology but should be avoided – the choice of a photographic paper with low or no OBA’s is preferable for the printing of photographic images. Some papers are defined as warm-tone but the use of proper ICC profiles for particular papers eliminates the shifts in colour or tonality associated with these modern papers.

The next time you print open your mind to your choice of paper – the choice of paper alone could change your print results for the better.

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