Recently I’ve had a new addition to my family in the form of a 1/10 scale version of my wife and I. As I’m sure all parents do I have been burning up the memory card on my digital camera taking pictures of my little one trying to freeze in time all the great moments and milestones that already pass much too quickly. The out of focus, overexposed, and out of frame, or “The ones my wife took” as I like to call them get thrown in the bin but while the prime shots get printed to be put in frames or sent off to grandma. For this task you will need photo paper but what kind and what is the difference?
Most modern photographic inkjet papers come in two general classifications, Resin Coated (RC) and Fiber based. Below is a description of each type of paper and the inherent advantages and disadvantages of each.
Resin coated papers start with a substrate of wood pulp, cloth fiber or in some cases even plastic pulp. A layer of organic or synthetic resin is layered on top of the paper base sealing it like the varnish on your kitchen table and giving it a very smooth and uniform surface. Often times optical brighteners are added to the resin to boost the brightness of the paper and make colors more vivid. Lastly the surface coating is applied. The surface coating or receptive layer is the layer that actually holds the ink when it is sprayed onto the paper.
Coatings are arguable the most important part of the paper-making process since it is this layer that determines how the ink will disperse and dry causing a photo to be blurry or sharp with smooth gradients or a mottled appearance. Most coatings are porous allowing the ink to pass through the coating layer and become “instantly dry” by being trapped between it and the resin layer.
Advantages of RC paper: Consistency from sheet to sheet, ultra smooth texture and photo quality, and low cost due to the quality of the paper fiber used being of very little consequence.
Disadvanages: Photos may have a more clinical and bland look vs. fiber based paper, and lower color saturation levels.
Fiber based papers start with a substrate of cotton fiber or a high grade wood pulp. A surface coating is layered on top of the paper base like in the previous process but without the resin layer so that the ink passes through the porous receptive layer and is held by the paper fiber itself. Since the paper fiber can hold much more ink than the non permeable resin layer photos can have a richer quality with deeper colors. Also since the texture and quality of the base fibers can be seen through the receptive layer the characteristics of the paper is unique and can give more character to prints.
Its important to note that not all fiber based photo papers use high quality cotton rag fiber or high quality wood pulp and while this is not very important in RC papers because of the Resin coating that compensates for imperfections. Use of low grade materials can cause fiber papers to produce very blurry low grade prints with mottling and bad tone.
Advantages of Fiber paper: Deep and rich colors and a more expressive character to prints.
Disadvantages: Very low quality printing if the paper is not of the highest quality, high cost.