Friday, November 6, 2009

Expanding your palette for photo prints (part 2)

The basics
Whether you print using an inkjet (that's called a "giclée" print in snob), or a chemical process at your local photo lab (usually a Noritsu printer at 1 hour photo centers such as Costco), you have choices to make. Often, you only get two options: luster (or "lustre" in snob) or glossy. A typical third choice is matte. The names are pretty self-evident in that they describe how reflective the paper is. But let's get beyond the boring and obvious and talk about preferences, specifically, mine.
Glossy: I hate glossy paper. Glossy gives off a glare, it tends to scratch easily, and it picks up fingerprints better than most crime scene investigators. It can create brilliant color, but the only time I ever use it is in Asukabook wedding albums (which have a special coating and really aren't the same thing) or in metallic prints (I'll save those for part 3).

Luster: My preference for most purposes. Works great for wedding announcements and greeting cards because it doesn't scratch and pick up fingerprints like glossy. Luster is the perfect default choice (just ask Smugmug).

Matte: Labs don't offer it as often as they once did, and maybe because of that fact, matte tends to come off as a more "artsy" choice. I often make matte my default choice for black and white.


If only it were that easy. Each one of the above choices includes a wide range of options that your supermarket photo lab doesn't have incentive to offer. Think of it like this. You go to buy paint, and they ask if you want "gloss," "semi-gloss," "satin," etc. but there is only one kind of each. "But that is what happens," you say, "I go to Sherwin Williams, and I get Sherwin Williams paint." (And since we're on the topic, don't you find their logo of paint spilling over the whole planet to be just a tad maniacal? You can't stop me now, Mr. Bond. In just 10 minutes, my giant paint bucket will cover the earth in "Enticing Red" semi-gloss! bwah ha ha!).

The fact is, there are different kinds of paper under each category of finish. Spend a little time browsing the photo papers and art papers sections at and you will begin to see how many choices are out there (three links in one sentence, they should send me free stuff). And the same thing goes for papers used by print labs. The luster Fuji Crystal Archive paper (used by Costco, for example) has a heavier pebble grain texture than the luster Kodak Endura paper (which I prefer). Next time you get a print done at a lab, turn it over and look at the paper, or ask the lab what paper(s) they use. Or if you print photos from your inkjet, look at the inkjet art forum (that's four links!) and see how many choices are out there.

It doesn't have to get overwhelming, and there is no way I'm going to attempt to outline every option (as if I could). But I am going to get a little more specific in future posts during the month. Yes, I'm afraid there will be a part 3, probably a part 4. If you've heard enough about paper already, if I lost you at "luster," don't worry, as soon as get out over this stupid (cold? flu? who knows?) and get back outside, I have some more visual posts to keep things interesting.


michelle said...

What?! Giclée is an inkjet print? I feel so let down!