PhotoWorkflo previously published two blog posts in this series. The first article explains how to protect your photographic prints from environmental factors. In the second post, we explain how to choose the right paper for long-lasting prints. In this third blog post, we discuss types of inks and paper surfaces and how they interact with one another giving you durable, archival prints.

Two common ink types for modern digital printing

Dye-based inks are designed for dye-sublimation printers. The color in these inks is water-soluble and used on matte or glossy papers. The ink is designed to sink into the paper coating and adhere to the fibers as it dries. Dye-sub prints have more scratch and abrasion-resistant surfaces. These inks have an effect called “dot gain” that limits the use of uncoated papers. With dot gain, the ink hits the paper in the correct amount but spreads beyond the intended “dot” as it sinks into the uncoated paper.

You can find inexpensive portable dye-sublimation printers for as low as $99. They are great for shooting events and making small prints, on-site, for customers at the end of the event.
Pigment-based inks are good for coated and uncoated paper, giving you a wide range of paper choices. These inks have a long lifespan, better light stability, and are more resistant to gases and high temperatures than dye-based inks. Pigment-based inks don’t really smudge and dry faster than dye. On the downside, because pigment inks sit on the paper surface, they are more prone to abrasions and exhibiting metamerism.

What the heck is metamerism??

The phenomenon of metamerism

Metamerism is a phenomenon where two colored samples look to be the same color under one light source, but look different under another. Take for example, the two blue socks you put on this morning under the lights in your bedroom. When you get outside in the sunlight you notice that one is blue and the other is black. In photography, you might make the perfect print in one set of lighting conditions, but there could be a color shift when you take that perfect print and display it under a different light source. This effect has diminished as printer manufacturers improve their ink sets.

Types of paper coatings and suitability for particular inks

In the world of inkjet printing, there are many papers to choose from. Most papers have a surface coating to “receive” the ink, though, uncoated papers still work in printers using pigment inks. Papers are either coated on a single side or are double-sided, enabling printing on the front and back.

Microporous: When it comes to pigment (or inkjet) prints, the paper surface is categorized as microporous. This paper coating contains a fine layer of ceramic material that has been ground into a powder. When sprayed onto paper, the ink sinks into the cavities between the ceramic particles drying quickly, without a great deal of dot gain
Swellable: For dye-sub inks, look for swellable papers. Just like it sounds, the paper surface swells when the ink hits it. Beware that dye-sub prints take a long time to dry and that swellable paper is sensitive to humidity and moisture.
Resin coated (RC): if you started your career learning to print black and white in the darkroom, you have probably used resin-coated paper, either for your first prints or for making contact sheets. Color processor (RA-4) papers are also resin coated. Resin paper has a polyethylene (plastic) base and could have a microporous or swellable coating on top.
The Printed Picture, an exhibition at MoMA - October 17, 2008–July 13, 2009

The Printed Picture, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art – October 17, 2008–July 13, 2009

In this series, we have shared information about making long-lasting prints. If you want to learn more, check out this book by Richard Benson called The Printed Picture. The book explores the history of the printed picture from woodcut relief printing, to the invention of the printing press, to contemporary digital printing. Benson also co-curated an exhibition by the same name at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. With all your knowledge, go forth and make great prints!