Thursday, August 16, 2012

Choosing Inkjet Paper: On the Surface

This post is a follow up to a former post titled Inkjet Paper Grain: The Long and the Short of It.

There is a lot of information about inkjet papers with regard to their use for printing photographs, but there is relatively little when it comes to digitally printing illustrations and art. The factors for illustrations vary from photographic subjects when choosing a type of inkjet paper for digital printing. Whether you created your illustration digitally or are reproducing it from traditional media, the following considerations will apply. There are practical concerns, such as: Is the paper affordable? Will it work for the needs of the project? And is it the right type of paper for my printer? There are also aesthetic considerations like: Is it the right paper surface? Is the paper color the right base tone for my illustration? And is it the best texture for my subject?

Aesthetic Considerations

The first thing to consider when it comes to the aesthetics of a digitally printed illustration is the illustration itself. The style it was rendered in, media, and subject matter play the most important roles when determining the choice of paper. Choosing paper stocks can be quite easy when you consider style and subject. Although it wasn’t always this way in the past, there are literally hundreds of quality digital printing paper stocks to choose from. Here are some general suggestions to help in making choices.

Media Factors

Consider the look of the media or technique that was used predominantly in your illustration. If traditionally produced, what materials were used, oils, acrylics, pastels, pencils, etc.? Was there varnishes or fixatives applied to the illustration? What canvas or paper surface was used in the original? If digitally produced what materials were simulated? Each material used displays a different look to the surface finish. One suggestion is to look for a type of paper that will present a similar look to its surface when your illustration is printed. An example would be to choose a less absorbent paper to reproduce a varnished oil painting on canvas, so the ink will set up on the surface and display more sheen to compliment the sheen of the original painting. Although an outright “gloss” surface paper may not be appropriate because of its surface distractions, a less absorbent smoother surface inkjet paper, will also allow the natural surface of the original to be seen if the digital file, scan, or photo contains that information.

Something to watch out for is choosing a paper surface that mimics the paper or canvas surface of an original. For instance, a watercolor painted on a cold press paper, can produce a disquieting textural effect when printed on a digital paper with a pseudo watercolor textured surface. Printing on inkjet canvas stock can enrich digital illustrations that simulate thick pigment oils or acrylics where thickly applied paint has completely covered the original canvas texture. The inkjet canvas stock then replaces the original canvas without conflicting with it texturally.

For pastels and other types of media that produce a matte surface, more absorbent smooth or matte surface inkjet papers may be most appropriate.

Color pallet also comes into play as well. Illustrations that use brighter more primary based color schemes generally work better on inkjet paper surfaces that are classified as “brilliant white”. Illustrations that have more earthy tones or naturally generally look superior when printed on “neutral “ surface papers, also called “naturals”.  Since wood and cotton fiber are off white in their natural state, brilliant white or bright white papers contain a high degree of “brighteners” to reveal their blue-white color. Neutrals generally do not contain brighteners.

Subject Considerations

The subject of an illustration can provide the answer to which inkjet paper to use. For instance natural landscapes with warm tones appear to remain natural when printed on natural finish papers. Human subjects also appear more natural on these off white or natural white paper stocks. Conversely, aquatic subjects, depending on the settings, may look better printed on a brilliant white paper with its blue cast.

Paper surface is also a factor. Subjects with a lot of texture such as mountains, stones, trees, sand, soil, etc., may look better on a granularly textured surface paper such as a satin, pearl, or luster. An excellent example where the subject might overrule the media factor would be a highly realistic digital, or a traditional acrylic painted illustration of an automobile or motorcycle working best when printed on a glossy surface.

Cost Factors

Inkjet papers vary widely in price, specifications, and even sometimes availability. For instance at the time of this post, Aurora Smooth available from Red River Paper Company was available for $1.06 per 13” x 19” sheet, while Canson BFK Rives was available for $4.28 per 13” x 19” sheet, and Crane Museo Silver Rag was available for $5.28 per 13” x 19” sheet.

Usage Factor

The requirement of the project is another consideration that goes into choosing an inkjet paper stock. The weight of the paper and whether the sheet needs to be long grain or short grain will influence the paper choice. For instance, not all inkjet papers are available in the short grain format.

Printer Limitations

The limitations of the printer are also a consideration. Some printers are limited to certain paperweights. Others are hampered by a very limited number of print preparation commands. For example, most printers do not have a paper surface option for printing on a velvet surface paper programmed into the printer media selections.

Paper Finishes

Paper finishes are classified using the following terms, gloss, semi-gloss, luster, satin, silk, pearl, velvet, canvas, watercolor, matte, and smooth, among others. The important thing to remember regarding the classifications is there are no industry set standards. One paper manufacturer's velvet might be much more coarsely textured than another manufacturers. Rather than try to provide a definition of the paper surfaces mentioned above, I recommend reading the descriptions provided by the manufacturers for their paper stocks. Here are a few links to some of the major inkjet paper companies.

In the end, as always, the aesthetic choice is a personal one, and common suggestions and guidelines may not be all that useful. I can serve as my own example for going against the trend. Much of my work is based on hard geometric shapes, however by pairing my images with the unlikely choice of a watercolor textured inkjet paper, I achieved very aesthetically pleasing results. If you have the resources and inclination, I encourage you to try different paper stocks to find the ones that most please you.