Problems Printing Photos? It May Be Your Paper

In my last post, I talked about the most common cause of printed pictures not matching the screen version---lack of monitor calibration. But if you've already followed my suggestion and calibrated your monitor, your prints may still not look like the display. The second area for improvement is the paper you are using to print on.

The easiest and best way to help the print-to-screen match is to use inkjet photo paper that is made by the same company as built your printer. So if you have an Epson printer, use paper made by Epson. If you have a Canon printer, use paper that Canon makes. The printer manufacturer has designed the printer, paper and ink to all work together to give you great results. So feeding your printer paper that was made to work with it increases your chances of getting a good print.

Nearly every inkjet printer maker also provides a variety of different types of papers that work with their printers. To start out, use a glossy surface paper. This type generally helps the printer produce the most vivid colors and the darkest shadows in your photo, which most people like. Once you can consistently produce good prints on glossy paper from the printer company, then be adventurous and try a matte or watercolor paper. Again, select one of these varieties made by your printer company for the easiest solution.

But, you say, the local store doesn't carry photo paper made by my printer company. And besides, they have a photo paper on the shelf that says it works with all printers and costs a lot less than the one my printer company sells. Can't I use that paper?

You can! There are lots of companies that produce inkjet photo papers that don't make printers. Companies like Kodak and Ilford have made photographic papers for decades. Office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot carry their own brands of photo papers. Even the companies that make regular copy paper, like Hammermill, sometimes make inkjet photo paper too. I refer to these types of papers as "third-party" papers; they are made by someone other than the company that made your printer and ink.

But your printer doesn't automatically know how to best put ink on these third-party papers. So you have to read the directions. Inside each box of such paper is an instruction sheet. It usually lists the printer brand, the printer model number, and then the recommended printer settings. Here's an example:

Instructions for using a third-party paper with different printers
To use these instructions, you first locate the printer brand and model that most closely matches your own. Then you make note of the printer settings the paper manufacturer recommends.

So if you were using this paper with a Canon i-Series printer (e.g. i9900), in the printer window you would select the Canon paper type called "Photo Paper Pro", the Print Quality of "Fine" and make two color adjustments, one to subtract 15 points of Yellow and another to add 5 points of Intensity (vividness). By following these directions, you increase the chances that your printer works well with this third-party paper.

The one thing that doesn't work is using one printer company's paper with a different company's printer. For instance, trying to print on Canon photo paper using an Epson printer may give you terrible results. And you won't find any instruction in the Canon paper box explaining how to use it with an Epson printer! They are competitors and their papers usually don't print well on other machines.

There are a lot more paper choices and paper manufacturers out there than the ones I've mentioned in this article. If you would like to learn more about printing on the vast array of papers out there, check out my Basic Printing with Lightroom workshop in Montana this spring.