The 10 Best Photo Papers
The Photo Lab In Your Printer: Choosing Photo Paper
With the relatively low-cost and high-quality of printers now available on the consumer market, printing photos at home has never been a more approachable undertaking. Choosing a great printer is a fine start, but keep in mind that you can't print great photos on regular printer paper and expect them to look like anything special.
The most important consideration to be made when choosing the right photo paper is, fortunately, also the easiest decision to make: it is simply choosing the right size for your needs. If you are planning to print a plethora of standard four-by-six inch photos for use in smaller frames, in an album, or in a scrap book, then by all means you should choose to order paper that comes in that size. The same is true if you are certain you will be using frames or photo albums designed to accommodate five-by-seven inch pictures. And of course for larger images, with eight-by-ten inches being one of the more common sizes, you will need a larger paper size. If you're uncertain which size of photo you will most commonly print, it's always a wise idea to err on the side of larger paper. After all, a sheet of photo paper measuring eight-by-eleven inches can be trimmed down to fit any smaller size, while a smaller sheet can't well be expanded when a large photo is desired.
Next, consider the finish you prefer in your photos, which is to say matte or glossy. There is no objective right or wrong choice when it comes to choosing a minimally-reflective matte finish or a high-shine gloss paper; rather the matter is largely subjective based on taste, with a few other considerations to weight. Glossy photos look great in the right light settings where the glare of lights or sunshine can be limited or filtered (such as in a gallery or a well-designed home). They also produce excellent color reproduction and depth of contrast, but can be hard to see from many angles in bright light. If you are printing photos for the purposes of sales presentation or to adorn a booth or shop interior, often using matte finish photo paper is wise, because you do not want to risk inhibiting the view of your clientele in anyway. The image may be less vibrant, but it will be readily visible. Also note that glossy photo papers tend to scratch and smudge more easily than matte papers.
Finally, consider how often you print photos and how many you are likely to print in the relatively near future, letting this thought process guide the quantity of photo paper you order at any given time. While ultimately less expensive than prints made by a shop (and certainly more convenient), printing photos at home using your own paper and printer is not exactly cheap. If you print only a few pictures now and then, by all means buy a smaller quantity of paper and use it sparingly. Many packets of photo paper contain fifty sheets and will last some households all year. Others come with one hundred sheets and are more expensive, but end up being the better investment on a per-sheet cost. These larger packets don't necessarily make sense in pure economic terms for those who seldom print, because some photo papers have a tendency to stick together and become damaged, especially in moist environments. Thus spending money to buy in bulk may result in you simply owning a bulk-sized amount of damaged papers.
Tips On How to Print Great Photos at Home
If you own a good printer -- one that is designed with photo-printing capabilities -- and you are using good photo paper, then it is easy to print good photos at home. By the very definition of the process, if you are printing photos at home, you must be using digital images (or images scanned from hard copies into digital form, at least), and therefore you have the opportunity to manipulate and improve your photos before you ever print them.
One of the best ways to improve a photo is to crop it, framing the subject and/or setting of the image to maximum effect and removing portions of the tableau that serve no purpose or take away from the beauty or focus of the image. Cropping a photo digitally on your computer (or even on your phone or tablet) is always easier and more precise than doing so by hand, and is also less permanent.
If your pictures often turn out too dark, try brightening them using photo editing software before printing and consider glossy photo paper over matte sheets. Conversely, if your images are often too bright, try darkening them on the computer and switching to matte print paper.
If you remember only one thing about home photo printing, let it be this: give your freshly-printed photos time to dry. Even the best, most efficient printer produces photos that are usually slightly wet to the touch and often easily damaged or destroyed if handled too shortly after production. Print your photos, then let them lie for a half hour or so at least; if you must touch them sooner, gently grasp the sides and the back. Also avoid framing or placing pictures in an album for many hours after they have been printed to reduce the chance that their surface will adhere to the glass or the picture pocket.
A Brief History of the Early Printed Image
The oldest known printed photograph dates from 1826, and was taken by Frenchman Nicéphore Niépce. The basic, grainy image is known as "View from the Window at Le Gras" and, while not in-and-of-itself remarkable, it is a forebear of modern media writ large.
The first commonly printed "photographs" the world ever saw were called called Daguerreotypes, and were named for their ostensible inventor, Louis Daguerre, who had in fact worked with Nicéphore Niépce and even received much of his research when Niépce died at a young age. Daguerreotype images were small, often dark, and usually poor in clarity. These images, created in small metal plates, were the only readily-available form of photography from the 1830s into the 1850s.
The early 1850s saw the development of photo exposures using glass plates. These represented a dramatic improvement over the Daguerreotype because the plates could be used to print multiple reproductions of the photograph onto sheets of paper. This not only lowered the costs associated with photography, but also brought the photograph into the mainstream mass market. Witness the proliferation of images of Civil War soldiers, politicians, and carnage as the clearest and most striking example of the early widespread use of the rapidly developing medium.