Today’s guest blog post comes from professional photographer Levi Sim.
The Mona Lisa was made with oil paints on a wood panel made of poplar, and it’s the most viewed painting on Earth, and it’s survived for more than 500 years. What if it had been painted in watercolor or acrylic? What if it had been made on canvas…or a napkin? Each of these media lend a different effect to the finished picture. Oil is workable for a long time, and colors can blend well. Watercolors can be ultra soft, and water color paper can be highly textured, and strokes dry very quickly. Acrylic paints can be vibrant and wood is durable. Other great paintings, like the Last Supper, also by DaVinci, have not survived well because they were created on materials that couldn’t last. Can you imagine if they were made on something as disposable as a paper napkin?
If you’re like me, you want your work to be viewable for ages, and your clients want their photographs to survive as heirlooms they can share through generations. Furthermore, you want to present your photographs on suitable media, on the paper that best presents the character and mood of the image.
If that’s what you want, then why would you ever print on materials equivalent to a paper napkin?
Let me show you how to maximize your work by presenting it on the right paper. Kodak Professional Endura papers will survive for hundreds of years, so that takes care of my longevity concerns. (Be advised that the big box stores I’ve been to recently are not printing on Kodak Professional Endura papers, and I’ve personally experienced their short life spans, not to mention their inconsistency.) Not only will they last well, but there are six types of paper surfaces available and their characteristics can enhance (or hinder) the impact of your photographs.
When you print a picture, you won’t be wrong choosing Lustre paper. Like all the Endura papers, colors on Lustre are true and smooth with excellent gradients skin tones always look great. It’s a bright paper, and the finish is excellent for viewing both in the hand or on the wall. It’s kinda shiny, but it doesn’t hold on to finger prints as much as glossy might, and the pebbly texture is subtle but gives some body and serves to randomize and soften the sheen. It’s really a good way to go, and it’s my default for print orders through my website.
Both color and black and whites look great on Lustre
There’s a reason good magazines use a glossy finish. It’s eye catching and looks extremely high quality. It’s like acrylic paint, and it’s shiny sheen makes colors explode off the page. The sheen gives an upper class feel—Ferrari’s and jewels should always be printed on Glossy. However, it’s not always the right choice, for both practical and aesthetic reasons. For instance, if I’m making small prints that will be handled by people, like those for a holiday card, then glossy may not be right because the fingerprints will show in the sheen. If I plan to mount the photograph behind glass, then I usually don’t choose Glossy, either, because I’ll have a shiny surface on the glass and the shine of the photo, which will make it hard to view. I love it for display without glass, though—make a big poster on Glossy and it’ll make your work look like a million bucks.
The subject of the picture is important when considering Glossy. Soft subjects with pastel colors that we want to dwell on and consider may not be well served by the shiny sheen on Glossy paper. However, if it’s a richly colored image, or a commercial photograph, and you want color dripping off the paper, then Glossy is a great idea. Shiny subjects, like cars, and products, and fruit, always look good on glossy.
These pictures are full of color and the subjects themselves have a shiny texture. Glossy would compliment them on the walls of the cafe, or in the menu, or marketing materials, or as posters.
These are both landscapes, but they are very different. The bold contrasting colors in the Tetons would be enhanced by the Glossy paper. The soft, nearly monochrome pastels of Garden of the Gods would be good on Glossy, but I think a matte finish and possibly something texture would be ideal.
Since we’ve just talked about Glossy, this is a good time to discuss it’s spunky, slightly rebellious brother, Metallic. It’s got a shiny finish like Glossy, but there’s an underlying excitement revealed in the sheen that always surprises me and makes my viewers gasp.
If you can imagine printing a photograph on the finish of a luxury roadster, that’s what Metallic is like. The sheen is deep and truly metal-like. Rich colors appear richer and there’s liveliness—a vitreous quality that you really need to experience.
This moving bus looks great on Metallic. The rich colors are vibrant, and the highlights let the paper’s metallic sheen through and the impact of the movement is doubled by the metallic sheen.
While rich colors appear brighter and more vibrant, lighter colors, like Caucasian skin, appear less saturated and you may feel they are a bit gray (it’s like metal, after all). Your clients will say, “Wow, that looks so cool,” which is appropriate for striking scenes full of color and hard impact, but it’s probably not quite the right idea for most newborn photography. It’d look cool, but it wouldn’t have the timeless emotional impact we’re after in newborn pictures. I’d use it for marketing, but I suspect moms will prefer something softer on their walls.
The yellow flowers and mountains above would be striking on Metallic, but the pastel rocks may not be as powerful. Like Glossy, if the subject matter is shiny, or hard, or vibrant, or moving, or impactful, then Metallic is a good choice. Sports, action, movement, color, fast: if these words fit your picture, use Metallic.
Furthermore, when I have rich colors with small highlight areas, like the bus above, or a nightscape, or this street portrait in Tampa, then it’s perfect because the colors are enriched, and the metallic sheen comes through the desaturated highlight areas and the impact is incredible.
The dark areas and the rich colors here are enhanced by Metallic paper, and the lighter colored areas allow the sheen to show through and it’s cool. It’s a crazy expression, with lots of movement, and Metallic enhances those properties.
This is such an important (and profitable) idea, that I think it needs it’s own discussion. Black and white photos printed on Metallic paper are incredible. That’s all you need to know, and you should just print it and see. Here are some examples.
I’d be hesitant to print an entire album of this couple on Metallic paper. I feel the sheen of the paper would distract from the connection between the people. If the medium detracts from the idea I’m trying to communicate, then I’ve made a bad choice. I think people would look and say, “That’s cool,” instead of, “That’s beautiful, what a great moment, how touching,” etc. Their skin tones here would be desaturated with the metallic sheen showing through.
Metallic would be a poor choice for an album of this wedding in color. The medium would detract from the subject, and that’s bad communication.
A black and white album or wall portrait printed on Metallic, however, would be wonderful. The tones grade so nicely, and the sheen gives us a photograph that’s like a flexible tintype. It ends up being a timeless look that’s also cool. Now we have an album that exudes quality. I love Metallic for black and whites.
As monotones, Metallic is totally appropriate for these portraits. The sheen and shine accentuate the impact and emotion of each image. Perfect for an album or a wall portrait.
This color portrait is warm and earthy. Printed on Metallic, the skin would be desaturated, and we’d see lots of sheen on his face and shirt, and it’d detract from the image; let’s save it for Silk. In Black and white, this is a perfect candidate for Metallic.
Reflections on the surface of a photograph may detract from it’s content, mood, and view-ability. When I print a photograph, I consider where the picture will be viewed. For instance, in a gallery or home with opposite a bank of windows would make it hard to see a photo with a glossy finish. In a case like that, Matte paper would be a good choice. Matte also shows well behind glass.
This photo is terrific on Matte because I don’t want any sheen to distract from the intensity in the eyes. Just a little glare could ruin the experience. The true whites of the Endura paper are marvelous, too.
Besides that, Matte paper is excellent for all photographs. Colors are true and blacks and whites are clean, looking classic with great depth. Like Lustre, it’s hard to go wrong with Matte. If I’m printing holiday cards or other handled products, Matte is ideal because the no glare finish won’t make fingerprints stand out. Albums on Matte paper are ideal as well. I love that Kodak Professional Endura Matte paper, unlike ink jet papers, is still tough and enduring. Ink jet papers I’ve used are very delicate and can be easily damaged, even just by framing, but Endura papers are all much more robust.
Silk and Canvas
Silk and Canvas papers are just as fine and luxurious as they sound. The subtle texture is both visible and tactile and it becomes an experience to view and handle it. Colors are as great as the other Endura papers, but, like the Mona Lisa, there’s something just right about printing on these papers.
Silk has a fine texture, and if you’re thinking of printing small pictures on an ink jet canvas, or on Canvas paper, you should consider Silk instead. We view small pictures up close, and the large texture of canvas can obscure fine details, whereas Silk’s finer weave leaves details clear. Both Silk and Canvas papers have a gentle sheen that looks like fine fabric and may be just the finish you need for your fine works. Try it for holiday cards that really stand out. Another advantage, too, is that the texture helps relieve the impact of noise and soft focus.
This image is both slightly out of focus and very noisy, but Canvas and Silk papers’ texture helps relive the impact noise would otherwise make. Both Color and BW are ideal.
Regarding mood, these papers are aptly named. Silk is gentle and luxurious and smooth. If any of those words fit your photograph, try it on Silk. Printed large, the picture appears to have a smoothness that texture less papers cannot imply. My picture above of Garden of the Gods is ideal for Silk, as are any of the portraits, especially close ups. Skin looks amazing with the Silk texture.
The soft color palette and the gentle smoothness of the sky are ideal for Silk or Canvas
Just about any picture I’ve printed large looks good on Canvas. There’s a sturdiness to the texture, and also a timeless quality. Printing on canvas has a connotation of quality these days, but ink jet canvases lack the colors, gradient, and real photographic qualities we get with photographic papers, not to mention the display options (there are only so many places one can change a 2” thick canvas). While the texture appears durable, it’s also soft and works marvelously with emotive images. A Canvas paper print looks like a memory. I love Canvas paper for any large print and I know you’ll have good success with it for your clients, too.
As artists have done for millennia, you ought to choose the best media for your photographs with consideration for their final use and display. Using Endura papers, you’ll get the best colors and durability, and choosing the right finish will augment the emotive impact you can make with your photos. Mothers will cry, clients will gasp, and generations of people will enjoy your work.