Inkjet paper has a surface: Is microporous best?

All inkjet papers were not born equal. For example, their surface can be varying a lot from one paper to the next. Maybe, you thought that the only difference was in the weight of the paper, whether it was glossy and its price. Oh boy! Were you wrong…

As a matter of fact, paper manufacturers don’t even speak about it (marketing droids don’t want to frighten people with technical details…) but a new generation of papers has hit the market of inkjet printing:

Microporous paper

Let’s see what it is all about.

Fiber

Tempted to drop back to the origin of times (at least for the paper industry), let’s remind ourselves that paper is made of cellulosic fibers. But this material is quite rough and initially fights against quality when printed. The first solution found was to calender it (to press the sheet of paper between two hard metal rolls) to give it a much smoother surface. Then, time went for coating it with some finer material.

When it comes to photographic printing (either analog or digital), experts had to call in science to provide a surface very smooth but able to hold chemicals either on its surface or under it. For inkjet printers, the aim is to find a coating layer that would receive inks (either dye-based or pigment-based) when they are shot toward the paper surface.

Coated paper

You will find coating when paper surface receives a specific film. This specialized industry developped various formulas whose objective is to receive the ink, to help it stay where it fell (or to go down without spreading around) and to stay quite visible to the viewer.

There are patents of all kinds to protect these. Industrial inventive techniques are used all over the place. But the technology starts to be quite well understood and this allows reasonably low costs.

Advantages:

  • Ink is absorbed near the surface
  • Light is reflected without going very deep
  • Ink does not make blots like on uncoateed paper
  • Color fidelity is easier to reach (ink stays near the surface and is not altered while drying)

Microporous or nanoporous papers

To the contrary, a microporous paper look a little like a stacking of millions of tiny balls on the surface of the paper. The idea is to provide an enormous surface to spread the ink (instead of having a smooth surface, there are zillions of little corners where the ink can lodge itself and dry).

The technology is now maturing but not all brands have mastered all the details.

Advantages:

  • Inks are absorbed much faster than on other papers (ultra-fast drying),
  • The small particles better reflect light (more saturated colors and lights),
  • Even more than on a coated paper, ink does not spread around. It improves print quality on the best photo-quality inkjet printers.

Problems (nothing is perfect):

  • The paper is more fragile (the best advice is to avoid putting your fingers on the printable surface before use),
  • The enormous surface of micropores is paying against life length of the print. The dry ink is more exposed to gazeous pollutants and solvants that are the major cause of degradation of originally superb prints).

Advice

Microporous (or nanoporous, when marketing people are let loose) paper is a major progress. However, its sensitivity to storage conditions must be kept in mind if you care about total life of your prints. The worst combination is probably a dye-based ink (less durable than a pigment-based ink) used on unprotected microporous paper.

Canon users should know that. Their prefered brand is nearly always using dye-based inks. Epson users are less sensitive to this advice.

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