Photo paper is the name given to a wide range of papers that are capable of receiving ink on to them, without bleeding. They are coated inkjet papers of different sizes and weights. The most common types you will find are microporous and cast photo papers.
The quality of photo paper is measured in various factors, such as weight, colour, archival properties and finish. It is the receiving layer on a photo paper that determines this.
To accommodate a high quality print, photo papers have a receiving layer. The receiving layer prevents the paper being soaked by the amount of ink laid by the printer during the print process. The technology that makes the receiving layer will make a difference to how the print performs over time. There are two main types of receiving layer;
Microporous is known for its stability and is made of a high quality PE coated base paper. It has micro pores within the receiving layer and because of these pores is able to accommodate both dye and pigment inks. The ink dries instantly on these papers and the archival potential is greatly improved. Microporous paper is also water-resistant and provides a good colour definition with deep, solid blacks.
Cast papers are considered to be a budget option. The ink sits on the papers surface and may smear if not allowed to dry. The archival qualities of cast paper are limited and it is best suited for use on prints with a limited lifespan. Prints may appear slightly duller when compared with the same on microporous paper. Some manufacturers now offer a higher quality cast paper, which are referred to as super cast.
Now we will take a bit more of an in-depth look between the two types of paper.
Microporous photo papers –
Come in gloss and satin (semi-gloss) finishes. This type of paper is almost always made using a quality, PE coated base paper. The microporous layer is the superior coating used for inkjet photo papers and is the paper of choice for most photographers.
The microporous layer is made up of lots of micro pores, which are usually silica based. Microporous paper is able to accommodate both dye and pigment inks. Microporous paper dries quickly to a water resistant finish (pigment ink offers better water-resistance than dye inks). The main benefit of using microporous papers is the enhanced stability of the final product.
Cast coated photo papers –
Are an excellent choice when using dye based inks, although if using pigment based inks you are likely to get lower quality results. Cast coated photo papers are based on a normal paper (unlike microporous that is PE based) and only comes in a gloss finish due to its specific production method.
To make cast coated paper the paper goes through hot metal rollers after the coating has been applied. These rollers press and heat the coating, which cause the paper to become glossy with a flat surface. As there is no barrier coating on the paper, dye based inks will sink deeper into the paper, but will also fade more quickly. Pigment inks will sit on the surface of this type of paper and can be prone to smudging.
There are now some higher quality cast coated photo papers called super cast paper which tries to address the problem of using this paper with a pigment based ink system. Super cast papers use some of the microporous technologies and contain some chemicals which cause pigment inks to adhere better to the paper.
The superior of the two papers is without doubt the microporous range of papers. Cast coated papers are cheaper and provide satisfactory results for a wide range of uses. So if you are looking to produce professional, high quality images, then microporous will be the best choice for you. If you need a budget alternative for short term usage and perhaps are using dye based inks, then cast coated could be the best choice for you.