We’ve already covered the selection of inks and papers for everyday printing in Choosing the Right Inks and Papers but, when you want to make prints for display, the printer manufacturer’s range may not include the surface you wish to print on. Fortunately, there are plenty of ‘fine art’ papers with textures ranging from ultra-smooth to as rough as watercolour paper and a wide range of thicknesses (see below). Some suppliers offer media with textured surfaces like canvas, linen and even silk, which will allow you to turn your favourite pictures into attractive works of art. However, care should be taken when selecting them.

Everybody likes to show off their latest photos as prints and, if you have a good inkjet printer, it’s easy and cost-effective to produce A4-sized (or larger) prints from your best shots and either frame them or display them on bulletin boards. However, there are some important decisions to be made before making prints for display. You must select the right media to print on and you must be aware of the problems that can affect prints in display conditions.

Media Selection

We’ve already covered the selection of inks and papers for everyday printing in Choosing the Right Inks and Papers but, when you want to make prints for display, the printer manufacturer’s range may not include the surface you wish to print on. Fortunately, there are plenty of ‘fine art’ papers with textures ranging from ultra-smooth to as rough as watercolour paper and a wide range of thicknesses (see below). Some suppliers offer media with textured surfaces like canvas, linen and even silk, which will allow you to turn your favourite pictures into attractive works of art. However, care should be taken when selecting them.

The first criterion to consider is the thickness or ‘weight’ of the paper. This is normally measured in grams per square metre (gsm), with office papers ranging from about 70 gsm to 100 gsm. Photo inkjet papers typically range from 120 gsm to 180 gsm but most fine art papers are heavier still and the heavier the paper, the higher its price.

Some inkjet printers cannot handle the heaviest fine art papers so always check your printer’s specifications before buying papers. Using a paper that is too heavy for the printer’s transport system can lead to paper jams.

The second criterion to consider is the colour of the base material. This can vary from pure white to parchment and ivory. It will impact significantly on the overall impression created by the print. Prints made on brilliant white papers will look more dynamic and ‘photo like’ than prints made on the warmer-toned papers, which impart a more ‘moody’ feel to the picture. Some ‘pure white’ papers contain optical brighteners to enhance the perceived dynamic range of prints. These may affect colour reproduction so they should be used with care.

Always try out new papers in your printer before buying them in large quantities. Many fine art paper suppliers stock trial packs with samples of the different media they stock. These are usually affordably priced.

It’s also important to choose papers that have ICC profiles available, either supplied with the paper itself or downloadable from the local distributor’s (or reseller’s) website. ICC profiles offer the only scientific method for ensuring accurate colour reproduction and colour and tonal consistency from print to print. It is more common to find profiles for A3 machines and large-format printers than for A4 models (although we have found some paper manufacturers that offer profiles for Epson’s R800 printer).

Many paper manufacturers only provide profiles for certain brands of printer – and, often, only for specific models in the manufacturer’s line-up. Suggested driver settings for use with each paper should also be available. If you’re using one of the low-cost machines that are designed for home photo printing printer profiles will be difficult – or impossible – to find.

Generic profiles contain algorithms that realign Photoshop setup tables for each paper, ink and printer combination assuming their use in a ‘typical’ imaging environment. They can get the system close to the mark but because they do not (and cannot) account for factors that vary over a broad spectrum of imaging workstations – such as monitor calibration, graphic cards and local Photoshop settings – additional fine-tuning may be required.

If no ICC profiles are available for a certain paper you like, you have two choices: selecting a similar paper from a manufacturer that does provide profiles or having a custom profile made by a distributor or specialist re-seller. The former is risky because the manufacturer’s ‘canned’ profiles may not suit the paper you are using. You can end up facing a lot of fine-tuning of the image and/or printer settings to obtain the colour you want. You may also waste ink when the built-in profile causes the printer to lay down more ink than the fine art paper requires. In either case, your printing costs will rise.

The latter can be expensive. Some suppliers charge between $25 and $75 to download stock profiles that have been prepared for particular printers, while others provide a custom profiling service that takes account of your total workflow and includes monitor profiling. Expect to pay at least $500 for this type of service.

Downloading and Installing Profiles

When seeking out an ICC profile, the best place to start is at the paper manufacturer’s website. Profile downloads are normally located in the ‘Profiles’, ‘Support’ ‘Technical’ or ‘Creative’ areas of the site, although they may be accessible via specific product pages.


Once you have a profile for the paper, it’s relatively simple to install and use it and most suppliers provide instructions with downloads. Note: Photoshop scans your PC for profiles as it opens and should not be open while you are downloading and installing new profiles because it won’t find them. For downloaded profiles, if the file is zipped, unzip it and copy it to the appropriate directory. On a Windows 2000, NT or XP computer, the directory is C:/windows/system32/spool/drivers/color. Users of other versions of Windows can usually find the directory by searching for *.icm files. On a Mac OSX, they need to be copied into System/Library/ColorSync/Profiles. Once the profiles have been copied, you can restart Photoshop.

Click on Edit>Colour Settings and set up the dialog box as shown on this page. Check the Advanced Mode box. For Working Spaces, select the RGB colour space you wish to work in (e.g. Adobe RGB 1998), set the CMYK to U.E. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 and the Gray and Spot dot gain to 20%. Set all the Colour Management Policies options to Preserve Embedded Profiles and the Conversion Options engine to Adobe (ACE) and the Intent to Perceptual.


Open the image file and edit it. When you are ready to print your file from Photoshop, choose the Print with Preview command from the File menu. Set the Colour Handling to Let Photoshop Determine Colors then select the profile you’ve loaded from the Printer Profile drop down menu, leaving the Intent on Perceptual and Use black point compensation checked. Double-check the profile name because sometimes the filename differs from the ICC profile name that’s used in the software. If you can’t locate it, try restarting your computer.

Select your printer from the Printer drop down list; then click on Properties and follow the procedures required by the printer’s driver. Turn off the printer’s colour management setting by selecting No Colour Adjustment. Make sure the remaining printer driver settings match the requirements of the ICC profile and that you’re using the exact printer model, ink type and paper for that particular profile. (Settings will differ between printers, inks and media so you must find out how to match them to the ICC profile you’re using.) Many printers will allow you to save the settings used for a particular profile.

With a dedicated printing application like Qimage Pro, the colour profile of the printer (and also the monitor) is located in the Settings>Color Management menu and you can choose a colour profile for your monitor or printer or both. The selected profile is listed in the lower right corner of the main screen.

Displaying Inkjet Prints

Prints destined for display often look best if mounted on a heavier ‘board’ so they don’t become creased or wrinkled – although this is not essential if the print will be framed. The most popular materials used for mounting boards are cardboard, extruded polystyrene-foam laminates (‘foam core’) and aluminium sheeting, all of which combine dimensional stability with light weight. However only aluminium can offer substantial chemical inertness.

All cardboard used – and any papers or adhesives that come in contact with the print – should be acid- and lignin-free. Ordinary cardboard, chipboard, plywood and Masonite should be strictly avoided as they can emit chemicals that will damage prints. Commercial-grade foam core can also be risky but products are available that use acid-free paper facings. However more research is needed to determine whether such materials are suitable for long-term use as photo mounts.

A comprehensive guide to the care and preservation of photographs, titled The Permanence and Care of Colour Photographs and written by Henry Wilhelm and Carol Brower, can be downloaded free of charge from www.wilhelmresearch.com. The file is 79.6 MB in size so a broadband connection is advisable. It contains a wealth of information on handling both traditional and digital materials as well as movie films. Extensive references are listed at the end of each chapter for readers who require additional information.

Encapsulation (‘lamination’) can be useful for some informal display situations, especially when a photograph will be displayed as a poster. The process should involve sealing the print between two polyester sheets that exclude air and other contaminants. However, it is usually impossible to remove the print from the ‘capsule’ once it has been sealed and some chemicals may migrate from the plastic to the print over time.

Displayed photographs will last longest if framed behind glass (or high-quality acrylic plastic sheet) with an over-mat preventing the surface of the print from touching the glass. All framing materials should be chemically inert. Non-corrosive metals like anodised aluminium are ideal but most wooden frames should be avoided, especially if they have been varnished or oiled.

Over-mats should be made of acid- and lignin-free paper or light card. The frame should be deep enough to accommodate the glass, mat, print and mounting board and allow them to be sealed with acid-free paper tape to prevent insects from reaching the print.

If you wish to optimise the longevity of digital photos that will be stored but not displayed, look for albums or storage boxes made from acid- and lignin-free materials and avoid those with self-stick, plastic-covered pages (‘magnetic’ albums). Albums with pockets for snapshot-sized prints are fine, provided the pockets are made from polypropylene.

Optimum Display Conditions

The durability of inkjet prints is affected by two main factors: the inks and paper used to produce the original print and environmental factors such as exposure to light, humidity, atmospheric pollutants and high temperature. As outlined in Choosing the Right Inks and Papers, prints made with pigment inks are usually more stable than those made with dye inks and prints made with the inks produced by the printer manufacturer will be more durable than third-party inks. However, if you’ve selected a printer and media combination that promises high print durability, there are factors you can control in the display environment to ensure your prints keep their colours longer.

1. Don’t expose prints to direct sunlight. Fading due to light exposure has been an issue since photography was invented and remains an issue for inkjet prints. The stronger the light, the greater the risk of fading. Museums try to keep light levels below 450 lux and use glass-filtered halogen lamps to illuminate photographic prints. In a domestic situation, such control is often impossible. Make sure all artificial lights are at least 60 cm from the surface of a displayed photo print and check the print is not being heated by the light. (If fluorescent lights are used, select Cool White lights to minimise colour casts and install UV filters over the light itself or use UV-blocking glass to frame the print.)

2. Minimise exposure to atmospheric pollutants. Inkjet prints can be highly susceptible to atmospheric chemicals, particularly ozone and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, all of which can break down dye molecules and cause different colours to fade at different rates. Avoid displaying photo prints in rooms used by smokers and areas near air conditioners, fax machines, copiers and other electronic equipment. Don’t display prints on fridge doors.

3. Avoid high humidity and temperatures – and large fluctuations in either temperature or humidity. The behaviour of inkjet materials varies widely in these conditions, depending on whether the images are printed with dye or pigment inks and the type of paper on which they are printed. In humid conditions, dye inks can bleed into surrounding areas, leading to a loss of definition. Papers can swell and take on a yellowish cast. High humidity can also accelerate the growth of funguses. Avoid mounting and framing prints in humid conditions.

Handle prints carefully to prevent physical damage from abrasion or scuffing. Inkjet prints are more susceptible to this type of damage than silver halide prints. Glossy papers require special care to avoid fingerprints on their surface. Wear cotton gloves when handling them.



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