Glossy Digital Prints


I typically print my photos on Moab Entrada Rag Natural 300 paper which has a slightly textured matte surface. The 300gsm is nice and heavy in your hand, the texture feels rich and “fabric-ey”, and it lays flat before and after printing – no curling or waving. However, the Entrada is not really designed for rough handling. The soft open surface can pick up oil from fingers and is relatively easy to scratch and dent. It is best to put the prints under glass soon after printing.

This week I needed something a little different. The Wayne County Council for the Arts is having a show of photos taken within our county. All entries need to be submitted mounted and unframed. I decided to submit some photos, but I didn’t know how the prints would be handled or stored or presented once I turned them in, so I thought I had better use a glossy paper that would better resist smudges and scratching. The glossy would also look better since matte prints not under glass can sometimes look a little flat.  Plus I was planning to go black and white which I like best on a gloss type surface in order to have the look and feel of traditional wet process prints.

Usually I would order something like this through the Internet, but I didn’t feel like waiting for shipping so I needed to find a local supplier. I stopped by my local art supply shop to pick up some photo mounting adhesive and some board (permanent mounting is also something I don’t usually do). This gave me another idea. What if I printed on matte paper and then applied a gloss finish over the top?

I had heard of people doing this, but I never saw the point since I always frame my prints. So I picked up a can of glossy Krylon “Preserve It!” digital photo protectant and headed home to try it out. Of course the can warned me about flammable harmful vapors, but I figured how bad could it be?

The stuff worked great at putting a glossy surface over my prints. It was an interesting effect – a matte textured surface with a glossy sheen. Unfortunately the smell was over powering. I sprayed two roughly 8×10 prints out in my garage – not the cleanest environment, but well ventilated. After letting the prints dry for 15 minutes or so, I brought them inside. Holy Cow! In no time I could not stand to be in my office. I opened the window and closed the door in a vain attempt to keep the fumes out of the rest of the house. After a couple of hours I could not take it anymore. The prints had to go back out to the garage. It took all afternoon to air out my office to the point it was habitable again and I could still smell it the next day because just laying the prints on my desk caused the odor to impregnate the wood! After several days in the garage the prints still reeked so I threw them away.

Back to the drawing board – looks like real honest to goodness glossy paper is the way to go. I decided to head over to Booksmart Studio to see what paper they had on hand. Booksmart specializes in high end art book type printing, but they also sell stuff for photo printing and even carry a line of inkjet printable metal for those adventurous types.

They several brands of paper; Canson, Innova, Lumijet, etc., and a large selection of Hahnemühle. I always wanted to try Hahnemühle, but it is expensive and I got used to the Moab so I just never bothered. One nice thing at Booksmart is that they have sample prints on dozens of different papers so you can spread them all out on the counter and compare them. I messed around trying to decide on the right combination of print quality, texture, and gloss for about twenty minutes. I finally decided on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Pearl 320gsm.

This is a cotton based paper with no optical brighteners and a gloss coating with a little bit of a dimpling texture that gives it a sparkle when held at the right angle to the light. Although there are no brighteners, the white is still a little brighter than the Entrada Natural. I like how deep and dark the blacks become and the warm grey lighter tones in black and white photos. I have not printed much color on it yet, but so far it seems to need the saturation boosted a little in order to match the colors of the Entrada. There is a slight curve toward the coated side, but nothing serious. It feels good, it looks good, and it seems to take handling very well.

So I fiddled around a bit until I got it to look the way I wanted it and then I printed my photos. I sprayed the back of the prints with 3M Photo Mount Adhesive. I did the spraying in the garage again, but the odor was nothing like the preservative. Once the prints dried a couple of minutes, I took them inside and mounted them on foam board using a hard rubber roller to press them down. Presto! – mounted unframed prints.

I could enter 3 photos and had planned to use one of a canal lock at night, one of a barn with vines growing over it, and one of some bolts in a local railroad tower. After I got them all printed and mounted, I noticed that the entries had to be all taken within the last 5 months. The barn and the canal lock were taken back in January so they were out. I ended up just using three bolt photos; two of which I have included in this post.

Oh well.



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4 Responses to “Glossy Digital Prints”

  1. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Forest Rat,
    This is a good discussion on paper quality.
    Paper, to the artist and photographer, is such a critical issue. The wrong paper can really kill the project if it is not the right one.
    Your bolt painting is going Abstract! Nice composition.

    • forestrat Says:

      The ability to create a really good photographic print is a whole side of photography that is going by the boards due to the general frenzy for all things digital.

      For so many photographers the photographic process is all about the computer manipulation. Capturing the image in the first place and especially creating the physical photograph have been marginalized. I worry that someday photographic papers will go the way of film.


  2. fencer Says:

    Hi forest rat,

    I found your discussion of papers interesting, too. For digital, there’s a real art getting the pixels out into the real world the way you want them. The whole printing endeavor seems so important, never mind all the tweaking one can do in Photoshop and the rest.

    Great photos… different subject matter than we’ve usually seen here!


    • forestrat Says:

      Hey fencer,

      Getting a print that matches the vision you had when you pressed the shutter is a real pain in the… ‘er a challenge. I am always tweaking my screen and the printer and throwing chicken bones and what not, but having that print in my hands makes it all worthwhile.


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