Inkjet Printing on Alternative Substrates

By Kelly Wunderle Back to


There are many alternative substrate choices to choose from. There’s a whole smorgasbord of papers available now that can leave you both excited and overwhelmed about where to start. What I recommend is to do some research, then order a sample pack or a small quantity of various papers and test them to find which meet your personal preferences.

I examined a number of alternative substrates using the Canon iPF6300 12-ink pigment printer. I made a custom profile for each paper using X-Rite’s Eye-One and Eye- One Match software. It is critical to have a good profile for each paper you use, but it’s even more important with alternative substrates. Usually with these papers, you don’t have a regular setting in the printer software like you do with normal “glossy” and “matte” papers. Plus, most special substrates are pricy, and you don’t want to waste paper while trying to get the right color because you didn’t have a custom profile available. If you are unable to make your own profile, check with the paper manufacturer’s website. They frequently offer custom profiles to download.

First, I researched and tested multiple inkjet metallic papers. This is a newer choice for inkjet, and many photographers have been waiting for this to be available.

Metallic prints have been available on papers like Kodak Endura Metallic − a big hit in many professional photo labs across the country. I used Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, LexJet Photo Metallic paper and Mitsubishi Grace Pearlescent Metallic. The results were very different from the Kodak Endura Metallic print “look,” which I see as chrome-like. The metallic inkjet prints are less intense with the metallic chrome and have more of a smooth pearl look. The Mitsubishi Grace Pearlescent Metallic has a bit more lustrous quality than the LexJet and Red River papers, both of which have a very smooth satin surface and what appears as similar paper stock.

Premier Platinum Luster Rag / Close-Up Detail

Next I examined Premier’s Platinum Luster Rag. The Platinum Rag has a low gloss surface similar to fiber- based black and white papers and is compatible with both matte black and photo black inks. The surface has a little bit of luster to it, but not enough to call it a luster paper. When you print using matte black ink, the result is very deep blacks without losing shadow detail and an absolutely gorgeous print. I noticed that lightening up the image a little (even if it’s not what you would normally do for a print), added to the “platinum” look of the paper on the final print. The prints using photo black ink have a lower contrast, which would be optimal for portraiture. The only down side of this paper is the curling factor. I was using 13×19 sheets, and the thickness and texture of the paper made the sides curl up just a bit…just enough to get a few non-threatening print head strikes. I’ve run into this issue a lot with thick fiber-based papers, which is why I tend to prefer the sheet choices to the roll (where you sometimes get a print head strike in the middle of a print when you get near the end of the roll of paper). You can also purchase something like the Bienfang De-Roller to take the curl out of inkjet paper.

Canon Artistic Satin Canvas / Close-Up Detail

I think I should also mention canvas substrates, even though they’re so widely used now it barely feels like an alternative paper…but technically it is. There are numerous canvas choices from just about all of the paper manufacturers. I decided to test the Canon Artistic Satin Canvas because it’s relatively new. I’ve used their Water Resistant Canvas, which is a nice matte inexpensive canvas, so I was curious to see how the new paper compared. I was concerned at first that the surface was going to be too shiny, but it’s not. It’s a regular canvas paper with a little bit of sheen to the top to add to the texture. If you’re a canvas fan and like a little shine to the paper, I recommend giving this one a try. It still has all the regular canvas attributes like semi-muted colors and imperfection forgiveness from the texture alone that could come in handy for portraiture or a file that is perhaps a bit smaller in resolution than it should be.

Last but not least are two interesting papers I worked with from Moab by Legion. I’ve always been a fan of Moab, who makes some really wonderful papers, so I was curious to see how two of their alternative substrates would pan out. I tested the Moenkopi Kozo 110 and the Moenkopi Unryu 55. Both are Japanese Washi papers, but very different from each other. The Kozo has a very smooth white surface and is like traditional Japanese Washi. It’s made with mulberry (Kozo) fiber and feels almost powdery in your hand. Unlike some other matte surface papers, the Kozo does not lose saturation, and I find the colors in my images prac- tically jump off the paper. The Unryu literally translates as “cloud dragon paper.” It’s made by adding long coarse fibers to a wet layer of Kozo on the mould. This paper is also warmer than the traditional Kozo, with a natural white color. Whenprinting on the Unryu, it’s very import- ant to choose the right image for the paper. The texture will show in the image and should add to the whole look. Images that are floral, still life and archi- tecture would work great with this paper. The results are very original, especially since every sheet is different (where the fibers are placed). Both the Moenkopi Kozo 110 and Moenkopi Unryu 55 are worth a serious look.

Moab Moenkopi Kozo 110 – Close-Up Detail; Moab Moenkopi Unryu 55 – Close-Up Detail

With the high-quality alternative paper choices we have today for pigment inkjet printers, why not experiment and see how some of these papers change the look of your prints? A photograph isn’t final until it’s printed, and the paper type you choose to make that print can alter or add to the meaning of your image… making that paper choice integral in how your image is perceived.

Product Resources: Printer: Canon iPF6300; Papers: Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, LexJet Photo Metallic, Mitsubishi Grace Pearlescent Metallic, Premier’s Platinum Luster Rag, Canon Artistic Satin Canvas, Moab Moenkopi Kozo 110, Moab Moenkopi 55, Moab Moenkopi Unryu 55; Software: X-Rite Eye-One, Eye-One Match; Other: Bienfang De-Roller.

About the Author

Kelly Wunderle
Kelly Wunderle has a B.A. and M.A. in Photography and Digital Imaging. She is a professional printer for many fine art and commercial photographers across the country.