Can I Print On The Back of Photo Paper?

If you are a professional photographer of a certain age, you know the answer to this already.  You can go to another page and come back for the next blog in a few days time.

To those of you who have tried printing on the back of a glossy photo only to discover that you have what amounts to a dirty pool of ink which does not dry, ever, read on.  All is about to be revealed.

Referring to a product “photo paper” covers a huge range of products that are designed to achieve a high resolution print when used in inkjet printers.  The original term however, refers to a paper which was used in wet process photography and hence was water proof.   Real photo paper has a plastic coating on both sides which prevents it from disintegrating when dunked in developer fluid.

But, you are an inkjet printer and how is this relevant?  The relevance is in the fact that we still use the very same real photo base paper for inkjet printing.  In addition to the plastic coating that the paper comes with from the mill, we add some additional coatings on the printing side to allow you to use it in inkjet printers.  The reverse side however does not have the inkjet coating and if you try to print on it….. see above.

Some of you will have had a different experience.  There are papers out there which are described as photo papers, satin and gloss as well as matt, which can be printed on the back with varying degrees of quality.

There are numerous types of glossy and satin paper that are not made with the real photo base paper as the base.  These are often described as instant dry and tend to have a lower gloss level and image quality.  The back of the paper is exposed and uncoated in any way which allows you to print on it with an inkjet printer.  They normally can take a medium resolution text and graphic print quite well and will behave on the back similarly to a normal uncoated office paper.

How can you tell one from another?

True photo base papers (these that cannot be printed on the back) are often described as real photo base, PE coated or professional.  Those that can be printed on the back are often described as instant dry or cast coated.  Neither of the above is a guarantee of accuracy as there are so many ways of describing a product.

You can always ask one of the sales reps or customer support people and they should know the answer.  Do that before you purchase to avoid costly returns charges and time wastage.

If you bought the paper and are unsure, and apart from trial and error, there are a couple of tricks you can use.

Take a highlighter pen or a dry wipe felt tip and make a small line on the back of the paper.  If it rubs off immediately, you cannot print on the back.  If it does not rub off, you can.  (remember that even if you can print, assuming this is not a double sided paper, you can only use low resolution text and graphics, it will not handle a full photo print).

You can obviously print on either side of paper that is sold as double sided.  Matt coated papers will give you a sharp result on the coated side and will take a low resolution print on the uncoated side if needed.

Happy Printing.

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