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Working On Top Of Inkjet Prints

21st August 2018

Working on top of inkjet prints is definitely possible and this can be a great way of producing mixed media work. For example, you could print an outline, then colour with inks or watercolours.

The Executive Summary is this:

You should choose the right types of papers to start with (fibre based matte papers, or canvas, with a microporous coating) - and you will need to extensively test and experiment to get a feel for things.

The archival longevity of the results can also not be completely guaranteed.

Yes, it's generally possible to

Work On Top Of Inkjet Prints

We're regularly asked if you can use traditional art techniques on top of inkjet prints.

In general, the answer is yes - but with two provisos:

  1. It's not the same as working on uncoated art papers  - you'll have to experiment with your particular materials & techniques as each will have a different behaviour and feel with respect to the inkjet paper coating and how it actually feels to apply the material on top of that coating).
  2. No one can confidently tell you whether the results will be really archival or not - odd chemical reactions (usually leading to yellowing) can and do occur occasionally occur when mixing materials.  However over the years we have seen people use all of oils, acrylics, watercolours, pencils and pastels, with no reports of ill effects.

It's important to start with the right types of inkjet papers, though, so read on for details.

Varnishing/Coating Inkjet Prints

Whether you have worked over your prints or not, if you wish to varnish or coat your print, once you're finished, it's generally best to use inkjet compatible coating products as these have been fully tested with inkjet inks and papers and are thus guaranteed not to cause adverse reactions (although in theory they could still react with whatever you've put on top of the print).

That said, over the years many have use various other mediums (e.g. Liquitext gel medium, various varnishes and lacquers) - over prints and these generally also work.  Do pick coatings designed for water based materials & remember that results are not guaranteed - you need to test your materials!

Key things to know

About Inkjet Papers

How Inkjet Papers Are Made

  • Inkjet papers are broadly classed into two types:
    Resin Coated
    and Fibre Based.   
  • In addition, there are two main types of coating:
    Microporous and Swellable. 
  • Finally, the last main consideration is:
    The surface appearance of the papers.  

More detail on all of these below, including links to articles with more detail.  

Note: all of our product listings for inkjet papers highlight these things as part of the key specifications.

Paper Construction

Resin Coated means the paper has a layer of plastic in it, to make it cheaper, more tear resistant, and smoother.  But this layer of plastic means the paper itself is less absorbent (e.g. you can't write on the back with a ballpoint pen without smudging) - and generally, these papers are very 'photo' like in appearance, and not seen as art papers.  We generally recommend avoiding these papers entirely if you want to work on top of prints.

Fibre Based means the papers are constructed from natural fibres, like traditional art papers.  Usually the fibre come from cotton, but other materials like high grade wood pulp and different natural fibres (bamboo etc.), are also used.  These papers feel like art papers - indeed, the inkjet versions of these papers are often exactly the same art papers you'll be used to using for your artworks, simply coated to better receive inkjet ink.

Thus, always choose Fibre Based papers if you plan to work over the prints.

More on paper substrates:

Paper Coatings

Swellable Coatings - are not very commonly used any more.  They are not easy to work on top of, and should be avoided.  (As of 2018, no papers we sell actually have a swellable coating anymore).

Microporous Coatings - these ink receptive coatings are pretty much the standard for all inkjet papers today.  They allow the paper to absorb a lot more ink, so that you can achieve depp blacks and saturated colours when printing.  This does mean that if you work on top of them, they will not behave identically to art paper.  Testing will be needed to get a feel for this.

Thus, always chose Microporous coated papers if you plan to work over your prints.

More on coatings:

Surface Appearance

Fine art inkjet papers come in all forms from very glossy to completely matte. 

As mentioned above, avoid any gloss or semi gloss papers - look for matte smooth or matte textured papers as per your taste. 

Canvas is also available.