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When to use sheets, rolls, or both

Roll playing, or sheet music?

The decision to purchase papers, canvas, or other substrates as sheets or rolls can bea difficult one because each has its advantages and disadvantages.


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Level: Advanced

Here are some reasons I generally prefer cut sheets over roll media:



  • Sheets generally come out of their package evenly cut to size, and ready tofeed into a printer with very little handling and often without the need for anycuts after printing. Roll-fed paper and canvas, however, will need to be cut atsome time. Thus, I find sheets less susceptible to damage compared with rolls.

  • All the cut sheets in a specific package are virtually identical, unlike roll-fedpaper, which tends to curl more as paper nears the end of the roll. Also, heavierpapers tend to come off the printer with a curl, as opposed to sheets, which are generally flat. This can make framing of roll-fed papers more difficult, even after working to flatten out the print.

  • In most cases, test prints can more easily and economically be made on cutsheet material. For example, on one letter-sized sheet, about five small testprints can be printed.

  • Switching between multiple types of paper to print projects or do testing iseasier with sheets compared with rolls because most printers have only one rollholder.

    And here are a few reasons why someone might choose roll media:

  • In a situation where you want to gang up multiple prints on a page and printthem to a large format printer, roll printing can be more productive than sheetfedprinting.

  • Very long panoramas can easily be printed on roll media if sheets of that sizeare not available.

  • Roll paper can be cut down to many different sizes in advance and allowed toflatten.

  • Roll papers can be left unattended for extended periods of time while printing,especially if you use a media take-up roll, which is a roll that is used for thepaper to wind itself around in order to easily transport the printed material.

  • Roll papers are also generally better when you want lamination and/or mountingto be done to your images, because many laminators are built to acceptrolls.

    With regard to cost, it is difficult to say whether sheets or rolls are more economical.Because of the greater amount of waste with roll paper (there is always some waste),sheets are often more economical in the long run. You may also be surprised at thesimilarity in price between 13x19- and 17x22-inch papers. This is probably due tothe amount of waste that can occur when 13x19 sheets are cut down from largerrolls.

    In many cases, I’d rather buy the larger sheets and cut themdown, but it really depends upon what size printer you have, and whether you wantto handle and cut paper. Some people just want to print, mat (or place in a portfolio),and be done, which I certainly respect.


    Andrew Darlow is a photographer, author and digital imaging consultant based in the New York City area. He is editor of The Imaging Buffet, an online resource with news, reviews, and interviews covering the subjects of digital photography, printing, and new media. Portions of this article are excerpted from Darlow's new book, 301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers.
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