Paper specifications can only take you so far, and, realistically, the vast range of inkjet papers currently available is beyond anyone’s ability to thoroughly test. With that in mind, PHOTO Techniques asked some of our regular contributors what their favorite inkjet papers are. The answers, not surprisingly, depend largely on their needs and tastes.
Ilford Galerie Gold Fiber Silk (GFS) is part of a new generation of papers that are made of real paper rather than plas- tic (see “Second-Generation Papers,” on page 30), but which allow the use of photo-black ink. Ilford GFS has become my current favorite paper for just about every application. My latest gallery show, as well as fine-art portfolios, have been printed on GFS, which is very hard to fault.
Though not as bright as papers that use Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs), Ilford GFS is one of a new breed that uses baryta, a clay-like substance that has been traditionally used in the finest fine-art papers for the chemical darkroom. It adds brightness to the paper without the fading issues that OBAs have. This paper is somewhat warm in tone, but that’s a characteristic that I value, and it is particularly appealing for black- and-white work.
Its heavy weight can cause problems when feeding it through some printers, but also makes prints feel substantial in-hand. At the moment there isn’t a paper on the market that I feel combines the characteristics I value more than Ilford GFS does.
Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308 has been my preferred paper for fine-art prints for several years. It is available as Photo Rag 308 Bright White as well. The difference between the two is that the Bright White version contains OBAs. Which to choose is a matter of taste, though understand that OBAs do fade over time.
This paper has a smooth surface, but enough “tooth” or texture that it retains the tactility that so many photographers favor for their exhibition and gallery prints. Because it is a matte fine-art paper it uses matte-black ink, leading to reduced Dmax and dynamic range compared to glossy photo papers. The Bright White version is, however, more than acceptable in this regard for most photographer’s needs.
I do not like the look or the feel of plastic, and for archival purposes resin- coated materials have always been a disaster. Therefore, I work with fiber- based papers exclusively.
Epson Exhibition Fiber has the blackest blacks, the most brilliant whites, the sharpest images, the largest color gamut and the highest color saturation of any paper on the market. It has the highest Dmax of any paper I have tried, as well as the brightest and whitest base I have ever seen in a fiber-based paper. Prints on this paper are sharper than any other paper I have tried. The color gamut with Epson K3 inks exceeds even the Adobe RGB working color space.
It also has, in my opinion, the nicest surface of any of the semi-glossy fiber- based papers. Unfortunately, the price is extremely high and the number of sizes (sheets only) is rather limited. This paper does contain optical brighteners.
Ilford Gold Fibre Silk is a wonderful paper with a baryta base trying to imitate the favorite silver-gelatin black- and-white papers of many wet dark- room users. The surface of the paper does not look like a traditional silver- gelatin paper, but it is a reasonably nice semi-glossy surface. In most other ways, this paper feels and even smells like a traditional silver-gelatin paper.
I very much like the fact that it is a pure acid-free cotton rag paper with no optical brighteners. It produces excellent image quality in color and is superb for black-and-white images. I also like the fact that it is very reasonably priced, and available in all sizes of sheets and rolls.
Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Paper Matte is Epson’s new, long-winded name for what used to be known as Enhanced Matte Paper. This is a solid mid-level professional-quality matte paper. There are papers that claim longer print life (although this paper is good enough). There are papers that are slightly whiter (although this paper is white enough). There are papers that produce very, very slightly darker blacks (although … you get the point). What, then, makes this one of my favorite papers? I can buy Super-B sheets of it for 75 cents. Other profes- sional matte papers run me $2–$5 a sheet.
Harman Glossy Fiber Base AI Professional Fine Art Inkjet Paper is not an expensive paper. It is simply the best inkjet paper I’ve ever seen; this is Ilford papermaking technology at its very best. It looks and feels just like air-dried F surface fiber-based darkroom paper. It takes Epson pigment inks beautifully, tack sharp, with great Dmax and as good shadow-tone separation as I’ve seen on any paper. It also exhibits as little “bronzing” as you could hope to get today (which, I must note, is not none). It’s lovely; it looks like art, not commerce. The best price I’ve seen for it is $1 for an 8.5×11-inch sheet (it’s cheapest if you buy it in the five-sheet sampler packs from Adorama). It costs an arm and a leg, but it’s worth an arm and a leg.
Museo Max paper has been my favorite matte surface paper for two years running. Its gently textured surface turns absolutely magical when paired with an archival varnish like Glamour II from Breathing Color (www.BreathingColor. com). Imageprint’s profiles (www.Color bytesoftware.com) are spot-on, yielding rich blacks and faithful color with each print. Every time I exhibit work on Museo, people ask about the paper.
Inkpress’s Rag Cool Tone 300 and Rag Warm Tone 300 are two new papers I recently discovered. I prefer sheet printing, and these heavy papers (300gsm) have a soft, inviting surface that Epson K3 inks seem to adore. That these Inkpress papers are coated on both sides is a welcome plus.
Moab Colorado Gloss and Satine is what I recommend if you want the feel of an air-dried silver-based gloss paper, depending on the desired amount of surface sheen. The Satine is more of an air-dried semi-matte. This is a real alpha-cellulose fiber paper that has a fine paper texture in the surface, much like an emulsion-covered traditional print. Both papers are 245 gsm in weight. Dmax is 2.48 on the Gloss and 2.20 on the Satine, using a Canon iPF 6100 printer. Moab Colorado paper is avail- able in 5× 7, 8.5×11, 11×17, 13×19, and 17×22-inch sheets and in 50-foot rolls in widths of 13, 17, 24, 44, and 60 inches.
Canon Polished Rag is what I recommend if you want a slightly heavier paper but still a nice fiber-like gloss. It is 300 gsm in weight. The ISO brightness is 90%, giving your print a bold, yet non- commercial, gloss finish. The paper is 100% cotton, making this an excellent choice for image permanence. Canon Polished Rag paper is available in 8.5×11-, 13×19-, and 17×22-inch sheets, and roll widths of 17, 24, 44, and 50 inches.
Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster is the printer paper I’ve been using for years and still prefer (it used to be called Epson Premium Luster Paper). The finish on this paper reminds me of the pearl finish (verses the glossy) of Ilfochrome photographic paper. Premium Luster has a very slight texture that makes it handle reflections better than glossy paper. Epson Premium Semi- matte Photo Paper is similar to the Luster, but has a bit less surface texture and the blacks don’t seem quite as dark. Once you put the two in a frame with glass, it’s hard to tell the difference between them. These papers work well with the Epson Ultrachrome and Ultra- chrome-K3 inks.
I stick with this paper because I’ve grown to count on getting the same results with the same image that I may have printed three or four years ago. When you change papers, printers, or inks, you may get slightly different colors. Since I have some final prints that I’ve been selling awhile, when I make a new copy of that print, it’s important that the color remains the same. I’ve also found Epson Premium Luster Paper to be the most common paper other photographers I know and students who take my workshops seem to be using. One can spend a lot of time experimenting with different papers; I’d rather spend that time creating new images.