I believe that this is the beginning of a new era in inkjet printing, one in which print quality is finally equaling, if not surpassing, that of traditional prints. Part of this increase in print quality is due to a recent generation of printers with corresponding new ink sets. Equally responsible, however, is the latest generation of fine-art papers offering unprecedented levels of Dmax and dynamic range. While you need to buy an updated printer to benefit from their increased quality, you can probably use the new papers with your existing printer, so I’m going to focus on the new papers in this article.
I finally replaced my old workhorse Epson 9600 printer with the newer 9800. I found that the improvement with the 9800 and its K3 inks was significant—so much so that I thought Epson made a big mistake by not giving the 9800 a totally different name to emphasize that it was an important, as opposed to an evolutionary, improvement in print quality. The other major printer manufacturers also have recently introduced updated machines and new ink sets with considerable improvements in quality.
In my usual search for the best possible print quality, I decided to test my 9800 with a variety of papers. Around that time, I learned of totally new types of fine-art paper that Crane and Hahnemühle were introducing. Innova and others were also working on similar papers. I received preproduction samples from Crane and Hahnemühle; the other manufacturers did not have paper samples available yet.
What really excited me, when I heard about Crane’s new Museo Silver Rag paper, was Crane’s claim that, for the first time, a fine-art paper could use photo-black ink and deliver a maximum black (Dmax) and color gamut as good as or better than the best resin-coated papers. This new paper consists of a 100% acid-free cotton rag base, with a proprietary coating that allows the paper to accept standard photo-black ink. Hahnemühle’s new Fine Art Pearl paper also accepts photo-black ink, but uses an alpha-cellulose base rather than a 100% cotton rag base (cotton is considered more archival than alpha cellulose).
The new generation—technical data
The following technical data on each of these papers will give you an idea of what they are like, as well as how they are different.
Crane Museo Silver Rag is a 100% acid-free cotton rag paper made in the United States. The pH of this paper, which is buffered with calcium carbonate, is specified to be between 7.9 and 8.5 (the first production run had a pH of 8.0 at the time of shipping). The paper weighs 300 gsm, has a thickness of 380 microns, and a brightness index of 90. It contains no brighteners. The surface coating is a closely guarded secret.
Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl has a 100% acid-free and lignin-free alpha- cellulose base. Like the Silver Rag, its pH is specified to be between 7.9 and 8.5. The paper is internally buffered, with a weight of 285 gsm and a brightness index of 105. There is no specification for thickness; my micrometer measured 400 microns for the samples I received. This paper does contain optical brighteners, and its coating is also a closely guarded secret.