Here is a quick look at a fairly new product line in the digital world.
Many photographers who did their photographic learning during the days of film, emulsions and silver halide and who did their their own B&W photographic printing will no doubt have their favourite combinations of film, developers and printing papers.
There weren’t really any rights or wrongs here, just personal preferences as we may have with many things in life.
For me, my “fave” film was always FP4 with it’s fine grain structure although at times I did use a lot of XP1 and XP2 because it was a C41 process which could make things easy and quick.
When it came to B&W papers, I used hundreds of square acres of Ilford Multigrade because you could vary the contrast without having to change your pack of paper as it was done through the enlarger.
However when it came to entering pictures into camera club and other competitions Multigrade didn’t have quite the edge needed or should I say the premium finish that I wanted.
I wasn’t alone in these thoughts which is why most photographers who cared about these things used Ilford Gallerie paper, this paper had an amazing quality. it was a fibre based paper as are all traditional papers where as Multigrade was a resin coated paper, a sort of plastic coating which gave very rich blacks and a high gloss finish. The ease of handling, printing, drying and final finishing made Multigrade very popular but it wasn’t the business when it came to exhibtion prints.
Now the problem with most fibre based papers were as well as the handling (development,fixing and washing times were always much longer) was that achieving rich blacks, which was always important to me was difficult.
Ilford Gallerie seemed to overcome this even in the Matt finishes so became the benchmark that other papers were judged against.
Then Ilford appeared to conquer the holy grail by producing a resin coated paper but with the finish of Gallerie and this was known as Ilford Multigrade FB (FB for Fibre base). Here we could now change contrast in the enlarger with a fibre based paper that was semi resin coated.
This product was never the success I thought it might be and then history changed so much when the digital revolution started.
All of a sudden darkrooms all over the world were being ditched in favour of inkjet printers.
These were being used by people that didn’t understand printing, the colour spectrum or the consumables being used. Consequently in the professional market prints were being sold that had no known longevity, in fact I bet many of these prints are back to white sheets of paper !
Some of the blame may be attached to the fact that manufacturers were turning out all these products saying that it was the answer when it clearly wasn’t.
Over the years printers, inksets and papers have improved rapidly where now a digital print can have more longevity than a silver halide print.
For instance many early inksets were dyes, nowadays all pro printers use pigment inks which has made an enormous difference.
However development has gone into printing media as well with the challenge of making digital papers feel like traditional darkroom papers or art papers.
Photographers with an eye on quality have been using these fine art papers for a while now, for me it Hahnemule PhotoRag 308gsm which has generally become the industry benchmark against any new papers are judged.
Most manufacturers will have an equivalent to this, now more recently (well about two years ago, which I know is a lifetime in digital terms !), manufacturers started producing a paper with a Barium Sulphate substrate and by doing this it drew the ink into the paper therefore increasing the longevity of the print and giving a finish as close to Ilford Gallerie as I have ever seen.
This paper has a weight of 325gsm so a heavy weight paper indeed and I needed to increase the platten gap on the printer to ease it’s way through the paper track.
Obviously one thing I can’t do here on a screen is demonstrate the difference between different papers so you will need to take my word for it.
But trust me this paper type is the business for exhibition prints, I tried the gloss finish which is more akin to semi gloss in digital paper terms but similar to Gallerie Gloss as I remember it.
I then read about the fact if you increased the ink output onto the paper by up to 10% then prints would have an even grater colour saturation.
Because I use roll papers in my printers I use RIP software for paper and ink management therefore can’t adjust inkflow.
So I cut a piece off the roll and printed through Photoshop using the Epson driver where you can manage inkflow.
The result was a slight improvement but only slight and I think that doing this wasn’t worth the hassle and perhaps would only do it if I didn’t use a RIP.
The weight of the paper and the finish which felt a little waxy was first class but are there any downsides ?
Well there always seems to be a downside with anything that appears to be good in life.
Firstly it might depend on which printer you are using, as I said it is a heavy weight paper so might not want to feed easily with cheaper printers.
The other point is cost, from a roll of Epson paper (30 metre) I could expect to print about 80 prints at a cost of about £1 per print plus ink of course.
From Hahnemule Photorag the cost would rise to about £2.60 and with Baryta to just over £3 per print, so it is roughly three times the cost of Epson paper but for me as a fine art photographer it is a no brainer, the print cost is a very minor part of the overall value of the print and with the beautiful finish that takes me back to my darkroom days I am hooked. What I haven’t done as yet is try any competing products of Baryta paper and I will give the Ilford equivalent a chance very soon.
Because I have only just got the paper I didn’t have any profiles for it in my RIP so I started by using Epson Semi gloss as that always seems to be a good stand in for everything, but not for this.
Eventually I have settled on Ultrasmooth Fine Art and this seems to be good with no excess ink left on the paper , incidentally I mentioned above about increasing ink output, if this is done with a fairly standard gloss/semi gloss paper then set your printer driver to a fine art/matt paper setting and it will be more effective.