Almost all serious
photographers and artists now choose pigment ink printers, for the
simple fact that you can't really sell a print that is going to fade in
3-4 years with good conscience. Pigment inks now generally outperform dye based inks as well, for image reproduction, although dye based inks continue to offer the blackest blacks, in all other areas such as gamut volume etc, pigment inks are the superior option. Pigment inks perform beautifully on
matte and semi-gloss papers, and are getting better all the time with
higher gloss papers as well.
It is critically important you use the correct black ink for the paper type for best results - the matte black ink must be used with all matte papers (the key improvement is a vastly improved D-Max), and the photo black ink must be used with gloss and semi-gloss papers.
For top class results, it is also critically important to custom profile, and use the right media & quality settings with each paper. Stock profiles are NOT good enough for critical results - they are really for testing only. Once you have decided you like a paper, the small price of a custom profile is still definitely worth it if you want top class results.
We've divided the papers into 6 surface types:
Fine-Art Matte Papers (with a smooth surface) (AKA rag papers, watercolour papers)
papers work very well with pigment inks and offer the best archival
characteristics, and so are now the papers of choice of fine art
photographers around the world. They are extremely popular in the illustrative and graphic design worlds, and work beautifully in these contexts.
If you're a photographer, they're more subtle than traditional
photographic surfaces and, if you're used to over the top things like Cibachrome and
the like, may take some getting used to. Historically they are seen by a few to be somehow less 'photographic' than gloss and semi-gloss papers, but this is largely a product of what has been sold out of mini-labs for so
long, so people are visually attuned to semi-gloss and gloss surfaces.
Certainly in the professional photographic world this opinion has long since disappeared and these are now probably the most popular class of papers for award level prints.
papers, combined with pigment inks like the Ultrachrome inks, now offer
very wide gamuts and strong blacks. It's true the d-maxes are still below
gloss papers under intense direct lighting (prints should *never* be displayed under spot lights, rather under bright, soft light - matte surfaces will always offer less strong blacks due
to their very nature under spotlights, however under soft lighting the velvety blacks are if anything visually darker than gloss blacks!). The gamuts are also slightly smaller than gloss
papers. But framed work is visually almost identical (and often better
due to reduced reflections), and you gain MUCH better archival
characteristics, and there are no issues whatsoever with gloss
differential or bronzing. So all in all, with pigment inks, they're
really the best option if you don't require the initial punch of glossy
Museo (AKA Crane) Portfolio Rag is without doubt the best matte rag smooth fine art paper in the world today - and we've tested them ALL. One major advantage over most others that it
has absolutely no optical brightening agents (e.g. Hahnemuhle Photo Rag has a low amount as do papers from Moab and most other brands). It's 300 gsm, smooth, and very sharp as well. It's an excellent paper for
gallery quality prints. We use this as our primary matte fine art paper and roughly 80% of our printing customers choose this paper - it is adored by all who use it.
A close second is Canson's Rag Photographique (two version, one 310gsm and the other 210gsm) - also a very beautiful matte rag paper with a slightly softer surface than the Museo. It's also optical brightener free, and print quality on this paper is excellent. Canson also do very well from a consistency perspective.
While Hahnemuhle Photo Rag is the venerable classic & the best known of all the matte rag papers, and not a bad choice, it is clearly a bit long in the tooth now and it shows - the use of optical brighteners is a shame, and there have been a number of consistency issues over the years that have caused significant difficulties. That said we still probably print almost as much Hahnemuhle as Museo here at Image Science as it's a very well known quantity and galleries etc. know it well and are very happy to accept it.
A new and very interesting option is Hahnemuhle Bamboo - this is an ecologically friendly paper with a lovely warmer tone and is proving very popular. It's quite beautiful and well worth a try.
Fine-Art Matte Papers (with a textured surface)
papers can really suit some images and applications, although generally work best for bigger prints as on smaller prints the texture can overwhelm the image.
Unlike smooth papers, there are a LOT of options that are really good and it's really hard to get a sense of what to buy without seeing them - why not invest in some sample packs to get started?
We carry a number of interesting options, all with superb quality coatings for inkjet printing - here are some favourites:
- Hahnemuehle Torchon - Jeremy's personal favourite - a classic watercolour Torchon paper with a lovely irregular texture
- Arches Aquarelle - Great for art reproduction work, with a natural warm tone
- Canson BFK Rives - THE classic mould made traditional print making paper - lovely velvety texture.
Fibre Based Equivalents
2006, a number of papers have appeared on the market, specifically
designed to mimic the traditional air dried fibre based look. The beauty of these is that the offer very classically photographic results, but for the first time the same papers can be used for black and white AND colour - something never possible with the darkroom equivalents.
Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag - at last available in 2012 after a lengthy test period, this is the new king of this class of papers. Very consistent, excellent brightness and grey scale with no optical brighteners used, and with great handling characteristics, this is unquestionable the best paper in this class. It says gloss on the box but is really more of a semi-gloss, but the finish is less aggressively sparkly than say Silver Rag below, and it's just a really gorgeous paper. We've now moved all our in house printing from Silver Rag to Platine, we like it that much.
Museo (AKA Crane) Silver Rag
- the first to market of this new type of paper and a truly excellent
paper for high impact printing. Surface has some texture and is at the glossier end of thing. Has the most amazing tonal range and
is very strong (much stronger than the newer baryta papers). Perfect for work that is not going to be framed. In 2012 this has become a very glossy paper thanks to a change in the base stock and we're not quite as fond of it as we used to be, and have replaced it with Platine in our printing here, but it's still a very good paper in all.
Ilford Fibre Gold Silk - Somewhere between the two above papers and very beautiful indeed. Silk (i.e. satin) surface. Also very reasonably priced in the 50 packs - probably the most popular of these papers., therefore. Very soft surface, though, easily scratchable - we consider this more of a proofing paper than a paper for final prints, see Platine above for a better alternative.
Epson Traditional Photo Paper - sold in the US as Epson Exhibition Fibre. Pretty much the only Epson paper we really recommend, this is a remarkable paper with very clean whites and very deep blacks, and a very nice unobtrusive surface. For maximum impact images!
Basic Semi-Gloss (Lustre) Papers - Resin Coated
Resin coated semi-gloss offers
a robust surface to work with (resistant to fingerprints and the like),
but with the good D-Max and large gamut typical of gloss papers.
Semi-gloss papers exhibit much less bronzing than high gloss papers
with pigment inks. These are good, pedestrian papers for day to day printing e.g. of family photos.
Canson Infinity PhotoSatin
- Beautiful 270 g/m2 Semi-Gloss paper. Instant drying, high weight
paper that is resistant to marking, scratches and water! Offers
excellent gamut and very high D-Max. Has a less sparkly surface than
the Ilford paper below and is the paper I personally use for all our
family photos etc - very classy.
Ilford Smooth Pearl
- Classic pearl surface with considerable sparkle. Beautiful
photographic results and the most popular inkjet paper in the world.
Gloss & Metallic Paper
Pigment inks and higher gloss papers are traditionally not the best of friends, with some issues with gloss differential remaining even now.
Chromajet Centurion Metallic Pearl - the best inkjet match for Kodak's classic Endura Metallic paper (but better than the Kodak stuff!). Very high gloss and with a unique pearlescent appearance, a very high impact paper great for landscapes and architecturals. This should be tried by everyone at least once, for the right images it is a remarkable paper.
Ilford Smooth Gloss - Classic gloss surface, classic high impact photographic results.
Canson Infinity PhotoGloss
- 260 g/m2 High gloss paper. Instant drying, high weight paper that is
resistant to marking, scratches and water! Offers excellent gamut and
very high D-Max.
Our favourite canvas is without doubt the new Hahnemuhle Monet canvas. 400 GSM, 100% cotton, exquisite print quality, and stretches beautifully. Quite frankly none of the other brands come close to this.