26 May 2009 Fine Art Inkjet Paper Printing Tests Part #1 (Podcast 192)
With the plethora of great fine art inkjet papers available today, it can be difficult to find “your” paper. The one paper, or maybe even two or three types of paper, that you turn to for your high quality, fine art prints. Testing papers can be costly, in terms of both time and money. Until now my method has been to print my favorites at the time, and a few prints that I know are troublesome, but it can be difficult to judge how good or bad a paper is based on photographic images alone. At some point, something slips through the net and catches you unaware.
Having put some thought into this, I decided to make test image contain both photographic images and scientific charts, that I would can to build an archive of the various papers that I’m interested in, and that I have available to me. I printed on twenty high quality photographic and fine art papers, and in this and the next Podcast episode we’re going take a look at the results. Here you can download a standalone PDF document including the text and images.
I’ve also made the test image that I created available, so that you can use the same image to test your own printer and papers if you want to. It’s around 8 megapixels, so should be good for tests up to 13×19″ and still look great. You can download the test print with the link or thumbnail in the notes at the end of this post. Let’s jump right into it now though, and see how I got on with my Fine Art Inkjet Paper printing tests.
To me there is nothing quite as satisfying, after capturing the image in the first place, than printing it out on a good quality fine art paper. Inkjet printing technologies have improved to the point where now, in 2009, photographers are able to make archival fine art prints in their homes, that arguably surpass traditional dark room prints in both ease of production and quality, and definitely in variety. As the printing technology has improved, the number of fine art print papers on the market has also increased, making it difficult to really nail down one or two papers for your own workflow or projects. I buy and try different papers, and often use my favorite print at the time, but that doesn’t really give me a consistent image to compare to my previous papers. I end up printing out the same image again on my original papers as well as the new ones, and with printer ink being as expensive as it is, as well as the paper of course, I decided to standardize my test, to give me a more objective look at the capabilities of new papers as they come out, as well as being able to file away my previous tests for future comparison. Of course, if I change my printer, I’ll have to do this all again, but again, having a standard test devised will make that whole exercise a lot smoother than just randomly picking prints of the day.
I do have a few prints that I really like to try on new paper, and I’m guilty of having printed out a few of these over the last week as well. But in my standard image to print, I decided I wanted to incorporate a couple of images that I have used a lot for testing purposes, and I also included both a Granger Chart and a Gamut Chart, that I found out how to create on the Luminous Landscape web site. I’ll put a link to the page with the instructions into the show notes, but it literally takes just a couple of minutes to create both charts. I guess it would be easier to understand if you can at least see the chart, so I’ve put the original graphic into the enhanced podcast and the mp3 version, so you can at least see what I’m talking about. For the results, please do grab either the PDF file once released or the individual images, to which you’ll also find links in the show-notes.
I created my test image with the ProPhoto color profile. I did this because it has the widest gamut, compared to sRGB and AdobeRGB, and it’s also what I specify as my color profile throughout my photographic workflow. If you want to convert this to AdobeRGB for your own tests, do so in Photoshop, using the Convert Profile command, not assign profile. Convert Profile will calculate the new color mapping correctly so you’ll still get good results using the image. I inserted two images into my test image, above the Granger and Gamut charts. The color flower shot to the left is a good image to print as a test because it is not only nice and colorful, but I’ve found the gradations in the background bokeh to be challenging for some papers to reproduce and there are some subtle tones in the dark background that some papers struggle with too. The black and white flower to the right is there for three reasons. Firstly, it has a nice neutral black and white tone, so if there is any color cast in the image, I can see it here. Secondly, I find the gradation in the grey background a nice reference point as well as the density of the grey, and finally, I want to see how much punch the paper can reproduce in the white flower with black spots, as well as the rest of the plant. As we’ll see, the results can be different for some papers, but I warn you, pretty much all of the papers tested do a reasonable to great job. I have tested some papers in the past that really messed this black and white photograph up.
I put a range of colored cells up both the left and right side. This is a computer generated version of the cells that you’ll find on a Gretag Macbeth Color Checker chart. Now, the thing to note about these cells is that they are a reference and not supposed to be 100% accurate. The Granger and Gamut charts as well contain colors that your printer will not be able to reproduce fully with today’s technology. The point is to have something standard to compare from paper to paper, to help us see how the manufacturer’s profile is mapped across the spectrum.
A final word on the test image is the boiler plate text. I’ve included this because one of the main reasons for my doing these paper tests right now is because I’m trying to nail down one or two papers for a fine art print folio project that I’m working on, and I wanted to see how each paper reproduced this text as well. If you download the test image, by all means, remove the text and copyrights etc for your own tests. All text is on a white background so it will be easy to get rid of. But, if you are going to redistribute the graphic for any reason, please use the one that contains my site address and the copyright notice, or create your own image from scratch. Thanks!
The printer that I used for my tests is a Canon PIXMA Pro 9500 with standard Canon inks. In Japan this printer is called a Pixus Pro 9500, and it’s the now old version, not the Mark II that Canon has recently brought out to fix banding issues which I personally just don’t see and so won’t be upgrading. I used the manufacturer’s profiles for printing all of these papers except for the Bergger Fine Art Rag PN62. They don’t have a profile for this paper and my printer combination. I mailed Bergger for advice on this, and they were quick to get back to me to point out a typo in my inquiry, telling me that they don’t make such a paper, but when I told them the correct paper they ignored my mail, so full points for customer service there. Luckily though, the company that is importaing Bergger paper into Japan put an insert into the package that says to print using the Canon profile, which is what I did. By the way, I’m not going to go into details on how to print with a color profile today. I’ve talked about this in the past, and I can go into this again if people want, but right now, let’s assume that you know how to print with a printer/paper combination profile.
One last word on the process before we start to actually look at the test prints is how I re-digitized the printed pages to show you here. I used my old Epson flat bed scanner, and turned off any and all processing that the scanner drivers would usually do. This means that the resulting images are a little bit flat, but I wanted them to have been scanned under exactly the same conditions, which is what we will look at. I saved the originals with the AdobeRGB profile, and then converted to sRGB when I output the JPEGs from Lightroom. I compared the colors and quality, and on a high end Eizo monitor, there’s very little difference. Of course, you can’t fully appreciate what I saw when looking directly at the prints, and it is the original prints that I used for comparison and which I will be commenting on here.
I’ve split the papers into three groups, which are gloss and satin papers, smooth fine art rag papers, and textured fine art papers. As I say, today we’re going to look at the gloss papers only, with the other two groups covered next week.
Canon Pro Platinum PT-101
The first paper that I printed to in the Gloss and Satin group is the Canon Pro Platinum paper. This is a nice heavy 300gsm, which is grams per square meter, paper which looks and feels very much like a traditional wet darkroom print. This hasn’t been out very long, but I have had very good results with this paper so far. The thing that struck me straight away with this paper was how beautiful the photographs looked. They are reproduced very faithfully, with lots of punch in the black and white flower, a beautiful gradation in the grey background, and the color flower is vivid and the ball of bokeh to the top right of the flower has a very nice gradation to black. Also, the Granger and Gamut chart reproduction is among the best of my tests. To be honest, as I really like the feel of this paper in the hand, I wanted this paper to be perfect in every way, but one thing let it down, and that is the paper’s ability to reproduce a brilliant red. The third cell down along the left side of the test image is basically an FF0000 full RGB red, yet the reproduction here is somewhat orange. Some of you will probably already be thinking to yourself that this is fine, because printer’s never product perfect reds, but remember, the Pixma Pro 9500 has a red ink cartridge. It should be perfect, and I’m disappointed that Canon’s profile doesn’t cash in on the huge advantage that this printer has over one’s without a red ink. Apart from that though, everything else is perfect. I am still very much in love with this paper, but let’s see how it fairs against the others.
Museo Silver Rag
Next up, is the Museo Silver Rag, which is a 100% cotton almost semi-gloss or satin paper with no optical brighteners, and just look at that red. It’s almost a perfect red. In fact, color reproduction is just amazing on beautiful paper from Museo. If you flick between the Pro Platinum image and this one, you can see a number of subtle differences. In general, the silver rag is punchier, though it does make a bit of a mess of the Granger chart on the left, particularly in the middle of the green area. The black and White flower is very punchy too, though the background is significantly darker, but still a very nice gradation. The ball of bokeh on the color flower is also slightly better than the Pro Platinum, which surprised me. Again, this is a 300gsm paper, so very thick and beautiful to handle – a strong contender.
Harman Gloss FB Al (Al for Alumina)
Next I tests Harman’s Gloss FB Al, which is a Baryta coated gloss paper, with a very similar feel to the Pro Platinum from Canon. It’s very smooth, not a satin paper, and again feels very much like a traditional wet darkroom print. It even smells like one, because of the Baryta coating. Again, Harman have made a nice job of utilizing the red, and the colors are actually slightly subdued across the image, compared to the last two papers. There are a few patchy areas in the Granger Chart, but the hues in the Gamut chart are simply beautiful here. Very nice gradations in the grey behind the black and white flower and that ball of bokeh in the color flower. The general feel is not quite as punch as the last two images, but in my opinion this paper realizes a perfect balance in many respects. With this also being just slightly heavier at 320gsm, it is a very strong candidate for a paper to be appreciated held in the hand and because there’s no texture to speak of in the surface of the print, it’s simply beautiful to look at.
Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl
I double checked my settings after printing the Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl paper, as it was just so dark, but everything seems to be correct. Very rich colors here, and the red is red, but it’s just over the top for me with those over saturated colors. The black and white flower is so dark that you really can’t appreciate it, and the color flower is also very dark compared to the original. This paper is actually from a box that I bought a few years ago, and although it has been stored correctly, I do wonder if the current Fine Art Pearl from Hahnemuhle performs in the same way. It’s very different from all of their other papers which I generally like a lot.
Canson PhotoGloss Premium RC 270gsm
The next paper in the gloss and satin section is Canson PhotoGloss Premium RC 270gsm. I bought a Canson Discovery pack, which included 9 of their fine art papers, and printed out all nine of them for this test. The PhotoGloss Premium is actually very close to the Harman Gloss FB Al, in its ability to reproduce subtle gradation and beautiful hues, and it even messes up the Granger Chart in very similar areas, but unfortunately, the reds are a little on the orange side, like the Canon Pro Platinum. This is my opinion puts it slightly behind Harman on color accuracy, and slightly under Pro Platinum for punch. Still, a very nice well balanced paper and definitely not one to rule out.
Canson PhotoSatin Premium RC 270gsm
The next paper in the gloss and satin section is Canson PhotoSatin Premium RC 270gsm. This is actually very similar in performance to the previous Canson PhotoGloss, so in general, it’s a great paper, again, but with a slightly textured finish, which is just a little too perfect for my liking. I’d prefer a more random pattern in the satin look, though you have to really get up close to see this. Again with slightly off reds, I’m thinking that this would be a great paper, if only I could use the profile out of the box.
Conclusions for the Gloss/Satin papers:
So, that’s all of the gloss or satin papers that I have tested this time. I know that there are others out there, but there are limits to what I can do, both in terms of time and money. If any paper manufacturers that are listening would like me to compare their papers under the same conditions then add the results to this, just send me some paper and a set of inks and I’ll be happy to do so.
I’ve initially narrowed my selection down to the first three that we looked at, though this in itself was tough, as many of the papers just look great. For my fine art folio project, I’m probably going to go with the Harman GLOSS FB Al, though it’s very difficult to rule out Museo Silver Rag, or Canon Pro Platinum. It will definitely require some tests of the actual images for the project to make a final decision though. Luckily I have plenty of this paper left to try before placing an order for a larger batch for the project.
We’re going to cover the Photo Rag and Matte papers, as well as the Textured Fine Art papers next week. There are just a few other things that I wanted to touch on before we close for today though.
Now, I know that some people are going to tell me that if I profile these papers myself, I could get over that weak red in some of these strong candidates. Although I would like to get into profiling my papers, just because I really like this stuff, it’s time consuming and I don’t want to spend that amount of time unless I have to. Also, with so many papers already having profiles that pretty much just work I don’t think it’s necessary to get into this. If it was critical, and I really had to use a certain type of paper that wasn’t performing as I need it to, I might reconsider this decision, but for now, I’m happy enough with the profiles available in the most part.
I hope you enjoyed walking through the first part of my tests and that it will help you in some way to either decide on your papers or to help with similar testing. Remember that I’ll follow up this Podcast at some point this week with a PDF document containing both the text and the images. The original test image and scanned test print images are all online now for you to look at and compare for yourself. Links to these files are in the snow-notes. Remember also that these are my own tests based on my semi-scientific approach, and so if you are in doubt, you really should run your own tests before making any decisions or ruling out any of the papers I’ve talked about here. Anyway, I’ll be back again next week with some more results. In the meantime, you just have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.
You can download my test chart for your own testing here (it’s a big file though, so please only download it if you intend to use it.):
You can also download the loose files in JPEG form here:
You can make your own Granger Chart and Gamut Chart very easily in Photoshop. I found the instructions for this on the Luminous Landscape here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/test-charts.shtml
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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.