12 Dec 2016 Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 Fine Art Paper (Podcast 553)
I recently got hold of a roll of Signa Smooth 270, a new supple and smooth fine art paper, and today we’re going to take a look at this beautiful new offering from my friends at Breathing Color.
It seems like Breathing Color are releasing new paper on a very quick cycle these days, and that can be considered a good thing, and a bad thing, but the bad thing mind-set is a somewhat selfish one, and I’m talking about my self here too. Why? Because I love being in a place where I’m happy with my decisions regarding options available to me. I like to decide on something, then run with it for a long while. There is a relaxing beauty in contentment.
So, when something new comes along, you have to rethink strategies, and decide whether to embrace it, or push it aside. With my cameras, I’m often asked why I don’t shoot mirrorless, and although I’ve given it a lot of thought, I’m still with my big Canon camera gear, because I’m totally happy with it. It’s like being in a good marriage. You don’t have an affair if you are totally happy with your own spouse.
Breathing Color All the Way!
One of the few areas that I can safely say though, that I am generally always happy to be forced to rethink my current state of contentment, is fine art printing media. Actually, let me add to that—here’s the thing—I’m totally happy with my decision to, in general, only use Breathing Color media.
Breathing Color has over the last six years (from my own perspective) continued to provide options for absolutely everything that I need in inkjet media, so I’m not generally out there looking for other manufacturers. If something incredible came along, I might be tempted, but I’m generally just not even looking.
When it comes to my chosen fine art printing media, I’m in a state of contentment, but continue to remain open to new solutions, probably because of my trust in Breathing Color. I was totally happy with Optica One, although that did contain OBAs or Optical Brightening Agents, which I wasn’t so sold on. Then along came OBA free Pura Smooth. I still had some Optica One stock left, but decided to change to Pura Smooth as I ran my stock down.
Just as I’d hung my hat on Pura Smooth, Pura Bagasse Smooth came along, and had a nice Eco Friendly appeal to it, being made from sugar cane waste product, in addition to being brighter white, and Archival, so as my Pura Smooth ran out, I transitioned to Pura Bagasse Smooth, which I’m still very happy with. So, when Breathing Color contacted me about Signa Smooth last week, my knee jerk reaction was “not again!”
But, that feeling lasted about 15 seconds, as my trust for this great company made me realize that I should at least take a look. After all, there was the promise of even whiter paper, no OBAs still and incredibly wide gamut, and no printer worth their salt will ever pass up a chance to increase their printing gamut.
So, a few days later, I’m profiling a roll of Signs Smooth 270, and almost 30 feet of test prints later, I’m really happy to find a place for this new media in my printing, and to share my findings and reasoning with you today.
Incredible Detail and Gamut
Let’s start with the premise that most matte fine art paper isn’t ideal for high resolution photo prints, but as we’ll see, Signa Smooth breaks that mold, and does it in style. It has stunning details and an incredibly wide gamut for a fine art matte paper. One of the best tests of a paper’s gamut is seeing how it prints vibrant greens and yellows, so for this test I picked a photo from this year’s Iceland Tour, as you can see here (Above).
That’s the web version, but here (below) is a photograph of the printed image, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the color reproduction is absolutely incredible. I’m really blown away with this media, especially when you consider that it’s a matte fine art paper.
When you look at the photo of the print, keep in mind that I shot this under window light, so it gets darker towards the left side, and I purposefully didn’t correct the image at all, so that you see what I saw, via my camera.
I also shot a closeup of a portion of the print (below) to help you to see the detail. It wasn’t that light in my studio today, so I had to keep a relatively large aperture, as I was hand-holding the camera, trying to get stuck into the preparation for this episode, but I think you’ll still be able to appreciate just how much detail this paper provides.
As I mentioned, this paper is OBA-Free yet still bright white. Breathing Color have continuously improved on the whiteness of their paper even after they moved away from including Optical Brightening Agents, to make the surface of the paper appear more white. As a very quick recap, OBAs are added to some paper to make it react to ultraviolet light, so that it glows, like white shirt collars used to do at discos, and under normal light, this makes the paper appear whiter.
The problem with OBAs is that they can make the paper unstable, and break down over time, so although you still get archival paper that contains OBAs, it’s generally considered to be a bad thing, and should be avoided when possible.
Beautiful Black and White
I also printed this black and white photo from Iceland, to see how Signa Smooth handles these deep almost black grays, and I was again very impressed. As you can see in this close-up photograph of the Umbrella Man, there is no pooling of the black ink whatsoever (below) even in the very darkest areas.
By the way, all of my test prints are 18 x 24 inches. I was using a 24 inch wide roll, and I just like this size. It’s not huge, but it’s plenty big enough to really appreciate the detail in the images. It’s also a standard paper size ARCH C and I have some large Itoya Art Folios to store these prints in (as I mentioned in Episode 499) so I tend to go with this when testing, although it isn’t the cheapest way to go about this.
Beautiful Subtle Whites
Of course, the ability of a paper to hold lots of ink is one thing, but we also need to be able to differentiate between very subtle light tones, so I also printed this photo of a tree on a hill from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour this year (below).
Look at how well this media handles that subtle difference between the brow of the snow-covered hill and the white sky above it. This is of course also a tribute to the PRO-4000, which is an amazing printer. Note too that although in my review of the PRO-4000 I mentioned that printing on matte media did not produce as good results as my old iPF6350, during these tests, I’ve figured out how to work around that.
I don’t yet know if it’s a problem with the printer, its software, or how third-party tools like Capture One Pro and Lightroom interact with it, but I’ve figured it out. I’ll provide a report and the workaround for this as soon as I can in a future episode, next week if I can pull it in before I start traveling in a few days.
[UPDATE: The workaround can be seen here. Basically, if you use custom media types, you have to associate the ICC profile with the media type.]
The Translucency of Gloss Paper
Matte paper, because of its quality of being non-reflective, often can seem a little lackluster, so one of the last images that I chose to test with, is this image of the blue ice on the beach in Iceland. I chose this, because I wanted to see how well the translucent feel of the ice came across in Signa Smooth (below).
Again, I’m sure you can appreciate from this photograph that I’m very happy with the results. There is a translucency about this image that you’d normally associate with luster or gloss media. Of course, other paper comes close, and I’d love to show you this on Pura Bagasse Smooth as well, but I’m afraid I just used up the last of my stock doing some tests prints for a meeting with five engineers from Canon last week, to talk about the new PRO-4000.
Plus, with my finding out about the workaround that I mentioned earlier, I’m not really confident enough in my original matte prints from the PRO-4000, so I can’t just print the same photo as I did before for comparison either.
Spec Comparison with Pura Bagasse Smooth
What I do want to do though, is compare the specs with Pura Bagasse Smooth, to also enable me to place Signa Smooth in my printing process.
Firstly, Signa is 17 mil thick and weighs in at 270 gsm. Compared to my standard fine art matte paper, Pura Bagasse Smooth, which is 20 mil thick and 320 gsm, it’s a little bit lighter, and this might not be what you are looking for in terms of a heavyweight fine art media. I urge you to not simply rule out this new offering based on its weight though, as I’ll explain.
Signa is $100 for a 24 inch x 50 feet roll, compared to Pura Bagasse Smooth at $159 for a 24 inch x 40 feet roll, so Signa is more cost effective. You could use Signa as a somewhat cheaper alternative for personal or test prints if you absolutely must have a very heavy weight paper for customers.
Honestly though, the weight at 270 gsm is still nice, and from this comes a beautiful suppleness when handling Signa. It’s much less rigid than Pura Bagasse, yet has a very smooth feel to it, while still providing a rich, quality experience.
Impossible to Ignore!
I still haven’t made up my mind on how I will use Signa Smooth in my product line up, but I know already that I am going to be ordering another roll for use in my personal printing. It is less heavy to store in my Itoya Art Folios and beautiful to the touch, and with this level of detail and gamut, it’s just impossible to ignore.
I haven’t heard how close this media is to achieving archival certification, or even if it’s actually being sought, but from previous new releases, I’d imagine that the Breathing Color team are working towards this, and will add an Archival Quality Certificate at some point. Right now, this paper is not archival certified, so keep that in mind as you consider how you might use it.
For myself, I’m going to continue to use Signa as my personal printing favorite and probably as a very high quality product to use for printing educational purposes, and I’ll gradually work it into my product line as the archival certification is reached. It’s just too beautiful and rich to push aside just because it’s not certified.
[UPDATE: Signa Smooth 270 is now Archival Certified! You can now download the certificate to include with your products from the product page.]
A Bit Dusty (to say the least!)
It’s not all great news though. There was one downside to Signa Smooth that I feel I should tell you about, and that is that this paper creates a lot of dust when cut, and I mean a LOT! After printing 28 feet of this paper during my tests, the floor around my printer was covered in white flecks from the cutting of the paper, as was the table where I placed the prints.
The good thing is that this doesn’t seem to adhere to the face of the paper, at least not with the Canon PRO-4000, which now feeds paper upside-down, partly to avoid this kind of issue, as it’s hard for dust to settle on the media now.
If you do get dust on the face of the paper and then print on it, of course you apply the ink to the dust, and that then later falls off, leaving a white mark on the photo, because no ink was applied. I did not see this with Signa, but I’d say there may be risk of this happening depending on your printer.
Conclusion – Thumbs Up!
So, in conclusion, as you might already guess, despite the dustiness and lack of archival certification, I give a huge thumbs-up for Breathing Color’s new Signa Smooth 270 matte fine art paper. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t think I needed this paper, until I saw it, and now, it’s a part of my printing to stay, or at least until it’s replaced by something better. 🙂
You can buy Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 here: https://www.breathingcolor.com/signa-smooth-270
And don’t forget, if you are new to Breathing Color, you can use our voucher MBP20 to save $20 off your order. Using this code also let’s Breathing Color that I sent you, so please do use it if you heard about this product from me.
Comparison of Pura Smooth and Signa Smooth ICC Profiles
In reply to a reader question below, I recorded this quick video to compare the ICC profiles for Pura Smooth and Signa Smooth so that we can see that Signa has a wider gamut, slightly more neutral color and brighter white point. It has a very slightly lighter black point than Pura Smooth though, so that’s the only area where Pura has a very slight edge.
Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270: https://www.breathingcolor.com/signa-smooth-270
Canon PRO-4000 Printer: https://mbp.ac/pro4000
Music by Martin Bailey
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