With so many choices, knowing which paper to print on can be an overwhelming task, especially when it comes to fine-art prints in the wide-format market. While artists and photographers will spend hour upon hour creating the perfect image, the whole effect can be ruined with a poor choice of paper. A warm, moody image should not be displayed on slick, glossy paper, and vice versa.
But, how do you choose the right paper? While all agree that the right paper is a matter of personal choice, they all offer basic guidelines to follow to ensure that the final product is indeed a fine work of art.
Q. How do you pick the right inkjet papers for photographic and fine-art applications?
Christina Clayton, marketing and technical support, Hahnemuhle, USA: For me, as a photographer, the paper choice is the first element of getting the final image I want. I try to take the most important factor in the image and go with it. There may be more than one right paper for a project, but the paper sets the mood! For a nostalgic feel, I use a warm-based paper. If clean, modern lines are integral, I use a smooth paper over a textured one. For color saturation, a whiter-based paper. For a traditional silver gelatin feel, fiber-based pearl or baryta. For a painterly feel, a texture that does not compete or overwhelm the image texture.
Lenny Eiger, master photographer, fine artist and master printer (courtesy Roland DGA Corp.): The quality of a print is directly related to the quality of the media used and the skill of the printer. Look for a product that feels good in your hand and prints with a great degree of richness. Paper varies wildly, so we look for a good D-Max, which is the darkest black that a particular paper can produce. This gives us an indication of the quality of the coating and how ink will be applied to the paper across the entire spectrum. We also do all our own profiling and retest papers with every new advancement in software, media and ink.
Nicholas M. Friend, president, Breathing Color, Inc.: The image dictates its substrate. Some images have a soft, moody quality, others a sharp, slick look. Ultimately, the final decision is one of personal taste. Many of today’s finest photographers prefer a heavy, high-quality art paper or canvas. One reason they love canvas is its quality with the added advantage of low-cost framing. If you take a 20x24-inch print and do an archival frame with UV plexiglass and a nice 8-ply matte and frame, your costs would certainly be over $400. On the other hand, the same image with a canvas wrap is only about $65.
Tony Johnson, product marketing manager, Ilford Professional: There are now two types of fine-art media for inkjet applications. The first is what became known as Giclée media as in effect it was existing artists paper (watercolor) that was found to take inks well. The only downside was that the paper allowed the ink to penetrate with resulting loss of D-max and color gamut. Hence, the results were “artistic” rather than “photographic.” In the past couple of years, as the inkjet media market has matured, various manufacturers have looked at coating ink receiving layers onto fine-art papers. The big impact of this approach is to get back a full color gamut and good D-max giving photographic results. To complete the picture, a couple of manufacturers went back in history and produced “baryta” papers with an ink receiving layer. Baryta (barium sulphate) is the material used for coating base papers to get both a neutral white and a smooth surface for adding the receiving layer (either for traditional silver halide or now ink).
There are many different surfaces available in a variety of weights. Many photographers like to use a day-to-day media that gives good results and most manufacturers have an RC (resin coated) offering. These are analogous to the traditional silver image RC papers and offer ease of use and rapid drying at a good price. It is worth checking that the media manufacturer provides ICC profiles for its media and the chosen printer. To get the best out of the media, one needs to use profiles that allow the best balance between controlling inkloads and provide optimum quality reproducibly.