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Keith Dotson | Catching Shadows

THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER KEITH DOTSON

Evaluating fine art photography papers for pigment printing

Evaluating fine art photography papers for pigment printing

This is the process I used to select a new fine art photo paper stock

I sell a lot of prints. For years, I have ordered out my prints from a few trusted print shops on an “as needed” basis. A little more than a year ago, I decided to start printing my own fine art photographs. I bought a high-end Epson printer that uses the newest HD inks, and I selected a paper stock.

My printer only goes to 17-inches wide, so I still need to send out prints larger than 16 x 24 inches.

Replacing my previous paper: Moab Entrada Rag Bright

From the beginning, I decided to print on Moab Entrada Rag Bright for several reasons. Because I offer two tiers of print, and my “premium” prints are real digital silver gelatins on baryta fiber-based paper, I wanted my “standard” prints to be on matte, uncoated stock. I enjoyed the contrast between the two stocks.

I originally selected the Entrada because it’s heavy-weight, it’s 100% cotton, it feels substantial in the hand, it renders an exceptional range of tones including deep blacks, it’s made in the USA, and it’s very bright white.

However, that last point is also the problem. The only way to get a 95% whiteness is to use optical brightening agents (OBAs), which are added to the paper to enhance whiteness. Unfortunately, OBAs may degrade over time, reducing the long-term viability of the print. Since my intention is to offer heirloom-quality prints that should last for generations, OBAs are not acceptable.

I also realized over time that I was needing to adjust the midtones of my images to get the Entrada to render my images properly. My photographs were printing too dark otherwise.

Photograph of a black and white print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Matt 310. This is "Branches of a Mighty Oak."
Photograph of a black and white print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Matt 310. This is “Branches of a Mighty Oak.”

What paper to choose for fine art prints?

Because I had been printing on matte stock, I really wanted to choose a new matte paper as a replacement for the Moab. I expected to choose the super-popular Photo Rag Matt made in Germany by Hahnemühle, but wanted to consider options before committing. The Hahnemühle also contains a minimal amount of OBAs, but has been rated very archival by the experts at Wilhelm Imaging Research.

A lot of fine art photographers swear by the quality of their prints on Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique. I’ve printed on baryta papers before, and even though I like the results, it didn’t make sense to offer inkjets on baryta AND silver gelatins on baryta.

However, I didn’t totally rule out a coated paper. I’ve heard stellar things about Canson Platine Fiber Rag, so I decided to test it alongside a host of matte papers.

Considerations in selecting a fine art photography stock

Here is the checklist of desirable qualities for my new fine art photo paper:

  • Should be readily available for purchase at any time
  • Should be a solid performer (no reputation of flaking or printer jams)
  • Should be bright white (with little or no brighteners)
  • Should hold tones and sharpness
  • Should be widely available from high-quality print vendors for times when I need to order very large prints beyond my own capabilities
  • Should be made of 100% cotton

Sample packs for starters

To begin testing, I ordered sample packs of the candidate papers. Sample packs provide a few letter-size sheets of a wide variety of papers. After trying two sample sheets, I ordered more of the papers I liked best for further testing.

List of fine art photography papers

Here’s the list of papers I considered, in no particular order:

Moab Entrada Rag Bright White (my current paper: to be replaced)
100% cotton
95% white (OBAs)
300 gsm
Matte smooth surface
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = $135.45 (BH Photo and Video)

Hahnemühle Photo Rag Matt
100% cotton, museum quality
92.5% white (minimal OBAs)
308 gsm
Matte smooth surface
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = $189.40 (BH Photo and Video)
Cost: 17″ x 39′ roll = $132.86 (BH Photo and Video)
Vendors: Almost universally available from local and national printers

Canson Infinity Velin Museum Rag
100% cotton, museum quality
83.35% white (no OBAs)
315 gsm
Matte, soft textured surface
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = NA
Cost: 17″ x 50′ roll = $168.83 (BH Photo and Video)
Vendors: Unknown

Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag
100% cotton base, satin coated print surface
89.12 white (No OBAs)
310 gsm
Glossy, egg-shell satin finish
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = $142.65 (BH Photo and Video)
Cost: 17″ x 50′ roll = $122.74 (BH Photo and Video)
Vendors: Available from Aspen Creek Photo, Richard Photo Lab

Canson Infinity Rag Photographique
Alpha-cellulose base, baryta coated surface
99.16 white (Very low OBAs)
310 gsm
Satin finish
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = $140.85 (BH Photo and Video)
Cost: 17″ x 50′ roll = $159.54 (BH Photo and Video)
Vendors: Unknown

Canson Infinity Edition Etching Rag
100% cotton
89.1 white (No OBAs)
310 gsm
Matte surface, soft textured
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = $137.44 (BH Photo and Video)
Cost: 17″ x 50′ roll = $145.24 (BH Photo and Video)
Vendors: Unknown

Canson Infinity Aquarelle Rag
100% cotton
83.37 white (No OBAs)
310 gsm
Matte surface, textured
Cost: 17″ x 22″ sheet, 25-count = $160.65 (BH Photo and Video)
Cost: 17″ x 50′ roll = $168.83 (BH Photo and Video)
Vendors: Unknown

This image illustrates the glossy eggshell finish of the stunning Canson Platine Fiber Rag, which was my runner-up paper (and still under consideration long-term).
This image illustrates the glossy eggshell finish of the stunning Canson Platine Fiber Rag, which was my runner-up paper (and still under consideration long-term).

Canson and Hahnemühle: Hundreds of years of paper-making

When I picked Moab Entrada in 2017, one of the factors was that it’s made in America. This time around, I’m considering only papers from two legacy European companies with histories going back centuries. In my life before photography, my artwork concentrated on painting and drawing, and I used fine art papers from Canson / Arches regularly. Canson traces its lineage back to the year 1557, while Hahnemühle’s history goes back to 1584.

Conclusions

My choice: After testing and consideration of the many variables, I decided to go with the Hahnemühle Photo Rag Matt Smooth for now. It’s a spectacular matte paper. It’s very similar to my current paper, which means listings on my website will not need revision (saves me a TON of time).

Two side-by-side prints of my photograph "In the Shade of the Mighty Oaks," printed on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Matt 308 gsm.
Two side-by-side prints of my photograph “In the Shade of the Mighty Oaks,” printed on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Matt 308 gsm.

It’s available from almost any print shop in the country, including my local one in Nashville. That’s important because I can only print to 17″ wide in my studio, so a consistent paper from vendors is important to me.

My runner up: To be honest, I love the Canson Platine Fiber Rag. LOVE IT. I’m still considering a switch to it sometime in the near future. It holds details and tones better than any paper I’ve ever printed. The surface is glossy, but not super shiny. . . more of a satiny gloss. It looks a little yellowish next to the bright white Moab, which is understandable, but viewed alone it looks white. One of my test prints with a large solid black experienced small white “pinholes” in the black. Whether this was from paper flaking or just surface dust, I’m not sure, but it warrants further investigation.

Whiteness compared: Canson Platine Fiber Rag (left) compared to Moab Entrada Rag Bright (right).
Whiteness compared: Canson Platine Fiber Rag (left) compared to Moab Entrada Rag Bright (right).

I didn’t choose the Platine for a few reasons, already hinted at in my intro. I still feel a quality matte surface makes a better complement to my premium silver gelatin baryta prints. But the Platine is just beautiful enough to make me reconsider that idea going forward.

Why not consider other manufacturers?

I’m well aware there are many many more papers and paper makers out there, including the highly-regarded papers from Texas-based Red River. I have reasons for not keeping them in consideration, but the main reason is that I had to narrow the list for time and financial considerations.

The Royal Photographic Society has published a very helpful guide to selecting inkjet papers here.

Note: all prices were current at the time of posting and may change over time.

This post was not sponsored by any of the brands or products mentioned.

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