It’s been a long time since I made 8X10 inch contact prints using Kodak AZO paper. So long in fact, I had forgotten the beautiful finish it provided to the final image. Like so many of us, I have converted my analog darkroom to digital, and with the use of my Epson R2400 printer, have been making prints on Premium Glossy Paper, either from Epson, or, more often on Red River stock. The glossy finish feeds my need for the ultimate in sharpness, where as matte papers left me looking for missing details in my prints, until now.
I ran across an unopened paper sampler that came with my Epson Stylus Photo R2400 when I bought it about 7 years ago. Feeling adventurous, I opened it up to find 6 sheets of Enhanced Matte Paper and 6 of the Premium Glossy Paper. The glossy I was all too familiar with, but the matte, that was uncharted territory.
So I loaded up a sheet, and selected an image from Light Room that I thought might be appropriate for this medium and, after making adjustments to the printer settings, hit “print”. The results were interesting to say the least. Now due to the subject matter (see my blog from 2/11/15) the final image had the look of an illustration, almost watercolor like which I found intriguing. Next, for comparison purposes, I switched back to the glossy stock, and repeated the process. A side by side comparison revealed some interesting facts. First of all, the blacks were “weaker” on the matte paper, but at the same time, the colors seemed “richer”. Not more saturated, but more “painterly”. Nice. The glossy print was, as I predicted, sharper in appearance, and cooler in the overall tint. Much to my surprise, I was starting to like this matte paper stuff. What do you know.
Looking at the prints, I knew that in order to make this a valid test, I would need to switch out the Photo Black ink cartridge for the Matte Black. Now the matte black cartridge I had available was original to the printer, which means it is at the very least, it’s 4 years expired. Lacking an alternative, I got out the owners manual and read up on the process for a cartridge swap. No big surprises and pretty straight forward, so the process is completed and it’s time to get back to “my research / experimentation”. I just hoped this matte black ink was still good. Now if I were a trained scientist, I’m sure I would have printed the same image, in order to see the real difference made by the matte black ink as opposed to the photo black. But I’m a photographer, not a scientist, and I’ve been know to stray from the straight and narrow. So I chose an image I had exposed on 8X10 inch Efke PL100 black and white film of an old flour mill located just south of Nuernberg Germany.
These negatives were NOT properly scanned, but rather I made reproductions from my “Gallery Images” using my Nikon D200. Not the best method I know, but making due with what I had available at the time. (If anyone has an Epson V750 scanner I can borrow, please let me know. I have several hundred negatives that desperately need a proper scanning).
This was going to be the real test because I would be comparing this “new fangled” digital print to my hand crafted AZO contact print.
After adjusting the image in Light Room, and carefully correcting my printer setting, I again hit “print”. This was the first time I had ever printed on matte printer paper with the proper matte black ink. I was really excited! After the 2 minutes or so required to spit out the print, I anxiously took it to my “print viewing area”, otherwise known as the dining room table. Wow. I’ve got to get some more of this paper! The final print had a depth to it, an atmosphere, that is just not achieved with a glossy inkjet paper. It felt like “art”. The gradations were smooth and the blacks BLACK!
My excitement was such that I just had to share it with someone, so I immediately began to write this blog post. And as I write, I realize, I’m going to need to get more of the matte black ink as well. I have quite a few of my older images that I would like to reproduce using my new found friend, matte ink and matte paper.
This Old Dog just learned a New Trick.