Discovering New Papers and Erasing Old Ideas

Transitioning from one material to another takes time, and the willingness to fail. For years, as an analog photographer, I used AZO paper from Kodak to create my 8X10″ contact prints. Now, in the digital realm, I have been using papers from Red River and Canson with a Luster finish, printed out to my Epson printers using Photo Black ink, and have been very happy with the results.
I recently purchased an Epson Pro 3880 which would allow me to produce larger prints (17″ maximum width) than my R2400, which is limited to a max width of 13″. Paper prices really jump when you start using larger format, pre-cut sheets. I contemplated buying rolls of paper, then cutting it down to size, but decided the savings just did not make up for the extra work involved.

My current paper of choice, Canson Platine Fiber Rag, in the format 17X22″ is currently going for somewhere around $135 for 25 sheets. 2 boxes of it have been sitting in my Adorama shopping cart for the past 2 weeks. Pulling the trigger has been difficult merely due to the price.
Last week I received a promotional email from Red River Papers out of Dallas Texas. They were offering a great discount on their Aurora Art Natural paper. This is an archival rag paper, no OBD’s in a matte finish. Hmmm. Matt finish. Like with so many things in life, it came down to price. $62 delivered for 25 sheets in 17X25″. Yes, Red River offers papers in a slightly longer format! These extra 3 inches allows for a larger print when shooting in a 35mm format. I made the purchase, and received the paper a few days later. A big Kudos to Red River for their packaging. Without a doubt, the BEST packaging of photographic papers, bar none. HEAVY DUTY cardboard boxes, padded with ample bubble wrap and Kraft paper. You can see they pride themselves on how they deliver their product to their customers.

I downloaded the appropriate icc profiles from the website and opened up Lightroom to find my first image with which to experiment. Knowing that the properties of the paper will lend itsself to a certain type of image, I decided on this:


It has a graphic look to it, and I was curious to see how this paper, along with the Epson Pro 3880 would handle the colors. I had a feeling that the paper would produce something that had, what I can only describe as a “silk screened” look to it. After the first print was done, I needed to increase the vibrance and color saturation by +15, and on the point curve increase the mid-range contrast. These adjustments provided a subtle but much needed improvement to the final print. Cool. Now to see whats going to happen with my black and white images.

Having just produced a run of these shots for a show, I am very familiar with the files and the final prints using Canson Platine Fiber Rag paper. But what adjustments would be needed with this new paper, and the fact that this paper uses Matte Black ink instead of my more familiar Photo Black? Here was my next test image:


I chose this shot because of the high contrast, the black blacks in the trees, and the absolute white whites of the streetlights in the fog. Using a luster paper and photo black ink, I had to be extremely careful of “bronzing”. This is an unwanted effect that causes certain areas of an image to have a “hologram” look to them when viewed at extreme angles.
I printed this shot using the Advanced Black and White Driver from Epson rather than the .icc profile from the paper manufacturer. This driver produces a clean, neutral black and white image void of color casts by eliminating both magenta and cyan inks from the printing process.
The very first print was spot on! And the rich blacks, white whites, and, because of the matte finish of the paper, NO BRONZING! Sweet!

One more test before I reach any conclusions. I looked for an image that would have subtle colors and rich textures. Here it is:


This print has a “painterly” feel to it. Perhaps because of the matte paper, I feel as though I can “touch” the bricks, and feel their rough surface as I rub my fingertips over their surface. I’m liking this paper more and more. And yes, in the back of my mind I am thinking, “and it’s reasonably priced too!”

The next step is to put one of these images behind glass, to see how that changes the overall look of the print.

6 months ago, when I was testing a variety of papers, I passed over the matte options because of my past experiences with them in the darkroom. I must say, my opinion has changed. While it might not be the right choice for every image I produce, I will certainly keep this paper in stock. Now I need to check my stock of matte black ink as well.

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