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Fine Art Printing

Right before we started the massive remodel for the new studio Andy Biggs dropped me a line asking if I’d ever tried Media Clips from Armadillo Photo Supply. I’d never heard of them, but the price was right, so I put an order in for the 12 pack. They arrived, got stuck in storage, and I promptly forgot about them.

Zoom forward four months later and I found them a few nights ago while unloading the storage unit. I brought them up to the new studio and left them on the counter until it was time to swap out a roll. When it came time to load in some Breathing Color Lyve I figured I’d give the clips a try on the outgoing roll of Ilford GFS.

This review is short because the product is simple and it works. You take your roll of paper and you put the clips on it. Done. No futzing with rubber bands or tape. They clip on, and they hold the paper securely.

Here’s a photo of the clips in use on a 17” roll of IGFS:

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And here’s a photo of the two different sizes available (3” and 2”):

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I find them extremely useful. They’re great not only for storage but also when loading the paper onto the spindle for the printer. I can leave the clips on until the spindle is actually in the printer and not have to worry about the paper unraveling as I’m moving from counter to printer.

The only downside to ordering from Armadillo Supply is the packs they sell are a mix of 3” and 2” clips, and almost all my rolls are 3” cores so the 2” clips really aren’t useful to me. I did a bit of searching around online and found similar 3” clips under the SpeedClip name in packs of 10. If you have lots of 3” core rolls that may be a better source to use.

Edit: Shades of Paper also sells the mixed packs under the name Sooper Clip.

These are an inexpensive addition to any print studio and are highly recommended.

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Apologies for the blog being so quiet lately, but my wife and I were going through a massive remodel of the house. As part of the remodel we made a dedicated space for my print studio. Here’s what it looks like all complete:

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Want to know more? Check out the write-up I guest posted on Ron Martinsen’s photo blog.

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lithy
Kentmere Kentona Fineprint VC paper in Rollei Vintage Creative developer. 1:1:16 ratio, 24 sec. @ f/11 exposure, 13:01 development.

One of the best photography classes I’ve ever taken is Lith Printing with Gina White at Photographic Center Northwest. Lith printing is just plain fun. Yeah, you have to develop your prints for a LOT longer than a regular gelatin silver print, but when the shadows start to develop and things start happening fast it’s just crazy cool.

On Thursday night Gina invited me to crash her current lith class as a thank you for providing some lith developer at the last minute for the class to use. I jumped on the opportunity to try something I’ve only done once before: lith printing from a digital negative.

The image above should be familiar, as it’s the shot from First Beach last weekend. I have very little digital negative experience, so I gambled and printed two versions of the image on Pictorico OHP. One was a straight inverted image with no curve applied, and the second had a digital negative curve for some random Epson printer applied. It only took one test print in the darkroom to realize the one with the curve was the winner.

There’s definitely a different quality to a lith print when the starting image was a digital negative. I find the shadows are even more chunky than with a regular negative, and I suspect this has to do with the relative coarseness of the ink when compared to silver particles on film. The other big difference is how much light the OHP lets through: it’s a crazy amount. My exposure time was 24 seconds at f/11. And when you lith print you expose 4x over what you would for a regular gelatin silver print. CRAZY. And a huge advantage when doing lith, as it helps avoid 4 minute exposure! The development time is long enough already!

It’s a very different feeling image compared to the original, but I have to say I like it. I needed about another 20 minutes to really lock in the development time to bring out a few more of the shadow details, but it’s not bad at all for a first try.

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Since I published my review of four metallic inkjet papers two other versions have been brought to my attention. With the addition of these two papers to the mix and some discussions with paper experts I can say with certainty these are all… well, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, some reviews:

Proofline Photo Chrome

After my original review went live I was contacted by the folks at Shades of Paper regarding Proofline Photo Chrome metallic paper. They’re my go-to source for paper and were nice enough to send out a few samples of Photo Chrome (as well as a few others).

Out of the box it was clear the Photo Chrome was essentially identical to the LexJet and Red River papers. A quick test print was proof: same same.

There is one big difference with the Photo Chrome paper, however: price. The street price for a 50 sheet box of 8.5×11” is only $36.96. A 17”x100’ roll is only $166.46. The per-box price is almost $7 less than Red River, and $20 less than the LexJet version. Considering the papers are identical this seems like the way to go if you like the metallic look.

Pictorico Opalescent

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A co-worker mentioned to me that when he was at a Glazer’s demo days event he saw a pack of Pictorico Opalescent in the store. It took me a while to get down there, but I did on Tuesday to take a look at one of their in-store print samples. I didn’t even bother buying a pack. It’s the same stuff again, just under the Pictorico name. The price is way off though, at $28.50 for a 20 pack of 8.5×11” sheets.

Updated Conclusion

So where do things stand? At this point I believe all these papers are manufactured by Mitsubishi and then labeled by the various companies. I’ve chatted with a few other folks in the know and they agree.

I have no idea why the Grace Pearl looks so different than the rest, but if you’re after a metallic paper any of the LexJet, Red River, Photo Chrome, or Pictorico will work fine. The Photo Chrome is the cheapest, and therefore wins in my book!

Disclaimer: Shades of Paper provided me with five sample sheets of Proofline Photo Chrome free of charge so I could test it out. Other than that I receive no compensation from them.

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Moab-Somerset-Museum-Rag-300

Andy Biggs has been after me ever since I started my inkjet paper list to try Somerset Museum Rag. He kept raving about it, and insisted that if I tried it I would like it. Well, now that the paper’s been launched it’s finally possible to get samples. Thanks to the folks at Legion Paper a few sheets arrived last week and I was able to give it a test run.

I like it.

And that’s really saying something, because I really do dislike matte papers. I can count on one hand the number of images I’ve printed on matte paper, and usually it’s just for fun on sample scraps I have kicking around. I much prefer baryta glossy papers for their stunningly deep blacks, especially for black and white work.

But the Moab Somerset Museum Rag is really nice. Why? It has an absolutely awesome feel when you hold it in your hand. For folios, where how the paper feels in your hand is an integral part of the overall folio experience, this paper is a must try. Unlike the baryta papers, all of which have a somewhat plastic feel, the Somerset Museum Rag feels like a true fine art paper.

The prints look great too. I whipped off a copy of my Vine Maple image as a test, and compared it to the same image on the baryta-based Epson Exhibition Fiber. I much prefer it on the Somerset Museum Rag. It wasn’t intentional, but the print on the Somserset Museum Rag comes shockingly close to having the tone and feeling of the darkroom lith prints I occasionally make on (the sadly discontinued) Kentmere Kentona Fineprint VC.

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Vine Maple printed on Moab Somerset Museum Rag (left) and Epson Exhibition Fiber (right).

From a stats standpoint the paper is a winner as well. It’s 100% cotton which makes it archival and acid free. The paper is made using a cylinder mould machine which gives it a subtle and pleasing texture. It weighs in at 300gsm which is hefty enough to add to the wonderful hand feel. On the tone side of things I would classify it as “just warm enough”. It’s got a tinge of warmth but it doesn’t scream “I AM WARM” like, say, Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk. I measured a dMax of 1.61 on my test print which puts it at the upper end of all the matte papers I’ve tested. For people that care about OBAs I’m told the paper has “minimal” OBAs in it.

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Epson Hot Press Bright, Moab Somerset Museum Rag, and Epson Hot Press Natural.
White balanced using an xRite Colorchecker Passport.

How does it compare to other popular cotton rag papers? Flipping through my stack I’d say the closest competitors are the Epson Hot Press Natural and Epson Hot Press Bright papers. The Epson papers have very similar texture and weight, but feel smoother to the touch than the Museum Rag. From a tone perspective the Museum Rag falls right in between two Epson papers.

The paper will be available in late July with a street price of $37 for a box of 8.5×11” sheets. Rolls all the way up to 60”x50’ will be on the market as well, for those of you with far bigger printers than me!

Moab Somerset Mseum Rag is easily a worthy candidate if you want a lovely matte paper that prints beautifully and feels great in the hand.

Disclaimer: Legion Paper provided me with six sample sheets of Somerset Museum Rag free of charge so I could test it out. Other than that I receive no compensation from them.

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No.

Ok ok, I’ll elaborate a bit.

If you own a Canon imagePROGRAF printer one of the benefits of the printer according to the marketing literature is an export plug-in that works with Photoshop and allows a 16-bit printing path. On their web page they claim it supports:

“processing of 16-bit RGB images directly, which dramatically increases gradations and as a result, overall image quality.

I decided to put this to the test using the standard 16-bit test image I use for the inkjet paper list. I made three prints of the image on Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk using the following settings:

  • Export plug-in, input resolution 600ppi, input depth 16-bit, print mode highest
  • Export plug-in, input resolution 600ppi, input bit depth 8-bit, print mode high
  • Photoshop print dialog, high (600ppi)

For good measure I also printed out two copies of a Grainger Rainbow, one at 16-bit, 600ppi, highest and one at 8-bit, 600ppi, high.

All five prints then came with me to a gathering of about 30 photographers. The printing experience of the photographers ranged from “I print at Costco” to years of experience printing both digitally and in darkrooms. Not one person could tell apart the 16- and 8-bit test images. Two people were able to notice an extremely slight difference in the blue tones of the Grainger Rainbow.

Interestingly, two people did see a difference in the standard test prints, but it wasn’t bit depth. It was export plug-in vs. print dialog. Both people noticed that the print dialog version of the test print had better black separations in the black square test than the export plug-in.

So… not only is there no difference with real world images between 16-bit and 8-bit printing, the export plug-in was actually slightly worse with the blacks. This is all good news for me, since I pretty much always print out of Lightroom.

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Thanks to the fine folks at Shades of Paper I have a whole whack of new papers to test this weekend: Various Innova papers, a couple of Canon fine art papers, and the Epson premium glossy. Oh, and another metallic paper from a different company than the other three reviewed earlier.

I also received a sample of the Moab Somerset Rag paper earlier this week, thanks to the folks at Legion Paper. This paper is a favourite of Andy Biggs, and while I’m not generally a fan of matte papers this one is pretty nifty. Stay tuned for more details in a dedicated blog entry.

If that weren’t enough paper, I also have two sample packs of Premier paper that arrived earlier this week.

Between the three sets of samples I think I have 30 or so new papers to add to the inkjet list. Yoinks, that’s a lot of printing!

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As promised the updated Inkjet Paper List is now available for download. Changes in this release:

  • All of the Red River papers available in their sample pack are now included
  • The three new metallic papers on the market (Red River, LexJet, and Mitsubishi) are now included
  • Prices are updated for the papers that used to be on sale
  • Link added to the Museo MAX website
  • Papers we own but haven’t tested due to a lack of printer profile are now on their own separate tab

Enjoy!

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I just finished printing on 13 more papers, this time from Red River. Phew!

In addition to those 13 (which are drying the requisite 24 hours before measuring dMax), I have 5 other Red River papers I printed on last month and the three metallic papers I wrote about last week. All of these papers will be in an updated inkjet paper list that I’ll hopefully publish tomorrow night. This brings the total of papers in the list to exactly 100!

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Update: July 9, 2010

Two more metallic papers are on the market and I’ve published a second blog entry reviewing them. Read the below content, then follow the link at the end to read the updated conclusions.

Metallic Inkjet Review

In the wet print world many photographers have a fondness for Kodak Endura Metallic paper. Its distinctive shine and metallic appearance appeals to some, and for certain images produces an amazing “pop” that can’t be reproduced by other wet print glossy options. I personally have a special place in my heart for some of my winter landscape images that, when printed on Kodak Endura Metallic, make me smile.

Like many photographers I’ve moved to an inkjet-based printing process and that meant leaving Endura Metallic behind. Even though there’s a huge range of paper options for inkjet printers, until recently there was nothing available to reproduce the look of metallic available from a wet printing process.

So it was with great excitement that I read the announcements over the last two months of three different papers that claim to replicate the look of Kodak’s paper on an inkjet printer: LexJet Sunset Photo Metallic, Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, and Mitsubishi Grace Pearlescent Metallic.

Now that samples of all three papers have arrived and I’ve had a chance to do side-by-side comparisons I thought I’d share my thoughts with everyone.

Mitsubishi Grace Pearlescent Metallic

Let’s get this paper out of the way first. It doesn’t look like Kodak Endura Metallic at all. Nobody looking at this paper would ever even think to compare it to the Endura Metallic. Why? Because it glitters. Every time I look at it I hear Katy Perry singing “Shake your glitter!” The base looks like it was made from silver glitter particles used for a kid’s craft project.

If the glitter wasn’t enough, there are a few other things that set it apart from Kodak’s paper. The base colour is far whiter, and is completely lacking in texture. Kodak’s paper has a noticeable grain pattern in the base layer, while the Mitsubishi paper is completely smooth in its base.

The funky glitter in the base of this paper may be appealing to some, but to me it just distracts from the printed image.

Cost: $39.99 for 50 8.5×11” sheets

LexJet Sunset Photo Metallic

This is the first of the three papers I tried, and I was very excited when I opened the box. The paper clearly has a metallic look, even prior to printing, and once the prints rolled out I was pretty impressed. The paper is extremely glossy and definitely had depth like you see on the Kodak paper. The weight isn’t very hefty at 255gsm, but is on par with other high-gloss options.

The base colour for this paper is noticeably different than Kodak’s. Lexjet’s paper is quite a bit brighter, just like the Mitsubishi. It also has a slight amount of texture in the base layer, although not nearly as much as the original Kodak version.

LexJet has claimed at various times that this paper cannot be profiled, or that a profile is available on their site. As far as I can tell neither are true. You can profile it (several folks have), and no profile is on their website. Several people have tried using the Red River metallic paper profile and had reasonable success. Whatever you do don’t follow LexJet’s recommendation to use the Sunset eSatin profile. Using that profile on my Canon iPF5100 resulted in some noticeable issues with the green test patches on my standard test image.

Cost: $57.00 for 50 8.5×11” sheets

Red River Polar Pearl Metallic

The day after I placed the order for the LexJet paper there was a lengthy discussion over at the Luminous Landscape printing forum about the difference between LexJet’s paper and Red River Polar Pearl Metallic. They have the same weight (255gsm), and I wanted to see if I could spot a difference in person so I ordered a sample box of the Red River.

Out of the box the Red River paper looked identical to the LexJet paper. After doing the same test prints and putting the paper side-by-side with the LexJet there doesn’t appear to be any difference in the metallic or “wet” look of the two papers. There are some very subtle differences in the base material (the LexJet is ever so slightly more blue, and the Red River has a slight increase in texture), but those differences would not be noticeable under normal viewing conditions. The dMax I measured on the Red River is slightly higher than on the LexJet, but visually there’s no discernable difference.

Cost: $42.00 for 50 8.5×11” sheets

Conclusion

So after all the above, where do things stand? None of the three papers have the same look as Kodak Endura Metallic, but both the LexJet and Red River papers are close enough. My metallic paper of choice, however, is none of these. It’s actually Proofline Photo Chrome due to price. See the second metallic paper review for details.

While I won’t use these metallic papers for every image it’s nice to have one the mix as a fun alternative from time to time!

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