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Which Fine Art Paper to use for prints?

I am a dyed in the wool Epson printer user. I have been all my photographic career. There was a brief 1 day experiment with a huge Canon – but, I returned it. I have had a succession of wide format printers and even an Epson 4800 that traveled around the USA with me in an RV as I was on an exhibition tour (it had it’s own bed!)…

And then 3 years ago, at a Fine Art printing workshop with John Paul Caponigro I worked with the Epson Photo R2880. And well…that printer and I fell in love. It was a brief lived affair, passing ships in the night as I had to return to Australia. But as soon as I got back, I ebayed my big printers and replaced them all with the desktop friendly R2880 (Ok! I have a big desk!). No more marching across the room to check on a print 10 times…no more clogged ink heads and curly paper. Just perfect colour, no dramas, no maintenance. Heaven. When I need to print big, I outsource. Easy.

I have used Epson papers pretty solidly. I like the Archival Matte Paper. Great colour and detail and it’s not too expensive. Anyway, I ran out of paper for a print order and had to raid the cupboard. I found a box of Epson Ultrasmooth Fine Art Paper. And the prints were…ummmm…how do you say…PRINTALICIOUS! They made me all hot under the collar and loving in their general direction….

So I thought…I need to test more paper! Broaden my papery horizons…. so I ordered sample packs form Museo, Crane, Moab, and massed my collection of Hahnemuhle, Epson, Canon, Ilford, and HP papers for a shoot out!

I created an image that had strips from the various work I do:

1. High contrast photographic: a sliver of ‘Puff Ball’ with fine line work and an area of dense black. I have a lot of images that are high contrast black and white.

2.A pen sketch –  this image snuck in to the test, as I drew it last night, and just really LOVE it…so decided I am going to print it for my next gallery show -as is. So I need a paper that looks good without any ink on it at all in parts – looking good in the nude!

4. Full colour painting with lots of texture.

5. Pencil drawing with fine detail.

6. Colour photo with subtle colour transitions.

What I discovered is my printer is just the BEST when I look after it –
ie: Don’t feed it mouthfuls that are too big,
papers that are too thick (I can change settings and manually feed, but, hello?! I have a life!) and
don’t leave it printing on its own for too long (it likes my company, we are in love ok?!!).

Any papers that just didn’t feed comfortably into my printer, were left out of the test. Spoon feeding a printer gets very tiresome….

All of the papers I tested were surprisingly fantastic – especially the washi papers by Moab – how do you say yumyumpaper in Japanese? oh yeah – “Moenkopi” and as soon as I become a millionaire, I will use the Unryu and Kozo papers everyday.

I included various Moab papers, Canson, Ilford and Epson in my tests.

After creating a pig pile of prints, much deliberating and staring at them …drum roll please….
THE WINNER IS:

 

Moab Entrada Rag Natural 300.

It is 100% cotton rag, archival to forever and a day, it has a creamy warmth, not yellow.
It has a substantial feel and a tiny bit of texture which enhances my artwork.
Colour was reproduced clear and true.

It handled all of my requirements. I didn’t expect to find one paper to rule them all. The Epson R2880 has been making flirty eyes at it all day…

other contenders:

The printer and I really loved Museo Max also, but it isn’t imported into Australia in the size I need….next!

My Epson Enhanced Archival Matt is excellent and is certainly a cheaper and easier to obtain option.

I also reconfirmed I like matte papers better. I am just not a gloss/photo/satin/lustre fan. The shine gets in the way of seeing the artwork (too much bling?)

I added the Moab ‘Desert Varnish‘ spray to my order too, which is said to “double the life of the print and protect it against scratches, UV and saliva” …what the?…sometimes I want to kiss my prints, but lick them…that’s just weird…!

And the best thing? I still I have lots of gorgeous paper left over from my tests, and will enjoy creating works on them all!

This was a task I highly recommend – or you can just take my word for it 😉

x

Jane

P.S. What is your favourite paper for fine art printing?

 

17th December 2013, Authors Edit: About 6 months after I wrote this post, my printer decided it no longer liked working with the Moab Entrada Rag Natural 300. Even hand feeding it became problematic.  I swapped back to my old favourite, Epson Archival Matte. I have upgraded my printer to an Epson Photo R3000, so I must run the tests again!

jane-xoxo
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