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New papers for black & white

2nd March 2010 | Papers

In recent years various manufacturers have introduced a range of inkjet papers specifically targeting the look and feel of traditional air-dried fibre-based darkroom papers. These come as a welcome alternative to resin-coated offerings. Whilst none of these (in my opinion) are identical to the best fibre-based papers from darkroom days, differences in absolute surface quality are more than compensated for by the range of surfaces on offer and control over tonality from the deepest shadows through to highlights that digital printing allows.

Macquarie Editions has evaluated a number of these and settled on the following as the best examples of this class of paper. While these can be used variously for colour work, it’s with rich black & white images that they excel. In all cases the maximum density (Dmax) achievable equals or exceeds that of darkroom papers. A common component of most is baryta, or barium sulphate, a white clay-like substance which gives the paper its smoothness and whitepoint … and also a smell reminiscent of the darkroom! From coolest to warmest they are:

  • Epson Traditional Photo Paper 330gsm. This is a bright white paper with a very attractive surface stipple. Its coldness generally makes it more suited to distant landscapes and abstracts than portraits etc. It’s not something I would recommend for colour images.
  • Harman Gloss FB Al 320gsm. The smoothest and glossiest of the selection with an ultra fine lustre. It exhibits high acutance and is probably the most demanding of the papers listed here. In the hand it does have a “plasticky” feel which some may not like, but conversely makes it a good match for the inherent glossiness of UltraChrome inks. It’s also susceptible to scratching with improper handling.
  • Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique 310gsm. This is a brand new paper which closely resembles Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk (below). Its paper white is near neutral. It has a fine lustre on a smooth surface which doesn’t assert itself.
  • Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk 310gsm. Another near neutral white paper with a minimal lustre. This has been a popular and versatile alternative to “photo paper” for both black & white and colour output, but does exhibit some gloss differential (unlikely to be an issue when displayed behind glass).
  • Harman Gloss Baryta Warmtone (formerly Harman Gloss FB Al Warmtone) 320gsm. Identical to Harman Gloss FB Al above but with a lovely warmer paper white. Ideally suited to B&W portraits. A classy paper with the right images.
  • Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta 315gsm. This paper is the warmest of the selection (no optical brighteners) and exhibits some surface irregularity due to its cotton rag base. It also has lower acutance and an overall milkiness/softness which gives images a more organic look. Black & white images printed on Photo Rag Baryta have great depth. At larger sizes it will however need to be displayed carefully (ideally bonded) to allow optimal viewing.

All the above papers have been linearized for full separation of tones with black & white and I would be pleased to show sample output. Use of a grayscale working space based on L* (such as Macquarie Editions Gray v4, available on request) is recommended for optimal shadow detail.