Digital Printing Insights #5: Evaluating and Choosing a Paper

LeanHere is installment #5 of my Digital Printing Insights. This column (so far) has been written from actual questions from my custom printer profile clients as well as questions from fellow photographers.

Does the tone of the paper have that much effect on print color or is the problem due more to bad manufacturers profiles?

You bet! The tone of a paper (warm, cool, or neutral) has great effect on overall print color. This should be easy enough to deduce, but all things being equal, a warm paper will produce a warmer print while a cool paper will produce a cooler print.

Similarly, when blacks aren’t deep, is the problem more likely to be with the paper or with the manufacturers profile?

It can be both. Some papers may not produce the Dmax (a measurement of the deepest black than an inkset/paper combination is capable of producing) that you’d like, and substandard “canned” profiles (free profiles supplied by paper manufacturers) can exacerbate this problem.

If the latter, how do you pick a paper without a good profile? Besides color rendition, what else do you look for when picking a paper? I realize the choice of paper is largely a visceral response, but I’m interested in technical aspects I should check, for example, metamerism or bronzing.

Nearly all name-brand papers available today are of high quality: wide color gamut, good Dmax, and good surface finishes. When used with Epson’s K3 inksets, for example, you’ll get good results with almost any paper. For this reason, I generally disregard color rendition and Dmax and instead choose a paper based almost exclusively on surface qualities. For me this means low reflectance (I’m not a big fan of smooth, glossy papers); some tooth but not too much (tooth= surface texture/roughness), and definitely no visible bronzing (the visible “bronze” appearance of pigments on paper) or gloss differential (the visible gloss difference of pure white paper adjacent to inked paper). Once you’ve selected a paper for its surface characteristics, a custom printer profile will optimize the paper to your printer and get you the best results possible.

What are my favorite papers? I use only two: Museo Silver Rag, and Hahnemühle Photo Rag 308gsm. I use Silver Rag exclusively for my Epson K3 prints, and Photo Rag 308gsm for my Piezography carbon pigment prints. I have consistently used Photo Rag 308gsm for about seven years now.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future Printing Insights, I would love to hear them! Thanks for reading.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Digital Printing Insights #4: “My prints are too dark”

Dancing OaksCall me a dinosaur if you like, but I still prefer working with and editing images on my LaCie CRT, although it seems the rest of the world has switched over to LCD displays. I do not know of one manufacturer producing higher end CRT’s today.

Even in a accurately color-managed environment, photographers who edit their images on an LCD and output inkjet prints are quite possibly familiar with the scenario of prints that appear too dark relative to their display. As a CRT user, this is not a problem that I have experienced, but I’ve heard it from friends and acquaintances and have read about it in online forums quite a bit. Are you experiencing a similar issue? David Brooks of Shutterbug magazine has written an excellent and informative article that addresses this problem and offers a few possible solutions. In short, this problem is caused by luminance differences between CRT’s and LCD’s (LCD’s are often about 25% brighter), with many lower end LCD’s not offering the ability to reduce the luminance to CRT levels. Check out David’s article.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Digital Printing Insights #3: Print “white noise”

Dithering example

Dithering example

“…I am having an issue that I wonder if you could help me with. It is best described as “white noise” in mostly the yellow, yellow/ green, yellow/red colors. It does not appear in the file as such and I have made sure all colors are “in gamut” before printing. It does not appear in test swatches of solid yellow – it is a little baffling to me.”

What Paul describes here is a byproduct of dithering. That is, how the continuous tone of an original digital file is translated into the tiny droplets of ink of which inkjet prints are composed. The dot size (referred to as “picoliter” size) and smoothness of those dots is governed by the printer, firmware/software, and ultimately the coating of your preferred inkjet paper. And here’s the rub: not all inkjet papers are created equally. Not even close. Some are coated considerably better than others, resulting in much smoother prints that show no visible dithering (except under magnification).

Take a close look at the color patches on the attached sample (which has been enlarged to show more obvious detail), Calumet Photo’s Brilliant Double Sided Matte. Note how evident is the dithering; this is what Paul described as “white noise”. Note that anytime you use third-party papers (non-Epson, non-HP, etc.), you must make the media selection that the paper manufacturer recommends. This media selection determines how much ink is laid down on the paper, but in some cases (like this one) it may not necessarily be the best media selection for the paper. In looking at this sample I think you’ll agree that this level of visible dithering is not acceptable. You have two choices in this case: try different media selections for improved ink coverage/dithering (make sure that the blacks do not bleed!), or try a different paper altogether. Unless you are stuck on a particular paper, I wouldn’t recommend fussing with media selections to get better results when out there are many other outstanding papers that print very well according to the paper manufacturer’s specifications.

In short, if something resembling “white noise” is evident in your prints and is not visible in the original digital file, the paper you are using could be the #1 culprit. Look closely!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future Printing Insights, I would love to hear them! Thanks for reading.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Digital Printing Insights #1: “What media and quality settings do I choose?”

Epson printer settingsA custom profile client writes:
I have an Epson 2400 and I’m having trouble figuring out the proper paper & quality options to use. It was much easier in earlier models/software, but now the paper choices and quality are confusing – especially if I am not using Epson paper. In the Print dialog there are 4 different matte papers and 3 different quality (dpi, I assume). I plan to be using Calumet’s Brilliant Matte. Does it matter which Media Type I choose? As far as the profile goes, does the quality or dpi I print the targets with make a difference? I will also be using Epson’s Watercolor RW paper, but again the question about the dpi. Or should I just choose the best or highest dpi available?”

My reply:
You’ll need to check with Calumet to find out what media type they specify for their paper. The media type does matter, because this selection determines the overall ink density (how much ink gets laid down on the paper). ICC Profiles can only map COLOR from one device to another; it is the media selection that defines other characteristics such as ink density. The wrong paper selection may result in reduced dynamic range and/or weak/muddy prints, or may cause too much ink to be laid down. If Calumet does not specify a particular media type for their paper, it will be in your best interest to conduct tests with each of the available matte media settings. Pick the media that offers the richest print without bleeding any ink, especially black.

As for quality selection, most who have done this testing (myself included) have determined that the quality increase with BEST (2880 dpi) is not enough to warrant the slower print times and extra ink consumption. My advice is that you also test this for yourself. Take the same image and print it both with PHOTO (1440 dpi) and BEST PHOTO (2880 dpi), and examine the prints with and without a loupe. You will not likely see any gain by the naked eye, and possibly only minor gain under a loupe. If you find otherwise and determine BEST PHOTO to be better for your prints, then by all means!

Regardless of what settings you choose, be sure to save them as a uniquely named media setting for future use! Whatever settings you use to print the targets are also the same settings you will need to use when making prints with my custom profiles.”

If anyone has additional questions about this or other printing topics, please let me know! I solicit your suggestions for future ‘Printing Insights’ columns.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.