Choosing a Fine Art paper can be a bit hit or miss. I used DSCL for many years to print my images and occasionally Loxley and Ilford. I never printed from home because... well... it's expensive. Ink is expensive, printers are expensive...
One evening, whilst taking my Lightroom course at our local college, someone said to me "well... it's not about the money is it? I don't print my own because it makes financial sense..."
So, armed with a new "project" I began the hunt for printers, and a friend (who is a printer by trade) said that he had an "Epson thing" lying around and that I could have it.
It turned out to be an Epson Stylus Pro 4800 in perfect working condition with a full set of 220ml tanks and a full set of spares. I've not looked back.
One "quest" though has been to find the right paper... And paper is very subjective. This is really a guide for someone looking to try different papers. It's not a scientific test - it's based more on feel and perception rather than facts, so take what you like & leave the rest.
Before we get started, it's worth me explaining how I define paper. With so many creative naming conventions around, it's easy to get caught up in marketing. Words like "satin", "lustre" and "pearl" mean different things to different companies (never mind customers!) so I'm just going to clarify what I mean by it here.
Matt - Has a smooth, non reflective surface and is similar to the page of a typed book.
Gloss - Has a reflective glossy surface and is very much associated with photography.
Satin - aka Luster/Lustre/Pearl - This is halfway between matt & glossy with varying degrees.
The prices quoted below are for 25 sheets of A4 - all from the same website and exclusive of VAT. Prices are mainly used for comparison rather than a guide price, so your mileage may vary...
I tested these papers by printing out the same test image on every different paper and writing the name of the paper on the back. I then shuffled them and laid them out on the dining table to analyse and compare blind. I broken them down into matt, satin & gloss so I was evaluating like for like.
Satin Finish (i.e. not gloss and not matt)
I guess this is my preferred paper type for general use. Gloss is too shiny and matt only works with certain images (I'm not sure which yet! - still learning)
Hahnemuhle Glossy Fine Art Baryta FB (350gsm) £25
Words can be deceiving. I wouldn't call this glossy - I'd call it satin, and it has a pronounced texture to it. It's a heavy paper that has a tendancy to curl a little. I really didn't like the texture when viewed on an angle with reflections. Nothing to complain about with both colour & B&W, although the B&W has a very slight caste to my eye when compared to other B&W shots on different papers.
Museo Silver Rag (300gsm) £26
I love this paper. It has a satin finish with a gorgeous texture. Colour rendition is absolutely superb and B&W images have beautiful depth. I love the texture pattern and my images have a real "fine art" feel to them that I just don't quite get with the Canson papers. Overall, very little curling, and a lovely overall feel. It's now my #1 paper even though I'm going to have to sell a kidney to get a 17" roll. Cheap - it 'aint.
Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique (310gsm) £24
This has been my #1 satin paper for some time, and it was a tough decision between this and the platine fibre rag below. It's slightly sharper and more contrasty than the other Canson paper, and renders B&W very slightly better to my old eyes. It has a more plasticky feel to it compared to the other papers (apart from the Harman paper) but I've been really happy with the A3 prints I've had off it. Lovely paper.
Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag (310gsm) £22
This has a much more rag feel to it but still with a lovely satin finish, and the colour rendition is better than the BP above. The fact that the BP paper rendered B&W better was all that stopped my ordering a load of this. Colour - especially vibrant colour really pops out of the paper. For the lower price point - it's a really good buy if you're on a budget and want a high quality Baryta paper.
Fotospeed Platinum Baryta (300gsm) £22
After hearing good things about Fotospeed paper, I was really shocked to hate this, unless the supplier made a screw up when they pulled this and they actually put something else in the test pack - which is entirely possible I suppose. It feels like a much lighter paper (280gsm) and very plasticky. It was one of the first to be thrown out in my "blind taste test". After handling the 310 Canson/Hahnemuhle papers this just felt cheap - and it isn't.
Ilford Gold Fibre Silk (310gsm) £20
A lot of the internet says this is an excellent paper. It is - but for me, it's not a Canson or Museo. It has a mildly plasticky feel for a Baryta but colour and B&W rendition is excellent. My only reason to choose this would be price as it's probably the cheapest decent Baryta paper that I've tested.
Canson Photo Satin (270gsm) £10
Fotospeed Pearl (290gsm) £7.50
Permajet Smooth Pearl (280gsm) £8
I'm going to be honest here. I can't tell the difference between them. In terms of the sub-£15 bracket, I think they all surpass the 2 papers below unless you're after a Baryta feel at under £15. They all feel quite plasticky, and very light. The Permajet paper has a slight yellow caste to it, which warms up colour photos nicely or yellows B&W photos.
Pinnacle Premium Lustre (300gsm) £10
This paper has a slight yellow caste to it and the colours don't pop like they do in some of the more expensive Baryta papers. In terms of feel though, it feels like a Baryta and gives the impression of quality. Unfortunately, it falls down in the image presenting. In hindsight I wonder if this is because it's closer to a matt finish than a glossy one?
Imajet Glacier (300gsm) £12.50
Plasticky, and absolutely does not feel like a 300gsm paper. Imajet call it a "Lustre" paper, but I'd be more inclined to describe it as low-gloss, or even glossy - as the shine is quite pronounced. The colours though are rich and vibrant (helped by the heavier gloss).
Gloss Finish (i.e. shiny)
The only expensive gloss paper here is the Harman paper, and it's terrible in my opinion, but if you love gloss and want the best - that's as good a choice as any as it's a Baryta paper. The others are all resin coated. All feel quite plasticky and non-paper like. Not much commentary because I just don't like the paper and didn't spend too much time with it.
Harman Gloss Baryta (320gsm) £21
This is a very glossy paper that curls quite noticeably. I'm not a big fan of a gloss finish, and was surprised that a Baryta paper would feel so plasticky. I'm almost certain it's down to the glossy finish. Colour rendition is OK. I find the blacks to be not quite so deep although the rendition appears better than the Hahnemuhle paper.
Canson Infinity Photo Gloss Premium (270gsm) £10
I really like the way this paper renders blacks. they feel properly "black" and not just ink. The B&W images got top marks here for gloss paper.
Canson Infinity Photo High Gloss Premium (315gsm) £15
Well I couldn't detect any higher levels of gloss over the £5 cheaper paper mentioned above. It's heavy though, but still quite plasticky.
Ilford Gallerie Smooth Gloss (290gsm) £15 (for the heavier 310gsm)
This paper renders colours better than the Canson papers but seems pricey for what it is.
Matt Finish (i.e. not shiny)
I have a confession. I don't have any matt black ink, so all these were done with photo black. Printer purists can shoot me now, but I'm limited by what I have. Good news is all the papers were printed with the same conditions, so it's relative.
Canson Infinity Rag Photographique (310gsm) £26
Canson Infinity Rag Photographique Duo (220gsm) £21
I'm putting these 2 together because after the Permajet paper was removed, I was left with these two and I could not figure out why the heavier paper didn't look as good as the lighter one. My head was stating that surely the heavier paper would be better? In my mind, it wasn't, and the Duo won out in both B&W rendition and overall sharpness. Colour was about the same between them. I plumped for a box of the Duo and have been happy with the results.
Permajet FB Delta Matt (285gsm) £15
This paper was discarded first as the colour and B&W rendition wasn't as good as the Canson papers. That said, it is a middle-weight paper that is significantly cheaper than the Canson offerings. Is it 30% worse than them? No, I would say not. If you're on a budget, this would be the one to go for, but both Canson papers are better in my eyes.
Museo Max (250gsm) £21
I only just ordered this recently when I picked up a box of the Silver Rag, so it's difficult to compare objectively with only a couple of prints. Anyway, I love it. It's the most heavily textured of all the matt papers I've tried so far, but handling it feels really nice. I have to say that I utterly love the soft-yet-sharp rendition which sounds stupid and arty, but it's really hard to describe. For me - it blows the Canson papers out of the water. If you find textured papers distracting though this might not be for you.
(A couple of days ago, I received my Epson signature test pack, so these have been added to this list after the same prints were made. No blind test this time though...)
Epson Hot/Cold Press Natural/Bright (330/340gsm) £31 approximated from A3 prices
These are all really lovely matt papers (they are about 30% more expensive than Canson equivalents, and you can't get them in A4 though!) but I was very surprised to get a significant magenta caste to all the images on all the papers. This was using the Epson ICC profiles on an Epson printer! To fix this would require quite a bit of post processing just for this paper and would create a fair bit of additional housekeeping to manage, not to mention the cost of prints trying to get it right. Very disappointed. The difference between the papers seems to be in the form of texture (the "hot" papers are quite smooth compared to the textured "cold" papers) and whiteness (the "natural" papers are yellowy-white whilst the "bright" papers are what Dulux would call "brilliant white") These subtle differences though do little to offset the very heavy magenta caste which makes skin look like fake tan, and black & white look toned with magenta. If you were printing a silver B&W print, you'd need to do some serious PP to get it right.
Epson Velvet Fine Art (260gsm) £24 approximated from A3+
This is a lovely paper, spoiled only by the fact that the smallest size I can find is A3+ (apart from test packs). On this paper, the ICC profile was perfect, and the resulting print was beautiful. It's a medium textured paper and feels heavier than the 260gsm quoted. It's a white paper (similar to the "bright" offerings above) but doesn't quite beat the Museo Max in terms of depth of black and sharpness (I'm using Photo Black for all these though, so that might not be useful)
So that's it. For me - the Museo papers are awesome and blow the Canson papers out of the water - which is saying something. For a standard satin paper, I'd choose the Museo Silver Rag and damn the expense. The Museo Max is a superb matt paper, but it's quite heavily textured which might not be to some likings. I don't like gloss so I fortunately don't have to make that decision! As to which paper I'd buy on a roll? I'm still undecided. The Silver Rag is £90 ex VAT for a 17" roll, the Canson Baryta Photographiqhe is £75 and the Ilford Gold Fibre Silk is £60. That's a lot of money so I'll mull it over for a bit and see what I think in a week.