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Gadget Bag: Inkjet Paper For B&W Prints
Back in the days when having a darkroom in your home involved chemistry and safelights, black-and-white printing ruled supreme. In fact, many photographers used to cut their teeth on black-and-white film, then they would graduate to color—and when they finally became master photographers—they would return to black-and-white.
These days, color is forced upon us everywhere in life. Only the daily newspaper peers back at us in monochrome—and even it has some color on many pages. But don’t let this proliferation of color cause you to bypass one of the most elemental—and rewarding—aspects of photography.
Aside from the obvious, there are subtle differences between color and black-and-white printing, and a few of the nuances are worthy of mention. Some color printers, for example, use more than one shade of black ink. Canon, Epson and HP all offer models with this capability. The manner by which you convert your digital image to monochrome makes a big difference, too. Dedicated conversion programs, like Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro or Exposure from Alien Skin, offer extensive creative control over the process—right down to the ability to emulate the exact characteristics of certain films.
The biggest difference, however, is also the easiest to remember. When you create a black-and-white print with an inkjet printer, the blackness of the black portions (the darkest areas, in particular) is determined primarily by the ink. Conversely, the whiteness of the white areas (especially the pure white) is determined primarily by the paper. The midtones are influenced by both to varying degrees. So the printer and inking method are of somewhat importance, but the paper stock you print on is of paramount importance.
There’s virtually no limit to the number of paper choices that await you. The good news is that you can print on practically anything that will fit in your printer, although you’ll find that certaincombinations of printer and media yield better results than others, and in a few cases, some won’t play together at all. A Brand X printer performs reliably well when fed Brand X paper, that’s for sure, but that does not close the door on other brands.
Because your choice of papers is more dizzying than the lineup of breakfast cereal at the supermarket, we’ve collected a list of brands you should know about. This is by no means a complete list—there are several others worthy of your investigation. And we didn’t include the obvious (Canon, Epson, HP) despite the fact that all three offer outstanding, time-proven products because, in this article, we’re focusing on the other brands that aren’t under the umbrella of the printer manufacturers.
Bergger is a French firm created by former employees of industry icon Guilleminot, one of France’s oldest and most respected photographic product resources that traced its roots back more than 100 years and recently ceased operation. The first thing one encounters when visiting Bergger’s website is a black-and-white image. That’s more than a good omen for a black-and-white printer. Today, Bergger Photographic is best known for producing one of the finest arrays of classic silver papers available, premium black-and-white films, antique and alternative processes products, fine darkroom chemistry and progressive new inkjet papers. That’s quite a portfolio. Contact: www.bergger.com.
Canson, a French firm that traces its origins back over 450 years, offers an extensive assortment of fine papers that suit the varied needs of artists everywhere. The Canson Infinity papers are manufactured by two of the world’s most legendary paper mills, Canson and Arches. Instead of adding brighteners to their papers, Canson relies on natural minerals and other pure materials to enhance the age resistance of their inkjet papers. Canson Infinity papers provide a wide color gamut, deep blacks and excellent tonal range. They offer compatibility with dye or pigment inks, instant drying, resistance to water and museum-level archival characteristics. New, and of special interest to photographers, is the Baryta Photographique, a true baryta (barium-hydroxide) paper developed for inkjet technology. Contact: www.cansoninfinity.com.
Say Hahnemühle, and you’re repeating a synonym for high-quality paper. They’re the undisputed master at the craft. They’ve been making paper in one form or another for more than 400 years—since 1584—and they still use the time-proven technique of combining pure spring water and first-class fiber pulp. Altogether they offer 150 different papers and work closely with their customers to develop paper ideally suited to meet their specific needs. Their inkjet paper products are available with glossy, matt and canvas surface textures. If your passion is paper, look closely at Hahnemühle. Contact: www.hahnemuehle.com.
Harman Technology was founded five years ago by a group of former Ilford Imaging UK managers. They acquired the Mobberley, Cheshire, England facilities that had been home to Ilford products for many years. They retained the Ilford Photo brand name for the range of monochrome film, paper and photo chemistry products. The name Harman comes from Alfred Hugh Harman, who founded the original Ilford company in 1879. In 2007, Harman announced the launch of inkjet media under the Harman Photo brand. These products feature a real photo baryta (barium-hydroxide) base giving true photographic weight and feel to the paper. Of special note, Harman’s anticurl technology helps the prints remain flat after printing. Contact: www.harman-inkjet.com.
Ilford is the name we’ve all known and loved for decades because of their superb black-and-white films, silver-halide papers and the legendary Cibachrome system. In other areas of the globe, they’re better known as a paper manufacturer. Their Premium Plus Best (gold) leads their lineup that includes Premium Photo Better (silver) and Photo Good (pink), aligned with the capture-and-share market. If you’re looking to produce archival-quality prints with clean whites and great absorbent qualities, look at the Premium Plus lineup of papers. Available in Pearl, Gloss and other surfaces, Ilford offers excellent resistance to fingerprints and smudges. Contact: www.ilford.com.
The aim of Inkpress Paper is to provide the absolute best-quality products in the professional inkjet-media category. They work directly with some of the world’s best paper mills chosen for their strict quality-control standards and manufacturing expertise. Their Inkpress Pro Silky paper, for example, is available in all popular sizes (even 24-inch-wide rolls) and delivers consistently true color fidelity, excellent chromatic reproduction, huge tonal range and outstanding black-and-white reproduction. Inkpress Pro Gloss paper benefits from Pro SuperDry technology and provides consistent high gloss in printed as well as unprinted areas when used with pigmented or dye inks. These are papers you want to try. Contact: www.inkpresspaper.com.
Innova is a global company with offices in seven countries and headquarters in the UK. The Photo Art Collection of archival art paper has been scientifically designed to serve the growing needs of photographers seeking natural-grade, acid-free papers that have been precision-coated for photographic inkjet applications. Their paper has been developed to deliver dazzling results with a wide variety of techniques and works superbly with black-and-white. Of keen importance to photographers, they offer a range of textures from smooth to matt in bright white and warm color bases. Innova recently acquired the Olmec brand, a family of high-quality papers targeted toward the mass market. Contact: www.innovaart.com.
Kodak, long a huge name in film products, offers a variety of inkjet papers for pros through snapshooters. At the top is Kodak Professional Inkjet Photo Paper, featuring a true photographic resin-coated base with “pulp of unsurpassed quality,” luster or glossy surface, and excellent image quality and stability. It’s available in sheets from 8.5×11 and 13×19 inches, and rolls up to 44 inches wide. Consumer papers include Ultra Premium Photo Paper (4×6 to 11×17 inches, several surfaces), Premium Photo Paper (8.5×11 and 4×6 inches, gloss and matte surfaces) and Photo Paper (economical choice in 8.5×11 and 4×6 inch sheets). Contact: www.kodak.com.
With product names like Colorado Fiber and Moenkopi Washi, you may suspect that you’re in for something special from Moab Paper—and you’d be right. A division of Legion Paper, Moab offers an eclectic assortment of high-quality products. Colorado Fiber, for example, has a look and feel similar to air-dried silver-halide paper, but is fully compatible with both archival pigment inks and dye-based inks. Moenkopi is a Native American name for a paper manufactured at the Awagami Factory in Tokushima, Japan, primarily from Kozo (natural mulberry) fibers. These are just two examples, but they illustrate the extensive range of high-quality products that wear the Moab label. Contact: www.moabpaper.com.
Pictorico Inkjet Media is a division of Mitsubishi Paper Mills, Ltd. It was established in 1998 with the intention of providing a wide assortment of the highest-quality output media to the broadest range of inkjet printer users. The name is derived from the Spanish word for “picturesque,” and their focus always has been on the fine-art user. Pictorico Pro Opalescent Photo Paper offers an extraordinarily high-gloss surface with a unique metallic finish. It’s well-suited for a variety of professional and hobbyist applications. It uses a proprietary ceramic coating to give the paper greater ink absorption and more richly saturated, brilliant prints. Contact: www.diamond-jet.com.
Red River Paper
Red River Paper offers one of the best, most educational websites. Order a Complete Sample Kit for $15 and embark upon a fantastic inkjet journey. The kit includes two 8.5×11-inch sheets of all Red River brand inkjet papers (except you get only one sheet of the Silver Metallic and Sheer Translucent, and Mag-Neato Gloss isn’t included in this kit). This is a seriously useful assortment of paper. They offer a complete range of finishes (gloss, satin, matt, fine art, specialty and double-sided), plus greeting cards and other unique formats. The new 60-pound Pecos River Gloss replaces the 64-pound Premium Gloss Plus and is one-of-a-kind in North America: a smooth, pigment-friendly, high-gloss surface with a plain paper back. Contact: www.redriverpaper.com.