Musings on Photography


Posted in materials by Paul Butzi on April 14, 2008

Just last week, ordered up some more Cranes Museo Portfolio paper. It’s a paper I like a lot – nice base color, nice surface finish, and it has (for a non-glossy paper) a good color gamut on my HP Z3100. It’s on the expensive side but it’s awfully nice. What I’ve been doing is making ‘work’ prints on a cheap matte paper (it used to be Epson Enhanced Matte, now it’s InkjetArt Premium DuoBrite SUper Duper Something or Other).

I like the matte surface papers. I like the way they look, especially for monochrome prints, and I like the way they feel. And when you put monochrome prints behind glazing, you don’t get nearly as much difference in perceived dMax when compared to glossy papers are you do when you compare naked prints.

But lately I’ve noticed that a lot of the photos I’ve been making have a lot of subtle color things going on with the darkest tones, and when I go to print those images and do a soft proof, huge swaths of the print are out of gamut on the matte paper. Therein lies a tale.

The original problem with inkjet printing on matte papers was that it was impossible to get a really dark black on the matte paper. Lots of very clever people went off and put head sized dents in not very well padded walls, and did cunning chemical things to the paper coatings and the inks and the printers, and voila!, we got matte papers and matte black inksets and all of a sudden we got matte finish papers that can give us something resembling decent blacks.

But, although we all thought that matte papers with decent dMax would be the paper of our dreams (I certainly did), what I’m discovering is that this isn’t actually true. No, let me qualify that. If you’re doing black and white, or toned B&W, or for some other reason (like you only photograph in White Sands NM) all your work has a very small color gamut that never strays too far away from the luminance axis, these papers are the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas neatly packaged in one tidy box and tied neatly with a bow.

But for the rest of us, these papers are something of a disappointment, and it’s taken me a startlingly long time to clue in to why they disappoint me particulary. The problem seems to be this: while these papers offer a decent dMax, they don’t offer much volume to the achievable gamut in those lowest tones. If you want a very dark saturated blue, or a dark saturated green, for instance, you’re pretty much out of luck. The paper just won’t go there, sorry. So you make a print, and all of that dark stuff falls out of gamut, and you’re at the mercy of the way the profile maps these out of gamut colors back onto the achievable colors of the paper. In general, this means that all those low tones are rendered as muddy mush.

It turns out that glossy (or at least non-matte) papers just whip the bejeebers out of matte papers on this ‘volume of gamut in the low tones’ thing. Why it’s taken me so long to awaken from the trance and realize that perhaps I need to be printing these images with lots of dark tones on a paper with a bigger low tone gamut, I don’t know. Not enough tea, perhaps, or some impairment related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. But I do believe that the answer to my problems lies in giving these papers a shot.

Fortunately for me, the crop of offerings for gloss papers has now expanded away from the RC paper like offerings of just a little while ago. Most manufacturers are now offering papers that are structurally (and thus visually) very much like the famous gelatin silver air-dried glossy paper I once sneered at. That sneerage has decreased in volume as I’ve come to realize that the different gamut might have profound implications for color work.

So at the same time I ordered up the Crane Museo Portfolio, I also ordered up some Harman Glossy FB AI, and some Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk, and we’ll see what the low value gamut is like and how the prints look.

Mr. UPS assures me the paper will be in my hands on Wednesday.

And, as a general question, one of the things I notice is that information about papers is scattered all over the place and it’s very hard to find places with info more helpful than “oooh, I love it”. It would be nice to have a clearinghouse that actually shows achievable gamut on various papers on different printers, etc. I am of half a mind to order up a whole slew of different papers, profile them on the z3100, and put descriptions of the surface finish, base color, and actual renderings of the gamut up so that people can gaze at them in mute wonder before plocking down $150 for a roll of paper they’ve never tried before. And I wonder what sort of contribution people would make to make that happen – would it be enough to cover the cost of the paper and some moderate compensation for the time? Would paper manufacturers offer up samples for free?

9 Responses

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  1. Gordon McGregor said, on April 14, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    this has helped me understand a bit why I hated a lot of the matte papers that I tried, yet kept seeing ‘respectable fine art photographers’ oohing and aahing over how great those particular papers were.

  2. Dave Kosiur said, on April 14, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I know that “the proof is in the print”, but why not check the paper manufacturers’ profiles against each other using the Mac’s Colorsync Utility or — better yet — use ColorThink to compare TIFFs of your actual images to the gamuts of papers based on available profiles?

    I seem to recall Colin Jago had a few examples of this (a year ago?) at


  3. Paul Butzi said, on April 14, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    why not check the paper manufacturers’ profiles against each other using the Mac’s Colorsync Utility

    There are a number of reasons:
    1. Often the manufacturer’s profiles are perfectly rotten. Don’t ask my why, I don’t know. You’d think that manufacturers would pay the $100 bucks to get a great profile done for each major printer but they don’t.

    2. the gamut will vary by inkset. So a paper that performs well on, say, an Epson 9600 may not be a stellar performer on the Hp z3100. A paper that does well on a z3100 may not be a great performer on a Canon. And so on.

    3. Because the z3100 gives each user the ability to generate their own profiles manufacturers often don’t provide profiles.

    But the big advantage would be that having one person who described all the papers, profiled all the papers, and so on would lend some consistency, which is what is really lacking. One person’s ‘creamy’ base color is another person’s ‘bright white’ and yet another person’s ‘dreadful yellow’.

    But maybe I’m just whining.

  4. Colin Griffiths said, on April 14, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    It was simple decision for me. With matt papers I had to soft proof and re-edit to produce something that would look good, getting out of gamut colours and blacks as good as possible. With the new Harmon, the soft proof looks much the same as the image does in my normal working space. I have to say though that I do miss that completely matt surface.

  5. Frank Armstrong said, on April 15, 2008 at 5:54 am

    I have fallen much in love with two papers recently — Staples PhotoSupreme Double-Sided Matte and the Innova Fibra Print, Type F, Gloss Black Max. The Staples (don’t know if you have a Staples Office Supply store in your area) paper comes the closest I’ve ever seen to matching what most luster papers can produce. And it has the advantage of being CHEAP — ever so often, they will put it on sale for $5 for 50 sheets. The Innova paper makes the best looking “just like silver” prints I’ve been able to produce with my Epson 3800. It is expensive, but you could pass it off as silver, even to other photographers.


  6. Erik DeBill said, on April 15, 2008 at 7:56 am

    I can’t speak for the z3100, but on my Epson 3800, the only visual difference between Ilford Gold Fibre Silk and Epson Premium Luster is that one has a warm paper base and one is cool. Otherwise they look identical to my eye. Excellent shadow detail compared to Enhanced Matte (but I was doing b&w). I learned this by buying a bunch of packages of paper (not the 5 sheet ones, either) and printing a group of images on each of 4 different papers. If you’ve got some Premium Luster sitting around, it’ll make a great standin for comparison purposes.

    I’d pay for access to a site that had good solid reviews of papers. Your point about the results varying by printer is true, but I think that a lot of things will translate. I’d be willing to pay for it – $10 or $20 (given that I have a different printer – it would be worth more if your printer matched mine). The hard part would be convincing me to buy it without giving me access ahead of time. I’d almost rather just make a donation than pay for access. Free access will grow the number of users a lot – and thus the variety of viewpoints expressed.

    Such a site could also supplement its income by linking to B&H via their affiliate program on each paper’s review. “click here to order from B&H and support this site”. It wouldn’t make a lot, but it would help with the expense.

    I’d be up for helping put such a site together (programming websites is my job, after all…)

  7. Paul Butzi said, on April 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    <iAnd it has the advantage of being CHEAP — ever so often, they will put it on sale for $5 for 50 sheets.

    Sheets? You mean where you have a box and the sheets are all laid flat inside?

    That sounds like a hassle. I don’t so sheets any more. I like rolls. Rolls with an automated paper cutter built into the printer is, as far as I’m concerned, the cheapest, easiest way to go. Easy to store.

    The only downside is running the prints through the ‘decurler’.

    Anyway, if it doesn’t come in rolls, I’m unlikely to use it. Sheer prejudice on my part, or maybe it’s laziness, or lazy prejudice.

  8. Patrick Cooney said, on April 16, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Paul said “It would be nice to have a clearinghouse that actually shows achievable gamut on various papers on different printers, etc.”

    The site that has made the best start at this IMO is Dry Creek Photo. At you’ll find numerous custom profiles they’ve made that you can directly compare to one another.

    For example, one such pair that illustrates how much larger the dark gamut of Epson Premium Luster vs. Hahnemuhle Photo Rag is can be viewed at

    Unfortunately the only gamuts posted there for HP printers are for the HP DesignJet 130!

  9. […] 17, 2008 Yesterday afternoon, Mr. UPS delivered my most recent order of paper. To my delight, the delivery did, indeed, include my 17″x50′ roll of Harman Gloss FB AL […]

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