Back in 2001 I visited the NEC with the main intention of looking at different printing papers. The inkjet industry was moving very fast at the time and there seemed to be an explosion of new papers, printers, ink types etc and this seemed the best way to view them first hand and make some choices. The paper I really liked was Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308gsm (grammes per square meter). It’s fairly heavyweight and therefore stable, lying flat. I also liked a couple of others, but these fell by the wayside fairly quickly because I was so pleased with the way my photographs looked printed on Photo Rag. Since then, the vast majority of my prints have been made on this. Not one to keep records, I estimate well over 95%.
In the early days, I was trying to use desktop printers and had one for colour and another with specialist inks for Black and White, the biggest I could print on them was A3+. A fair number of headaches were had trying different ink types, lots of time spent trying to unblock printer head nozzles and ruined prints when the ink ran out…. Seeking an easier life and the ability to make bigger prints I bought an Epson 7800 large format printer 13 years ago. This takes 24inch (61cm) wide rolls of paper, has 8 ink colours and was a revelation. I remember the nervousness when it ran out of one colour mid way through a big print, with the printer automatically stopped, I slotted in the new cartridge and away it went, no blemishes on the print whatsoever, my apprehension became laughter and relief!
This printer has continued to serve me well and is still going strong. I monitored the printer market sporadically and simply saw no real justification to change it. There was a niggle, I’d like to have been able to print on Baryta paper, a type that became available, which resembles the fibre based Black & White papers I used to love in the Darkroom. print on this requires a different type of black ink, Photo Black instead of the Matte Black needed for Photo Rag paper. It’s possible to flush out the system, but I felt the cost of this process was prohibitive.
Another development during these years was the advent of the range of papers made by Fotospeed. Increasing numbers of photographers who I knew and followed were praising the quality and choice available. Meanwhile Photo Rag was still doing me proud.
I can’t quite pinpoint when it happened, but sometime during lockdown I had a ‘what if’ moment. Should I get my head out the sand and have a look at these much vaunted Fotospeed papers? If they proved any good was there another printer that would enable me to improve quality still further and maybe enable the use of the Baryta papers which I’d wanted to use for so long? So the research started. Looking at the Fotospeed website, listing the paper types I needed huge L plates, armbands, snorkel and goggles as I was so much out of my depth! Baffling at first glance, but slowly it became more familiar.
As advised by a friend a while back, I phoned Fotospeed’s Vince Cater to ask pros and cons of the latest printers from Canon and Epson and talk about different papers to try. As a result of this conversation I sent 2 image files and chose 6 different papers for him to make test prints using his Canon printer. The choice had been made jointly from the conversation and reading the detailed descriptions on their website. I’d provisionally chosen a top 4 plus 2 others which would be also rans. How wrong I was when they arrived! The 'also rans' were firm favourites and top of the list. This goes back to my original premise of needing to see the papers first hand. With Covid restrictions it wasn’t possible for me to make the journey to them to see and choose there and then. The other expensive news was that the Baryta papers were superb and so I’d need a new printer to enable me to use them…. as you do.
Two Baryta papers with 'Nestling' B&W image and four Matte papers with 'First light St MIchael's Mount'
Four A3 boxes of paper and three 24inch rolls of paper will really get me started
Winding the clock on, I have now taken delivery of the new papers and Canon Pro 2100 printer, which has 12 inks also prints to 24inch wide. The printer is set up and I’ve printed the colour patches which enable calibration, so that what comes out of it is what was intended. It’s something I did with the Epson 7800 and worked faultlessly, enabling both colour and Black & White pictures to be treated the same way. I will continue to print on Photo Rag as well as the other 4 Fotospeed papers I’ve bought. In time I may well extend to include others, or reduce them if they aren’t getting used often.
My learning will continue as I get a feel for which papers will suit particular photographs as well as trying to take charge of the new machine. The user manual has ‘just’ 961 pages, so I’m really hoping I don’t need to read it in its entirety, even if this does last me another 13 years! The ICC profiles are installed and the test prints to validate them have produced great results, deep blacks, neutral greys in B&W and highlight detail is retained too. Soft proofing is set up in Photoshop and so I'm ready to rock!
This investment of time and money has been done to increase the quality of my Limited Edition prints still further and also those I make for other photographers and artists.
The papers I have now available to print on are:
Fotospeed: Platinum Baryta 300, NST Bright White 315, Smooth Cotton 300 and Platinum Etching 285
Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308 and also I’ve got some Torchon 285 watercolour paper in A3 only.
If you were wondering about the somewhat strange name Baryta, it's a special barium sulphate coating put on the paper base. This Baryta layer produces greater detail and definition, wider tonal range and excellent longevity. But most of all, it looks pretty good!
Other than ordering some darkroom chemicals many years ago, this was my first contact with Fotospeed. I have paid for all goods with my own money and wrote this piece without their knowledge having been extremely pleased with their services and products. Have a browse at the Fotospeed website
It wasn't easy for 2 to lift this upstairs, the manual recommended 6! All the red tape and packing about to be removed.
12 ink cartridges ready to be loaded
Inks are loaded correctly, shown by red light on each tank
This was the A2 sheet of paper used for the printer to carry out the head calibration, an automatic process
All set and ready to go. First task is to print test colour patches to create ICC profiles
Hoping that these are the least interesting images to come out of the printer! They do show that the custom ICC profiles are doing their job, wonderfully rich blacks and neutral greys as well as vibrant colours.
Oblique view to show how well Matte papers suppress reflections. The Platinum Baryta is top right, nearest the window. Unfair perhaps, since pictures would never normally be viewed from this angle.
Showing the rich blacks, neutral greys and vibrant colours.