Like everyone else, I’ve been looking forward to the new baryta papers (and Epson’s non-baryta work alike). I waited until I could get all five of the new papers to try them. To cut to the chase, the Harman Gloss FB outclasses the pack, especially if you like a low-sheen completely smooth paper—a refined glossy, in so many words. If you prefer the slight stipple of “luster” or “semigloss,” then look no further than Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk. The oft-maligned Innova Fibaprint Ultasmooth Glossy delivers a surprisingly decent 3rd place performance. Epson Exhibition Fiber can’t hold a candle to the best two baryta papers. And Hahnemuhle Fineart Baryta 325 is even worse than Epson.
It’s interesting how enamored the “fine art” printers have been of these papers. While wonderful warmth and texture have been achieved on the specially coated matte papers with rag (cotton) or non-lignin fiber bases, many photographers seem to have turned up their noses at printing on plastic sheets—the coated resin-based papers. Some of the astonished remarks from “fine art” printers about these papers may reflect their prior rejection of any resin-based glossy papers. There have been glossy papers with paper bases in the past, but until now these lacked the sharpness and color gamut of the RC papers.
New coatings with baryta (barium hydroxide) or aluminum oxide can match the RC papers, but on a real paper base. Now that glossy is newly acceptable, it is interesting to compare the new coatings to the most interesting of the “old” RC papers: Epson Premium Semigloss (or Semimatte roll, but I was too lazy to do all the prints on roll paper) and Pictorico Photo Glossy Paper—one of the few ceramic particle coated papers on a paper base (this is not the ultra high gloss Pictorico Film with the Cibachrome-like gloss). The best of the new papers—Harman and Ilford—are wonderful, but not so astonishing when you go back to look at Epson Premium Semigloss—if only it didn’t have “Epson” water-marked on the back.
I only profiled 3 of the papers myself with an Eye-One and Gretag ProfileMaker 5. I compared the gamut of Harman Gloss, Ilford Gold, and Innova Ultrasmooth to Epson Semigloss and Epson Luster. Visually, Harman Gloss has a larger gamut overall, especially in highlights and a bit in the deepest shadows. Ilford covers slightly more of the dark end of L (in L*a*b ). The RC papers extend marginally further into cyan and magenta (and Luster covers marginally more light yellow), but otherwise have smaller gamuts. Epson Exhibition Fiber, based on Pixel Genius’s profile, has the smallest of all the gamuts. Actually, Hahnemuhle’s gamut appears even smaller, but I attribute that to a poorly made profile supplied by the manufacturer.
What follows is an impressionistic evaluation of the 5 papers based on printing the same images on all five papers using the manufacturer provided profiles for the Epson 4800.
1. Harman Gloss FB Al
- Very white: not as white-blue as Epson and somewhat more white than Ilford
- Smooth “flat” sheen: no stipple, some just discernible smoothed texture
- Even, low-glare sheen: less reflective than Epson, but smooth without stipple so more like a true glossy but without the hard mirror shine of some RC glossies
- Least glare from light at an angle
- Just about completely indiscernible gloss differential
- Sharpest even printing at 1440 “Superfine” setting (except compared to resin-based papers): no detail lost through ink spread
- US$1.56 / sheet: 50 8.5x11” sheets for US$77.95 (Atlex)
2. Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk
- Natural white: a mimimal “parchment” coloration, but only when compared directly to papers containing optical brightening agents (OBA)
- Very fine, evenly distributed stipple
- Subdued sheen, not reflective—close to Epson Semigloss with slightly less sheen
- Some glare from light at an angle, but not objectionable because of the fineness of the texture and subdued sheen
- Some gloss differential in areas of paper white within images, just this side of indiscernible in blacks
- 2nd sharpest (printed at 2880 printer settting)
- US$.80 / sheet: 50 8.5x11” sheets for US$39.95 (BH Photo)
3. Innova Fibaprint Ultrasmooth Gloss
- Very bright white, but slightly green compared to Epson (it’s not green—just marginally towards green when placed next to Epson)
- Not exactly a stipple and not as evenly smooth as Harman: like a stipple that has been partially “rolled” smooth
- Just as reflective and shiny as Epson but with less stipple, so “glint” is marginally less noticeable than Epson
- Glare less than Ilford
- Gloss differential less than Ilford
- Tied with Ilford for sharpness
- US$1.91 / sheet: 25 8.5x11” sheets for US$47.81 (BH Photo)
4. Epson Exhibition Fiber Paper
- Bright white: the most “blue white” of all of these papers
- Fine, even distributed stipple: less than Premium Luster and more than Premium Semigloss
- Very reflective sheen—like a mirror glossy but with stipple, unlike Luster and Semigloss; “reflective with bumps”
- Glare from light at an angle equivalent to Ilford, but more uneven
- Gloss differential equivalent to Harman
- Pixel Genius’ profile reveals amazing shadow detail because the darks don’t load up
- US$1.75 / sheet: 25 8.5x11” sheets for US$43.80 (Atlex)
5. Hahnemuhle FineArt Baryta 325
- Very bright white, 2nd only to Epson
- Evenly distributed stipple, but bumpier than Epson and much bumpier than Ilford
- Ink on the paper makes the paper look almost like a microscopic canvas because the layer of ink exaggerates the bumpiness
- Thickest of all the papers
- Worst glare from light at an angle
- Gloss differential equivalent to Harman in paper white, but somewhat more in blacks
- Mfgr. supplied profile is minutely lighter than the others, which improves shadows with no disadvantage to mids and highs (despite smaller gamut)
- Hahnemuhle recommends 1440 printing “resolution”: through 10X loupe this reduces sharpness but even staring closely from 10” this isn’t noticeable
- US$1.49 / sheet: US$29.70 for 20 8.5x11” sheets (BH Photo)
6. The RC comparison
- Pictorico Photo Glossy Paper and Epson Premium Semigloss are sharper yet than Harman, but only negligibly—there’s not much farther to go—after all, it’s ink on paper.
- Epson Premium Semigloss is almost a dead heat with #2 ranked Ilford; Ilford is slightly warmer and has slightly less sheen
Over the years, I’ve tried nearly any paper that promised some distinct benefit—and I’ve then cut way back to using only 2 or 3 papers that represent best of a certain class of paper because it’s just not worth the cost and difficulty to frequently switch papers for marginal or no benefit. So many people looked forward to the Epson and Hahnemuhle papers, but I find myself very disappointed in them. They just don’t look good to me--the problem is the surface. The combination of highly reflective surface with pronounced texture seems unlike any other photo surface--and not in a good way.
Harman Gloss FB Al is the best paper in this evaluation. It really is unprecedented. It offers the gamut and sharpness of rc papers with less gloss differential than rc glossies. It has a wonderfully muted sheen that offers the impact of a glossy print without the mirror brashness of rc glossies. Ilford Gold Fibre Silk is the best value of the lot and is nearly a dead ringer for Epson Semigloss, with a slight warmth and reduced sheen. These are both really superb papers. These are the two for me.