Printing, Always an Interesting Exercise

Not taken with Lightweight gear but this is the colour image I was using to test my prints. It's quite challenging to print and shows up poor colours quite well.
Not taken with Lightweight gear but this is the colour image I was using to test my prints. It’s quite challenging to print and shows up poor colours quite well.

As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, I recently sold my printer, a Canon Pixma 9500MKII. The main driver for this was that I wanted to make larger prints, typically A2 or 17” wide panoramic. I also wanted larger ink cartridges because I do quite a lot of printing and I thought this might help reduce the overall cost. Well, my new printer arrived at the weekend, an Epson Pro3880 which is A2 and will print 17” panoramic up to 37” or wider if you use a third party RIP rather than the Epson print driver. Sounds great and it is, but there have been a few surprises.

First was a nice surprise in how small the printer was. It’s not much wider than the Canon (but it’s a little taller) and fits neatly at the side of my desk. I am also surprised about how little ink has been used in the 30 plus test prints I have made; this barely registers on the ink monitor. I had read reviews and comments by others about just how much ink is in these high capacity ink cartridges but I hadn’t really appreciated it until now. I’m sure however I will be crying when it comes to the cost of replacing just a single cartridge.

Now for a surprise I wasn’t prepared for; the Canon Pixma 9500MKII made nicer black and white prints (I didn’t check colour but suspect it was more vibrant). Before the Canon was sold, I made quite a few test prints on different papers (using high quality fine art and fibre based papers) in an attempt to pick a paper to standardise on. After this I started to use a Permajet paper called Fine Art Pearl 290. It wasn’t quite as good as Ilford Gold Fibre but the differences were so minor that most people wouldn’t spot them but it was excellent for both mono and colour work. As I still had a number of test packs available as well as paper I had purchased I decided to repeat the exercise and the results were very surprising:

As already mentioned, none of the papers could compete with the prints made on the Canon. This was despite producing custom profiles. Held side by side with the Canon the Epson prints looked a little flat where the Canon produced prints with a greater feel of depth.

All the papers tested with the Epson produced broadly similar results when printing in black and white. The main difference was the base colour of the paper. Some were warm tone whilst others were neutral and others still were bright white. The Ilford Gold was however better than the rest and was only marginally beaten by the Ilford Gold Mono.

Printing in colour revealed quite a variation between papers. The Ilford Gold again produced the best results with the other papers looking rather lifeless and flat. Only the Gold had a real depth to it.

This exercise was also repeated by another friend who has the same printer and his results are very similar. In a “blind” review of each other’s results (so we couldn’t be swayed by knowing the paper manufacturer), we came up with identical conclusions. We had to conclude that with the Epson the Ilford Gold was the best paper. This is a real shame because it’s a very expensive paper and the cost will tend to curtail the amount of printing I do.

The story doesn’t end there however because I decided to try out some Fotospeed PF Gloss 270. This is a standard gloss photographic inkjet paper that is around quarter of the price of the Ilford Gold and I didn’t expect it to be very good. Whilst I am not a fan of the Gloss surface I had to admit the results were almost as good as the Ilford Gold for Mono and marginally better for colour prints. This is quite a shock but makes printing much more affordable. I am now keen to try out the Satin or Lustre finishes to see if they are preferable to the gloss surface. If they are I think I will be buying this for my regular printing and saving the Fine Art Papers (Ilford Gold) for any print sales.

The downside to using standard photo papers for printing. They don’t feel as nice as the fine art papers to touch – not an issue when they are framed. They also don’t have quite as nice a surface finish – again this is hard to see if the work is framed and is probably my personal preference.

I hope this helps anyone out there struggling with cost and the difficult decision of which paper to print with.

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