Photography and Art

Friday, February 20, 2009

Going into Hock for Photo Paper

Photo paper has taken on the role that candy bars used to fill when I was a child. I know it's absurd, but if I had a zillion dollars, I'd spend it on fancy paper. The problem is that photo paper is the second most expensive thing on earth (second only to Epson inkjet ink). Let me share with you some costs:

The papers below are all intended for inkjet printers that use pigment inks. They are semi-gloss papers that are designed to look and feel like traditional fibre-based photographs. They have a high d-max, which is another way of saying that the blacks are deep and the highlights are preserved. These papers are frequently touted for black and white photography, but they make colour photos look good too.

The papers typically have two or three layers. The back layer that makes the medium nice and sturdy is either cotton rag paper or fiber (i.e. cardboard) with the nasty lignins removed. Some papers have a middle layer of baryta (barium sulphate), a stable material that gives the print a nice white background without the need for optical brighteners (OBA's) that can fade over time. The top layer is a transparent material that is designed to receive pigment inks and prevent them from soaking into the paper. Here's the rundown on the papers that I've used. Prices are in Canadian dollars, so divide by 1.25 for USD. I've shown 4 prices per sheet for 8.5x11, 11x17, 13x19 and 17x22. Price per sheet is based on the most economic size.

  • Moab Colorado Fiber Satine - This is a Fiber paper weighing in at 245 GSM. It does not have a baryta middle layer. Prices: $2.40, $3.40, $4.40, $6.00.
  • Ilford Galarie Gold Silk - Gold Silk is a lovely paper with a fiber back and a baryta layer. It isn't OBA-free, but OBA levels are relatively low. This is the value leader by far: $1.00, $2.00, $3.00, $4.00. Note that 11x17 is not available, so the best bet is to buy 50 sheets of 17x22 and cut them in half.
  • Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta - This is my favourite paper. It combines the wonderful feel and longetivity of a cotton rag board with the brightness and gloss of a baryta layer. It's also nice and thick at 315 GSM and has no OBA's. See a review of the paper here. It is not cheap: $2.55, $4.75, $7.50, $9.50
  • Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl - FAP has an alpha-cellulose (i.e. cardboard with lignins removed) back with a pearl coating. It produces an elegant result. It's fairly thick at 285 GSM. For some reason, it's even pricier than photo rag baryta: $2.60, $5.50, $8.00, $10.00.
  • Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl - PRP has a cotton rag backing with a pearl finish and weighs in at 320 GSM. It has no OBA's so the paper is warm in tone. Again, this is a lovely paper, but is very pricey: $2.60, $4.70, $6.60, $8.80.
  • Inkpress Pro Baryta Warm Tone - I've only recently tried out a sampler and found the results to be excellent. It's comparable to Ilford Gold Silk. However, I was very disappointed with the pricing: $1.49, $2.99, $3.94, $6.12.

Here's the moral of the story. If you are looking for the best value in this style of paper (i.e. alpha cellulose base and pearl/luster finish), then look no further than Ilford Galerie Gold Silk. It's a wonderful paper at a bargain price.

If you feel queasy about alpha cellulose in terms of longevity and would feel better with a cotton rag base, then Hahnemuhle Photo Rag baryta or Photo Rag Pearl are your choices. Both are over twice the price of Ilford Gold Silk.

Here's a good article summarizing many of the papers in the market.

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