As digital photography and printer technologies evolve, so the development of new and innovative matte/watercolor papers for inkjet printing moves forward. And there is certainly no shortage of these papers. Over the last 12-18 months, more than 20 new fine-art matte/watercolor inkjet papers have been released. And unlike digital cameras and printers, many matte/watercolor inkjet papers introduced five or even 10 years ago stay on the market, just as useful as the day they were introduced. What makes these papers special is that even though they are coated with an inkjet-receptive layer, they retain an organic look similar to a watercolor painting or fine print made on hand-made Japanese paper. The coating improves the density, sharpness, and in many cases, the longevity of the paper and ink combination.
Many photographers choose inkjet matte/watercolor papers for fine-art gallery prints, client portrait prints, wedding albums, commercial portfolios, cards and promotional pieces. In this article, I give an overview of six companies whose matte/watercolor papers have impressed me, with some specs to help you determine if their offerings might be right for you. At the end of the article is a list of companies that produce and/or distribute matte/watercolor papers under their brand name.
Prices vary considerably from vendor to vendor, so I recommend using search engines to find retailers for specific products (always consider shipping costs, as well as a vendor’s reputation and return policy). Also, virtually all the papers described here are available in sample packs, which can save you money in the long run by allowing you to experiment with several different papers before purchasing larger amounts of one or two favorites. Often, papers are available in both rolls and sheets. My preference for most uses is sheets, primarily because the papers are fragile and sheets generally stay flat and need far less handling or cutting.
Also, the number that follows most paper names stands for its basis weight in grams per square meter (gsm). Most matte/watercolor inkjet papers are between 190-350gsm. Keep this in mind because every printer has a maximum paper thickness that it will accept.
Among the new matte and watercolor papers are Hahnemühle Sugar Cane (far left), Pictorico ART Kenaf Paper UNRYU (68) (top, center), Epson Signature Worthy Cold Press Bright (far right), and Canson Rag Photographique 210 (bottom). Photo ©Andrew Darlow. Click image for larger view.
A good explanation of paper basis weights can be found here.
Canson Infinity is a division of the Canson & Arches Mills in France. The company has over 500 years of papermaking experience, and it shows with its new line of nine different matte/watercolor products.
BFK Rives 310
Edition Etching Rag 310
Arches Velin Museum Rag 315
Arches Velin Museum Rag 250
Rag Photographique 310
Rag Photographique 210
Rag Photographique Duo 220
Arches Aquarelle Rag 310
Arches Aquarelle Rag 240
Images printed on Arches Velin Museum Rag (available in 250gsm and 315gsm weights) are absolutely luxurious. Like all the papers listed above, this one contains no optical brighteners (aka OBAs), and the slightly warm, slightly textured surface complements virtually all image types, from portraits to black-and-white landscapes.
The company’s Rag Photographique (available in 210gsm, 310gsm and a double-sided 220gsm weight) is another standout performer. With its very smooth, slightly warm surface, this paper exudes elegance. Black-and-white portraits reproduce especially well on this paper. Printed images appear to sit deep in the paper while retaining detail and density. The double-sided version of this paper would be ideal for books or promotional pieces.
Epson is best known for its extensive line of photo-quality inkjet printers, and for many years, it has offered a line of inkjet papers engineered to perform well with its printers.
Recently, the company announced four new papers in its Signature Worthy line:
Hot Press Bright (330gsm)
Cold Press Bright (340gsm)
Hot Press Natural (330gsm)
Cold Press Natural (340gsm)
The Natural versions of the Hot and Cold Press papers have no OBAs and, as expected, have a warmer base than the Bright versions, which are very white in tone. The Hot Press papers have an attractive, subtle texture that works well for a wide range of subjects. The papers were optimized for use with Epson inks, including new Epson UltraChrome HDR ink technology found in the Epson Stylus Pro 7900 and 9900 printers. Like most papers in their class, I would also expect them to perform well with other companies’ pigment-based inkjet printers. I was very happy with the detail, sharpness and tonal range of portraits and landscapes in black and white and color on both of the Hot Press papers.
The Cold Press versions have a distinctive, yet not overly strong texture. That makes the paper excellent for portraits, especially when printed at larger sizes. I especially like the look of still life images and landscapes on the Epson Cold Press papers (and many other matte/watercolor textured papers) because of the way the ink and paper interact—there is an increase of depth and apparent sharpness compared with very smooth papers. The heavy weight of all the Signature Worthy papers make them less prone to damage, and impressive when holding prints and viewing them in a portfolio. I also must give Epson credit for how well they package their 13x19 inch 25 sheet boxes—truly outstanding.
Hahnemühle is a German company with a 500+ year history of papermaking. With more than 15 matte/watercolor inkjet papers in its lineup, the company was one of the first to offer coated matte/watercolor papers. And it hasn’t stopped innovating, evidenced by four new matte/watercolor inkjet papers.
Photo Rag 500 (500gsm)
Photo Rag Ultra Smooth (305 gsm)
Sugar Cane 300 (300gsm)
Sugar Cane is a unique paper made partially from bagasse pulp, a by-product of raw sugar production. The cotton portion is made from recycling the company’s own paper waste. The paper has a medium-to-heavy texture, giving it almost a cold press look and feel, though not at all overpowering. Color images come alive on this paper, with the texture and coating helping to add a feeling of crispness while reproducing details beautifully.
Hahnemühle Photo Rag has been on the market for more than a decade, and is available in three weights, as well as a double-sided 276gsm version. The new Photo Rag 500gsm version replaces a 460gsm version, and I found the thickness and stability of the paper to be truly amazing—think rag mat board. Detail, sharpness and density are outstanding, similar to the look of other Photo Rag papers but giving the advantage of being able to dispense with matting or mounting completely—just a few frame spacers will do the trick to keep the paper away from the glazing (e.g., glass or Plexi), even at very large sizes. The paper contains some OBAs, and thus, has a whiter finish than the non-OBA containing papers offered by the company.
Museo is the brand name of the family of digital fine art media originally developed by Crane & Co. and currently owned by InteliCoat Technologies.
Two of the company’s newest watercolor papers are Museo IIGS and Museo Textured Rag (325gsm). Museo IIGS (250gsm) is an outstanding double-sided paper available in sheets only, and is available in sheets cut in the grain short direction, which makes scoring and folding easier. It has a smooth, velvety finish, heavy (but not too heavy) weight and a slightly off-white tone that is ideal for fine-art books or portfolios. It has no OBAs and performs well with both black-and-white and color images. Also available in sheets only, Museo Textured Rag is a heavyweight paper that stands out due to its significant texture and the way in which images printed on it take on a painterly quality, while still retaining sharpness and detail.
I also recommend checking out a section of the company’s website that features photographers and other artists who use Museo Fine Art papers.
Pictorico Inkjet Media is a division of Mitsubishi Paper Mills Limited. The company recently introduced six new matte/watercolor papers.
Pictorico ART Cotton Paper
Pictorico ART Cotton Paper Texture 1
Pictorico ART Kenaf Paper (68)
Pictorico ART Kenaf Paper (132)
Pictorico ART Kenaf Paper UNRYU (68)
Pictorico ART Kenaf Paper UNRYU (132)
What sets these papers apart from most others is that all exude a handmade Japanese paper (Washi) look and feel. The ART Kenaf Paper UNRYU (68) is very lightweight at 93gsm and contains the typical “rice paper” fiber strands common in many hand-made Japanese papers. The Kenaf Paper UNRYU (132) is 157gsm and compares in feel to 200gsm papers from other manufacturers. The front and back of both papers are very different, with none of the fibers showing through on the Kenaf Paper UNRYU (132) unless it’s held up to light. The coatings on both of the UNRYU papers allow for sharp, vibrant images to be made in color or black and white, and both sides are printable. The other papers in the line are also worth testing if you want to see your work on a range of different surfaces.
About 18 months ago, the company unveiled its GEKKO line of inkjet papers aimed at the black and white inkjet printing community. I’ve had success printing both color and black and white images on all the GEKKO papers, and one matte/watercolor paper that stands out is GEKKO Red, which is optimized to utilize photo black ink instead of the matte black ink. Matte black ink is generally necessary to get proper shadow detail and density on matte papers. The intensity of color and shadows on this paper is unlike any other paper I’ve seen—in fact, after printing, the paper looks as though it has been sprayed with a gloss coating. It’s available in sheets only, up to 13x19 inches.
Premier Imaging Products produces a range of matte/watercolor papers used by photographers and other artists. Its newest papers include a line of Generations Alise Fine Art Papers and the Generations AQUA Colour paper.
There are four Generations Alise Fine Art Paper products.
Generations Alise Museum Grade 260
Generations Alise Museum Grade 310
Generations Alise Photo Grade 260
Generations Alise Photo Grade 310.
Both of the company’s Museum Grade papers contain no OBAs. Their Photo Grade papers do contain OBAs, which gives them a brighter white surface tone. When sold on rolls, the papers are 260gsm, and when sold in sheet form, they are 310gsm. I printed on and tested the 310gsm sheet version of the Museum and Photo Grades and was blown away by the beautiful slightly textured surface, sharpness, detail and shadow depth I was able to achieve. It’s also great to have the choice between the natural and bright white surfaces.
The company’s new AQUA Colour paper utilizes a new coating technology, and combines 30% Cotton and 70% Alpha Cellulous to produce a 310gsm bright white matte/watercolor paper.
Inkjet Paper Company Directory
InteliCoat Technologies/Museo Fine Art
Hawk Mountain Papers
Inkjet Art Solutions
Premier Imaging Products
Red River Paper
Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover—Until Now!
Moab by Legion Paper and Lost Luggage join together to create a new portfolio book
One of the main reasons photographers print on matte/watercolor inkjet papers is because they want the tactile feel of the paper to come through without distracting glare or fingerprints. Whether in the form of wedding, bab or family books, commercial portfolios, or limited edition fine-art books, this is an ideal way to showcase prints on these types of papers,
Moab by Legion Paper recently teamed up with Lost Luggage of Seattle, Wash., to create the Chinle Ice Nine portfolios. The portfolios have an attractive grey translucent vinyl cover to protect printed images and are available in two sizes, 8x9 inches and 12x13 inches. The main advantages of the system are two-fold: the papers are pre-punched, scored and ready to send through virtually any printer that can accompany the paper size; and because they are sold in kits with 10 sheets of Moab paper, it’s up to the customer which paper (or papers) they choose to use in the portfolios. Additional refill packs in virtually every paper type the company offers can also be purchased separately. I’ve always admired Lost Luggage’s portfolios, and I can attest to the quality and attractiveness of this product. Pages can be turned very easily, and with a bit of “conditioning,” they lie almost flat.
Andrew Darlow is a photographer, author and consultant. He is editor of The Imaging Buffet (www.imagingbuffet.com), an online resource with news, reviews, and interviews covering the subjects of digital photography and printing. His book, “301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers,” was chosen as the winner of the Photography: Instructional/How-To category of The National Best Books 2008 Awards, sponsored by USA Book News. For printing tips and free excerpts from the book, visit www.inkjettips.com.