Epson is introducing four new Fine Art papers:
Cold Press Bright
Cold Press Natural
Hot Press Bright
Hot Press Natural
I recently had a chance to test early samples of these papers. My impressions and recommendations are contained in this brief report.
All the new papers are acid-free and lignin-free, pH buffered fiber based papers. They are mould made “in the traditional style” according to Epson. They all have a matte surface.
The papers are quite substantial and thick. They are 330 gsm in weight and 0.5 mm in thickness.
As one would expect from the nomenclature, the Hot Press papers have a very smooth surface. In fact, they have the smoothest surface I have seen to date in a Fine Art paper.
The Cold Press papers on the other hand have a textured surface.
PAPER CHOICES ARE HIGHLY PERSONAL
I want to make sure that the reader understands that paper choices are a highly personal matter. There is no right or wrong with a paper choice.
Paper choices are not just about sharpness or color gamut or DMax. There are many intangibles such as “the look” of certain colors or of Black and White images, the tactile feel, the type of surface, the style of the work that is going to be shown on that paper, the subject matter, and so on.
There are also issues of how the images are going to be displayed: Framed? Unframed? Under glass or Plexiglass? With or without UV filtering?
I therefore urge the readers to make their own choices based on personal preferences. I may love a paper that someone else dislikes, and vice versa, I may really like a paper that someone else hates.
Keeping the above in mind, I will now proceed and give you my personal biased opinion on the new Epson papers.
One of the first impressions with all these papers is that they are sharper than their predecessors. I can actually see the difference in sharpness printing at 1440 versus 2880 dpi using an Epson 9900. Another first impression is that the color gamut of these papers is quite a bit wider than their predecessors (more on this later in this report).
Cold Press Bright –
This paper has a serious multiple personality disorder. It is too bright and too sharp to be a cold press paper. It has way too much texture for the bright whites it renders. Every time I look at it it makes me uncomfortable. The massive brightness combined with the heavy texture detracts from the image, something that I find quite disturbing. I do not like this paper.
Cold Press Natural –
This version of the Cold Press papers solves to some extent the multiple personality disorder. At least it has some coherency to it. The texture does not look totally obnoxious, like it does in the Bright version.
Unfortunately, even though the paper is mould made, it looks and feels like a a machine made paper. To me, it feels artificial, like the paper was not born to be like this and a vise grip was applied to force the texture. The fibers and the texture are a mismatch in my opinion.
Some people may like this paper, but it is definitely not my cup of tea.
Hot Press Bright –
This is a gorgeous paper. To be perfectly honest, I was predisposed to like the Natural White better, because I typically do not like brighteners, but in this case I ended up preferring the Bright White by a slight margin. The only exception is in portraiture, where the highlights can be a bit too aggressive with this paper.
For portraits I would go with the Natural White. Overall and for everything else, I prefer the Bright White, as long as the intent is to display the prints without UV protection (more on this later in this report).
The color gamut of this paper (and the other 3 new papers) is outstanding for a matte fine art paper. I was actually quite surprised by the purity and brilliance of the yellows and the blues, which actually exceed the Baryta Photo Black papers. This is quite an accomplishment. The screen shot below shows a comparison of the color gamut of my favorite Baryta paper, Ilford Gold Fibre Silk (white frame) versus the new Epson Hot Press Bright using an Epson 9900 printer.
Note how even though the gamut of the Epson paper is smaller, it actually exceeds the gamut of Gold Fiber Silk in the yellows and the blues.
The reds of this paper are slightly better than smooth matte papers of the past, but still quite weak compared to the Baryta papers. The greens are about the same as past FIne Art matte papers. The blacks are also weak, but charmingly so.
Whomever makes this paper (I assume Epson buys it from someone else) has achieved a very good balance of tone, gamut and contrast, with an absolutely gorgeous surface and beautiful tactile feel. They have done a masterful job of creating a very special paper.
The big unknown, is how long the brighteners will last and whether the paper will end up looking like the Natural White years from now.
Epson claims that the brighteners will fade over time (no life span given) and the paper will end up looking like the Natural version. Unfortunately, in spite of similar claims by paper manufacturers in the past, papers with brighteners have almost always looked much worse than papers without brighteners after a relatively short period of time. While Epson may be absolutely correct in their claim, each individual will have to decide whether they wish to take this risk with their prints.
Hot Press Natural White –
All the beauty of the Bright White version, but with slightly worse color rendition. For prints that are under UV protection, or prints where longevity is important, I would not take the risk of brighteners and would use this paper instead of the Bright.
For portraits, no question this is the better paper; skin tones are slightly more natural and highlights have just the right amount of punch without getting too aggressive.
A SILLY THING
There is a big caveat to choosing a paper with brighteners in it. Many people seem to do a very silly thing: They choose a paper with brighteners and then put it under UV protection.
They forget that optical brighteners are activated by UV light, so framing an image under glass or plexiglass with a UV filter, or spraying a print with a spray that has UV protection, totally negates the effect of the brighteners.
In other words, the print will look the same as if it was printed on the Natural version of the paper.
Therefore, if a print is going to be either framed or sprayed with UV protection, you might as well go with the Natural version of the paper and avoid additional compounds that may become a problem as time goes by.
The Hot Press papers are my new favorite Fine Art ultra-smooth surface papers. Although for landscapes I still prefer the Baryta papers, the new Epson Hot Press papers will become part of my arsenal for certain kinds of images.
Dr. Dubovoy is highly regarded as a technical expert in many aspects of printing technology and photography. As such, he is a regular writer of technical articles for PHOTO Techniques magazine and a lecturer at various workshops.
His photographs are included in a number of private collections, as well as the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Monterey Art Museum, the Berkeley Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Nanao Japan.