Paper Chase - End of Term Report - part 1 of 1

by Mike McNamee Published

By the time you read this, the Paper Chase series will have been running for two years, occupying more than 50 double-page spreads and backed by more than 800 colour analyses, occupying 4,800 files and 539 folders. Thankfully the 288 million spectro readings were made mainly on computer-automated kit! During the two years, some things have changed a lot, some not very much. Paper making is a centuries-old tradition and so the main changes have been in inks and printer technology - sadly the ongoing squabbles over fade resistance and its measurement have intensified. For all these reasons it is timely to step back and review the series so far to try and collate what we presently know about ink-jet print making.


The major conclusions we have arrived at are as follows:

1. Throughout the series we have seen a sustained rise in the quality of printer technology, an increase in gamut volume, a reduction in metamerism and an improvement in the neutrality of monochrome printing capabilities.

2. The world has become far more colour-savvy and colour calibration solutions have dropped in price, making them far more accessible to both professionals and enthusiasts.

3. There is a truly wonderful range of art papers available from a wide variety of sources. While some are better than others in terms of absolute fade resistance there are no 'bad' papers that we have found and the media choice can be made on aesthetic grounds, ie the finish that you like. However, this situation needs more consideration if you are selling into the fine art, giclee market.

4. We have found that most art papers behave in quite a similar fashion in terms of colour rendition. Therefore, if you have an icc profile for say Permajet Artist, that profile will work reasonably well on Permajet Museum. This rule does not apply if you switch between a paper with Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs) and one without because of the coolness of the base paper with OBAs. For printers outside of the Epson x800 series (ie 4800, 7800, etc) variations between individual printers are greater than variations between the papers.

5. Pigment inks remain far more stable to fading than dye inks.

6. Microporous coatings are more stable to dye migration effects than swellable polymer but less stable to ozone-induced fading - a classic catch- 22 situation!

7. OBAs remain a source of paper yellowing with exposure to light.

8. Humidity remains a problem especially with dye inks and migration of the colourants within the image.

9. A number of excellent brush and spray coating media have come onto the market to protect the finished print from humidity, ozone and ultraviolet light.

10. Acid-free papers are reported on the forums as being more stable to light.

11. The measurement and standardisation of fade testing remains a mess (see later).

12. Bronzing, gloss differential and wheel-pizza-marking remain issues with some paper/ink/printer combinations.

13. The maximum black that can be achieved is paper-coating dependent. In general, art papers achieve between 16% and 27% lightness value (Lab) compared to less than 10% for gloss and lustre surfaces.

14. Ink-jet speeds have not made much progress and the technology remains the slowest of the print-making methods.

15. Cheap, unbranded replacement cartridges have been shown to save only costs - some of the fade tests have been horrifying, along with reports of nozzle clogging and an ambiguous situation regarding printer warranty.

16. Ink cartridges costs remain a sore point with the public at large, as well as some damning comments from the Office of Fair Trading. However, in view of the comments above, professionals are recommended to avoid cheap, non-OEM cartridges like the plague!

"...we have seen a sustained rise in the quality of printer technology, an increase in gamut volume, a reduction in metamerism and an improvement in the neutrality of monochrome printing capabilities..."

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