by Mike McNamee Published 01/01/2005
This new material in the Epson range can be highly recommended as probably the best canvas material available at the moment .You can choose either Matte Ink or Photo Black ink at your convenience, confident your clients will not discern the difference. For life issues you will have to wait for the tests to be completed.
Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper
Having managed to get our sticky little fingers on one of the few (if only) rolls of this paper in the UK we thought it only right to let you in on the secret as soon as possible. This paper was announced at PMA in March 2003 and has been available in the USA for some time and was announced with the following copy:
"EPSON UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper is a 100 percent cotton rag that is acid-free, lignin-free and optical brightener-free.The UltraSmooth base is slightly alkaline, with a 2 percent calcium carbonate buffer to preserve the alkalinity to a conservator's pH of about 8.0. Wilhelm Imaging Research has rated dark storage well in excess of 100 years, with tests still continuing. The ultra smooth surface is similar to Epson's very popular Enhanced Matte Paper, but this paper has the greater archivability required by photographers and fine artists. It also has the highest D-Max and greatest scratch resistance of any archival paper on the market."
These are claims that demand challenging but the web is awash with rave reviews and they can't all be wrong! The base is free from optical brighteners to improve its archival properties and we note from the Wilhelm site that the life has now pushed on to 108 years (under glass), 175 years (under uv glass) for colour and 140 years for black and white prints.T he media is available in 17", 24" and 44" rolls at 250gsm. In the USA it is available in sheet form at 325gsm and 500gsm.The sheets are coated for double sided printing. So far so good then, how did we find it?
We immediately hit a dilemma.We are in the middle of testing gloss and lustre papers and had changed our ink set over to Photo Black just as the paper arrived - typical is it not? We only found a single report on the web user groups of measured Dmax, this by the moderator of the digital black and white group Antonis Ricos (DigitalBlackandWhiteThePrint@yahoogroups.com. He measured the Dmax at 1.68 using Matte Black Ultrachrome ink. Our own Dmax was measured at 1.35 using Photo Black and even allowing an additional 0.2 this does not lift the value into special territory; certainly the claims on US vendors' sites of "outstanding Dmax and exceptional contrast" are not substantiated. Paper Chase
Despite these misgiving we liked this paper a lot.You always have to accept a drop in Dmax when you print to an art paper but prints on Ultra Smooth have a very sumptuous feel to them, enhanced by the lovely, natural creaminess of the base paper.We tried printing using a bespoke profile and a canned one from the Epson web site (9600 Ult FineArt UFA1 Std v1.icc made by Bill Atkins). Both delivered prints with a slight lack of contrast and desaturation in the high intensity colours. Our bespoke profile mapped the neutrals into the base white (Lab coordinates of 0.26 and 2.04).This served the paler skin tones particularly well with a very tiny error in the average Caucasian Macbeth skin tone.The canned profile was quite heavily biased towards orange with a distinct cross-over at around 230 RGB points. For comparison we have made a detailed plot. The white starts at the base tone (i.e. no ink on the paper!) and takes an immediate excursion down towards the orange part of the plot (upper right quadrant) before drifting slowly back to the paper tone. By comparison the bespoke profile immediately sets off towards the blue territory (vertically down) before moving back to the tone of the base. In truth neither is particularly satisfactory and had time allowed we would have tweaked the profiles to correct this (relatively rare) fault.We were left pondering if the effect was the result of using the "incorrect" ink type but had to deliver the paper back before we had time to investigate. The metamerism of the image was very low, measuring 1.5 lab Delta E points (D65 to Tungsten at 50% grey) a point that would not be lost on the monochrome specialists.
We used the paper to make some prints. These confirmed the excellent skin tones and, for those pictures that did not rely of depth of the blacks, they looked superb.We did not notice any of the claimed improved scuff resistance; indeed gentled dusting of the print with a cotton cloth produced some damage. This is typical of a smooth, matte finish paper, they are quite delicate. As with many other fine art papers, they do benefit from a gentle dusting before use so as to prevent any spotting during printing. We also varnished the surface with a DCP Satin Giclee varnish. The print was reasonably water resistant to extent that only a very tiny amount of smudging occurred. The Dmax was lifted to 1.6 with a single coating and then to 1.80 with an additional gloss coat.
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