Ink And Paper
How To Make Fine Prints With Epsons New Printers

sorcadmin's picture

Somerset Enhanced Radiant White paper produced beautifully balanced, bright colored prints with a finely textured look that speaks quality in every dimension. Its high level of ink acceptance with a full range of color and tone also contributed to the greatest variation with the screen appearance and match prints made on Epson Heavyweight Matte paper.
Photos © David B. Brooks, 2000

There is a certain excitement when you go to the corner drugstore to pick up your prints from photofinishing. By just standing and watching people doing this, you soon realize why photography is a popular hobby. For me, a more serious darkroom addiction began just after the holidays when I was still in grade school and my next-door neighbor got a Kodak Brownie darkroom kit. He and I had our first experience making contact prints. Seeing an image gradually appear on a piece of paper in the developer under a dim red light was a thrill I recall most vividly. Recently that thrill has been renewed digitally by Epson's new Stylus Photo 870/1270 printers.

The combination of longer lasting media and finer print quality made possible with these new Epson products excited my interest in doing serious color printing, while adding a new dimension to the attractiveness of the digital darkroom. This excitement is heightened by adding the already existing supply of fine art papers, which greatly extend the selection of final print effects in tone and print texture. They further enhance the output of these new Epson printers. But this new, color print quality also imposes demands on the photographer to apply equally refined techniques if the quality potential is to be fully realized. This article details what is needed in software and equipment, including descriptions and resources for fine art papers, and a step by step how-to scenario based on my experience testing and evaluating this new ink jet photo printing potential.

Hahnemuhle Albrecht Durer Giclee Natural is a bright, warm white paper with a bold, canvas-like texture. It reproduces color richly and accurately. It is an excellent choice for large prints that are intended for display.

Equipment And Materials. First, the hardware basis of a digital darkroom is a computer: a recent Apple Macintosh G3/G4 with OS 9, or a newer PC with Windows 98/2000. The other essentials are the new Epson Stylus Photo 870/875 or 1270 ink jet printer, and a good quality color flat-bed scanner (I used the Epson Perfection 1200U Photo). The software essentials are Adobe Photoshop full Version 5.02 or 5.5 (Photoshop 5.0LE is bundled with the printer including a full version upgrade offer of $299), and Monaco EZ Color 1.5 (a trial version is bundled with the software CD with the Epson Stylus Photo printers, including a special half price offer of $149 for the full working version). Monaco EZ Color color management profiling software is an essential element needed to make fine prints with the Epson printers, especially if non-Epson fine art papers are used. It is included in the software bundle that comes with Epson's Expression 1600 scanner.

The basic supplies you should have are an adequate color ink cartridge, and Epson's Heavyweight Matte paper which is recommended by Epson for making the longest lasting prints. This paper is a good basis for evaluating the printer's performance with independent brands of fine art papers.

Liege Radiant White test prints reproduced the most brilliant colors from saturated images, while also maintaining subtle variations in image tones made up of slight shades of neutrality. Liege reproduces fine detail cleanly across a full range of tones from shadows through mid tones and highlights. It would be the fine art paper of choice if it also had a long and assured archival life expectancy.

Fine Art Papers For Ink Jet Printers. Papers used by artists for drawing, watercolors, hand lithographs, woodcuts, serigraphs, and other media have been made for centuries by a few select producers in Europe and America. In recent years these traditional high quality art papers have been offered with special coatings (sizing) specifically designed to accept the imprint from digital printers. There is a great variety available in all sizes, characteristics, and qualities. Some are archival, but all would be considered relatively long lasting because of an acid free, neutral pH, and usually a natural fiber base, including many that are 100 percent rag content. The textures vary from fine, smooth matte to quite accentuated, rough surfaces, and the weights of these papers range from a little heavier than the Epson Heavyweight Matte to very heavy. The color varies from antique or warm to natural to enhanced, very bright neutral white.

For my tests I chose a few, offered by two different distributors, that are recommended for reproducing color photographs. The first is Legion West Paper, 6333 Chalet Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90040; for technical information and retail seller references call (800) 727-3716, or (562) 928-5600, or visit their web site at: www.papertech.com The papers I tested are:

Liege: An extremely bright white paper on a medium weight 100 percent cotton base with a neutral pH. Its fine surface limits ink dot grain enhancing image sharpness and brilliance. It should be chosen for maximum image performance, but not for long lasting characteristics because of the coating used. Per sheet suggested retail prices range from $1.83 for 8.5x11" to $3.93 for 13x19".

Hahnemuhle Natural White is a bright, warm white strongly textured paper that reproduces subtle and saturated color accurately with equal brilliance. It is an excellent choice for printing large color images for exhibition whether portraits or landscapes.

Another resource is The Hahne-muhle Collection of Digital Fine Art Paper sold by Digital Art Supplies, 3065 Rosecrans Pl., Ste. 104, San Diego, CA 92110; (877) 534-4278; www.digitalartsupplies.com From this large collection of papers in different bases including Alpha Cellulose, 25 percent and 100 percent rag, I received five samples from which I selected three to test. All of the Hahnemuhle papers are from a paper mill in Dassel, Germany, established in 1584, and meet the DIN6738/ISO9706 specifications for archive grade paper.
Hahnemuhle Albrecht Durer Giclee Natural White: A 210 gsm coated, medium textured paper in sizes from 8.5x11 to 17x22".

Hahnemuhle Natural White: A 230 gsm weight medium to coarse textured, watercolor style paper with a bright, warm, natural white color. It is available in sizes from 8.5x11 through 17x22" sizes.

Hahnemuhle Etching Board Natural White: A 310 gsm weight fine to medium, subtly textured, and bright white paper in a heavy and quite rigid stock. It is available also in 8.5x11 through 17x22" sizes.

Concorde Rag Antique White was the one off-white paper in the test set. It has a fine surface texture and reproduces detail with exceptional crispness. Color images that are strongly saturated reproduce richly and accurately, while subtle tones close to neutral are influenced by the underlying paper color. This along with the fact the paper has a long life expectancy encouraged testing black and white image printing using gray scale files converted to RGB and subtly toned. The results were equal to if not superior to printing the same image on the best fiber-based silver photo paper.

With limited quantities of these papers my testing involved making a Monaco EZ Color test print for profiling, then making a print of an image scanned at 4000dpi from a Leitz color and resolution slide. This image provided a basis for comparison between the papers: as to how each medium printed fine detail as well as accepted color accurately. My guide for this evaluation was a pair of prints made with the Epson Stylus Photo 1270 using Epson's Heavyweight Matte paper; one using the Epson Standard profile supplied with the printer, and the other made after custom profiling the printer with Monaco EZ Color. The remaining samples of each paper were then printed with a variety of images of different characteristics, images that were also printed on Epson Heavyweight Matte paper using the Epson Standard profile.

Fine Art Ink Jet Printing Setup And Technique. If you've made even one print with an ink jet printer, I'm sure you're aware that in the print driv-er dialog you are asked to specify what kind of paper is being used, as well as the resolution setting and Mode, which is usually a print quality or type of image designation like choosing between graphics and photo printing. These options actually set how the print driver applies inks according to default values. With just about any contemporary printer, these values are "coordinated" with your computer's system information identifying the monitor in association with the values in the image as displayed on screen. In other words, under the surface the system is using color management to assure an acceptable tolerance range of reproducing in the print a reasonable facsimile of what you see on screen. For fine art printing you'll need to take an active role to assure the color management functioning available with your system and software. The references involved (ICC/ICM profiles) specifically and accurately describe all of the factors involved, your monitor, the printer, and inks, as well as the paper being used. This latter specification in the form of a profile is a must when using papers other than those recommended by the printer's manufacturer.

Hahnemuhle Etching Board Natural White is a very heavy weight paper (310 gsm) with a fine unpatterned texture. It reproduces color richly and precisely, while defining detail sharply with good contrast. Etching Board's weight, color, and texture conveys the look of an art print regardless of image size.

Monaco EZ Color is bundled with the Epson Stylus Photo printers and the Expression scanners to specifically provide the tools to custom profile all of the elements in your system--scanner, monitor, and printer--to achieve top quality input and output. In addition, the full version of Photoshop 5.02/5.5 also has its own internal color management which works in concert with the system, providing precise control of how the application functions in the process through color correction and adjustment. With the system, Monaco EZ Color, and Photoshop the cornerstone of the system is the monitor. It must be precisely calibrated to secure a tight relationship between what you see and do to adjust an image, and how that affects output. Due to limited space, I'll not detail the calibration and profiling procedure. Monaco and Adobe provide excellent Wizards as well as documentation to keep you on track to a successful conclusion.

Once Monaco EZ Color, Adobe Gamma and Photoshop's color management Wizards are used, a profile for your monitor is made. First be sure that the profile is used by the system: open the Colorsync Control Panel with a Mac or use the CMS tab in Windows/Control Panel/Display dialog window to identify the profile. Finally be sure that only Adobe Gamma is started up when you boot your system. In other words, the Monaco EZ Color Startup must be turned off (unless of course you are not using the full version of Photoshop).

Color Managed Print Workflow. You must follow a correct and disciplined set of procedures to successfully make fine art ink jet prints using Monaco EZ Color, Photoshop, and the Epson Stylus Photo printers. To use one of the particular fine art papers successfully, or even the Epson Heavyweight Matte, you need to make a profile with EZ Color for that paper. This is where a color flat-bed scanner becomes a necessary part of the picture, as it is needed to read the test chart that is printed on a sample sheet of the selected paper, using the Monaco application. This reading results in an ICC/ICM profile file which must be saved in the Colorsync Profile folder on a Mac or in Windows/ System/Color folder on a PC. Again by following the EZ Color Wizard precisely you'll get this done easily.

The Monaco EZ Color User Guide documents three different workflows in Chapter 5, Using Profiles. For the most reliable and best print quality results, I'll only recommend one: Profile To Profile printing from Photoshop. To begin the workflow, have a photographic image file open in Photoshop that is fully color corrected and sized for the dimensions of the paper on which you are going to print it. The first step in the workflow procedure is to click on the Image menu, then go to the bottom selection and click on Profile To Profile. A dialog box will appear with four selection boxes. The first box is titled From: in this box you may choose "RGB Color" if Photoshop color management is fully set up. (For photographic imaging purposes in PS color management, you should choose the Adobe RGB (1998) colorspace). The second box is To: in which you identify the profile for the printer and the paper you have made with Monaco EZ Color. The third box is Engine: the default is Built-In, and should not be changed. The fourth box is titled Intent: in this box the choice should be "Perceptual." Below these boxes is a check box titled: Black Point Compensation, which should not be checked. When you click OK, the image will change, and likely appear very strange. Don't be alarmed, this appearance change has no affect on the result.

The next step is setting the variables in the print driver to command the application to send the image data to the printer. The rule governing this is that the print driver be set exactly the same as it was to make the test print for profiling with Monaco EZ Color. With the Epson printers the paper type must be selected, Photo Quality Inkjet Paper, for instance; the printing resolution, 1440dpi or possibly 720dpi; and then go to Mode/Advanced and in the Advanced window dialog select No Color Adjustment. Click OK on everything, and then click on Print.

This selection of factors may seem strange and illogical. However, what you are doing is using Photoshop's color management and its CM engine to make the translation between how the image appears on screen based on the "profile" of Photoshop's colorspace and the profile made with EZ Color that characterizes how the Epson printer outputs on a particular paper, instead of doing it through the print driver. In other words, you've transferred the print driver function of color adjustment from the driver to Photoshop's built-in color management. The result has been superior, cleaner, and more WYZIWYG in my test experience with Epson's own Heavyweight Matte paper, plus the six fine art papers. Between using Monaco EZ Color and Photoshop it is possible to produce predictable print image color with a very high degree of accuracy with the perceptual values of the image on screen. Any variations in the prints are very slight and correctable through the acquisition of the experience that would be acquired and used in doing the original color correction of the image file in Photoshop.

Warning: you must follow the documentation carefully to set up color management and use the Photoshop color management and the Monaco EZ Color Wizards. If you cross all the t's and dot all of the i's, you'll get prints with qualities which match the quality in your image file. What more can you ask for?

Share | |