A personal health warning about paper reviews ;-)

Why you need to take inkjet paper reviews in context

I’m just writing up the results of looking at a few different paper types in our iPF8300 printer, and as ever, find myself slightly torn between ‘the numbers’ and what the prints look/feel like.

I’m never entirely comfortable when I see comparative reviews of papers in some magazines that include a stack of spurious tables and diagrams covering various measurements about printer/paper/ink performance.

Gamut comparison plot

Gamut comparison plot – looks good, but does it mean anything?

Most are pretty much meaningless (without lots of -detailed- explanations of the theory and practice behind them).

Of course, such graphics look good and can give an air of expertise in the subject… Marketing departments love them too ;-)

Similarly I generally don’t specifically measure the D-max of many papers (how black is black) – there is so much more to what makes a fine print than some spurious measurement accuracy. I may well note it when I’m building a black and white QTR correction profile, but it’s additional info, not a figure to trumpet.

Note that I don’t apply this when I’m making ICC printer profiles, that’s one time I definitely am bothered about lots of measurements and their accuracy and their consistency.

When you are reading paper reviews, remember that thousands of measurements generate data, not necessarily useful information.

The numbers don’t tell you what -your- images will look and feel like.

I used to print some particular images on our old Epson 9600. In comparison with our new iPF8300, it showed its age in so many areas of performance, but some images ‘just worked’.

Gamut and D-max are just two aspects of deciding how you want your prints to look.

Do tables of paper stiffness really tell you how a print feels when you pick it up?

With modern printers and papers, the differences between prints become increasingly subjective – if you see a paper you like, ask for a sample print or just the paper. See what it looks and feels like.

A whole stack of prints does tell you a lot about a paper – many of the differences you’ll see mentioned are almost impossible to tell apart, even when you know what you are looking for and are comparing prints under specialist lighting.

I have to make pencil notes on the back of test prints, so that I’ll know which was which the following morning.

test prints for a review of photo paper

A stack of prints does tell you a lot…

Print choices are a personal thing – if you just choose papers by numbers then your prints will, in my mind, lack something.

It’s like picking a lens based on MTF charts (or cars on 0-60 times – something that similarly ‘unimpresses’ me)

It’s the whole process from camera to print

My suspicion is that many peoples’ prints could be considerably improved by better care in:

  • Colour management
  • Monitor setup (i.e. not too bright)
  • More attention to correct sharpening for print (one size does NOT fit all)
  • Remembering that the print is the final result, not what the image looks like on the screen.

Of course, that doesn’t stop people wanting the ‘easy fix’ of just buying a different paper (or a ‘better’ camera).

I like trying new papers that show my images in a better/different way, but I know that the best paper counts for nothing if you have not looked at all the other links in the chain from thinking about your shot, to hitting the ‘print’ button (oh and framing and print presentation is important too)

BTW It’s also worth noting that there are only a limited number of specialist paper mills and paper coaters in the world, before you get too worried that a paper you’ve seen reviewed may not be available in your location ;-)

See also:

  • Arthur Cumings

    Hello Keith

    On reading your review of the Epson r2880 which you gave very good report of the Printer i have now bought one ( had it 3 weeks )
    I am nearly 80 now and retired,but worked as a Colour Proofer 38 years at Gee & Watsons Shoe Lane, Fleet St.
    The point i am coming to is. Do i need to use ICC/ Print Profiles or other methods to get a good print,i get confused with all with all this technology (i was quite good in our old wet darkrooms years )
    But i have had reasonable results using Permajet Oyster 271 Paper with B&W and Colour Prints.
    By doing Test Prints using my eyes with the Colour Slide Bar and Brightness/Contrast/Saturation Slide Bars on the epson r2880 system.
    Will using ICC/Print Profiles make a lot of difference to my prints.
    My main aim is B&W ON A3+ size paper (could you recommend a Matt or Lustre paper at a reasonable price please.

    My Kind Regards Arthur Cumings

    • http://www.northlight-images.co.uk Keith

      The short answer is yes, using profiles should make a lot of difference, but given your experience you may well do OK with manual adjustment (as long as your monitor is properly calibrated)

      As to B&W, use the ABW print mode in the 2880 driver (see the review and other epson ones for more info).

      As to papers, I use quite a few of the (Pinnacle) ones from Paper Spectrum here in Leicester. However I can’t say much about prices, since it’s all through the business and paper price is irrelevant with respect to print quality for the sorts of work I do (Paper Spectrum can supply profiles if needed)