The fine art market continues to grow as does the number of inkjet papers on offer. Here’s an extract from the overview expert Mike McNamee is presenting in Issue 168 of Professional Photo.
There is still a huge market for high quality fine art inkjet prints and photography is increasingly being regarded as a serious art form in its own right, although that process is more advanced in the US than it is in the UK. And this interest appears to be growing, meaning that this could be an area that could provide decent revue for professionals, either as a side income or, in some cases, as a standalone means of earning a living in its own right.
On the technical front we remain blessed with staggering image and print quality allied to an abundance of papers to choose from – since my previous feature in 2013 I’ve tested out nearly 300 papers, though not all of them were new. The rise of climate change awareness is a particular feature of the intervening period; paper making is a resource intensive process and Hahnemühle in particular is working hard to reduce the environmental impact of printing, with Epson not far behind.
County Cork-based commercial and fine art photographer Michael O’Sullivan regularly sells prints to clients and collectors and is keenly aware that his reputation rides not just on the quality of his output but also on the archival qualities of the prints he’s making.
This being the case he’s had to make informed choices regarding the papers and printers he’s using, and in his studio he’s working with a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6400 large format printer to output prints at 24x36ins, while smaller prints or prints for models or clients are produced using a Canon PRO-1000, a machine he describes as “one of the best ever made.” All prints are output on papers from PermaJet, with Michael working with different varieties depending on the job he’s covering.
“I’ve been working on a fantasy series called Fallen Angels for the past few years,” he says, “and it was important to me to output prints on a paper that suited the nature of the images, which are often quite dark. I ended up experimenting with a number of different surfaces but eventually settled on PermaJet’s Museum Heritage 310, which is a textured fine art paper that features a lovely rough weave with random undulations.
“For other jobs I might work with Gallery Etching, which has extra texture, or the classically smooth matt finish of Portrait
Rag 285 or Portrait White 285. Then there are the fibre based papers for times when I might want the result to look more like a silver halide paper, and here I might go for something like PermaJet’s Gold Silk or Royal 325. Every paper you use has a slightly different look to it, so it’s just a case of trying out everything that’s out there and coming up with results that match what you’re trying to do. There is no one paper type that’s going to suit everything and so much of it is ultimately down to personal preference.”
In terms of whether he’s confident offering collectors a result on an inkjet paper, Michael has no doubts. “Even five years ago I might have gone to a lab for a silver halide print if I was selling black and white work to a collector,” he says. “However, it’s long been the case that inkjet papers can hold their own with traditional prints and in terms of longevity I’ve no doubt that they are going to last just as long or even longer than their silver equivalents.”
The papers were tested on an Epson SP 4900 (the P5000 of today) which has a high gamut ink set, including orange and green, with the usual suspects. A bespoke ICC profile was made using i1 Publish followed by colour audit on a 240-patch bespoke target, which includes a patch set from the extremities of the gamut surface of the 4900 ink set.
All three papers are 290gsm and 500-micron caliper. In terms of surface texture, Agave has the most, then Hemp then Bamboo. Bamboo is creamier visually, but all three are close to neutral base tone and deliver very accurate skin tones. The Dmax values are just over 1.6, which is good for this class of material and ink set. The Hemp registers some Fluorescence and is slightly reactive in the UV booth, the other two are dead to UV light. While all papers delivered excellent highlight and shadow detail, both Agave and Hemp have higher gamut volumes than Bamboo and so deliver slightly superior performance in the saturation component of the high-chroma colours. However, none of these differences are showstoppers.
Overall this is an excellent trio of papers that will compete well with the best available in their class, while carrying additional eco-credentials. All are available in roll and sheet form; Hemp and Agave cost the equivalent of £7.16 per A2 sheet, Bamboo £6.32 per A2 sheet.
Celebrated fine art photographer Cheryl Walsh specialises in underwater portraits, which are in huge demand from collectors. “It really suits my personality,” she says. “I work underwater because of the atmosphere and how it makes me feel. It’s darker, quiet and I’m isolated with the person I’m photographing. Fabrics and hair defy gravity, moving in slow motion, colours are more vibrant and it’s a remarkably calming place.”
Cheryl feels strongly that a crucial part of her role as a photographer is to output her own prints rather than to entrust them to a third party, and digital output using her Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-4100 wide format printer enables her to do exactly this. “Why would I go to this much effort to create my artwork and then let someone else create the final piece, the true manifestation of it, the actual photograph? Printing my own photographs myself is really important to me. It makes me a better photographer because I can see details in my prints that I can’t see on the screen and it forces me to experience my work in a whole new light.”
In terms of which paper to use she admits it was initially a daunting task. “I searched for twelve years to find someone to
teach me how to print at the exceptional level I had seen at international print competitions. Then, three years ago, I was fortunate to finally connect with Eric Joseph from Freestyle Photographic supplies, who is an expert in digital printing and fine art inkjet papers. To this day he’s still the only person I’ve ever met, or heard of, who is completely independent, unbiased to any single brand, and he helps photographers to find the right papers for their work and teaches a digital printing workflow that results in a perfect print each and every time. The moment he handed me a print of my own work and told me I could create that print just as easily as he did it literally changed my whole life. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and left me in tears.
“He showed me my work on numerous different papers and I found that Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag and Edition Etching were the two that complimented my work by far the best. Platine Fibre Rag is such a unique paper. It really is the perfect photographic paper for any image. Everything looks good on it. But sometimes I want a matte, textured cotton paper so I use Edition Etching as it has the widest colour gamut and holds details and black like no other matte paper.
“I love the feel of both of those papers in my hands and how they look on the wall. At my recent gallery show I didn’t use a single piece of glass on my framed images since the texture and quality of the prints are part of my unique artistic signature and therefore part of the final art piece.”
See Cheryl’s great videos below.
The Fotospeed Academy is a hands-on masterclass in printing for photographers. These practical workshops will teach the skills and techniques required to get the most out of your photography and prints. These one day courses, straight from the Fotospeed offices in Corsham, Wiltshire, will give practical experience, delivered by inspiring experts, that can be harnessed to maximise your printing. Using Fotospeed paper, you’ll print your images and have these to take away with you at the end of the day.
With subjects ranging from Printing Workshops through to how to use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, there’s something included for everyone wanting to improve their printing skills. Courses cost £95 and are available throughout the year.
Naturally, there is no point whatsoever investing in the very best fine art papers if you’re then going to output on a printer that’s not up to the job, and the same applies to the ink set that you choose to work with. It would be madness, for example, to cut corners and buy third party ink if you’re intending to then sell your work to collectors. You need to be confident that your print, if displayed in optimum conditions, will last for decades if not centuries and so you have to invest a little more to make sure that you’re working with premium products.
On the printer front there are some affordable, high quality products available from the likes of Canon, Epson and HP, and one of these will give you the flexibility to print on demand and be in total control of production and quality control. At the outset you need to make a call regarding how large you want to go. There are some excellent desk top machines that will handle print sizes up to A2 (42×59.4mm), which is perfectly big enough
for many collectors, but it doesn’t cost huge amounts more to go for a large format printer that could then output giant wall size artworks if you feel there could be a demand for this kind of product. However, if you might only occasionally go to these sizes, it’s more economic to send those prints out to a lab and to focus more on self-producing the smaller formats.
One of the most highly regarded desktop printers out there is Canon’s imagePROGRAF Pro-1000, which maxes out at A2 while still costing well under £1000. Although a few years old now, printer tech doesn’t move on at the same pace as cameras and so this product is still very much state of the art. The LUCIA PRO 11-color plus Chroma Optimiser ink system offers a high level of black density, not only achieving deep, rich blacks but also helping to bring out incredibly fine shadow detail in the darker areas, while Photo Black and Matte Black inks have their own dedicated nozzles so no switching is necessary. Users can also print on glossy media then fine art media with no worries, no changes, and no waste.
The Lucia ink system includes matte black, photo black, grey, photo grey, red, blue, magenta, photo magenta, cyan, photo cyan, yellow and Chroma Optimiser. The size of the ink tanks is 80ml per tank, allowing for less frequent refills and reduced cost per print.
Likewise Epson is renowned for the quality of its printers, and its A2 benchmark product is the Surecolor SC-P800, which retails for a similar price to the Canon. This time the ink set is Epson’s UltraChrome HD, which is nine strong and, thanks to the lightfastness that’s a characteristic of the products, archival permanence is said to be excellent. The inks also come in 80ml ink cartridges, meaning less frequent changes and a more economical performance.
High respected portrait photographer Rory Lewis opted to use the SC-P800 to output his Northerners exhibition last year, relying on the quality of the output to reflect the quality of his imagery. “It’s a printer I would highly recommend,” he says. “From the comfort of my own studio I can produce fine art quality prints for my clients and exhibitions.”
And that’s the joy of modern, high performance inkjet printers, namely the freedom they deliver to be in control of all aspects of print production. So, once you’ve decided on the paper you want to work with make sure that you partner it with a printer that will do it full justice.
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