A Nerd Post on Paper Selection
When I was finishing up my degree, I had a photo portfolio class that required a book and a handful of large prints to be made for the final. I vaguely remember my teacher telling the class how important paper selection is in the process of printing. It felt like a no-brainer at the time. I was in the darkroom 10-12 hours a week in another photo class and had gone through what felt like the entire catalog of Ilford darkroom papers. There were glossy, matte, pearl, warm tone, cool tone, and every combination of them. It was fun experimenting with the papers and some prints fared better on certain paper than others. One portrait would come to life on a pearl warmtone paper and another would work on a standard matte. It was just another step in the process that I loved about the seemingly "simple" art of photography. I think it helped make the art more tangible, separating it from the Instagram posts and selfies and large LCD viewfinders.
Back to the portfolio class, I knew selecting my paper for printing from an inkjet was going to be important and I made sure to do some research into what paper I wanted to use, especially in conjunction with the printer that we were using. I went with Epson Exhibition Fiber paper. It was thick at 325gsm. For comparison, a business card is 350-400gsm and standard printer paper is only 80gsm. It had a slight gloss and and a great texture. And it was expensive as hell. I liked it a lot, but never experimented with other papers.
Now that I'm back in the printing realm and not just selfishly collecting my own photographs, I've had to figure out what paper I'm going to stick with moving forward and I never thought I'd solidify my choice so quickly and with such confidence, but holy crap, this paper is insane. The first print I made with it was from a hiking trip to Scotland for a friend. This will sound corny, but for the first time since I was there, hiking alone at the edge of the world, I looked at the photo and felt like I was back. And it's a black and white "whatever" picture.
This wonder paper is Hahnemühle Photo Rag. It's a matte, textured cotton paper at 308gsm. It isn't as heavy as the Epson Fiber, but the feel is superb. The texture of the paper works especially well with photographs taken on film. It makes the grain practically tactile. I'm glad I don't take many pictures of food, because, I'd just eat the print. If you don't believe me, go to the store and buy a print. I dare you. 😉
This stuff might not be my mainstay forever, as I have so much more experimentation with this one aspect. There are other companies who I've never tried and may blow me away even more. I've never printed on Moab or Canson and both of those companies have immense catalogs. But I have to say, it feels awfully romantic to say that I use a paper with an umlaut in it.
Anywho, the paper used for all of my prints in the store is going to be Hahnemühle Photo Rag for the foreseeable future. I'm a fan and as I'm getting my first orders in, I'll put them on display when they arrive for approval. Moving forward, I'm getting with local printers and solidifying my ICC profiles for best use with the printers and this paper to get stuff faster and cheaper than I am currently. Stay tuned!