The Great Paper Chase  - Eboni
For Eboni-Based Printing on Matte Papers

Part of a Series on Fine Art Black and White Digital Printing
Revised April 8, 2010

Copyright 2004-2010 Clayton Jones
All Rights Reserved

by Clayton Jones

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There are so many good papers available now it is hard to decide which ones to use.  It is too expensive to buy and test them all.  To help make some sense of it I have tested a number of popular papers and have compiled a list of them here with brief descriptions, in the hope that it will be of some help in making a decision. 

Notes:
1) This is not a complete list of all papers available, just matte  papers that I have tried. 

2) My observations and comments are based upon these test images

 
` 1   2  


which were printed on each paper using the Black Only printing technique with Eboni ink.  Using a single black ink necessitates using different papers to achieve various tones in the warm-cool scale.  Different papers render Eboni in different tones, and the paper color itself affects the final result.  So these tests and comments place strong emphasis on the paper and ink colors and how they work together.

This is not a scientific study, but merely my own observations and impressions, so please don't treat this as the final truth.  It is just a general guide to provide some idea of what these papers are like.

3) The Grading System - These papers are graded by Dmax and Ink and Paper colors.  A warmer paper color does not always produce a warmer ink color.  There are some interesting cross-overs which make the choice of papers more complex and interesting (one reader commented that reading this was like going to a wine tasting party).  So a key component in any paper review must be these colors.  The test prints can be distinctly sorted by paper color into seven shades of white, by ink color into seven shades of black, and by Dmax as measured by a colorimeter (thanks to Steve Karafyllakis for doing the readings. 

Note: Not every image needs eye-popping Dmax.  Other properties, such as contrast, tone, and the ink/paper color relationship are equally important.  A paper shouldn't be dismissed just because it doesn't have the highest Dmax rating. 

Dmax - In this group of papers the dmax ranges from 1.56 to 1.72.
I find that 1.58 is the minimum acceptable for images where dmax is not a major factor (such as higher key images with small amounts of black).  For images where dmax is important, 1.65 or greater is necessary.  From my own experience over time with a variety of papers, inks and images,  I grade dmax values like this:

Excellent - 1.70
Very Good - 1.65
Good - 1.60
Fair - 1.55
Poor - 1.40 (lowest reading I've seen, Schoellershammer Velvet)

I have gotten beautiful prints on lower dmax papers with images that have small amounts of pure black in them.  Some of those papers take the ink nicely and are quite beautiful in every other regard.


Paper Color -  A "White value" range from W1 to W7, where W1 is pure bright white and W7 is the warmest of the cream colored papers. 

Ink color - A "Black value" range of B1 to B7, described in terms of cold to warm:
 B1 - Cold; blacks look black or "neutral"
 B2 - Cool; blacks not pure black, but not warm either
 B3 - Slightly warm - beginning to look brown instead of black
 B4 - Moderately warm
 B5 - Medium warm 
 B6 - Very warm
 B7 - Extremely warm 

Note: Variable tone inks allow us to get a range of tones from warm to cool.  Since most of them use predominantly carbon-based inks with color pigments added only as toners, these papers will influence these inks toward the tones described here.  So while not completely relevant for a variable tone system, these ink color reports can still be useful.  For example, if you want to make a cold tone print, using a warm tone paper will require a greater amount of cool toner.  This can make a visible difference, both in overall coloration (bluish/greenish/magenta tints will be visible in certain zones) and the crossover effect (mismatch between ink and paper colors) caused by the warmer paper showing in the highlights.  Starting with a cold tone paper can reduce the amount of toner required.  The same is true for warm tone prints.  Printing warm on a cool paper will introduce more warm toners.  The best results are obtained when using a paper that is as close as possible to the desired tone to begin with


4) Any comments about using adjustment curves for contrast or density are based on the idea that an image is worked up to its final state using EEM as proof paper.  EEM has excellent dmax with contrast and density that are middle of the road compared to most matte papers, so being inexpensive and readily available it is a great proof paper.  With the proof print as a model, an adjustment curve may have to be applied to the image when printing on other papers in order to get a final print that matches the proof.

5) The papers are listed below in a Contents chart grouped by manufacturer, with links to comments below.

 

Some Abbreviations Used In The Comments

H.
HMTN

PR
WV
VFA
EEM

OBA
 
- Hahnemuhle                       Paper Makers
- Hawk Mountain
-
- Photo Rag by H.                           Papers
- White Velvet by H.                        
- Velvet Fine Art by Epson
- Epson Enhanced Matte (proof paper)

- Optical Brightening Agents
 

Contents  -  21 Papers

Paper Name Type OBA W B Dmax
Condor BW by Hawk Mountain 100% Cotton Yes W1.5 B1.5 1.62
Condor Natural by Hawk Mountain 100% Cotton No W5 5.5 1.60
Peregrine Smooth by Hawk Mountain 100% Cotton Yes W4.5 B2 1.60
Merlin Photo by Hawk Mountain 100% Cotton Yes W3 B4 1.58
Merlin BW by Hawk Mountain 100% Cotton Yes W1.5 B2 1.56
Merlin Natural by Hawk Mountain 100% Cotton No W5 B5 1.60
Grayhawk 1 by Hawk Mountain Alpha Cellulose Yes W2 B3.5 1.57
Grayhawk 2 BW by Hawk Mountain Alpha Cellulose Yes W1.5 B3 1.56
Aurora Art by Red River 100% Cotton Yes W3 B4 1.58
Entrada BW by Moab 100% Cotton Yes W2 B3.5 1.61
Photo Rag 308 by Hahnemuhle 100% Cotton Yes W4 B4 1.72
White Velvet by Hahnemuhle 25% Cotton Yes W4.5 B6 1.71
William Turner by Hahnemuhle 100% Cotton No W7 B7 1.66
Photo Fiba by Innova Alpha Cellulose Yes W3 B4 1.67
Smooth Cotton by Innova 100% Cotton Yes W5 B5.5 1.66
Cold Press Art by Innova Alpha Cellulose No W5.5 B5.5 1.68
Soft Textured Art by Innova Alpha Cellulose No W5.5 B5.5 1.65
Hot Press by Premier Art 100% Cotton No W6 B5 1.63
Velvet Fine Art by Epson 100% Cotton Yes W4 B4 1.71
Museo II by InteliCoat 100% Cotton No W4.5 B4.5 1.62
Museo Max by InteliCoat 100% Cotton No W4.5 B6 1.65






Comments

There are many formulas for coatings and, happily for us, they render carbon inks in various tones ranging from neutral black to very warm.  Eboni ink in particular is rendered in a wide range of beautiful tones.  Papers also vary in texture, contrast, and how they render shadow separation and highlights, the effects of which vary from one image to another.  I have found that there is not just one paper that is suitable for all images.  After a proof is finished, I make a small print on several papers to decide which will be used for the final prints.  I always look forward to that moment because it is a peak part of the creative experience, when all the hard work is about to bear fruit.  I am often surprised at the winner.
 

Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Condor BW
by HMTN

2-sided, medium hard,
slight texture

W1.5

B1.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

 100% Cotton

300gsm

1.62

Comments

Condor BW has the look of a cold toned silver print.  It  has a hint of magenta which makes it resemble lightly selenium toned Oriental Seagull.  Very good DMax.  Contrast is different than EEM and usually requires an adjustment curve to match the proof.  Being 2-sided makes it more economical for reusing work prints.  One side has a bit more texture than the other.  Some flaking occurs so it should be firmly wiped and brushed.  This paper grows on you.  Highly recommended for Eboni-based printing.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Peregrine Smooth
by HMTN

Medium hard, smooth

W4.5

B2

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

255gsm

1.60

Comments

Peregrine (used to be called Merlin) Smooth has some distinct features that set it apart.  First, its ink color with Eboni is cool, giving us another paper that doesn't have the typical brown look of so many inkjet prints.  Also, the paper color is medium warm, which adds warmer highlights to the cool blacks.  This avoids the sometimes harsh look of the cold highlights we get with Condor.  This is one of the "crossover" papers where ink color doesn't closely follow paper color. 

Note:
Peregrine Smooth does not have same long straight line portion of the contrast curve as the original Merlin Smooth, and therefore does not have the same "magic" for mid-tones as the original, as was originally reported here.  It is still a very fine paper for Eboni-based printing.

Because it's contrast is different than EEM, an adjustment curve is usually needed to match the proof.  Flaking can vary widely from one batch to another, so take the usual precautions.  Density also can vary among batches, so an adjustment to the curve may be needed.  It also can have a strong curl if your batch comes from the center of a master roll.   Peregrine Smooth is significantly different from the mass of other papers out there and in spite of the above issues is worth a look.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Aurora Art
by Red River

Hard, Smooth

W3

B4

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

250gsm

1.58

Comments

A nice surprise in a low cost paper.  The ink color is nearly identical to PR.  The lower contrast needs a boost to match the proof.  The Dmax is lower, but test prints from image #1 are nearly indistinguishable.  However, the Dmax difference does show clearly in test print #2 with its large area of solid black.  This is a beautiful paper and does an excellent job in shadow separation..  Paper color is a bit cooler than PR but with PR's ink color, a nice combination.  Minimal flaking, but I always do a firm wipe and brushing.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Velvet Fine Art
by Epson

Medium texture,
soft surface

W4.3

B4

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

260gsm

1.71

Comments

 Velvet Fine Art is a beautiful textured paper with excellent Dmax, producing prints with
 a rich  depth.  Similar to White Velvet but a bit cooler.  This competes with PhotoRag as one of the more popular papers.  Note: April, 2010 - Epson's Hot Press Natural now offers a non-OBA paper with Dmax equal to the highest Dmax OBA papers.  It is not rated here because I am not currently testing with Eboni based inks.  However, Paul Roark has spoken highly of it with his Eboni ink sets and it's definitely worth a look.  Details on the paper can be seen in the K3 section of this article.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Merlin Natural
by HMTN

hard, smooth,
1 or 2-sided
(be sure to specify
 when ordering)

W5

B5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

100% Cotton

270gsm

1.60

Comments

Merlin Natural has the same density and very close to the same contrast and nice "glow" as Peregrine Smooth, another favorite paper.  I find that I can print an image on both papers without any adjustments needed.  A very handsome paper.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Condor Natural
by HMTN

2-sided, hard,
 with a tiny amount of texture

W5

B5.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

100% Cotton

325gsm

1.60

Comments

A good 2-sided paper, but bears no resemblance to the cold tone Condor BW.  This paper is quite warm and competes with Premier Art Hot Press, the only other 2-sided paper of this class.  Compared to Hot Press, this does not have quite the depth and richness, has less Dmax, and is not as bright.  It has a slightly cooler paper color (Hot Press is W6).  Has a very nice balanced look.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Merlin Photo
by HMTN

Hard, smooth

W3

B4

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

255gsm

1.58

Comments

One of four Hawk Mountain papers bearing the Merlin name, this is a more traditional looking paper (does not have the unique attributes of Peregrine Smooth).  A very nice paper that competes with Aurora Art because of its W3-B4 color combination. Like Aurora it needs a contrast boost to match the proof.  Aurora is a bit brighter.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Entrada BW
by Legion

2-sided,
hard, slight texture

W2

B3.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

300gsm

1.61

Comments

 This paper once had a reputation for very bad flaking problems.  However, in 2005  Moab (now Legion) made changes in their production methods and my testing of a new batch shows it greatly improved in this area.  It does still flake some, so a careful wipe and brushing is standard procedure.   The new paper is also whiter, having moved from W3 to W2.  The ink color is warmer, moving from B2.5 to B3.5, so it is not quite as cool toned as the original.  Dmax has also improved.  Because of the reduced flaking and better dmax it really is a much better paper now.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Photo Rag 308
by Hahnemuhle

Hard, Smooth

W4

B4

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

308gsm

1.72

Comments

Photo Rag is one of the most popular and widely used papers.  It's Dmax is matched by few others with Eboni ink, and it produces beautiful rich and glowing prints.  Another advantage is that its density and contrast are nearly the same as EEM. Most of the time an image can be printed on PR without needing an adjustment curve, and if one is needed it is usually just a very slight increase in density to make up for the brightness of the paper, usually for higher key images.  So it's easy to work with and is the reason I recommend it for beginners in my "How To Get Started" article.  It's drawbacks are high price and above average flaking.  I specifically listed the weight, 308, because the lighter 188 version is even worse about flaking (one theory is because it is more flexible), and the percentage of ruined prints is so great as to affect productivity and offset the gain of the lower price.  308 must be firmly wiped and brushed (and even then some flaking occurs).

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

White Velvet
by Hahnemuhle

Lightly textured, soft surface

W4.5

B6

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

25% Cotton

268gsm

1.71

Comments

White Velvet (WV) is made by H. and is similar in look and feel to Epson's Velvet Fine Art, but with warmer paper and ink colors.  Intense Dmax and rich depth.  Has a greater than average difference between paper color and ink color.  Is a mixture of cotton and alpha cellulose.  I haven't used it enough to comment on flaking.  

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

William Turner
by Hahnemuhle

Lightly textured, soft surface, similar to WV

W7

B7

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

100% Cotton

310gsm

1.66

Comments

William Turner is an extremely warm paper, topping the chart in both ink and paper colors.  It has good contrast and produces a nicely balanced image.  But you have to like texture and you have to like warm.  I have heard complaints of bad flaking but cannot say from my own limited experience.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Fiba Photo
by Innova

Very Hard and Smooth

W3

B4

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

Alpha Cellulose

280gsm

1.67

Comments

A very smooth, hard surface paper, close to PR in Dmax and contrast.  It also has nice depth, much like PR.   It has a slightly cooler W3 paper color.  The hard surface produces very high resolution of fine detail.  Surface is extremely fragile while wet, so it must be hung to dry before doing any handling.  This paper prints very dark, so a lightening curve is required to match the proof.    Is advertised as designed to emulate fiber silver gelatin paper, and it does have a similar feel, including a stiff curl. 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Smooth Cotton
by Innova

Hard, smooth

W5

B5.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

315gsm

1.66

Comments

Another exceptional paper from Innova, close to PR in Dmax.  It has the depth and richness common to the better papers.  While it has OBAs, the paper and ink colors have the same warmpth of many non OBA "natural" papers, so I suspect that the OBAs are of small quantity.   Like other Innova papers, this paper prints dark, so a lightening curve is required to match the proof.  This is becoming a very popular paper and a competitor to PR, although it is warmer.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Cold Press Art
by Innova

Hard, deep texture

W5.5

B5.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

Alpha Cellulose

315gsm

1.68

Comments

Very much like Smooth Cotton but with a warmer paper color.  Is alpha cellulose with the feel of a cotton paper.  Deeply textured.  Like other Innova papers, this paper prints dark, so a lightening curve is required to match the proof.  One of the few alpha cellulose papers with no OBAs.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Soft Textured Art
by Innova

Hard, shallow texture

W5.5

B5.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

Alpha Cellulose

315gsm

1.65

Comments

Just like Cold Press Art but with a less pronounced texture.  Like other Innova papers, this paper prints dark, so a lightening curve is required to match the proof.    One of the few alpha cellulose papers with no OBAs.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Hot Press
by Premier Art

Hard, Smooth

W6

B5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

100% Cotton

325gsm

1.63

Comments

Premier Art Hot Press is a beautiful paper that is preferred by many photographers.  With ink color at B5 and paper at W6, it is at the upper side of the warm range.  Even though the ink color is slightly cooler, prints on Hot Press may appear warmer than on a B6 paper such as WV because of the much warmer midtones and highlights produced by the W6 paper (WV paper is W4.5).  The Dmax is excellent, but the paper is a bit low in contrast, so a slight boost is needed to match an EEM proof.  In spite of its warm paper color and lack of OBAs, this is a very bright paper.  Competes with Condor Natural, but has a little something special, extra sparkle and depth, which gives it the edge.  A very popular paper among those who like the warm look.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Museo II
by Crane

2-sided, Medium hard
surface, one side
 medium texture,
one side slight texture

W4.5

B4.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

100% Cotton

250gsm

1.62

Comments

 A handsome paper because of its nicely balanced ink and paper colors, but has very high
 contrast which makes the blacks look a bit too blocked up.  Requires an adjustment curve to
 lower the contrast and open up the blacks to match the proof.  Is one of the brightest non-OBA  papers.  Being 2-sided is a plus, allowing a choice of textures and being economical to reuse  work prints.
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Museo Max
by Crane

1-sided, Medium hard
surface, light texture

W4.5

B6

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

No

100% Cotton

250gsm

1.65

Comments

 Similar to Museo II, with same paper color, slightly more texture,  and considerably warmer ink color.  Has very high contrast which makes the blacks look too  blocked up, and prints dark over all.  Requires an adjustment curve to lower the contrast and  density to match the proof and open up the blacks.  Very bright for a non-OBA paper.  With  paper and ink values of 4.5 and 6 it is a very elegant looking paper with warm blacks and  relatively cooler highlights, which keep it from looking as warm as the B6 would suggest.   Dmax is an excellent 1.65, but the paper is neither "revolutionary" nor "sets the standard" as the  advertising would have us believe.  In spite of the hype, it is a very  beautiful paper with some  exceptional qualities.  It is extremely resistant to scuffing (possibly the toughest I have  tested)  and the blacks do not burnish easily.  These are both very welcome attributes and  make it a top  choice for a photo book.  They also say it is "flake free".  Time will tell on  that  matter, all the  usual precautions are  recommended.  All things considered, this is a top  notch  paper and  worthy of consideration. 
 

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Merlin BW
by HMTN

2-sided,
hard, smooth

W1.5

B2

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

100% Cotton

270gsm

1.56

Comments

One of four Hawk Mountain papers bearing the Merlin name, this is a more traditional looking paper (does not have the unique attributes of Peregrine Smooth).  This is a nice looking cool tone paper, but simply lacks the Dmax of other competitors.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Grayhawk1
by HMTN

very hard, smooth

W2

B3.5

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

Alpha Cellulose

235gsm

1.57

Comments

With a Dmax of only 1.57, this slightly warm tone paper is rather anemic looking.  It simply can't compete.

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Paper

Surface

Paper Color

Ink Color

Grayhawk2 BW
by HMTN

2-sided,
very hard, smooth

W1.5

B3

OBA

Type

Weight

Dmax

Yes

Alpha Cellulose

235gsm

1.56

Comments

This is a nice looking paper, with slightly warm tone and it is 2-sided as well.  Unfortunately, with Dmax similar to Grayhawk1 it can't hold up against other papers.   Other than that this is a good looking paper.

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Copyright 2004-2010 Clayton Jones
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