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Innova F-Type FibaPrint Gloss Ultra Smooth

And Then There Were Three

The first half of 2006 has seen a minor revolution in printing papers. As most fine art printers know, glossy papers offer the deepest blacks and richest colours, while matte papers are preferred by fine art printers because of their more attractive physical surface, even though the dMax is lower and the colours less saturated. But during the Spring of 2006 (it was Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Aussies and others will call it Autumn), several companies have brought out glossy papers (that use Glossy ink, at least), which have a look and feel closer to that of matte papers. In other words, these do not have the traditional resin coated (plastic) look and feel, but are in fact closer to the texture and look of a traditional F surface, air-dried photographic paper.

The first of these to market, or at least to provide test samples, was Crane Museo Silver Rag, first discussed in a Quick Take review on this site. A full review by Pete Myers here.

Next we had Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl.

Now, in early summer 2006 we have Innova F-Type FibaPrint Gloss Ultra Smooth. This, like the previous two papers, is made from alpha cellulose (wood pulp) rather than being on a plastic base. In other words, it looks and feels like paper rather than plastic.

The specs are easy to find on the company's web site (linked above). But specs tell us little when it comes to printer paper. It's all about look and feel. As for longevity, there is no firm data yet from any reputable testing source. This paper certainly won't have the archival properties of a 100% cotton rag paper without artificial brighteners, but then it has a significantly enhanced dMax and gamut over such papers, and so serves a different market.

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By Way of Comparison

The only review that makes sense to me is one which compares Silver Rag, Fine Art Pearl and Fibaprint. To that end I made prints on an Epson 4800 using the Imageprint RIP and Phatte Black ink system, and also the brand new Canon iPF 5000 printer. Prints were evaluated under a Graphiclite PDV-3D D50 viewing station. A Gretag Macbeth iOne spectrophotometer along with Babelcolor software was used for technical measurements. Other photographers were called in (and dropped in), and their opinions were figured into the mix.

Here's what I see.

Paper Colour & Brightness

Silver Rag is the least bright of the three papers. This is likely because it does not include brighteners. Potentially this means longer life without yellowing. Next was Fibaprint, significantly brighter, with Fine Art Pearl being the brightest of all, and also somewhat less blue than Fibaprint. Silver Rag is almost yellow by comparison.

Though I didn't do any rigorous tests of abrasion characteristics, in handling the papers a lot during testing, especially when measuring patches for profile making and when measuring dMax with the spectrophotometer, it was clear that Silver Rag scuffed the easiest, Fine Art Pearl less so, while the Innova seemed quite resistant to scuffing, and about equal in this regard.

dMax

dMax is the measure of the maximum black that a paper and ink combination can produce. On prints made with Ultrachrome K3 inks on an Epson 4800, the reading I got for Silver Rag were a dMax of 1.62. Fine Art Rag measured 1.88, and Fibacolor 2.22. These are dramatic differences in dMax, and actually visible to the unaided eye, especially the jump to 2.22.

But as good as 2.22 is, when FibaColor print paper was printed on the new Canon iPF 5000 using Lucia inks and the 16 bit Exp[ort module, it measured a dMax of 2.5. This is the highest dMax I've ever recorded on any printer, with any paper. (All readings were in ANSI Status A). The bottom line is, regardless of what printer you use – this is a paper with very deep and rich blacks.

But high dMax can often come at the expensive of high reflectivity, and that's where all three of these papers shine (or don't, as it were). The least glossy is Silver Rag. Though it uses glossy black ink, this appears to be a matte paper in its finish. Next is Fine Art Pearl, with an almost ideal compromise between rich vibrant colours and shininess. The glossiest of them all, though by no means as reflective as a resin coated (plastic base) glossy paper, is F surface Fibaprint.

If you get the angle of the light just right these is a reflectivity, but it is generally subdued, and I don't find it in the least bothersome, and I'm a died in the wool matte paper aficionado.

The Surface

The surface of Fibaprint is very smooth, with almost no tooth whatsoever. If you hold the paper to the light just so, you'll see a very fine texture, what I would call a micro-stipple. This is a tiny dimensionality to the paper's depth that isn't at all unpleasant, and is only seen in inked area, not on the paper itself. It needs some contrast to be seen.

One knowledgeable observer commented that he felt that because of this stipple, the paper would likely be at its best when large prints are made, since the stipple might interfere when smaller prints are held closely. A good point.


Black Curves Dunes. Namibia – April 2006
Canon 1Ds MKII with 70-200mm f/2.8L lens @ ISO 400

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The Bottom Line

As with all papers that use glossy black ink, and which have a high dMax, FibaPrint offers excellent colour saturation, at least by comparison with matte papers. That is the raison d'etre for a gloss finish, along with the richer blacks.

I made no attempt at comparative measurements, but, subjectively, find FibaPrint to offer an almost ideal compromise between high gloss and moderate reflectivity. I find that I use glossy papers rarely, simply because though I love the colour saturation and deep blacks, I hate fighting reflections in the high gloss finish. So-called Semi-Matte or Luster papers offer a compromise, but suffer from the fact that they have that plastic "feel". This makes them much less attractive from a fine art salability point of view, though once behind glass this objection fades (as it were).

This new generation of fiber-based glossy papers now offer the fine art photographer a real alternative. High colour saturation and dMax along with the feel of a traditional photographic paper. Different than fine art matte papers, to be sure, but a really attractive alternative. And with a 300gsm weight, Fibaprint stands out when it comes to the look and feel side of the evaluation.

Beside the technical specs, the choice of printing papers are very much a matter of personal preference. There's little right or wrong, just individual choice. Innova F Fibaprint Gloss has really impressed me in the short time that I've been testing it. Be it enough to report, that after my sample box was empty I immediately placed an order for FibaPrint in several sizes. It's that good.

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Innova F-Type FibaPrint Gloss Ultra Smooth is available from a number of online resellers as well as local dealers. My experience is that most photographic retailers haven't a clue about fine art papers. They carry a selection of Epson, Canon, Kodak and maybe Ilford, and that's it. The great paper makers like Hahnemuhle, Crane, Innova, and Arches are ignored because typically the retailer doesn't know anything about this market segment, and just buys a limited selection of what the trade reps bring them. For this reason I am always happy to buy from reputable online stores.

June, 2006

 


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Concepts: Paper, Printing, Color, Fine art photography, Visual appearance, Coated paper, Glossmeter, Fine art

Entities: Crane, dMax, Canon, Babelcolor, Kodak, cellulose, Michael Reichmann, Epson, Pete Myers

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