Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper
Along with the introduction in the spring of 2002 of the Epson 2200 (2100), 7600 and 9600 printers and their Ultrachrome pigment inks, Epson also introduced two new papers. The first, Enhanced Matte, is simply Archival Matte with a new name. The second, Velvet Fine Art Paper is brand new.
This is a heavy and stiff paper that is ideally suited to making — what else — fine art prints.
The specs are... a weight of 260g/m2, with 19 ml thickness. It has an ISO brightness of 94%, and opacity of 96%. It is made from 100% acid free cotton rag. It comes in two sizes; 8.5X11" and 13X19".
Printing the Whiter Side
Epson advises that the proper side of the paper to print on is the "whiter side". Well, neither I nor anyone I've shown the paper to can see any real difference in whiteness between the print side and the back.
What I've found is that the best way to identify the print side is to rub the paper between the thumb and forefinger. The slightly rougher side is the print side.
Samples of this paper were made available to dealers and reviewers several months before release. The paper that is now shipping is quite different. It is whiter and has a more prominent texture. Compared to Archival Matte it is a bit yellower, and of course has a slightly rougher texture.
The good news is that while the texture is visible, it doesn't impinge on the image. In other words, it doesn't impose itself on the subject of the image. This is one of the best fine art papers that I've yet seen for ink jet printing, and the fact that it's optimized for Epson's Ultrachrome inks is a bonus.
Feeding The Printer
You can not use this paper with the normal paper feed. You must use the manual rear feed on the rear of the 2200 printer. This is because of the thickness of the paper.
Here's where Epson falls down (again) in supporting the Mac platform. Firstly, printing on thick paper fed through the manual feed slot is not supported under OS X. (Update: OS X 10.2 does support this now). Secondly, even under OS 9.2 there is no warning or advice when you discover that the paper setting for Velvet paper is grayed out and therefore unavailable. Epson apparently expects you to somehow intuit (or learn here) that Velvet paper is only available as a selection when manual feed is selected in the printer driver. On the PC if you select Velvet paper and the driver is not set to the manual feed slot a warning message pops up. What's with Epson and the Mac? Their lack of full support is very narrow-sighted in my opinion given that a great many imaging pros are dedicated Mac-heads.
Note that there is a very specific procedure for loading paper through the rear manual feed slot, so be sure to read and follow the directions in the manual.
While the heft and thickness of the paper is very appealing, and image quality when used with Matte Black ink is excellent, the real downside of this paper is its delicacy. Epson advises letting prints sit for 24 hours before handling or placing another print on top of them, but even after this length of time the surface is very delicate and susceptible to flecking and scuff marks.
This problem is accentuated when Matte Black ink is used.
Few fine art papers are immune from this, but if you haven't used such a paper before you need to be aware of this drawback.
If you like heavy textured fine art papers that Epson Velvet Fine Art will likely be your cup of tea. If you haven't yet tried them then buy a package of 8.5X11" Velvet and give it a try — especially with Epson's Matte Black ink on an Epson 2200.
I need to experiment a bit more, but I expect that I'll be using Velvet from now on for my exhibition prints. I'll just have to be careful to guard against scuffing and abrasion between when the print emerges from the printer and delivery to my favourite framing shop.