One of the practical pieces of advice that Wendy gave me in my final tutorial was to test out different papers for printing my final portfolio for assessment. Up until now I have printed almost everything for OCA assessment myself using my home printing setup. I have a mid-range Canon Pixma inkjet printer capable of printing up to A3+ and using ICC printer profiles for specific papers. I used this for some of my commercial printing work over the last few years too. However, I agreed with Wendy’s advice that I shouldn’t just default to printing on the usual paper and that I should test out a range of options including some which I have never previously considered.

I have used theprintspace in London for some of my commercial printing over the last few years and always been very pleased with their results. However, I’ve always used the same paper from them for client work (C Type Fuji Gloss) and wanted to test out new options, including some of the giclée papers. So for this test printing exercise I used theprintspace for trying out four new papers in addition to two Canon papers that I had at home.

Preparing a test strip

The first step was to create a test strip file. For this I extracted strips of six of the final portfolio images, plus sample text, and laid them all out in a Photoshop file set to print at 300dpi at A4 size.

Test strip

A few notes:

  • I selected the six images where I felt that the colour reproduction would be most important – either specific colours (sky, leaves etc) I particularly wanted to get right, or images with the widest mix of colours close together
  • Text is critically important to get right (another piece of advice from Wendy) – it needs to be sharp, strong and deep black; blurriness or greyness in the text will be much easier to spot than similar issues in the photographic portion of the prints
  • I printed at smaller than the planned final A3 size to minimise costs, to be honest – but the images and text were at their final printed A3 size, not scaled down and therefore properly representative size-wise (again, particularly important for the text)

Criteria

I needed to judge the papers against a few different criteria, some less obvious than others. The specific use case here is assessors handling images – taking them out of the portfolio box, maybe holding them, maybe moving them around a table – and so the criteria is different to prints that would be behind glass and mounted on a wall to view face-on. This target viewing experience adds specific considerations which ultimately made my decision for me.

  • Colour reproduction: to closely match what I have been working with on-screen, which is what I consider to meet my intent with the images
  • Paper handling: a combination of paper texture and weight – how the print feels to hold
  • Reflectiveness: I’ve been advised by previous tutors that the specific viewing experience for assessors involves unavoidable overhead lighting, and the prints are generally laid on a table and viewed top-down – so glossy paper is not advised (I still included one in my test, more out of curiosity than anything else)

Now a brief review of each paper type and my final decision.

Canon Photo Plus Glossy II

This is a consumer paper and not one I actually intended to use, but simply one I had lying around at home and so decided to use as a basic benchmark. Any paper that couldn’t look as good as a consumer paper wouldn’t pass the test.

  • Pro:
    • Bright and clear colours
    • Good rendition of black text
  • Con:
    • Quite reflective
    • A little flimsy to hold
  • Verdict:
    • Surprisingly good!
    • Not intended for use in this instance but a surprisingly high bar for a benchmark / consumer paper

Canon Photo Paper Pro Luster

The second of my home print tests is on a paper I’ve used for most of my previous OCA work. It’s one of Canon’s professional range and it has a semi-gloss finish.

  • Pro:
    • Good sharp black text
  • Con:
    • Colours disappointingly dull! Despite using the official Canon ICC profile on a Canon printer
  • Verdict:
    • For some reason this time around this paper and printer combination is not delivering as expected; I have changed computer and upgraded Lightroom since last using the paper, but the printer and inks are the same as ever – so I can’t quite pin down why the results are so sub-optimal this time. Maybe the printer itself needs attention?
    • Even though it would have been great if this had have been the best paper (not least cost-wise!), I cannot recommend it at the moment – the consumer Glossy alternative was better than these ended up

Epson Semi Gloss

The first of theprintspace tests is on a giclée paper described as “A great all-round paper, chosen for its photographic aesthetics, vibrant colour reproduction, high contrast and robust feel.”

  • Pro:
    • Good blacks
    • Feels nice and thick in the hand
    • Only very slightly reflective
  • Con:
    • I found the colours a little subdued compared to other papers, despite the blurb
    • As seen in the photo above, the paper is very bendy! Though it feels sturdy in the hand, on the table it bows madly, even after flattening
  • Verdict:
    • The bendiness makes it a no

Fuji Flex

The wild card, this. It’s a C-type paper and it is definitely glossy but I still wanted to give it a try out of curiosity. It boasts “a warm base colour and an ultra-high gloss finish, giving luxurious rich colours. Very deep blacks and high visual contrast”.

  • Pro:
    • Probably the best colour reproduction of the lot, really accurate and clear
    • Extremely good black text reproduction
  • Con:
    • As reflective as I’d feared
    • Very plasticky feel
    • Oddly noisy to handle! Sounds like a wobble board. Very distracting
  • Verdict
    • A shame about the plasticky feel and the wobble noise as I actually really liked the image reproduction – I can see myself using it for other purposes
    • But it fails the assessor handling test, so it’s a reluctant no

Fuji Matt

The second C-type paper tested is the least glossy one available and described as “coated with a slightly stippled texture giving a very natural photographic finish with subtle colour”.

  • Pro:
    • Good quality, feels sturdy in the hand
    • Minimal reflection, without feeling ‘flat’ – good balance
  • Con:
    • Colours came out a little too dark compared to the others
  • Verdict:
    • Not bad but beaten by a couple of other papers
    • So it’s a no

Hahnemühle Pearl

This is an almost card-like fine art paper described as follows: “The satin finish of the resin coating gives depth to the image which combined with the texture and vibrant colour reproduction give the image the feel of an oil painting”.

  • Pro:
    • Very robust – thickest paper tested (285gsm)
    • Lovely texture, really nice to handle
    • Good colours, best reproduction of the matt papers
    • Very white whites
    • And very black blacks
    • No reflection
  • Con:
    • Hard to find fault but it does have a slight lateral bend as shown above, but nowhere near as pronounced as the Epson, and should flatten out better due to the different paper type
  • Verdict:
    • The clear winner here
    • It just feels like a fine art paper – all the others felt like photo papers to one degree or another
    • It makes each image seem like an artwork in itself, not just a photo in a portfolio, if that makes sense

Result

I’ve ordered all 15 of my final portfolio images on A3 Hahnemühle Pearl. It’s not cheap, but I strongly feel it’s worth the slight premium over the other papers.