Fiber-base Gloss / Luster Fine Art papers compared

An Inkjet NEWS & TIPS article by Royce Bair for 2007 Jan 26


So what's the big deal about "fiber-base", anyway? To understand the importance of fiber-base, let's take a quick trip down memory lane:

PHOTO-INKJET HISTORY: Prior to the mid-1970's, virtually all photo lab papers were fiber-base. They were usually cotton papers or wood pulp papers with at least 25% cotton in them to withstand the long chemical development, fixing and washing process. In the mid-1970's photo paper manufacturers like Kodak realized they could greatly speed up the wet-lab process and conserve water by coating both sides of the paper with a water-resistant resin (later replaced with polyethylene) and then coating the image carrying emulsion on top of the resin coating (RC).

Photographers developed a love-hate relationship with RC papers -- they did greatly reduce wet-lab processing time, but many photographers hated the "haze" black & white prints seem to have when made on this paper, and the "plastic" feel of the prints. Despite this objection by the B/W purists, the RC improvement caught on universally for the wet-lab color print industry, mainly because few photographers made their own color prints and this was virtually an automated machine process.

Most B/W fine art photographers resisted this RC "improvement", and a niche industry continued to cater to and produce fiber-base B/W papers for this group. These prints continue to be made and marketed using such terms as "salon grade" or "fiber-base silver-gelatin" prints.

In the early years of photo inkjet development (1996 to 2000), most inkjet papers were fiber-base. Pioneering photographers and other artists kept complaining that they couldn't obtain the richness of their wet-lab photo prints, and whenever the user tried to increase richness and D-Max, the inkjet papers "cockled" (turned wavy) under the wet ink load. Manufacturers turned to the better micro-porous coatings onto RC papers to solve this problem, and quickly won the enthusiasm of most photographers. Epson's Premium Glossy Photo Paper was one of the first very successful RC inkjet papers in the year 2000. The RC barrier layer, coupled with the better micro-porous coating allowed for heavy ink loads, rich, deep colors, and higher D-Max's.

Despite this advancement, some photographer / artists still longed for a fiber-base inkjet paper that could reach the performance of these RC micro-porous papers. In the past 18 months, several inkjet paper coaters have been able to achieve this dream with the development of advanced micro-porous formulas that are double and even triple-coated onto a paper base, without the use of an RC barrier layer. Despite not having an RC barrier layer, the advanced coating on these papers can usually take the same ink load as the "premium" RC photo papers without cockling. These coatings usually have a luster or gloss finish to meet the needs of the fine art photo/artist.

TEST COMPARISONS. We tested three fiber-base gloss/luster fine art papers (100% cotton) and two fiber-base, "not-so-fine" (alpha-cellulose) papers. Our criteria for this comparison group was that the papers must have these two features:

  1. Must have a photo gloss or photo luster finish
  2. Must have a true fiber-base (no "RC" polyethylene barrier layer)

Comparison of base material, surface, D-Max, recommended inks, weight, thickness and price:

Paper Base Material Surface D-Max w/photo black d-Max w/matte black best ink to use comments weight (gsm) Thickness price / sq. ft.
PremierArt Platinum Rag 100% Cotton Luster 1.44 1.99 Matte Bk* Lowest luster & lowest D-Max of 5 papers 285 gsm 16 mil $2.56
Crane Museo Silver Rag 100% Cotton Luster 2.21 2.45 Photo Bk Nice luster, highest AVG D-Max of 5 papers 300 gsm 15 mil $2.24
Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl Alpha Cellulose Luster 2.01 2.11 Photo Bk Nice luster, brightest white base of 5 papers 285 gsm 15 mil $2.38
Innova FibaPrint (f-type) White Gloss 300 Alpha Cellulose Gloss 2.16 2.31 Photo Bk Rich Gloss, similar to air-dried "F-type" 300 gsm 14 mil $2.40
Ink Press Fiber Gloss Alpha Cellulose Gloss 2.22 2.38 Photo Bk Gloss very similar to a "Premium" paper 250 gsm 12 mil $1.65

*In our opinion, the PremierArt Platinum Rag's printing performance was much better using the Matte Black ink, and suffers very little from scuffing or scratching when using this ink. All of the other papers, while producing a higher D-Max with the Matte black ink, will scuff, scratch and smudge without a protective coating (i.e. PremierArt's Print Shield) when using the Matte Black ink, so we recommend using the Photo Black ink with these papers. Another exception was the Innova FibaPrint (f-type) White Gloss 300. The Innova was quite scuff and scratch resistant even when using the Matte Black ink (after having a few hours to dry). It could get by without a protective coating. Using PremierArt's Print Shield in combination the Matte Black ink over top of all of the papers (except the Ink Press Fiber Gloss, which benefited little by this application) produces some incredibly rich blacks, especially on the Crane Museo Silver Rag.

OTHER COMMENTS: The Ink Press Fiber Gloss performed more like a high gloss "Premium" paper with a plastic "RC" barrier layer. It looked more like a premium "photo" paper than a fine art paper, but without the "plastic" feel of the RC type papers. (Because all of these papers have a true fiber-base, you can print on the back of the papers, albeit the quality will not be too great, since there is no inkjet receptive coating.)

Our favorite truly "fine art" cotton photo paper was the Crane Museo Silver Rag; however, for something that matched the wet darkroom look of an "F-type" air-dried "silver gelatin" double-weight glossy print, nothing could beat the Innova FibaPrint (f-type) White Gloss 300 -- it was closer to this retro look than anything we're ever seen (although some may not like its slightly uneven, bumpy surface that appears under the right reflective light). The Hahnemuhle paper also looked nice, but closer examination showed micro-pooling or clumping of the ink droplets, producing a grainy look in some tonal areas.

FIBER-BASE: A 100% cotton base with no OBAs is considered very archival. Cotton's longer fibers typically make papers more tear-resistant than wood pulp papers. Alpha cellulose, a wood pulp fiber, it is also consider archival IF it is acid-free and lignin-free. The Hahnemuhle, Innova and Ink Press papers make this archival claim for their alpha cellulose based papers.

WHITENESS: Premier Platinum Rag and Crane Museo Silver Rag are probably the most archival of the papers tested, with no OBAs, and therefore have a more "natural", and less brilliant white than the other papers. The Innova FibaPrint (f-type) White Gloss 300 was a little brighter, the Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl even brighter (claiming 105% whiteness), and the Ink Press Fiber Gloss was the brightest.

DYE INK vs. PIGMENT INK: All of the D-Max numbers were obtained using Epson UltraChrome K3 pigment inks. Most dye inks will be less archival, but will produce a D-Max that is about 0.40 to 0.75 higher than the figures listed here. The Hahnemuhle claims that a D-Max of 2.88 is achievable when using some dye inks on their Fine Art Pearl paper (and we think that it might perform better with a dye ink than a pigment ink, because of the very slight ink clumping previously mentioned).

NOTE: The above article may have links to web pages when referring to certain inkjet products. While is NOT associated with, many of the articles found in this section originated from news letters, which were written by Royce Bair, a private consultant.


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