For those printing digital fine-art prints, the buzz-word for the last six months has been baryta. Without getting technical (I couldn't if I tried!) baryta is a substance found in traditional darkroom paper, which has now been added to a number of digital (inkjet) fine-art papers in order to improve performance, and attempting to get closer to the look of traditional darkroom prints while keeping the advantages of digital printing.
Since I had been preparing for a number of shows in the past six months, I did not feel like experimenting, but today I decided to sit down and test a few paper samples I'd collected.
I am not a professional reviewer, so I am not going to go into detail here, I'm just going to give my first impressions. Also, I have not yet tested Epson Exhibition Fiber.
I used the same traditional test print for all papers. This print puts papers through a good workout, and usually exposes any weakness a paper may have. I used the manufacturer's profiles and recommended paper settings. All prints were made on my Epson 3800 printer.
This test image is available here.
As a baseline, I printed a sheet of Ilford Smooth Pearl Paper. This paper prints much like Epson Premium Luster, and I get consistently good, predictable, trouble-free results with this paper. It looked very good–sharp detail, pleasing bright colors, and a pleasing, subtle, pearl surface.
Next, I printed a sheet of Hahnemuhle Baryta Glossy Fine Art. This paper truly feels nice in the hand, and as I am looking for a paper to use in a Boxed Set of prints, this is important. The print itself had a nice, pleasing texture. The print quality was not too different from the Pearl, but overall it had a more "fine-art" feel and look. I was impressed.
Next came the Harman Baryta Gloss. I really was rooting for the Hahnemuhle at this point, but when I set eyes on the Harman, I was stunned. My first impression was that the paper simply disappeared and let the photograph shine through. Whereas I first enjoyed the texture of the Hahnemuhle, now it annoyed me! The Harman paper simply displayed better sharpness, color, blacker blacks, whiter whites and smoother textures. And despite its name, the surface is not glossy, it simply disappears! In the hand it does not have the sophisticated "fine–art" feel as the Hahnemuhle has, but one can't have everything.
Next came the Ilford Gold Fiber Silk. To be brief, it is an exceptionally pleasing and neutral paper, and at half the price of the others, it has a lot going for it. The surface has minimal texture. I would be pleased to use this paper, and perhaps with a custom profile it would yield even better results.
To round things off, I printed a sheet of Epson Premium Gloss paper. I wanted to be sure that my favorable impression of the Harman gloss was not simply because I am not accustomed to the more dynamic look of a gloss surface. As expected, the Epson Premium Gloss had a punchy, high-gloss look with bold colors and outstanding sharpness and detail. It also has a thin, cheap, plastic feel, and the gloss surface is very intrusive and distracting.
In summary, the Harman wins by a knockout! Admittedly this is just a quick test and a first impression, but rarely have I been so impressed by a paper. I simply hope that my first impressions hold up when I print an entire portfolio-- sometimes certain images, tones, or textures can prove difficult for a given paper.
I would like to test the Innova Fiba-Print gloss paper and the Epson Exhibition Fiber, two papers that have rave reviews by some photographers. For now, I have found an exceptional paper with the Harman Baryta, and am very pleased!