Black and white inkjet printing has changed significantly over the past decade in terms of the papers and inks available and the quality of the end result. Modern Baryta or ‘Baryta type’ Fine Art papers can yield prints with deeper blacks and excellent tonal gradation that are often more akin to traditional silver gelatin darkroom prints. As I recently started making my own prints again after quite a few years, I‘ve had a bit of catching up to do, in particular over which Fine Art papers I would choose to use for my black and white prints. While there are numerous reviews of individual papers available, comparisons between specific papers are harder to find. However, I’ve had a really useful correspondence with San Diego based photographer Joe Smith, who recently published a comparison of black and white printing on several Hahnemühle Fine Art papers, which prompted me to write up this comparison. Like Joe, my aim here is to find a Fine Art paper that will help me maintain a consistent look and feel to my images. What follows is subjective and purely my own impressions of each of the papers and how they relate to that aim, but by writing them down I hope they might be of use to others.
True Baryta papers have a barium sulfate layer applied to a photo paper before the ink receiving layer, as in traditional darkroom papers. They have some level of sheen and are generally known for having a high DMAX enabling them to show more detail in dark shadows and bright highlights making them ideal for wide tonal range black and white prints. Two of the papers used are true Baryta papers: The Hanemühle Fine Art Baryta and the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta the others might be described as ‘Baryta type’ papers, whatever that means!
The printing for this comparison was done on a Canon Pixma Pro 10-s printer using Canon Lucia pigment inks. The test image I used is one produced by Keith Cooper of Northlight Images based in Leicester, whose site has detailed reviews of several of the papers used here. Colour management was handled by Adobe Lightroom using custom icc profiles provided by UK company Fotospeed for the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta and Fotospeed Gloss Art Fibre and generic profiles for the other two papers. My preference is not to use the black and white mode of Canon printers.
In all, this comparison involved four papers, one from Hanhemühle (Fine Art Baryta) and three from Fotospeed (Platinum Baryta, PlatinumGloss Art Fibre and Platinum Legacy Gloss). The images below were photographed under a 5500K daylight lamp.
Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300
£50-£65 for 25 A3 sheets
A smooth Baryta coated paper with no OBAs that has the feel of a traditional darkroom photographic print. The smoothest of the papers, it has a level of sheen greater than the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, similar to the Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. When viewed in daylight next to the Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta and Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre it also has a slightly warmer tone, though still cooler than the Fotospeed Legacy Gloss. At 300 gsm, a decent amount of heft but not too heavy as to require any additional margin when printing. Image sharpness and detail was the best of all the papers and it gives excellent shadow detail and deep blacks reflecting its reported high DMAX.
Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta 325
£94-£100 for 25 A3 sheets
A 100% alpha-cellulose Baryta coated paper paper that contains OBAs with a distinct texture and a lovely fine art paper feel when holding the print. The texture is more pronounced that the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre and the level of sheen is similar to the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. When viewed in daylight next to Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, the latter has a slightly warmer tone, indeed the tone of this paper is similar to the Fotospeed Gloss Art Fibre. At 325 gsm, it has a decent heft and I felt the use of a wide margin to reduce the risk of head strike might be necessary. Shadow detail was very similar to the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta and marginally better than the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, all three had similar levels of highlight detail.
Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre 300
£54-£67 for 25 A3 sheets
A 100% alpha-cellulose paper that contains OBAs with a subtle texture and a lovely fine art feel when holding the print. The texture is less pronounced than on Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta as is the overall level of sheen, indeed this paper has the lowest sheen of all the papers and might better be described as a semi-matte paper. When viewed in daylight next to Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, the latter has a slightly warmer tone. At 300 gsm, a decent amount of heft but not too heavy as to require any additional margin when printing. Slightly more detail in the very light tones than Fotospeed Platinum Baryta 300, but not quite as much detail in very dark tones.
Fotospeed Platinum Legacy Gloss 325
£56-£70 for 25 A3 sheets
A 100% cotton paper containing no OBAs with a subtle texture and has a lovely fine art feel when holding the print. The texture is less pronounced than on either Fotospeed Gloss Art Fibre or Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta while the level of sheen is similar to the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. When viewed in daylight this paper has the warmest tone of all four papers. At 325 gsm, it has a decent heft but did not require any additional margin when printing. Highlight detail was as good the other papers, however, while it gave deep blacks there was some loss of detail in the shadows which seemed a bit crunched up compared to the other papers. Indeed, this was the only paper where I struggled to discern shadow detail in the last 10mm of the detail test strip in the test image perhaps suggesting it would be well suited to softer images.
Conclusions and personal preferences
Choosing a paper for black and white printing is, in the end, a matter of personal preference and whether the paper suits the style of prints you want to make. Fine Art papers are expensive, often 2-3 times the price of a regular photo paper. For that money, I feel they have to deliver not just in terms of image quality but equally in the overall look and feel of the finished print. For a smooth ‘darkroom’ like print, it is hard to beat the Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. Fotospeed Platinum Legacy gloss may work well for softer images, however, I find its tone a little too warm and personally, I’d be more likely to use a matte paper for such images.
Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre or Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta seem to suit the style of images I produce and both papers have a beautiful fine art feel when holding a print I the hand, something I think distinguished them from the otherwise excellent Fotospeed Platinum Baryta. As I like to present my prints in folio boxes as well as mounting them, feel is an important consideration. Having printed a number of images on each, my personal preference is for the Fotospeed Platinum Gloss Art Fibre, its more subtle texture and lower sheen winning out over the Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. I’ve found it produces prints that have smooth tonal gradations and hold detail in both shadows and highlights.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!