The first step I pursued in printing our work ourselves was to go through a sizable paper test. Thankfully, most of the quality paper manufactures have put out sampler packs for just such occasions. I grabbed papers from Hahnemühle, Moab, and Canson. I had been doing a little printing on a number of Epson papers already so I felt I had an okay grasp of their products. Our work has two main aspects that I wanted to make sure the paper could handle: dark blacks, and fine details especially in the shadows.
I found that any kind of deep gloss, while accentuating the blacks, would interrupt the viewing in a number of situations. This is also one of the reasons I was looking for a solution that didn’t require putting the print behind glass or plexi. I also wanted to have the audience experience similar to viewing a painting — another reason for a rich paper and no glass. I knew that the second part of this equation was that the print/paper would need to take a varnish (varnishing will be covered in a separate write up).
For my sampling, I took a couple of hero areas of our works that I knew would flex the muscles of the paper and prepared a test print, and then I went to town. As a baseline, I used each paper’s profile for my test printer, an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (the test papers are 8.5″ x 11″), switching between photo and matte blacks as needed. The breadth of papers available was quite enjoyable to see. There were good textures (and some I felt over-pronounced), and a real range of responses to our work.
The first realization was that I could not go with any kind of textured paper. Straight on lighting and viewing were fine, but any kind of off-axis presentation or lighting quickly diminished the work with shadows. The texture didn’t help hold the detail as well as I felt it was competing for the eye’s attention. Also, to hold up to the dark details, there needed to be some kind of sheen to the paper — even the best matte paper while just being able to get dark enough in the blacks couldn’t hold the exposure in the knee — the shadow areas quickly fell off. Some level of printing adjustments helped with the matte papers, but that would translate to a ton of rework and test printing to get it close, but not as good as the original.
One of the earlier papers I had picked up at Flax one day was a pack of Lasal Exhibition Luster 300. I must admit that part of my decision was cost based, as it was half the price of the Epson paper I was using. I liked how it performed, but wanted to be diligent in my search for the best presentation with our debut solo show on the horizon. It was indeed this paper that went the darkest, and held the details with a very low sheen level. And, it was readily available to accommodate last-minute printing requirements so I wouldn’t have to keep too much stock on hand.
Another fun paper that stood out in all this testing was also from Moab — their Slickrock Metallic. The coating has a metallic luster to it that is quite lovely. Stacey called it that this would be the perfect paper for the low-light, strong contrast nude series that I had been shooting. Was she ever right, as the negative spaces of the body’s highlights jump right off the paper and add an unexpected depth and forward dimension to the printed pieces — complimenting the work and letting the live presentation be extra complex. One of these will be hanging at this year’s APA SF Something Personal.