Part 2 Epson's new cotton-fibred fine art media Hot & Cold Press
Some facts about the Epson fine art media based on cotton fiber
At the photokina 2010 fair Epson presented a new generation of top-class fine art media, entering competition with established third-party offerings. It is a quartet of acid-free hot and cold pressed media fitted with and without UV-active brightener. This leads to a two by two application matrix:
- Hot Press Bright: plain white smooth surface with UV-active brightener
- Cold Press Bright: plain white textured surface with UV-active brightener
- Hot Press Natural: plain white smooth surface without brightener
- Cold Press Natural: plain white textured surface without brightener
When I say “plain white” it means a very slightly warm white which has nothing in common with typical radiant white office paper. The whitepoint of the new media is pretty close to conventional wet-chemistry photo paper. The brightener comes into effect as soon as unfiltered daylight hits the surface. This means, in presentation environments where the illumination spectrum contains little to no UV, the brightener is of no benefit. Therefore, if you wish to mount your print in a frame behind glass or acrylic, you might concentrate on the “Natural” media since regular glass filters most of the daylight UV fraction. In the absence of UV light, there is no visible difference in white point between “Natural” and “Bright” versions.
The bright media contain agents acting similar to those in hot wash powders – lift the subjective brightness by converting invisible UV light into visible slightly blue-ish white light. Of course this works only for areas that are not or just very lightly coated by ink. This means, the end user may to a certain degree control the image appeal by selecting “Bright” media for locations where UV components are available in the illumination. A daylight lit gallery comes to mind, whereas under pure incandescent illumination the whitepoint enhancement will not become effective and you will not be able to distinguish “Bright” from “Natural” media.
Besides such technical considerations which certainly have their reasoning, I for one would rate the artistic aspect much higher anyway. For instance, I generally prefer the slightly warm appeal of the natural media over the bright counterparts for black-and-white prints; portraits exhibiting the wealth of human nature printed on cool white paper are not much to my liking. I think the temper of the image should always benefit from the character of the media.
To make life a little easier Epson can provide a neat and very instructive tool for media selection: the Media Performance Guide. This essentially is a swatchbook comprising a set of fine art media samples that enables evaluating the appeal of media under different light or at different locations. You can fan it up and walk through the room and watch how the whitepoint and reflection characteristics of the paper change with location, illumination, wall colour. Very conclusive. In the following picture you see the swatchbook resting on a print of Hot Press Bright which was illuminated by a mixture of daylight and fluorescent lamps. Located next to the media edge is the visibly cool bright sample of Enhanced Matte Paper, counterclockwise followed by CP Natural, CP Bright, HP Natural and Hot Press Bright.
The paper gauge of all four new media is 330 g/m² which are the same as for the existing top-of-range Epson media. For comparison, normal office paper features 80 g/m². Higher gauge media are not just heavier; they retain shape and flatness better and let you feel their value. This is quite of importance for mounting the prints, the better the shape is conserved the better the impression of the presentation.
All four are certified for Digigraphy. They are acid-free and qualified for archival storage. Both surfaces are coated in order to enhance scratch resistance and suppress abrasion. Hence it is possible to print on both surfaces in equal quality. In direct comparison to the established Ultra Smooth Fine Art (USFA) paper the advantage of the coating is striking: USFA feels rough and dusty and is more susceptible to accidental abrasion of black ink. The black UltraChrome ink formulation has been optimized for maximum black point and lacks the adhesion-promoting resin that forms part of the colour and grayscale inks. As a consequence, there is an elevated risk for undesired separation of black ink particles which means you really should carefully inspect and clean your media from dust on the surface prior to printing B/W in particular. This risk is dramatically reduced by the coating, which not only enhances surface smoothness but helps the adhesion of ink droplets. At this point the new media offer a significant advantage over USFA.
The following screen capture depicts the increase in gamut for Cold Press Bright (black line) in relation to Watercolor Radiant White (white line) and AdobeRGB (grey line) expressed in relative colorimetric rendering projection view (a feature of Quato iColor Display 3.6 calibration software):
The three other new media perform almost identical. The bottom line is – they all provide improved gamut.
I observed two remarkable similarities versus media which I had available in the course of the R2880 testing: Hot Press Bright is close to Ultra Smooth Fine Art and Cold Press Bright relates to Watercolor Radiant White, the one I liked most so far. The similarities concern the texture and the appeal. The more you look at the details, the more advance the new media looks over the known ones. For instance, Watercolor is simply too light and thin to seriously compete against Cold Press. Watercolor distorts with ink deposition, Cold Press maintains shape. USFA has a vulnerable surface whereas Hot Press is protected by coating. In my opinion the four Press media provide more than just closing a gap in the Epson portfolio. Everything that I did not like too much about USFA and Watercolor has been overcome. The Press media are superior in every respect.
The one fact that holds true for all kinds of media I have exercised with so far is drying time. Within 24h after printing the ink undergoes some sort of settling which yields a small but visible improvement in details and tonality of shadow areas.
Talking about media selection is of course a walk on thin ice. In conjunction with the Pro3880 and the UltraChrome K3 ink there is only negligible difference in gamut between all four Press media. Hence, media selection may solely be driven by artistic considerations. Whitepoint and Texture are the only “technical” criteria to observe. For myself, I created a simple selection matrix:
- Subjects where bright white must be rendered as bright white: Hot/Cold Press Bright
- Subjects of warm/natural character or display in absence of daylight: Hot/Cold Press Natural
- B/W with cool temper: Cold Press Natural
- Portraits in Colour or B/W: Cold Press Natural
- Night scenes or HDR photos: Hot Press Bright
- Technical or vividly coloured subjects: Hot Press Bright
Concerning the whitepoint, most images are probably self-explanatory. White clouds as seen at daytime want to shine brightly when printed.
|Depth in the limestone stairs|
A portrait shot under available light benefits more from the texture. The print of the Playboy-Model Mia, a candid shot taken during a public stage presentation of photokina 2010, appears very alive since the Cold Press texture enhances the 3D impression.
|Playboy-model Mia at Photokina 2010|
I found that a lot of subjects draw benefit from the texture of the Cold Press media. For instance I printed the above Yosemite landscape picture (courtesy of my colleague Harald Quix) on both Hot Press Bright and Cold Press Bright and choosing one over the other was a draw. Cold Press enhanced the waterfall structure but gave a slightly nervous appeal to the blue parts of the sky whereas Hot Press rendered the sky very naturally but let the waterfall and mountains look flat.
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