ILFORD GALERIE PRESTIGE PROFESSIONAL INKJET PHOTO RANGE
REVIEWED BY ERNESTO SANTOS
Since 1879 Switzerland based Ilford has been at the forefront of photographic media development. Unlike some other pioneering photographic companies who have struggled to maintain a solid foothold in an industry that has been transformed in the last twenty years, Ilford continues to steadfastly produce fine quality photographic film and print paper. Today as the industry continues to change at hyper-speed the Ilford brand has achieved almost legendary status. More importantly, as we have witnessed the almost total shift to digital photography and inkjet print making, Ilford professional print media is still a leader in this market particularly their Galerie line of print paper products. Now, Ilford is repackaging their Galerie inkjet papers into a more cohesive marketing design under the new Ilford Galerie Prestige range. Ilford recently sent me a sampling of papers under this new line for testing. Below you will find my impressions under a wide range of testing.
ILFORD GALERIE PRESTIGE
I have a long history with Ilford Galerie papers going back to my days with my old Epson 1280 inkjet printer using dye inks. In those days, when my enthusiasm far outweighed my printing experience, I would go through as many types of paper as I could get my hands on. While still learning the craft I soon found out that aside from a couple of Epson papers that worked well with dye inks it was a good idea to always kept a stash of Ilford Galerie Classic Pearl in 8.5x11 and 13x19 sizes. Naive as I was about fine art printing, I never the less thought I was in heaven. I could always rely on Classic Pearl to give me rich color and sharpness and the finish on the paper’s surface was just right for a luster paper.
Soon afterward I got an Epson 2200 and with it came the revolutionary change to pigment inks. That there was now a truly archival alternative for inkjet printing for the burgeoning digital photographers out there was a game changer. The immediate response of the print paper industry to the advent of pigment inks with an acceptable color gamut was to ramp up research and development. Not only did the variety of papers compatible with archival pigment inks explode but a few new companies came along to get their share of the market.
Ilford kept pace with this revolution with the release of Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl and Smooth Gloss papers. While similar to the Galerie Pearl series these papers have a different resin coating which restrict the spread of the ink dot to increase perceived color saturation and contrast. This is necessary since pigment particles do not have the same richness of color and the black inks have less density than those of dye inks.
As inkjet technology developed many people were dissatisfied with the choices in inkjet papers. They reminisced over the days of F-type fiber and fine art matte rag papers. While you could produce very good prints using the luster and glossy papers there was nothing available for making fine art prints like those from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. To meet that need Ilford, still under the Galerie line, introduced a fine art matte paper and their very popular Gold Fibre Silk. GFS is what is referred to as a baryta type paper using a cellulose fiber base with a layer of barium-sulphate under a top layer ink receptor. This paper was designed to match the old fine black and white papers used in the golden age of B&W printing. When Ilford was one of the first to release a baryta fiber paper it was met with open arms. Even today many prefer GFS over all the other baryta papers now available from several manufacturers. So it seems logical that Ilford has now repackaged their most successful papers into a new upgraded package distributed under the new Ilford Galerie Prestige brand. Based on the promotional materials I was provided the papers are for the most part the same great product but they are all now grouped together as a professional media range under a new brand. Without taking the spotlight away from Ilford I would just briefly mentioned that this is very similar to what Epson has done with their Signature Worthy brand. Anyway, back to Ilford. The papers that are officially part of the Galerie Prestige line are: GOLD FIBRE SILK, SMOOTH PEARL, SMOOTH GLOSS, SMOOTH LUSTRE DUO, SMOOTH HIGH GLOSS, SMOOTH FINE ART, and SMOOTH FINE ART CANVAS.
I spent the better part of two weeks testing these papers with the exception of Smooth Fine Art Canvas of which I was not provided samples. All images were printed using ICC paper profiles provided by Ilford on their website. If you download any of these profiles pay close attention to the nomenclature since it is cryptic and requires that you read through the provided README file. You must also make sure you read the online directions as some profiles are for the older versions of these papers. The key is to pay attention to the graphics on the box. I know, not the best way to distinguish them but that’s what you’ll have to do to get it right.
I used these papers on a wide variety of images from highly saturated color images and for black and white, to those with a lot of texture, and those with a soft look. I paid special attention to how well the papers translated accurate color to the page, retained a reasonable amount of detail and acuity, and whether there was noticeable artifacting such as metamerism, gloss differential, and bronzing. Concerning these three types of artifacts I’m happy to report that today’s modern inks, printers, and papers have virtually eliminated these problems. In all the test prints I made I did not find a single instance of any of these issues, except with one example when using Smooth Luster Duo, and that I will get into in more detail under the section for this paper in this review. Finally, I used four different Epson printers to perform my tests. I used a 9900, a 4900, a 3880, and an R1900. I decided to try all the printers at my disposal not for the sake of making things more complicated than they needed to be but so that I could 1) try three different inksets, and 2) to get a good feel for how these papers would perform under different feeding situations.
GOLD FIBRE SILK
Weight: 310 gsm
As mentioned in my introduction Gold Fibre Silk (GFS) is a baryta type paper, best described as a paper using a natural fiber based substrate with a layer of barium-sulphate to enhance contrast by providing a highly reflective base and a top coating as an ink receptor. The result of this design is a luxurious paper that feels great in the hand and resembles the old classic black and white papers so popular in the middle twentieth century. While I tested this paper with both color and black and white images I chose to provide this image of a small church in gulf coast town of Riviera, Texas - USA because it so perfectly illustrates the quality of this paper when used with the right photographs. GFS is capable of outstanding contrast levels and the specs support this. With a rated D-max of about 2.3 you can create prints where the blacks and lower quarter tones are rich while the three-quarter tones stand out as bright accents while still holding detail the entire range. This church provides this range of contrast easily. I first tried GFS when it was initially released and there was a slight warm tone to this paper. With this latest sample under the Prestige line it seems that this has been reduced just a bit. Some people object to warm papers and others are not at all bothered by it. One thing that does seem to trigger strong opinions is the use of optical brightening agents (OBA's) to mitigate the naturally present warm tone of fiber papers. GFS does not seem to use OBA's. I'm not so concerned about OBA's with modern papers used with modern pigment inks and quality frame glass. I've stated my position on this in previous articles. If you want to use a bright paper with OBA's because the image at hand looks best with a bright white base then use it. If you like a warm toned paper then there is nothing to worry about, period.
GFS presents what I think is an almost perfect blend of weight, luster, and contrast. It is a great B&W paper while also performing well with color images. In my testing I could not find anything that did not print well on this paper. One of the things that I find objectionable with some inkjet baryta papers is what I call the stippling on the paper’s surface. It seems that they all have this to varying degrees and in many cases the stippling disappears after the print is laid down. GFS has a very fine stipple that is hardly noticeable when the paper is blank and totally disappears when ink is applied.
I consider Gold Fibre Silk to be the finest paper in the Galerie Prestige line. It is very versatile and is as good with B&W as with color. When framed, images on this paper really stand out and seem to jump off the paper.
SMOOTH FINE ART
Weight: 190 gsm
When I first opened the package of 13x19 Smooth Fine Art I was immediately reminded of a watercolor paper. My personal experiences with other watercolor paper have not been stellar. I don’t use this type of paper because I never thought I could find a good use for this type of matte paper and I get such excellent results with other fine art papers that I just simply eliminated it from my stock. I was a little intrigued as to how this paper would perform. The finish on this paper is a rather textured “torchon” style that declares itself when in the hand. It’s a little bit jolting since the paper itself is very light and thin. There is definitely a tone to the paper as well. Because of these traits I was expecting to see that this paper would be fine for some images but probably not at all good for others. The examples I show here were chosen specifically to determine if this would be the case. The wildflowers image above has a very saturated palette and a lot of fine detail. The image below of the fort gate is almost Monotone with a lot of texture. I wanted to see if texture-on-texture would work here.
SFA passed my tests with flying colors. I think I finally found a watercolor paper that I can live with. Aside from the light weight of the paper I was very impressed how well this paper holds detail for a textured finish and how well colors kept their saturation levels. The tone of the paper seems to almost fade into the background and doesn’t interfere with the presentation of the image.
SMOOTH PEARL & SMOOTH LUSTRE DUO
Weight: 310 gsm
Weight: 280 gsm
Smooth Pearl is a highly versatile paper. It is the type of paper most people think of when they think of school portraits and wedding albums. It is the paper for every occasion when you want to play it safe. Smooth Pearl can also show a different side. I occasionally like to make B&W images on luster papers. The single requirement is that the luster surface be subtle and not so strong that the specular highlights interfere with the details in the image. When I make B&W prints I like to prepare my image with a high range of contrast and a lot of gradations of gray. When the image is right and the paper performs it can be inspiring. This is what I like about Smooth Pearl. It’s also why I also like to use it for portraits, especially for close in crops. Just as this paper can handle subtle changes in shades of gray it can resolve skin tones beautifully, particularly with women and children. Smooth Pearl is also very good at handling detail. I did not see any posterization effects which can kill the fine details. No signs of gloss differential and no shifting of color when viewed under different light sources.
Smooth Lustre Duo is a new product from Ilford. It is a true double-sided paper designed for albums, portfolios, photo books, and any other application where a double-sided print is required. It resembles Smooth Pearl in many ways except that I would categorize this paper as more of a semi-gloss or semi-matte paper. While it does have a luster finish it is not as strong as Smooth Pearl. Because this paper is
double-sided you can expect slightly lesser performance than Smooth Pearl and the other traditional single-sided papers. I tested this paper with some highly saturated images of wildflowers. When I soft proofed these shots I saw significant color shifts as some of the intense color was out of the color gamut of the paper/ink combination. When I ran the prints some of the detail in the flowers was lost and no amount of tweaking was able to improve on this. This is not a necessarily a limitation of the paper because it was obvious that the source image was highly saturated. But I do want to caution readers that this paper is not able to perform to the higher standards of single-sided media. This is not to say that a true double-sided paper of this quality is not a welcomed option. It performs very well with less demanding subjects.
Weight: 290 gsm
Ilford Galerie Prestige Smooth Gloss is another paper in the Prestige series that surprised me. This paper has just the right weight to it and the gloss finish is not at all imposing. While glossy papers for inkjet printing sounds like a good idea many times it just doesn’t work out as intended. Some of the glossy papers I have seen in the past tend to suffer from surface coatings that can cloud, some have a tendency to show fine micro scratches, or they tend to be susceptible to displaying an opaque sheen when the print is viewed at an angle. And of all the types of inkjet media, glossy papers suffer the most from gloss differential. This is why I was so surprised to see this paper perform so well. This paper holds details like I have rarely seen. If you look at the sample image above I can tell you that the print I am looking at as I write this shows every minute detail of the corrosion and pitting of the wrought iron door handle. The wood grain is nice and sharp as is the detail of the lock plate. I would not hesitate to use this paper when I need a glossy look.
SMOOTH HIGH GLOSS
Weight: 215 gsm
When I received the pack of sample papers from Ilford I noticed this paper and wondered why they would send me two glossy papers and why Ilford would be offering more than one. When I finally opened the package my questions were immediately answered. This is not like a typical resin coated photo paper. This is more like a film. It is extremely glossy, thin and flexible, and exciting! I really liked this stuff. I know, I probably sound like a hypocrite right about now. I’ve droned on and on about how I am not a big fan of glossy media. But I have to tell you this film really captured my imagination. Once I got a good look at it I knew I needed to print a night scene with deeply saturated lights with a glowing characteristic. The image above of the Las Vegas strip combined with Smooth High Gloss simply bowled me over. This paper is just made for commercial applications or where you need a paper that will make a high impact. I was very impressed by the D-max and gamut of this paper as well. I printed a few other images and again, like the rest of the Prestige papers, the performance was outstanding. If there is anything that I would say might be a negative of this paper is the surface of this film. Although I did not see any damage in the prints I made I can see that this media could possibly be a little delicate. I would recommend that this film be either protected in a sleeve or framed as soon as possible.
I think Ilford has come up with a great set of papers to group into their new Galerie Prestige line of professional inkjet media. Some are old favorites but I appreciate the efforts here to add some new products to help the professional provide options to their customers. While Ilford has not been known for fine art matte papers they do have a solid contender with their Smooth Fine Art paper. Gold Fibre Silk has long been recognized as possibly the best baryta paper available and that continues. Their resin coated papers perform exceptionally well and to now have a true two-sided luster paper in the Smooth Lustre Duo is a nice option for the printer/photographer. And if you feel like trying something totally new Smooth High Gloss is guaranteed to impress. I highly recommend these papers. As is always the case, testing and reviewing photo papers is such a subjective exercise. I could spend hours talking about the technical aspects of the performance of these papers, but that is not what print making is about. It’s the experience of combining tactile sensations, the joy of viewing the print through your own eyes, and going through the process of making prints and discovering the personality of the paper just like when you meet someone new for the first time. With that being said I recommend trying some sample packs, download the ICC profiles you need from Ilford library of profiles and have a ball. In the end I think you might just be adding another paper to your inventory.
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