The most beautiful paper to print on

November 23, 2012  •  5 Comments

As a kid, I had unusually advanced ambitions: B&W printing was for pussies, I decided. I wanted to make colour prints. And not just prints from colour negatives, oh no. I was a Kodachrome fanatic and if you were a real Kodachrome fanatic, it lead, as do all serious drugs, to mainlining something yet more serious: Cibachrome. Hard, metallic, glossy, contrasty, saturated, bang. Trouble is, doing that at home was pretty difficult and I rarely got the results I envisaged. But when the wind was in the right direction, wow... Kodachrome and Cibachrome together really, really rocked.

Learning to print digitally has led to a both a revelation and a reavaluation. Sure, sometimes I crave the sheer punch of Cibachrome but it's not available anymore and in any event my tastes have changed towards the subtle. A few years back I bought myself a 24" roll printer (HP Z3100) and when that eventually pissed me off too much, I changed to a Canon iPF3600. Both printers let you switch from matt to gloss printing without changing inks, an absolute prerequisite for me, but otherwise the results are pretty similar. And then I set about learning the new craft. Absolutely indispensable for this task was the Luminous Landscape video series, From Camera to Print

Like it says on the tin, that series teaches you how to calibrate the entire process from capture to final output, including calibration of every piece of hardware and software en route. It teaches you how to soft-proof and, most importantly, how to either make or find the correct ICC profiles for the paper and printer you intend to use.

Having learned all that gave me much greater confidence in the 'expensive-if-you-get-it-wrong' process of making large prints with the colour I want. Since I often make limited edition prints in series of between 10 and 25, consistency is vital too: I need to be able to get the same result from the same file over a period that might span several years.

That confidence has also encouraged me to experiment with a wide variety of different papers but pretty early on, I realised that one paper in particular got a very strong reaction from viewers. The most common reaction, with the right sort of image, is "that's not a photo is it? it can't be!". What is more, those are the images that sell at the best prices, most quickly. Sure there's a synergy between the paper and my style of image making, but the paper is quite certainly making a vital contribution to whatever I have achieved.

I want to add here that I am absolutely NOT a 'novelty printer'. I don't print on canvas, because a photo is not an oil painting and even if I wanted it to look like one, printing on canvas would just make it look like a photo printed on canvas. I have no desire to hide or disguise the photographic intent of the images I make. So my reason for liking this paper is not because it tricks viewers into imagining the image to be drawn or painted. No:  I like it because it makes the right sort of image look astonishingly but subtly lyrical. 

This paper is Hahnemuehle German Etching.

It suits landscapes more than anything, but not the sort of landscape where you want every last pixel of resolution to be leaping from the print. The paper doesn't throw information away, but it manages to be both accurate and ever so slightly impressionistic at the same time. Also, as a very matt paper, it doesn't make colour sing like Sondheim: rather, it's Strauss's Four Last Songs. Quiet, capable of swelling to loud, pregnant with richness rather than rich with bling. I find it especially great with images that have a limited colour palette or a muted tonality with some areas of rich colour, combined with fairly simple, graphical composition. For this reason it is also good for some sorts of studio still lives, of simple subjects simply shot and where complexity and depth are required rather than explosive impact. Here are four examples of images which look rather ho-hum on a computer screen but get a very positive reaction when printed on German Etching:

Near Laugagerdiskoli

Amberley across the Wildbrooks


balloon shots 1388-Edit-3 On the other hand, scenes with a lot of colour contrast are bad, as are any portraits other than very high key, soft contrast. Neither of the following would work well:

Beach Hut Bootcamp II


In truth, I wouldn't use this paper for any shot where the image looks immediately and obviously photographic. For that, I'd use either Canson Platine, or one of the Baryta papers. I also like Hahnemuehle Bamboo for some images. But German Etching is top of the pile for most of my work.
There's always a fly of some size in the ointment, though: this paper will block your blacks if you are not very careful, and is liable to blow your highlights before your raw converter histogram says they are blown. But it will also print very 'flat' unless you boost the contrast. For this reason it is vital to get the right profile from Hahnemuehle's website and to soft-proof the image carefully first. Even then, you'll be well served to make some small test prints first before committing to a full 24 incher. My technique with it is to boost mid-range contrast, increase clarity a touch, but make sure that the highlights and blacks are well protected. You'll need a file with great DR to pull this off to best advantage if you shoot contrasty scenes: ideally a Medium Format file or one from a D800. But scenes with a compressed tonal range also work very well, such as, for example, images shot in fog, mist, rain or snow. It's mainly a mood paper.
I print from Lightroom with Print Sharpening set to Matt Standard, and rendering intent to Perceptual. But I find the most accurate colours if you are printing an image rich in cyans and blues come from printing from the iPF Print Plugin for Photoshop. However, your printer and your desired outcome might require a different treatment.
Also, though the the paper is thick at 310 g/m it is also delicate. It buckles easily and that leaves a crease. It takes a while to lose its 'curl' if it has been tubed for delivery. And its surface is delicate, so don't ever touch it (before or after printing) and make sure that it is carefully covered with acid free tissue paper during transit.
The hassle really is worth the result. If you want to put some poetry into your images, give it a try. And there's no better paper for seasonal images such as moody snowscapes...
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5.Tim Ashley Photography
I'm not sure that 'deluding' is fair! I have no interest in what the paper was originally designed for - or indeed whether it still has that ability. What I care about is how it performs for my use. I have tried an awful lot of fine art matt papers and this is the one I like the most. The fact that it also has abilities beyond my needs is irrelevant, logically and practically, if no other paper matches it for my needs.

The question of archival abilities is entirely different. The paper has no acid content and a 'very low' OBA and, according to Hanny, 'guarantees archival standards'. Of course, we won't know for 100 years because the testing methodologies can't possibly mimic real life very well.
4.John Palmer(non-registered)
Hi there. You may be deluding yourself. Fact is, like many other manufacturers of 'artists papers', Hahnemuhle made heavy weight papers especially geared for etching papers. If you never made an etching, you need to be aware these etching papers are especially made to soak up much water, without the paper tearing apart. Do you need this for digital prints? Of course you don't. And while a host of other papers and ink combinations for digi-prints are possible, most of these prints may last no longer than around 100 years. How to attain archival prints? This question is undoubtedly most important if you want your work to survive for any length of time. Regards.
3.Vieri Bottazzini(non-registered)
Hello Tim,

recently, I gave a try (again!) to the whole HN line of papers to see if things changed with the new 4900 & 7900 series Epson and their HDR inks.

To me, German Etching was a close second to Museum Etching for both BW & colour prints; if you liked GE I'd strongly recommend you to try ME.

John, how are you? Good to see you here! Just wanted to add that HN Photo Rag Baryta & Photo Rag Pearl are my favourite non-mat papers. Both very very beautiful for both BW and colour.

Generally speaking, I think there is a point to be made when examining InkJet prints vs silver analog: I just look at them as two different art forms, they are too different to compare, especially if the original image is all native digital vs all native film. That said, I feel that the last Etching (Museum and German) with the last Epson HDR inks show a very appreciable increase in DMax and gamut versus the previous technology.

With all the best regards,

2.Tim Ashley Photography
Hi John,
I have to say that until I came across German Etching I had never liked matt paper. I had some as a sample pack and gave it a whirl and never looked back. It has totally changed my tastes and has also somewhat changed way I shoot in favour of those subjects that suit it! What it lacks in DMax it more than makes up for in subtlety and depth of another kind...
1.John Brewton(non-registered)
Hi Tim, I have never liked matt prints. For me they lack the look of traditional silver gelatin because the d-max just never gets there. Since most of your examples are color perhaps I should just keep my mouth shut. However, I do love the rendition of Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta and Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Pearl. As a matter of fact I believe when I run out of Baryta I will only order the Pearl. But I find your subject matter very interesting and so I comment.
As always, it is my opinion only. I really appreciate your findings and perceptions.
Most kind regards,
John Brewton
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