Review: Hahnemühle’s New Photo Silk Baryta

Detail of Young Cowboys on Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta.

* UPDATE (June 8, 2016): I have been told directly by Hahnemühle that this paper is not intended to be as archival as other baryta papers. This changed my Zone Rating to a Zone VIII instead of Zone X.

 

Ask my students. I’m a tough guy to impress. I have yet to find a perfect anything, including cameras, printers, paper…well, anything.

So when I find a product that causes me to step back and rave, it’s a rare occasion. But it happened this time.

I’m a fan of matte fine art papers; Hahnemühle’s Museum Etching and Photo Rag are my general favorites. So when Carol Boss at Hahnemühle asked me to try their Photo Silk Baryta 310gsm, I was admittedly skeptical. After all, it’s a luster paper, and I have always loved matte paper for black and white performance. Soft textures, deep blacks.

But I like Carol a lot, so I said okay. I’ll try it. And boy, am I eating my words. Read on to see why.

Before I continue, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers such as Hahnemühle, Red River, Epson, Canson or Moab, please do so using the links on this blog. Dick Blick Art Materials provides all the papers listed except for Red River, which provides its paper direct. Whenever you purchase by clicking through from this blog to these sites, it helps pay for all the materials, ink, time and technology I need in order to provide you with these posts. Thanks in advance.

Introduction

So, as I noted above, I’m a big fan of matte and fine art papers. Luster papers, on the other hand, with their Walmart-y photo lab feel, have always rubbed me the wrong way. Go matte, go fine art, go gloss, or go home. I was very, very skeptical of a photo luster paper, and I can be awfully stubborn (just ask my wife). But I respect—and like—Carol Boss a great deal, so I said, “Sure, let’s try it.”

The paper has a smoother luster surface than I’m used to; it’s still a luster paper, but it feels like the old Agfa or Ilford papers on which I cut my teeth in darkrooms early in my photographic youth. I miss those papers, because no inkjet papers I’d seen had come close. Until this one. It has feel, expression, and subtlety. Its glare is minimal–a nice feature in the normally-nasty luster glare world.

Moreover, because it’s a photo paper, it can be sheet fed, despite its heavy, 310gsm weight. That means it’s easier to use for daily test images and the like, a characteristic that fine art papers lack for Epson printers (the Epson wide format printers can’t do smaller prints in fine art papers, period).

I don’t know about the fade expectancy, as it is too new for Wilhelm Research to have any results for it; however, since it’s a baryta, I’d expect it to have similar lifespan to other types (about 80–105 years under UV glass, away from direct sunlight).

See Table 01 for the full details on the paper, and then let’s move on to the method for this test.

Table 01. Paper Detail Table
Weights Thickness Surface Material Acid Free Optical Brighteners Buffered Whiteness
Hahnemühle Photo Rag Bright White 310gsm .312 mm Luster 100% Alpha;-cellulose Yes Yes Yes 95

 

Method

Figure 01. My Zone System–RGB–Lab chart.
Figure 01. My Zone System–RGB–Lab chart.

I test papers in the same way every time. I print my photo zones file (see Figure 01) from Photoshop to my Epson Stylus Pro 3880, and the first print on 4×6″ test paper is a control print. I do this by selecting File > Print > Print Settings > Printer Settings > Advanced Color Settings, and set Color Toning to Neutral, and Tone to Normal. This gives me a baseline print that I can use as a litmus for the changes in the test across other print settings.

For this test, I then printed each of the Tone settings: Darkest, Darker, Dark, and Light. I then took these prints to the copy stand (a Beseler CS-21) and shot high-resolution images of each on a Sony A7R using the exact same settings for each image (ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/30 sec.). The images were then cleaned up in Lightroom to 5000 K, +10 contrast, to ensure comparability. I then exported them to Photoshop, compiled the zones for comparison, and using the Info tool, measured the luminance values of each of the zones. You can see them labeled in Figure 03.

 

Results

Figure 02. The luminance values of Zones I, III, V, VII and IX for each of Epson's tone settings. From top to bottom: Darkest, Darker, Dark, Normal, Light.
Figure 02. The luminance values of Zones I, III, V, VII and IX for each of Epson’s tone settings. From top to bottom: Darkest, Darker, Dark, Normal, Light. This is Red River Aurora Art White paper.

It is notoriously difficult to glean good low zone separations from paper, and it’s a bit of the Holy Grail for manufacturers. On one hand, hoping for good low zone detail, the sacrificial lamb is density, resulting in a Zone 0 that’s closer to a Zone I (see Figure 02). Since I test in a consistent, scientific manner across paper brands and types, it’s easier to compare this performance. You’ll notice in Figure 02, even at the Darkest setting on the Epson, Zone I sits at about 14 percent luminance. Through this testing, I’ve found after coming down to about 9, there’s barely a discernible visual difference between Zones 0 and I for most papers.

Keep that in mind.

What’s more, it’s very, very tough to get true, optimal blacks in Zone 0 from any inkjet paper. Most of the time, Zone 0 is actually measured at about 5 percent luminance, and that’s about as low as it’s going to go. It’s black, but not…super black.

Keep that in mind, too.

I’m showing another paper test example in Figure 02, one printed on Red River Aurora Art White, which I use consistently as a proof paper. It’s a premium matte, printable both sides, and has a .92 brightness with an ultra-smooth surface. Perfect for proofing. Note that Zone I in the darkest setting shows 14 percent luminance; Zone IX shows 87 percent. Zone V, middle gray, is 46 percent—just a touch below the optimal 50–52 percent. If we look at Zone I to Zone IX as the paper’s “detail range,” that means Aurora Art White has 73 percent range (this is anecdotal, so don’t look at it as the final word in inkjet printing). That’s pretty good, frankly.

Then I tested the Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta 310gsm.

 

"Chris Laucomer,"
“Chris Laucomer,” one of my most demanding prints.

When I first printed with the paper, I thought I’d made a mistake. The blacks couldn’t be that black, that dense. So I printed 8 more 4×6″ cards, just to check (I had been fighting an clogged ink nozzle, so I thought, “well…maybe?”). I had the same result. I then printed one of my toughest, most demanding prints, “Chris Laucomer,” which has a deep black background, and Chris is wearing a black cowboy hat. In shade. An inkjet’s worst nightmare.

And it was stunning. The hat pops from the background, the dirt, the felt, and the hat’s nuances jump off the paper.

 

 

Figure 03. Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta 310gsm Zone Performance.
Figure 03. Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta 310gsm Zone Performance.

So I took my samples to the copy stand and ran my tests, and I couldn’t believe what I found. Zone 0 measured in at 0 luminance. Zone I, on the Epson’s Darkest tone setting, measured 3 percent. And I could see the difference (see Figure 03).

Comparing the detail range, Photo Silk Baryta has an 89 percent performance value in the Darkest, which is astounding.

While it’s a bit high in luminance for Zone V when using the Dark or Normal settings, that’s no different than the Red River proofing paper (or really any other I’ve tested, and I think it’s an Epson rip file characteristic). I’m not sure that Normal or Dark are the most appropriate settings for this paper. Rather, Darker may be the trick for the best results, as Zone I is a full zone lower in luminance than the Red River proof, while still showing strong separation between itself and Zone 0.

I don’t wax poetic about many things, except for truly wonderful images (which are far and few between). But I am here. Frankly, this luster paper performs better than any I’ve ever seen or tested; you can be assured that this isn’t hyperbole, since you are fully informed about my testing methods, and can replicate them yourself.

These results show that this paper can maintain brilliant high zones, smooth and accurate middle zones, and ultra-dense low zones while maintaining every subtle detail imaginable. This is a stunning media for pigment printing. Period.

 

 

Conclusion

Figure 04. My Zone Ranking for Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta 310gsm.
Figure 04. My Zone Ranking for Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta 310gsm.

Again, I don’t like hyperbole, so when I say this is the most impressive black and white inkjet paper I’ve ever seen, I’m being very, very serious. It has stunning range and subtlety, attractive texture and surface, and flexible feed methods. It’s made a believer out of me, and it’s a paper that has a strong place in my studio after this. In fact, the print I mentioned above, “Chris Laucomer,” went to my dear friend and fellow cowboy photographer Charles Guildner. He was very impressed with the print—and he’s just as picky as I am.

So, in summary, this is a can’t-lose black and white paper. Like all luster papers, it may have a bit of glare, but it’s the least I’ve seen. While I can’t answer for its color performance (that’s a test I’ll perform in the next few months), I can say without reservation that Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta is a paper with few competitors, and if you’re a black and white photographer who demands the best from paper, this won’t disappoint. Unless you run out.

 

* NOTE: I now rank this paper as a Zone VIII due to learning about its decreased archival nature. If archival needs are what you’re looking for, Hahnemühle’s Photo Rag Baryta is a better, 100 percent cotton choice, and it prints just as well as the Photo Silk reviewed here.

8 thoughts

  1. Brett — thanks for the very thorough and scientific review of this paper. I am just curious if you have ever printed the same image on Epson Hot Press (natural or bright), and if so, how the two papers compare. This looks like a great paper but I hate switching over to gloss black ink to use a luster finish paper.

    1. Michael,

      Yes, I’ve used Hot Press while teaching down at the workshops, and I think it’s a capable paper (though I prefer Velvet more). I like your suggestion of a comparison, and I’ll get to work on that soon. Honestly, I was skeptical about the switch over to photo black ink for the luster finish, too, until I looked at the results. What I do is try and wait until I have a number of prints that need photo black; I tend not to print much glossy stock, and until I tried this Photo Silk Baryta, I had completely abandoned luster paper. I found the black and white results with this so stunning, though, I’m willing to take the hit on the ink switch! The paper makes a whole new level of low-zone detail and density possible–any time I can actually make a 3-4 percent difference in luminance actually visible in Zones 0-II (you know how much I rely on these zones in my work), I’m willing to waste a little ink to get brilliant results.

      Best,

      B

    1. Richard,

      Anecdotally, I certainly think so, though I haven’t tested this yet. I’m working on a new method of testing color performance which requires a modified test file. However, I would think the color performance would be fine–I hate to give a definite yes or no until I have data to support that conclusion.

      All the best,

      Brett

    1. Geoff,

      That’s a good question; I, too, am fond of the rag baryta. I’ll look into doing a comparison.

      Thanks!

      B

      1. Just following up here, since I’ve been printing with the photo silk since I asked my question. The photo rag baryta is a much warmer paper by comparison. I prefer the silk for it’s brightness. It’s sharp and holds contrast very well. The only other paper I’ve tried that is in the same class is the Canson Baryta Photographique. The two papers seem nearly identical, with the Photographique being even a tad brighter. It’s a luster paper as well, and the glare seems about the same as the silk. Very nice papers, both.

        1. Geoff, great to have you check back! A new comparo between the silk, rag, and fine art sets is coming Thursday–I’ll be interested to hear how my results compare to what you’ve seen.

          Best,

          B

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