A Closer Look, By Request: Hahnemühle’s FineArt Bartya

My fellow photographer and very close friend George Nobechi's image of a Cuban taxicab and young athlete, printed on Hahnemühle's FineArt Baryta paper.
My fellow photographer and very close friend George Nobechi’s image of a Cuban taxicab and young athlete, printed on Hahnemühle’s FineArt Baryta paper. Courtesy George Nobechi.

It’s been some time since my last article; life as a professional means heading into the field to teach and shoot, which is exactly what I’ve been doing since mid-May. Now, however, I’m back in the studio, and can fulfill a promise I made to a reader some months ago: conducting a more detailed look at Hahnemühle’s FineArt Baryta 325 gsm paper.

What’s more, a stellar photographer and the Far East Director at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops (who happens to be one of my best friends), George Nobechi, was at my home and studio visiting. Since we were working on fine-tuning some prints, I asked George if I might feature one of his images, “For the Love of Beisbol,” of which a color version hangs in my studio at Hastings College, in this post. He was delighted to help–thanks again, George.

The gist of this test centers on the relatively brilliant visual performance by Hahnemühle’s Photo Silk Baryta, which on closer examination was found to lack the archival characteristics for long-term fine art prints. In short, it’s a paper intended for more short-term applications (in fact, Hahnemühle’s recommendation for it includes posters), intended for graphics and photos that really “pop” in display settings. The company’s other two luster-finish baryta papers, FineArt and Photo Rag®, are archival-grade and focused on more in-perpetuity applications.

So, how does FineArt Baryta perform on my studio go-to, workhorse printer, the venerable Epson Stylus Pro 3880? Let’s find out.

Introduction

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that traditionally, I’ve preferred matte papers for my black and white photographs, mostly for their nuanced expressiveness and reduced glare (which aids in revealing photographic textures that glossy papers may obscure). But a few months ago, Carol Boss, Hahnemühle’s US marketing director, convinced me to try the Silk Baryta, and got me hooked on the company’s line of luster-finish baryta papers. Needless to say, I was astounded by the dynamic range of Silk Baryta, and also visibly downtrodden after discovering it isn’t an archival paper. Carol suggested I try the FineArt and Photo Rag® as substitutes, so here we are.

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 above, except for Red River, which provides its paper directWhenever 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.

In this post, I’ll first examine what the paper looks like…well, on paper. An examination of features, statistics, and surface can aid us in understanding the basic characteristics and applications of a paper, and it’s a good place to start. Second, I’ll look at the paper’s black and white zone performance, using my standard zone testing procedure. Finally, I’ll look at color print performance, both in terms of detail, and color rendition. After all this, I’ll give you a Zone Ranking and my overall thoughts.

Paper Data and Characteristics

The FineArt Baryta Package is Different than the Matte or Photo Line Packaging.
The FineArt Baryta Package is Different than the Matte or Photo Line Packaging.

FineArt Baryta is a 325 gsm paper, which means it weighs 325 grams per square meter. That’s approaching business card stock weight, and it should tell you that this is a substantial paper that cannot be sheet-fed in the Epson 3880, P600, or P800. In fact, I’d suggest ONLY manual front feed for the paper, but more on that later. It has a reasonably stiff feel, but not as heavy as Hahnemühle’s Museum Etching (which, at 350 gsm, IS business card weight). Personally, I prefer a heavyweight paper for images, as that heft adds a sense of timelessness and quality to the image, reassuring clients they are getting their money’s worth when buying a $1100 print.

This baryta is classified as a “Smooth Gloss” paper by the manufacturer. Despite this classification, the media profile required on the Epson line of printers is luster, not glossy, and the surface of the paper is more in line with a luster than the glossy name is has been given. It also comes in a box that is different from either the Matte FineArt or Photo Gloss packaging, clearly differentiating this group of paper from the others.

Figure 01. FineArt Baryta Surface Characteristics.
Figure 01. FineArt Baryta Surface Characteristics. Click for Larger View.

Why a different box, you ask? It has to do with the base stock as well as the baryta. The stock is exactly as it sounds: fine art bases such as the renowned Photo Rag® (one of my personal go-to papers for my black and white work over the years) or a Museum Etching type (also one of my go-to papers). This results in a decidedly unique, expressive look to the paper surface reminiscent of a mould-made paper (see Figure 01). Some photographers don’t like the look, the surface, or the gloss of this paper, but I find it to be more appealing than a traditional glass-surface gloss. That may be because of my preference for matte papers, so I don’t mind “the stipple.” Some photographers hate it, and I have found there to be little consensus among photographers as to the existence of a perfect paper for all applications or tastes: tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to.

The paper whiteness (not brightness, which is a different property) is 103, the highest of the three in the earlier comparison (Silk is rated at 95, while Photo Rag is 91). This should translate to more punch in color images, as well as improved nuances across all the zones in black and whites. The paper is acid-free, buffered, and composed of 100 percent alpha-cellulose. It is rated at archival quality, meaning it should be stable under UV glass, with no discoloration for at least 75 years.

FineArt has a moderate amount of OBAs, or Optical Brightening Agents. Those can result in yellowing of the paper over time, and some photographers are downright adamant they’ll never print on a plastic-coated piece of paper. 10 years ago, when the technology behind inkjet printing was more rudimentary, I sided with those individuals, and was still very cautious of coated papers until more recently. I’m less skeptical at this point, and since the FineArt showed nearly as well as the Silk Baryta in this comparison, it would seem to be a viable long-term option with many of the same visual characteristics. However, I have a nagging voice in the back of my head that I still prefer the Photo Rag® Baryta for the longest-term archival applications, such as museum collections.

Beside the archival debate, there is one major drawback to the FineArt Baryta, though. Glare is probably the biggest shortcoming with this paper, as it displays a near-glossy level of diffuse reflection, and means viewing angle is more critical than with some satin or matte papers; this problem exacerbates the paper’s polarizing texture. Some gallery curators just don’t like it, saying it’s too textured, but I would argue that’s a product of the paper’s problem with glare. I do find this to be a strong negative of the paper, but as you’ll read soon, it’s a trade I’m somewhat willing to make for the other characteristics I find more rewarding, such as color and detail (moreover, if many curators had their way, we would all be printing on exactly the same paper and using exactly the same mats and frames). But if glare reduction is more important to you—and if you print museum-bound prints, it should be—then this paper may not be the right fit in all lighting situations. In my case, I’m looking at the Baryta as a candidate for my newest series, which comes only in a 9×13.5″ size. When an image is that small, glare is more of a 50-pound-gorilla, while detail is a two-ton leviathan.

 

Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta Papers Data

Weights Thickness Surface Color Material Media Profile Acid Free Optical Brighteners Buffered Whiteness
325gsm .41 mm Smooth Gloss Bright White α-cellulose Ultra-Premium Luster Yes Mid; Barium Sulfate Yes 103

Zone Testing

Figure 01. A Zone System–RGB–Lab chart.
Figure 02. A Zone System–RGB–Lab chart.

This part will be very familiar if you read this blog regularly. But it’s important to remind everyone (or inform new readers) that I test papers in the same way every time. I print my photo zones file (see Figure 02) 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 Epson presets: Darkest, Darker, Dark, and Light. I printed one of these zone scales for each of these presets using the FineArt Baryta paper.

 

Figure 02. FineArt Baryta Zones Performance.
Figure 02. FineArt Baryta Zones Performance.

You can see the results of my tests in Figure 02. As with the Silk Baryta, the paper showed very well in its dynamic range. On the Darkest setting, a clear visual difference can be seen between Zone 0 and Zone I, yet a luminance reading of only 3 percent difference exists. That translates to a paper that can resolve very nuanced details in dark areas. In fact, Zone I showed some of the least variability between the different Epson presets, exhibiting an 11-percent shift from the Darkest to Light settings, third only to Zones VIII and IX, which had 4- and 3-percent shifts, respectively. Generally, this paper has a strong dynamic range, capable of maintaining subtle differences in shadows while also revealing similar details in bright areas, without blocking out to paper-white. As a black and white photographer, that is a very desirable characteristic.

Zone V showed a considerable amount of variance, with a range of 44 percent luminance to 62 percent. In my test of the three barytas from Hahnemühle, the FineArt showed consistently as the darkest paper, which is interesting considering its overall level of whiteness. My own tests suggest that a setting of Dark with -2 brightness and +3 contrast seem to equal the most usable set of tones for an image. However, this can differ even by printer, so I will recommend, as always, to perform your own set of tests before committing your best image to paper.

Here again, I found the glare to be an issue, not due to showing detail, but from the dreaded Epson “pizza wheel” marks. To see them, click on the image link, then right-click and save to your desktop. Open the image and zoom to 200 percent; you’ll see the little caterpillar marks just above the luminance numbers. I have read in a number of places across the Web that Hahnemühle papers are more susceptible to these marks; I have found most papers are, however, and I recommend to my workshop participants that they always print the final product using only the manual front feed on the Epson. But the FineArt Baryta shows them more clearly, so if you are dead-set on manual rear feed (this paper is generally too thick to sheet-feed on the Epson, though I’ve done it) this will be an issue for you.

If you’re printing on the new Canon imagePROGRAF-1000, you won’t have this issue, as that printer is entirely vacuum-fed. Nonetheless, this is a considerable problem with the Epson, and it hasn’t been fixed on the new P600 or P800. Make your choice accordingly.

Color Testing

I was surprised during this phase of the testing.

My procedure for color images—one I don’t use much for this blog, but fairly often for the dozen-or-so color photographs that clients purchase on a regular basis—is to test on 4×6″ cut paper to balance the colors, then 6×9″ cut paper to check detail levels, and then make a full-sized proof print. Once that process is completed, then I make the final print that will receive a signature and number in the series (I don’t do open stock prints). I followed this procedure with George as we were prepping his print for the FineArt Baryta, but days later, after he had left, I spent more time examining the boy’s face with my Peak 5x loupe, and realized that we’d lost some detail. I went back to the drawing board (or printer, in this case) immediately.

Figure 03. A detail comparison of the boy's face reveals that on SuperPhoto 2880, without Finest Detail selected, facial detail is lost.
Figure 03. A detail comparison of the boy’s face reveals that on SuperPhoto 2880, without Finest Detail selected, facial detail is lost.

I was perplexed by how muddy the boy’s face became in a 6×9″ application, especially when compared to the digital file (see Figure 03). The print was done without high speed printing, and on Epson’s “SuperPhoto” 2880 dpi mode; that should have resulted in a finely-detailed and nuanced print, but it didn’t.

Then, I had a brainstorm: use Epson’s “Finest Detail” setting. Normally, that setting is recommended for text elements to prevent visible aliasing (the choppy, stair-step edges on letters like “A” and “O” are the result of aliasing), but could it also help the image? If that turned out to be the case, that would mean FineArt Baryta is exceptionally capable at producing extremely tiny details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 04. Printing Comparison with Finest Detail.
Figure 04. In this comparison between the original file, the first 2880 dpi print, and the second 2880 dpi print with “Finest Detail” selected, there is a noticeable difference in details between the first and second print. However, neither 6×9″ achieves the nuances of the original digital file.

I ran the new print with baited breath, and was shocked: “Finest Detail” worked (see Figure 04). I could now see a noticeable improvement in the boy’s face (mind you, it still doesn’t equal the detail of the file, but no inkjet can do this completely).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 05. Finest Detail produced noticeable improvements in facial features and image smoothness.
Figure 05. Finest Detail produced noticeable improvements in facial features and image smoothness.

I was so shocked that I then printed my go-to, black-and-white testing image, “Young Cowboys,” on the same setting. The lead cowboy’s face is very important, but his eyes are often slightly muddy on a 6×9″, even at 2880 dpi. I had the same result: strongly improved, crisp eyelids and film grain (see Figure 05).

What does this mean? Two things: 1) you can print on FineArt Baryta in 2880 dpi, “Finest Detail” enabled, without fear; 2) this paper’s coating and surface are outstanding for producing exceptionally detailed prints, even at small sizes.

So we know FineArt Baryta can handle detail in stride. What about color reproduction and accuracy? Overall, the paper prints slightly dark (see Figures 04 and 05), but with very accurate colors. The neon-lime green of the taxi was just as vibrant on the print as in the file, and the rendering of the blue of the windshield and boy’s shorts, as well as the yellow of his shirt, was also very accurate. I did find that the ICC profile printed more accurately and with a better gamut with Relative Colorimetric than with Perceptual, so as always, I’d recommend testing both, rather than taking your chances.

As a disclaimer, I am using a fully-calibrated Apple 27″ Retina Display with ColorMunki profiling, in a 50% gray dark room.

Saturation was also accurate. Many matte papers will soak up inks and blow out the saturation, while many luster or glossy papers of second quality will lack saturation; I have had many experiences with lesser papers where I needed to add a saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop to account for the ICC/paper combination that resulted in a “flat” image. As I would expect from Hahnemühle, just like Canson Infinity, Ilford, Moab, and other top-tier paper manufacturers, the FineArt Baryta is neutral in its handling of saturation, resulting in an image very close to the original file.

Figure 06. Levels Adjustment in Midpoint to Allow for Dark Printing.
Figure 06. Levels Adjustment in Midpoint to Allow for Dark Printing.

But back to the dark printing. This is most likely an artifact in the ICC profile, quite frankly, and can be easily fixed by adding a Levels adjustment layer in Photoshop, and adjusting the midpoint from 1.0 to between 1.10–1.20, depending on the image (see Figure 06). I have had to negotiate such quirks in other manufacturer’s papers before, and I don’t think it’s a glaring issue with this baryta. However, for novices who expect the print to look exactly like the file when using the ICC profile, this could prove frustrating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusions

Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta Zone Ranking.
Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta Zone Ranking.

Until fairly recently, I was strongly opposed to satin or glossy inkjet papers. Hahnemühle’s Glossy FineArt Baryta line is slowly changing that view, and in this test, FineArt Baryta exhibited a strong showing that confirmed its visual abilities. Exceptional dynamic range, expressive surface texture, outstanding detail, and vivid color performance all came through. Moreover, it is a paper that responds well to the Epson “Finest Detail” setting, returning impressive details in faces and textures with few negative artifacts.

It is a heavy stock with bright, bright white characteristics, and despite moderate OBAs, it would seem a capable option for images destined for long-term collection, with proper care. Negatives include glare issues, vulnerability to the Epson “pizza-wheel problem,” and a tendency to print slightly darker than a calibrated screen indicates. If you’re looking for more punch in colors or detail in small areas of images, this is a paper worth your consideration.

Over the next few months, I’ll be testing other Glossy FineArt stock, as well as stock from other manufacturers. Keep checking back, and always, I hope your next print, is your best print.

2 thoughts

  1. Thank you, Brett, for honoring my image just so. I love the comparisons you provided on the boy’s face and have learned a lot from you and from this post. I plan to begin printing several series in the fall as well and I am looking forward to using the knowledge you have so kindly shared and Hahnemule paper to make the best prints I can (and I am not paid by Hahnemuhle to say that–I was thoroughly impressed).

    1. George, two photographers getting to sit in the studio printing images? Together? Especially when they’re among each other’s best friends? Gee, I think we both won.

      As to the printing itself, I commented to Irina just now (after printing a master 6×9″ of Little Chicago for a new client) that I feel as though my printing grows by leaps and bounds every time I master a new image. I think that’s the best analogy for printing, actually: It’s a journey. You’re used to that sort of lesson from me by now. 😉

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