When I began printing my archive of Eighties Vancouver photographs, after making some test prints on various papers, including Epson’s beautiful-to-look-at “Exhibition Fiber,” I settled on Canson’s equally exquisite Platine Fibre Rag, despite the slightly warmer paper base.
My decision was partially based on avoiding optical brightening agents, which lend beautiful density and vibrance to Exhibition Fiber but (short of engaging in one of those endless photographic debates — I did title this a “brief review”), OPAs have a limited lifespan. More importantly, I couldn’t seem to get the heavyweight (325 g/m₂) Exhibition Fiber to transit my Epson 4900 printer without microscopic scratches running the length of prints — a problem, I discovered via Google search, not limited to my studio.
Last year, in a treatise on archival printing, matting, and framing, I mentioned the impending release of a new line of inkjet papers from Epson. “Legacy” they were calling them, and expectations were high, not least based on preliminary assessments from Wilhelm Imaging Research. The go-to source for photographic print permanence info, Wilhelm estimates “print permanence ratings of up to 200 years for color prints, and likely in excess of 400 years for black and white prints when printed with Epson’s ‘Advanced Black and White Print Mode’,” which I use for my B&W prints. I was excited.
In that post, I wondered if it was merely coincidence that the Legacy papers were to be named the same as Infinity papers by Canson: Platine, Baryta, Etching, and Fibre, a matte surface paper they spelled correctly this time 🙂 The announcement mentioned that these new fine art photographic papers were to be made by an acclaimed European paper mill. Sounded to me like Canson, who boast a legacy of papermaking reaching back nearly 500 years. June 2016 Wilhelm update.
The Proof is in the paper
Epson Legacy papers have been available in Canada for a few months now. I bought some: Platine in a couple of sizes and a sample pack containing 2 sheets each of Platine, Baryta, Fibre and Etching, in 8.5˝X11˝.
At first glance, indeed the papers do look identical, and, as you can see below, inside the box, packaging is identical, but for Epson’s extra styrofoam padding in larger sized papers (below left) — a nice, practical touch to complement the luxurious packaging/branding on the outside. Even the colour variance in slip paper — green versus blue — is merely box dependant: my 17˝X22˝ Canson papers use the green. The “print face up“ tag most certainly comes from the same factory.
Now on to the actual papers.
Like the Canson Infinity papers, all of the Legacy line, except Baryta, are 100% cotton fibre and contain no OBAs.
My tests were not so technical (as these) but they were based on careful visual evaluation. I made black and white and colour prints from my portfolio, as well as popular standardized printer test files from Bill Atkinson. Maximum density, for instance, was not not compared with densitometer, though I do have one somewhere in a box containing my stored darkroom gear. Rather, finished prints were submitted to my critical eye — compared for sharpness, contrast and general wonderfulness or visual offence.
Really, there were no instances of the latter. Both Canson and Epson papers are wonderful.
The Epson papers seem a tad heavier — indeed they claim to be, with the Epson papers labeled 314 g/m₂, the comparable Canson products at 310 g/m₂ (see table below). The difference is very subtle but noticeable in the hand.
Surfaces, where they can be perceived without microscopy, look identical. That is, I can see no difference in the Baryta or Platine papers.
I have printed both brands using proprietary/vendor specific ICC profiles and I have switched profiles, printing the Epson papers with Canson profiles, and vice versa. There is very little difference to be seen. But a difference there is. The Legacy papers print marginally better with Epson profiles. To my eye, I see a slight but noticeable increase in contrast, for instance, in the Epson Platine, printed with the intended profile, over the Canson Platine, printed with either the appropriate Canson or Epson profile.
Images on Epson Platine therefore have the appearance of slightly better sharpness, in subtle details, like repeated patterns. This has been noted by other photographers. It is very subtle, but that’s what printers obsess over — that minuscule degree of extra detail in the shadows under a tree or a fence line in a distant, misty, snow-covered field. We struggle to make good exposures (whether on film or CCD) so that we can exploit the captured details in the final print.
I suspect (as opposed to “have deduced by scientific methods”) that any perceived difference may well be due to Epson profiles rather than paper coatings. Make what you will of Wilhelm’s comments whether or not “latest technological advancements in inkjet coating” apply only to the Epson Legacy papers. To my knowledge, whether or not there are any proprietary differences, coatings for both Canson and Epson branded papers were developed by the award-winning Felix Schoeller Group.
As a result of early research on Luminous Landscape, another printmaker sent me some custom profiles which I haven’t had time to include in my tests. I also own a ColorMunki spectrophotometer to make my own profiles … again without the time to do so and with confidence that Canson and Epson have sophisticated hardware and expertise which assure the best possible results with their combination of papers and profiles optimized for respective printers.
The Epson papers (notwithstanding discounts) are still notably more expensive than their Canson equivalents. Twenty-five sheets of 17X22 Epson Legacy Fibre will set you back $279.99CA — That’s over $11 per sheet, not counting taxes and shipping costs. At that price, test prints certainly must be optimized using cheaper paper!
Are Legacy papers worth the premium price? I’ll leave that decision up to you. I would encourage you to do as I did and try them out. Even the sample pack will give you a good idea of their relevance to your work.
I will certainly make use, where appropriate, of Legacy’s aforementioned virtues. Incidentally, my limited edition prints are available here.
After crunching numbers, considering border fees and exchange rate, despite free shipping over $100 from B&H in the US, it made more sense to be a loyal Canadian … besides, due to some “free trade” limitation or agreement with Epson, B&H doesn’t ship Legacy papers over the border.