Archival Photo Papers for Printing

In times of a flood of digital images it’s soothing to actually hold a photograph that someone considered worth printing. Our culture is literally based on paper – from its use in ancient Egypt and Greece (papyros) to the description of the manufacturing process in China some two thousand years ago, and then taking its course via the Middle East to Medieval Europe and Gutenberg’s book printing which paved the way for Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment.

Here’s a short description of different photo papers that I recently used for printing. This overview deals with archival photo paper, i.e. pigment ink printed on fibre base papers, not resin or polyethylen coated papers.

Canon ImagePrograf Pro-1000 printer: Finished 10 x 15 cm print on Hahnemuehle FineArt Baryta paper.
Nyiragongo volcano glowing in the night. Black and white 10 x 15 cm print on Hahnemuehle FineArt Baryta paper (Canon P-1000 printer).

Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk paper is ideal for large framed prints because of its dynamic range with brilliant whites and deep blacks. The finish is a silky kind of gloss, not mirror-like blinding high gloss. Ilford’s Gold Fibre Silk has a barium sulphate coating – called baryte in short – just like the traditional photo papers used in darkrooms since 1866. Instead of a light sensitive layer made of silver gelatine, there is an inkjet layer. The paper tries to continue the tradition of Ilford’s famous Galerie paper.

Black and white print on Hahnemuehle Matt FineArt Photo Rag 308 gsm paper: El Sabinar, a phoenicean tree shaped by centuries of trade winds, El Hierro.
Phoenicean juniper tree shaped by centuries of trade winds, El Sabinar, El Hierro. Black and white print on Hahnemuehle Matt FineArt Photo Rag 308 gsm paper.

Smaller prints are held in hand, such as cards, thus haptics play an important role. Prints on a rigid cellulose paper give a nice tactile feel, e.g. on Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta, or the novel variant FineArt Baryta Satin. The first one has more gloss, the latter just a tiny bit that is close to matt papers. These are baryte papers as well. The German company Hahnemühle was founded in 1584 and is proud on its more than 400 years-old history.

In general, the longevity of photo prints depends on the use acid-free materials, and that not only concerns the paper itself but also archival boxes, passepartout cardbord, and adhesives used for mounting. Acids used for industrial paper production since the 19th century made those papers less durable. Today’s archival photo papers are acid-free.

The Virunga mountains at dusk. Printed on Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk paper in 40x60 cm.
The Virunga mountains at dusk. Printed on Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk paper in 40×60 cm.

I was never a great fan of matt papers, but for photos with a limited amount of contrast and delicate shades of grey they work very well. In the matt category of photo papers, I like Hahnemühle Photo Rag for the subtle shades and colours. Photo Rag is a cotton paper – the word rag originally describes used textiles that served as the fibre source. The photo paper has a surprising depth – it somehow adds a third dimension (although that wouldn’t be possible, of course, as paper is still flat). There’s also a variant made from Bamboo that has quite a warm tone.

Morning at the river. Printed on Hahnemühle FineArt Baryte Satin paper (10x15 cm).
Morning at the river. Printed on Hahnemühle FineArt Baryte Satin paper (10×15 cm).

For all these papers, their manufacturers provide ICC profiles for printers (in my case a Canon Pro-1000 pigment inkjet printer) for exact calibrated reproduction.

Autumn trees printed on Hahnemühle Matt FineArt Bamboo 290 gsm paper.
Autumn trees printed on Hahnemühle Matt FineArt Bamboo 290 gsm paper. The paper has a warm tone.

He hath not eat paper, as it were; he hath not
drunk ink; his intellect is not replenished
–Shakespeare, Love’s Labor’s Lost