Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Epson Exhibition Fiber Paper Review and How To Walkthrough

 

If you’ve been following my master printer interviews, you’ll notice a trend that many of these photographers list Epson Exhibition Fiber Paper (a.k.a., EFP) as their favorite paper (or at least favorite photo black ink paper). There’s a good reason for this — this paper has an amazing thick substantial feel yet a nice soft glossy finish that makes photographs pop. This is a bright paper with a killer dMax (a source at Epson claims a measurement as high as 2.6 in Advanced Black & White (ABW) mode) and a whiteness rating that’ll make you want to put your sunglasses on if you look at a blank sheet! Of all of the papers I’ve used thus far, this is definitely one of my favorites!

This paper is also one of Epson’s favorite as it has the prestigious distinction of being one of the Epson Signature Worthy™ papers (video for EFP coming soon). These papers are for those who insist on the highest quality papers that perform extremely well with today’s best inks like Epson’s UltraChrome® K3 and HDR. When you buy this paper, you know you are getting what Epson believes to be the best media for their printers and something you should be proud to sign your name on. Based on my experiences with all of the Signature Worthy papers, I couldn’t agree more!

Trivia

Dan 'Dano' Steinhardt’s, an Epson Professional Imaging Division’s Marketing Manager now famous for “Dano’s Dictionary” was one of the drivers in the development of EFP and ultimately named EFP. In his own words, he says “the goal was to create a paper that was like a AgX F surface air dried print.” Based on what I’ve heard from everyone during this series, Epson succeed as the ABW performance is phenomenal!

My favorite prints on Epson Exhibition Fiber

As of August 21st, 2010 my favorite 17x22” prints I’ve done using Epson Exhibition Fiber paper are shown below:

(WARNING: these will look horrible in Internet Explorer 8 or earlier as it isn’t properly color managed like Firefox and Safari)

Specifications

Here are the key facts that I have gathered about this paper:

Basis Weight

325 g/m²

Thickness

13 mil

ISO Brightness

111%

Whiteness

147%

Base Material

Fiber

Surface Finish

Soft Gloss

Marketing Features/Benefits
  • Extremely High D-Max and Wide Color Gamut
  • Acid & Lignin Free
  • Micro Porous Smooth Gloss (F-Type) Surface (Instant-drying)
  • Minimal Gloss Differential
  • Chlorine-free base with minimal OBAs
  • Compatible with UltraChrome™ ink and UltraChrome ink with Vivid Magenta

Click here to download a fact sheet, or visit the Epson Exhibition Fiber web page for more information.

Wilhelm Imaging Research Facts about EFP*
  • Displayed Prints Framed Under Glass Rating: 90yrs
  • Dark Storage Rating: >300 years
  • OBA’s: Yes
  • Resistance to Water: moderate

* = Data obtained from this report at Wilhelm Imaging Research and assumes the use of a Epson 3880 with Epson UltraChrome© K3 with Vivid Magenta inks. WIR implements the industry accepted methodology for determining lightfastness.

Paper Profiles

You can get paper profiles for the Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 at this location or for the whole line up at this location (at least as of 8/20/10), but the direct link for the Mac and PC versions (no install program) for Epson Exhibition Fiber can be found here.

It contains a file called SP3880 EFP PK 2880 v1.icc, which can be decoded as follows:

Epson paper profile review

I have found the above paper profile to be very good, so much so that I have not felt compelled to generate a new one myself. I feel that the Advanced Black & White performance is excellent and the color prints are hard to beat.

Here’s a 3D graph of this paper profile plotted with Chromix ColorThink Pro (review coming soon) which shows both the Relative Colormetric (smooth) and Perceptual (blocky) profiles on top of each other. What this graph is showing is that this is a well balanced profile (i.e., there’s no chunks of the color gamut missing):


Watch in HD for best results

ColorByte ImagePrint 8.0.0.2 paper profile review

As of the time this article was written, ColorByte ImagePrint (review coming soon) offered the following paper profiles for the 3880 (ep3880) and all require Photo Black (Pk) ink:

  • ep3880Pk_EpsonExhibtionFIber 1440_RDAY – This is a color 1440 (Print Quality Level 4 – 1440x720) daylight balanced reciped* profile. This yields the results closest to the Epson profile.
      
  • ep3880Pk_EpsonExhibtionFIber 1440_RF2 - This is a color 1440 (Print Quality Level 4 – 1440x720) cool white fluorescent lighting optimized reciped* profile for portraiture work. This is a good general purpose profile for mixed lighting conditions. This is my preferred profile for this photo.
      
  • ep3880Pk_EpsonExhibtionFIber 1440_RF3 - This is a color 1440 (Print Quality Level 4 – 1440x720) mixed lighting optimized reciped* profile for scenarios where your image will be under mixed light. This is a good choice if you don’t know what to use and you are unhappy with the RDAY or Epson driver results.
      
  • ep3880Pk_gray_EpsonExhibitionFiber 1440R – This is a black & white 1440 (Print Quality Level 4 – 1440x720) all-lighting optimized reciped* profile. This is my preferred profile for this photo.

* = A recipied profile is a special profile made by ColorByte that contains additional information used to control the inks in a special way for particular paper/ink combinations.

Master printers interviewed on this blog who recommend this paper

As of August 20th, 2010, the following master printers featured on this blog had this to say about this paper:

  • Douglas Dubler - “My favorite glossy paper”
  • Greg Gorman - “It is what I prefer to use for my Exhibitions”
  • Vincent Versace - “I think the Exhibition Fiber looks just like air dried glossy fiber silver gelatin paper, which was my favorite way to print black and whites when I made silver prints. It is the best looking paper for black and white, to my eye.”

Tips

Since this is an expensive paper (but competitively priced for its class), it is painful to do any significant test printing with it or have a print go horribly wrong with it. It has been suggested by R. Mac Holbert and others that you can use Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster for your test prints, and I agree. In fact, I’ve even had success printing to Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster using my “SP3880 EFP PK 2880 v1.icc" paper profile. This allowed me to fine tune my print with cheaper paper, so that when I was ready to print the final image all I had to do was put the correct paper in the printer and I was good to go.

Vincent Versace warns that you should set the platen gap to Wider when using this paper, but I didn’t find that to be required on my 3880. However, I would recommend that practice just to be on the safe side.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 on Microsoft Windows 7 Color Print Usage Walkthrough

In this example, I use the Outback Print Printer Evaluation Image to print from Adobe Photoshop CS4 (11.0.2) on a Microsoft Windows 7 based personal computer. These dialogs should be roughly the same for any version of Windows, and on the Mac the Epson driver will look like the one shown down below in the Lightroom example. Please click the images for a larger view:

  • Media Type: Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster - There is no media type for this paper, so I use the recommended “Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster” which is thinner so that’s why you may need to widen the platen gap to Wider (via the Paper Config… button).
      
  • Print Quality: LEVEL 5 (Quality) – The paper profile is optimized for this resolution. In a future article I will show how the only penalty is speed (2x slower) as the ink usage and cost between 2880 and 1440 is insignificant.
      
  • High Speed: On – works well with high speed (bi-directional) so I’ve found no measurable advantages to turning this off
      
  • Mode/Color Correction: Off (No Color Adjustment) – I let Photoshop manage the color using the paper profile provided by Epson mentioned earlier rather than using the driver itself Both yield good results, but I prefer the Epson profile.
      
  • Paper Settings Source: Manual – Rear – This is a thick fine art paper, so I recommend using the rear tray and loading it manually one sheet at a time

You can ignore the rest of the settings on the dialogs shown above as they were specific to my print job. You should adjust each to match the needs of your print job.

When clicking on the Paper Config… button you are presented with the default media type values as shown above. You could change Platen Gap from Auto to Wider, but I didn’t find it necessary. Your experience may differ so if you get head strikes or banding, try this option first.

In Photoshop I used the Epson profile mentioned earlier and printed the test image using both rendering intents. After carefully evaluating the two prints under a GTI PDV-2020Ex, my personal preference was the Relative Colormetric as the blue tones in the sky gradient was slightly better. There were no drastic differences, so either is fine. Both went to 8 for the black blocks on the bottom and 251 for the white, but Perceptual did seem to show a faint sign of the 252 block. This is a subjective test though so you may want to do your own personal testing while softpoofing to see which rendering intent matches your preference.

Adobe Lightroom 2 on Apple Mac OS X Color Print Usage Walkthrough

In this example, I use the Outback Print Printer Evaluation Image to print from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.7 (ACR 5.7) Print Module on a Apple Mac OS X 10.5.8 MacBook Pro. The same identical concepts in Lightroom apply to a Windows based system but the Epson driver will look like the one shown above in the Windows example.

To print using a paper profile in Lightroom, you must go down to the bottom of the right hand pane to the color management section and change the default setting from “Managed By Printer”, and click Other…. This will display the paper profiles dialog, which should look similar to what you see below if you have installed your profiles properly:

 

In this dialog (shown in the maximized/expanded mode rather than the default compressed mode) you check all the profiles you want to see in Lightroom’s menu (to avoid opening this dialog again in the future). If you don’t like clutter, just chose the one you need as I’ve done in this example. When you choose Ok, make sure the correct Epson profile is selected (in this case its SP3880 EFP PK 2880 v1.icc) and choose your desired rendering intent as shown below (I chose Relative):


All images are clickable for a larger version

The settings I used for this print job are as follows:

  • Draft Mode Printing: Unchecked - Draft mode printing should usually be unchecked as it will not yield accurate results
      
  • Print Resolution: 360 - I also chose 360 for the print resolution, but the default of 240 is a works well for Epson printers too.
      
  • Print Sharpening: High (usually) - You usually want sharpening turned on unless you’ve already optimized your image for print using a product like Nik Software’s Sharpener ProScott Kelby recommends using High, and generally speaking I agree. For this test pattern I meant to set it to Off, but forgot so for the whole series I will always use these settings – even on Matte media types just for print to print consistency.
      
    • Media TypeGlossy - This is a glossy paper so I chose the Glossy media type.
        
  • 16-bit Output (Mac Only): On – While there’s no hard data to prove that 16-bit really makes a measurable difference, it can’t hurt so why not turn it on?

At the bottom left pane of Lightroom (not shown) there is a Page Setup… button. You must click this button to select the correct paper size and tray on the Mac. it is very confusing and a stupid design, but this is how it works. In Paper size click on the list and choose your paper size (NOTE: Super A3 = 13x19”) and be sure to make the correct selection depending on your desire to do borderless or not. From there you must choose from another fly out menu (ugh) and be sure to select both the paper size AND the tray. For this example I’m printing on US Letter and I want to use the rear manual tray, so it’s pretty obvious which one to choose in the first menu but my real selection is hidden in the middle of the next fly out menu as shown above. This is a Mac only thing as paper sizes are found in the Epson driver on the PC under Paper Settings Size list – but it’s fairly confusing too (at least borderless is just a checkbox though).

Generally speaking, the only page setup changes you should ever have to make are selecting the right printer (in Format for above) an the paper size. You can change orientation too, but I didn’t bother.

Now if you choose the Print Settings… from the bottom of the left pane (to the right of Page Setup…) or the Print…. button at the bottom of the right hand pane, you should get the Print dialog shown below (but perhaps a different page will be selected in it).The only difference between the buttons is that the one on the left will just change your print settings and not print and the one on the right will send the job to the printer when you click okay.

 

The most important page in the Print dialog is the Printer Settings page as shown above. I’ll focus mainly on the basic section at the bottom of this dialog because the contents Advanced Color Settings should be grayed out when you switch to it if you did everything properly. Page setup should also say Manual – Rear for this paper and can only be changed via the previously mentioned Page Setup… button.

Here are the settings I use for the basic section shown above:

  • Media Type: Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster - As mentioned in the Photoshop section, there is no media type for this paper. I use the recommended “Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster” which is thinner so that’s why you may need to widen the platen gap to Wider (shown later below).
      
  • Print Mode (Mac Only): AccuPhoto HD2 – Always use this value
      
  • 16-bit Output (Mac Only): Checked – Always checked
      
  • Output Resolution: LEVEL 5 (Quality) – The paper profile is optimized for this resolution. In a future article I will show how the only penalty is speed (2x slower) as the ink usage and cost between 2880 and 1440 is insignificant. I do have examples where the quality improvement has been verified by multiple sources in blind tests, so it is my preference to always choose 2880x1440 (L5) output resolution.
      
  • Mode/Color Correction: Off (No Color Adjustment) – I let Lightroom manage the color using the paper profile provided by Epson mentioned earlier rather than using the driver itself. Both yield good results, but I prefer the Epson profile.
      
  • High Speed: On – works well with high speed (bi-directional) so I’ve found no measurable advantages to turning this off.
      
  • Flip Horizontal: Unchecked – User preference
      
  • Finest Detail: Unchecked – Always leave unchecked

If you want to take Vincent Versace's advice and change the Platen Gap to Wider, then choose the Advanced Media Control page in the Print dialog and go to the Platen Gap list at the bottom as shown above. Change Auto to Wider as shown above and below.

You can now choose print and you should hopefully get an amazing print on Epson Exhibition Fiber paper, if you did everything properly.

Comparisons to other Epson papers

Of all the glossy papers I have tried for the 3880, the only one that I’ve tried that I like as much is the Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster (review coming soon). The Luster is a good paper, but it is a lot more flimsy than EFP. However, the Luster is much cheaper and comes in larger quantities, so I highly recommend that you use the Luster to create your test prints before loading the printer with Exhibition Fiber. I’m still new to papers and printing, so I’ll admit that my expertise is rather limited still so I may revise my thoughts here as I become more educated on other papers.

Of all the Epson papers, I still find it hard to beat the Epson Hot Press Bright (review coming soon) for its amazing color, detail, and wonderful substantial feel. However, this is very, very close and matte black ink is no substitute photo black in on certain subjects so which one you choose really depends on the subject.

Prices & Sizes

As of August 21st, 2010 B&H had the sheet papers starting at $39 and going all the way up to $149 and the rolls from $159 to $599. JVH Tech has it listed as $2.29 per sqft. This makes it a more expensive paper, but on par with papers in the fine art classification.

Exhibition Fiber Paper is available in 8.5”x11” (Adorama),  13”x19” (Adorama), 17”x22” (Adorama) and 24”x30” (Adorama) is 25 sheet packs. I really wish Epson would add legal size and 24”x25.5” to better accommodate the wider aspect ratio of modern day cameras, but based on the feedback I got from such recommendations I’m not going to hold my breath. It appears they believe strongly that no one really wants those sizes.

EFP has also just been released in 50’ rolls in widths of 17, 24, 44 & 64 inches.

My recommendation is that you purchase it from Adorama or B&H using the links above or from Amazon using this link. If you are in Washington state, you can get instant gratification and a good deal from JVH Tech, which is where I’ve got most of my Epson paper from.

More about EFP Coming Soon

I will also be doing a separate article on Epson’s Advanced Black & White Mode where EFP is the natural choice. Be sure to check it out when it is released!

Disclosure

Epson has provided me with a 25-sheet box of 8.5”x11,”  13”x19,” and 17”x22” (of which nearly all were used up in testing :( ) as well as the Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 I used to print them with. If you use the links provided in this article to make a purchase, I may get a commission. Thanks for supporting this blog by coming back to use the links when you make a purchase.

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3 comments:

Jack said...

Is there a profile for the 7600 Ultrachrome photo black ink?

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Jack,

Sadly no. Epson does not support older printers in that way.

You would have to generate your own, so check out my articles on ColorMunki, ImagePrint and i1XTreme for alternate solutions to get a profile.

John Nordell said...

Thank you for all this detailed information!