Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Epson Hot and Cold Press Papers Review & Usage Tips – Updated (2-1-2011 @ 7:32PM PST)

*** See the end of this article for a special offer on these papers ***


Epson Signature Worthy Matte Papers

This is actually four paper reviews in one as it is hard to review one without discussing the others. The actual papers reviewed here are the Epson Hot Press Natural, Hot Press Bright, Cold Press Natural, and Cold Press Bright papers – all of which are part of Epson’s Signature Worthy™ papers. Each of these papers has their strengths and all of them are an essential product in my print studio, so I’m excited to finally get a chance to share with you my thoughts on these great papers.

I Hate Matte Paper

Now this might be a funny way to start an article about matte papers, but I’m happy to confess that before my printing series began I hated matte paper – not just a little bit- A LOT! I thought, who wants to have their prints on some crappy textured paper with their images looking all washed out and faded?

While I still agree with my arguments as to why I hated matte papers, what I soon realized after using these papers is that not all matte papers are created equally – in fact, the results I got from these papers might surprise you – I know they surprised me!

Now the funny story is that Epson was kind enough to share a nice pile of paper for me to use with the printing series and I wasn’t too excited about these, so when I started printing some of my earlier prints I thought that I’d burn through the bad stuff and get to the good stuff later – ha, ha – makes sense, right?  So when I loaded up my second image on my second day that I was trying to get familiar with the Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 I thought I’d print out this photo on Cold Press Bright:


Image used for my first matte paper print on the 3880
Cold Press Bright

I had no idea what Hot and Cold Press meant at that point and I had been impressed with Matthew Jordan Smith’s video (here) where he was printing his amazing celebrity portrait portfolio on this paper, so I thought it’s probably look okay. I was skeptical since Cold Press papers are bumpy, but the texture felt great in my hand and the brightness was outstanding on this paper.

When this print rolled out of the printer I was stunned! The black background of this image (which is a pure RGB(0,0,0) was the deepest black I had ever seen printed up to that point, and the colors were deep and rich. As I scanned the image searching for a reason to hate this paper I found myself in love with the quality of this print! The brown on black cowboy hat and the super dark blue on black jeans all were faithfully represented in print and the result began my love for these papers!

Perhaps my biggest surprise was that despite the texture of this paper, even when viewing under a GTI PDV-2020Ex I found it difficult to see the paper on the texture of the skin. In normal room lighting with the print at a 90 degree angle to the light you can of course see the texture very heavily in the skin, but when you tilt it to the light it vanishes. The morale of the story here is think about how you want to show or hide that texture when you are lighting to get the best result.

Why Hot & Cold Press?

Hopefully by now you’ve seen my Dano’s dictionary article which discusses many printing related terms. I got this after asking Dano so many questions, the first of which was what the heck are hot and cold press papers?

The short and simple answer is that these are cotton fiber papers designed specifically for matte ink with a matte finish that start off essentially the same type of paper. However, the hot press variety is effectively hot pressed (or ironed as some like to say) for a much smoother finish (NOTE: these days heat may not be used to accomplish this anymore so this is a legacy reference). This means that cold press papers have more texture and feel a bit thicker in the hand, even when they are the same exact base paper as their hot press counter part.

An easy way to remember which is which is to imagine a bumpy paper that if you put a cold iron over it would still be bumpy but if you put a hot iron over it would be smooth like an ironed shirt. This way you’ll always remember Cold = Bumpy and Hot = Smooth.

During my testing I found that Epson Cold Press (textured) papers were typically not my preference for use with images of people, but Matthew Jordan Smith is proof that this is subjective. I doubt anyone would disagree with his choice to use Cold Press Bright paper for his phenomenal portrait portfolio.

My preference is to use Cold Press papers for photos of subjects that had texture (i.e., outdoor landscapes, objects found in nature, rusted metal, etc…). When used with the right subject the results are fantastic so I really enjoyed these papers for my outdoor landscape work – especially Epson's Cold Press Natural.

For my images where I’d typically print on Exhibition Fiber but I want a more art gallery type of experience when handing the paper to a client, I find that Epson’s Hot Press Bright is my go to paper. In fact, even the legendary Douglas Dubler loves this paper for his work due to how fantastic Epson’s inks look on this paper.

Personally I’ll only use Hot Press Natural papers for images that require a smooth paper yet need a neutral tone rather than the bright (which is shockingly bright for some images).

OBA’s, Brights vs Naturals

Optical Brightening Agents (OBA’s) fluoresce in the presence of ultraviolet light to give paper that bright white look that many people love for photography prints. However, OBA’s in the world of printing is a dirty word in some circles. The reason why is that some people claim that papers which had OBA’s would yellow over time which made them a poor choice for archival purposes. Some dismiss this theory and say it isn’t true. However, with current papers the OBA formulas have improved such that long-term testing suggests that the agents will simply dissipate leaving the natural paper color behind. Forum trolls say that is bullshit, so expect a heated discussion if the word OBA comes up in a conversation among print masters. I can say that I love papers with OBA’s as did most of the expert printers in my printing series.

Currently Epson papers marketed as “Bright” have OBA’s and will result in a brighter white appearance which many find very pleasing. The word “Natural” in the name of a paper means that there are no OBA’s.

Natural papers generally have more of an off-white appearance but I found it to be very subtle here. You shouldn’t assume that natural means crème as that definitely is not the case with these papers.

Great Box for Great Papers


Crush protection, holes for your fingers to grab the paper,
print side up labeled, protective sheet of paper,
easy to open bag that doesn’t get tape on the paper,
and included paper information make this the best
paper packaging I’ve used thus far

Of all the papers I’ve used, I’ve been most happy with the way these papers are packaged at the 13x19 (Super B) size and up. I call this out because after using these papers I realize how poorly most of the other companies package their paper. I feel it is worth mentioning because paper is expensive so you don’t want your paper damaged before you even print on it, and that seems unlikely with these papers. In fact, the boxes are so good I’d advise you to keep them when you are done and put your other papers or prints in them – it’s really the perfect paper storage box!

I know it may seem stupid to mention this because the box has nothing to do with the quality of the print you’ll get on this paper, but after reviewing a variety of papers during the series I feel compelled to commend Epson for a job well done.

I Love These Matte Papers

Yes, this paper cured me of my disdain for matte papers as my opinion was very dated based on matte papers of the past. These papers offer you a wonderful substantial feel in your hands that is certain to impress your clients and art collectors, yet they have as much visual pop in real-life under normal lighting as Exhibition Fiber. In fact, the advantage to using these papers is the fact they don’t have a gloss finish so while that may bother you a bit at first, you quickly discover that these papers look great no matter what the lights in the room are doing so you don’t have to worry about viewing angles – it looks great from any angle at any time of day.

I will say that there is naturally a drop in the “wow” factor you get with a great paper with a gloss like Exhibition Fiber, and they do scratch very easily, but when handled properly this paper is sure to impress.

Specifications

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

Paper Thickness ISO Brightness

OBA's

Hot Press Bright 17 mil Sheet
16 mil Roll
96 Yes
Hot Press Natural 17 mil Roll
16 mil Roll
90 No
Cold Press Natural 21 mil Sheet
19 mil Roll
90 No
Cold Press Bright 21 mil Sheet
19 mil Roll
96 Yes

In addition to the data above, all of these matte papers are pH buffered, acid-free and 100% cotton fiber. They have a basis weight of 340 g/m² and an opacity of 98%. All have an extremely high color gamut and black density.

Fore more information visit Epson's Web Site (Click the Fine Art tab).

Deciding Which Paper To Use

This is pretty easy because the first question you have to ask yourself is do you want a textured or smooth paper. If the answer is textured then it means you want a Cold Press paper, so then you only need to decide if you what a bright paper with OBA’s (Cold Press Bright) or not (Cold Press Natural). If you want a smooth paper then again you only need to decide if you what a bright paper with OBA’s (Hot Press Bright) or not (Hot Press Natural).

Personally I love them all and I enjoy having them all around so I can choose the paper that meets my needs for a given image rather than being limited to only one. I recognize that peoples budgets are tight these days – so is mine – so if I could only get one it would be the Cold Press Natural because of its substantial feel and wonderful paper color. My favorite of these four is my second choice and that is Hot Press Bright, but the reason why it wasn’t my first choice here is because it is like a matte version of Exhibition Fiber so on a limited budget I’d probably use EFP over Hot Press Bright.

Paper Profiles

When choosing the media type (i.e., the paper in the Epson driver or the options dialog in image print (both shown above) you need to choose Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper. You do this because it tells the printer how thick the paper is (to prevent head strikes, banding, scratches during printing, etc…) , whereas the paper profile determines the quality of your printed image.

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 1/31/11), but the direct link for the Mac and PC versions

Here’s a table of paper profiles that you can refer to when changing the paper settings in Photoshop or Lightroom when using a 3880 printer:

Paper Profile
Cold Press Natural SP3880 CPNWFAP MK 2880 v1.icc
Cold Press Bright SP3880 CPBWFAP MK 2880 v1.icc
Hot Press Natural SP3880 HPNWFAP MK 2880 v1.icc
Hot Press Bright SP3880 HPBWFAP MK 2880 v1.icc

Confused? I was too at first, but it is pretty simple when you decode it:

  • SP – Stylus® Pro
  • CP = Cold Press / HP = Hot Press
  • NW = Natural White / BW = Bright White
  • FAP = Fine Art Paper
  • 3880Epson Stylus® Pro 3880 is the target printer
  • MK – Matte Black Ink
  • 2880 – 2880x1440 resolution (use Print Quality Level 5 when using this profile)
  • v1 – This is the first version
  • icc International Color Consortium Profile

You’ll notice that the profiles come in both 1440 and 2880 versions. These numbers correspond to the print resolution you will be using so use the one that matches your printer driver settings. Personally I couldn’t tell any difference in print quality using the two so I just always use the 2880 version. Your mileage may vary. :)

Print Dialog Screen Shots

I didn’t have time for an in-depth walkthrough like I did with the Epson Exhibition Fiber paper review, but I thought I’d still include some screen shots to help point you in the right direction.

If you are still having trouble then check out my 85 page Printing 101 guide to get the most out of your printer.

Epson Driver – PC

The following are the dialogs for the PC that you will see in both Photoshop and Lightroom as well as any other product that uses the Epson driver.

It doesn’t matter which press paper you are using, the settings here are the same for all of them (except paper size and your own personal user options of course). Here’s what I use for 13x19” Paper (which Epson annoyingly just calls Super A3 on the PC):


Ignore Select Setting – That’s a preset I saved for myself
Notice the Media Type is UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper

Here’s my Current Settings Dialog:

TIP: While unlikely, if you are n a humid environment and seem to be unhappy with the results of your print try turning High-Speed off. I couldn’t observe any differences with it on versus off, but there may be some rare circumstances where it makes sense to do that.

Epson Driver – Mac

The following are the dialogs for the Mac that you will see in both Photoshop and Lightroom as well as any other product that uses the Epson driver.

It doesn’t matter which press paper you are using, the settings here are the same for all of them (except paper size and your own personal user options of course). Here’s what I use:


Notice the Media Type is UltraSmooth Fine Art Paper

TIP: While unlikely, if you are n a humid environment and seem to be unhappy with the results of your print try turning High-Speed off. I couldn’t observe any differences with it on versus off, but there may be some rare circumstances where it makes sense to do that.

ColorByte ImagePrint


Always Click the Options Button
to see what Media Type is selected

The main thing to remember about ImagePrint is that you need to click the options button (highlighted above) in the Print dialog so that you can change the media type (shown below) to Ultra Smooth Fine Art (just like the Epson driver):

SNAGHTML5e21ade
This paper is thick so make sure you do this

and don’t forget to choose the appropriate profile based on the paper you are using (contact ImagePrint or post a question on my forums when in doubt):


Set your profile in the Color Management dialog’s Output tab as shown above


Set your rendering intent in the RGB list on the right side

Photoshop

Here’s what my dialog looks like when I print on Hot Press Bright White:


Be sure the Printer Profile reflects the correct paper you are using

This is functionally the same for Mac and PC as well as CS4 and CS5, so refer to the earlier section about paper profiles to learn which one you should use.

Lightroom

Lightroom is the same on both the Mac and PC and the key thing is to set your profile down in the Color Management section where it says profile. Be sure to set your rendering intent as well. See my EFP review for more info on how to see the full list of profiles list in Lightroom.

Comparisons to other Epson papers

I have found that its handy to own a pack of Epson Ultra Premium Presentation Paper for doing test prints before creating your final print on one of these more expensive papers. Based on my research using Chromix ColorThink Pro this cheap paper has a slightly smaller color gamut, but great prints on this paper will look jaw dropping on the press papers. Of course it is nowhere near the quality of these papers, so this is just a recommendation for test prints.

In my testing I also used the slightly less expensive Epson Velvet Fine Art Paper which I didn’t care for as much because the ink just didn’t have the same pop on this paper as it does on the press papers, so it felt more like a traditional matte paper (which might be a positive for some).

I did feel that while these papers are good, I did find that John Paul Caponigro’s favorite paper, Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art, performed very well against these papers but also offers a more substantial feel. 

Prices & Sizes

Click Here to see a full list of papers for sale at B&H. In addition if you are in the Seattle area you can get a good deal from JVH when you tell them Ron Martinsen sent you.

These papers are available in the following sizes for the following retail prices:

Cold Press Bright
Paper Size Sheet/Roll Product No. Price (MSRP)
8.5" x 11" 25 sheets S042307  $                 34.00
13" x 19" 25 sheets S042310  $                 94.00
17" x 22" 25 sheets S042311  $              159.00
17" x 50' Roll S042313  $              119.00
24" x 50' Roll S042314  $              159.00
44" x 50' Roll S042315  $              299.00
60" x 50' Roll S042316  $              349.00
       
Cold Press Natural
Paper Size Sheet/Roll Product No. Price (MSRP)
8.5" x 11" 25 sheets S042297  $                 34.00
13" x 19" 25 sheets S042300  $                 94.00
17" x 22" 25 sheets S042301  $              159.00
24" x 50' Roll S042304  $              299.00
44" x 50' Roll S042305  $              299.00
60" x 50' Roll S042306  $              349.00
       
Hot Press Bright
Paper Size Sheet/Roll Product No. Price (MSRP)
8.5" x 11" 25 sheets S042327  $                 34.00
13" x 19" 25 sheets S042330  $                 94.00
17" x 22" 25 sheets S042331  $              149.00
17" x 50' Roll S042333  $              119.00
24" x 50' Roll S042334  $              159.00
44" x 50' Roll S042335  $              299.00
60" x 50' Roll S042336  $              349.00
       
Hot Press Natural
Paper Size Sheet/Roll Product No. Price (MSRP)
8.5" x 11" 25 sheets S042317  $                 34.00
13" x 19" 25 sheets S042320  $                 94.00
17" x 22" 25 sheets S042321  $              149.00
17" x 50' Roll S042323  $              119.00
24" x 50' Roll S042324  $              159.00
44" x 50' Roll S042325  $              299.00
60" x 50' Roll S042326  $              349.00
Sample Pack

Okay, I know paper is expensive so if you just want to try out these papers and others from the Signature Worthy collection then I recommend the Epson Signature Worthy Sample Pack (8.5 x 11", 14 Sheets) .  If you like these then please support this blog by coming back here and using my links when ordering more paper – thanks!

Special Offer

Now is the time to stock up because there is a special offer ends on March 31st, 2011. Use the Epson Buy 3 Get one Free Rebate Form to save when you purchase the Epson Signature Worthy Matte Papers at B&H.

Disclosure

Epson has provided me with sample boxes of all of the papers reviewed in this article in various sizes. If you purchase using the links provided in this article, I may get a commission so your support for future articles like this is greatly appreciated!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

7 comments:

John Paul Caponigro said...

Great review Ron!
The only reason I still use UltraSmooth is it has a greater longevity rating. I actually prefer the brighter white of the new Hot Press. I have to have a conversation with Henry Wilhelm about this. It may be that the shorter longevity rating of the new papers is based on the OBs tiring to produce a white equal to Ultrasmooth. If that's the case. I'll probably switch to the new papers.

Lloyd Bentsen said...

Many thanks for your settings and screen shots...really big help. One problem arose when I used the
8 1/2 and 11 size. I used Ultra Smooth Fine Art Paper for the media type; however, the final print was off center. Initially, I was unable to find anything in FAQs etc. that addressed the issue. Then I read the manual to see if it might inspire a solution. On chance, I set the "Output Paper" in Layout section to "8 1/2 X 11" rather than "Same as Paper Size" (which was set to 8 1/2 X 11) and dispite a small reduction in size (about 4%), the prints came out properly centered and with the margins I expected. Perfectly acceptable! Just curious why the extra step (setting the Output Paper size)? Lloyd

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Lloyd,

Good question - I actually hadn't noticed this little nuance, but I do a screen capture of my dialogs for all of my prints to see if I've just been lucky.

I'll also contact Epson to find out what the difference is between "Same as Paper size" versus specifying the actual paper size.

Stay tuned.

Ron Martinsen said...

I have a comprehensive reply for you Lloyd on my forums here:

http://ronmartblogforums.com/showthread.php?214-Llyod-Bensten-s-Cold-Press-Printing-Problem

keng said...

In my landscape images, the cold press bright seems to leave the highlight areas, in the dark. (like many other matte papers) The reflected 'blue sky' of the highlights (seen on my monitor) is dull and gray in the print. Any suggestions? I'm using epson's .icc profile for this paper at 2880, and following your suggested settings.

Ron Martinsen said...

Keng,

This sounds like a classic display calibration issue. What type of monitor are you using and what are you using to calibrate it?

Are you using a PC or Mac? (what OS version)

Where are you printing from (i.e., Photoshop CS4 32-bit, etc...)?

Are you using the 3880 and the "SP3880 CPBWFAP MK 2880 v1.icc" profile?

Can you share screen shots of what your Epson driver and host program (i.e., Photoshop) dialogs look like. For the Epson driver include the Main, Page Layout and Current Settings windows and the Print Dialog for Photoshop (or equivalent if you are using something else)?

Lots of things can go wrong and there's only one path to success. The good news is once you have that path figured out - you can get consistently good prints as long as your printer is performing as it should.

I'm also assuming you are using Epson inks.

Ron

lke said...

Great insight and helpful!
Question --
I use a Canon Pro 9500 Mark II printer ---
What setting do you use in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5 -- under color management profiles to choose one of the "Signature..." papers"?
All I see are the Canon papers when I use the Canon printer profile?