Monday, March 11, 2013

COMPARISON: Epson Paper vs Red River Paper – Save Money without Sacrificing Quality!

Premium Photo Inkjet Papers
As good as or better than retail brands

If you read my Printing 101 eBook then you know that the real cost of printing isn’t the ink, it’s the paper. Paper costs add up and the better the paper the worse it gets! Times are tough so real working pros are looking for ways to lower their costs without lowering their quality. Hobbyists are in the same boat since there’s no income involved. As a result, I thought it would be useful to compare some of my favorite Epson papers to what I would call their “generic equivalents” at Red River Paper

I should note that this article not only applies to Epson printers, but Canon and some HP printers as well.

I will say up front that I really like Epson papers quite a bit, so if you fall into that camp consider this: How often do you find yourself making a few prints before you think “okay, that’s perfect”? Even the best of of the best print masters I’ve spoken with say that it usually takes them 3 or 4 prints (minimum) before they reach that point. What if you could have a paper that was very similar to do your test prints with and then you used the Epson paper for your final print? You’d have the same end result, but you’d save some money in the process!

Personally I’ve found Red River Papers to be excellent replacements for my Epson papers, so I use them quite often. If I’m giving a print away to a friend or family member, or I’m just doing some print testing I’m often reaching for Red River Paper as a way to keep my costs down. In some cases though, they have the perfect paper that isn’t offered by Epson (like Polar Pearl Metallic or various double-sided paper choices). As a result, I’ve enjoyed getting familiar with their paper lineup and experimenting with their wide variety of papers to see which paper suits a given print the best.

Photographer's Choice Sample Kit

In this article I focus on the papers Red River Paper makes that are best suited for photographers. I feature notes about these papers and where applicable I list what Epson papers they offer that are comparable along with my two cents about what I think of both.

It’s tough to switch paper brands and it’s even harder to pour through all of the choices to know what to get. As a result, I highly recommend you try out Red River Paper’s Photographer's Choice Sample Kit because it includes two 8.5x11 sheets of the papers listed in this section.

Resin Coated Photo-Feel Papers

Matte Photo Papers

Watercolor 100% Cotton Papers

  • Aurora Fine Art White – This is a hearty 250g/m² 13.5mil paper that claims minimal OBA’s, but it’s so much brighter white than the Natural that I have a hard time believing that claim. Instead it seems to have the amped brightness of Epson’s Hot Press Bright (330g/m² and 17mil). Color wise they are very similar with the brightness advantage to the Epson paper. If you find the rigidity of the Epson paper to be frustrating, then this is an excellent replacement. Unlike the Natural paper below, I find it much easier to distinguish this paper from Epson’s Hot Press Bright.
  • Aurora Fine Art Natural – This is a hearty 250g/m² 13.5mil paper with minimal OBA’s. It reminds me a lot of Epson Hot Press Natural (330g/m² and 17mil), but it’s a little less rigid and it seems to have an even smoother texture. Color wise they are virtually identical. If viewed separately I think one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two, so if you find the rigidity of the Epson paper to be frustrating, then this is an excellent replacement. The natural papers from both Red River Paper and Epson have a much more substantial feel than their white/bright counterparts, despite being statistically the same.


  • 45lb. Zeppelin SemiGloss 2-sided – Need to do a tri-fold brochure? This is your paper! It’s think, folds easily and supports double-sided printing. I really like it for handouts, but I wouldn’t use it for fine art. 
  • 60lb. Pecos River Gloss – I’ve never had a chance to check this paper out yet, so I can’t really comment on it. It’s purpose seems to be for situations like greeting/Christmas cards where you want a glossy outside and a plain paper back that supports light graphics and text.

Specialty Matte Papers

  • 62lb. River Linen – This is what I’d call “Resume Paper” because it has a beautiful linen pattern. At 220g/m² and 10mil, it feels impressive in the hand. It’s an archival paper suitable for fine art that brings its own texture to your print.
  • 60lb. Paper Canvas – This is a brilliant idea for those who love the texture of canvas, but hate the flex and mounting requirements. This is a paper, NOT a canvas, with a canvas looking texture that looks and performs very much like the River Linen. At 230g/m² and 11mil, it is quite hearty and feels very special in the hand.

NOTE: Sample sheets are labeled on the front lower right for easy identification. This leaves room for a full 8x10.

Profiles & Support

A paper company can’t (and shouldn’t) survive without great ICC profiles and instructions. I’m very satisfied with Red River because they offer profiles for a wide array of printers. I’ve also heard great stories of readers getting excellent customer service – better than Epson according to some – so service after the sale seems to be the name of the game.


I’ve been very satisfied with the Red River Paper products that I’ve used, and I’d have no reservations recommending them to a friend. I still go with some of the heavyweight Epson papers for my most important clients, but for friends and my personal print jobs I’m totally satisfied with the Red River Paper alternatives. It’s great quality at an affordable price, so I highly recommend you pick up a sample kit to see for yourself!

The 80lb. Polar Pearl Metallic is my first choice for fine art metallic printing, and I have used the 68lb. UltraPro Satin 2.0 and Aurora Fine Art Natural quite often in my studio (more than Epson equivalents).

Where to order (SPECIAL OFFER)

Click here to order the Photographer's Choice Sample Kit, or use the links below to learn more or order any of the papers listed:

Click here to visit my special page on Red River Paper where you can learn about the special offers available to readers of this blog.

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Anonymous said...

I've been a digital printer for many years. I've tried the RR papers a couple times but other than for card stock where good enough was good enough I found the RR particularly lacking in dmax in the blacks for fine art work especially for B&W. did you test for that comparison at all?

Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Anonymous,

I didn't do a precise measurement of DMax for all the papers discussed in this article, so I didn't think it was appropriate to call out any differences specifically.

I can say that for some RR papers (not all), I do agree that the DMax seems to be less than their Epson equivalent. This is one of the reasons why I mention a few times that Epson papers are still my favorite.

I can also qualify this to say that the DMax difference is less of an issue with the primarily color printing that I do, but I can sympathize with your concern if you are primarily a B&W printer.

Two paper companies can have identical papers from a technical spec perspective, but the DMax can vary quite substantially depending on how the papers are finished. Epson takes great pride in the finishing of its papers and considers that to be its "secret sauce" that makes their papers superior to a lot of comparable papers. In the case of Signature Worthy papers, I do think Epson's doing something that is above average as they do have an apparent superior DMax.