Paper Recommendations for Epson's UltraChrome Ink Printers
Ethan Hansen/Dry Creek Photo
A common question we receive is for
paper recommendations for Epson's UltraChrome printers. These include the R800, R1800, 2200, 4000, 7600, and
9600. We have built
hundreds of custom ICC printer profiles for these printers, and measured their performance with a
wide variety of paper stocks. The newer Epson models - the R2400, 4800, and larger format printers using the UltraChrome K3 inkset - are more forgiving of paper types. The following is a list of suggested media for these printers. The
list is based both on our measurements and visual evaluations of actual prints. Reviews are grouped by surface finish: Glossy, Semi-Gloss, Lustre, and Matte.
You can also view interactive,
3-D color charts of many of the color gamuts for the papers below. These allow you to compare the full
color gamut to Adobe RGB and sRGB. As we test more papers, we will add combinations that prove to be
exceptional to the list below.
The original UltraChrome inks are prone to bronzing on glossy paper. This causes certain shades of dark greens and near-blacks to appear flat rather than glossy. A noticeable tint appears on the worst papers when viewed at an angle to the surface. Also be aware that the black produced by the UltraChrome PK inks is not as dark as what Epson's dye based printers create. Pay close attention to your soft proof in Photoshop to make sure the shadow detail you see on screen will come through in print.
The R800 and R1800 added a "gloss optimizer" topcoat spray to minimize bronzing. This is effective, although your prints have a distinct sprayed appearance and lose the mirror finish the best glossy papers offer. Ultrachrome K3 ink printers, including the R2400, 4800, and larger format models, have new pigments and screening algorithms that nearly eliminate the previous bronzing. Some color shifting still appears, although it now occurs in sky blue and nearby cyan colors. Prints viewed at an off-angle can take on a dark purple cast to these colors. The effect is not objectionable in most instances, as it requires a particular alignment between viewing angle and light source to arise.
- Pictorico Hi-Gloss White Film. This is marketed as the ink jet equivalent of Cibachromes. It is not quite that glossy, but is impressively shiny. The polyester film holds details very well, offers a wide color range, and resists bronzing. The drawback is that Pictorico is proud of this stuff: it costs like sin.
- Ilford Smooth Gloss: Good performer with limited bronzing. Cheaper than Pictorico, but not the same print quality.
- Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper: This paper works acceptably well with UltraChrome K3 ink printers. Dynamic and color range is good, as is ability to hold details. The paper contains significant levels of optical brighteners; long-term archival performance is not to be expected. Significant bronzing is seen with the original Ultrachrome inks (Epson 2200, etc.).
So far, we are still searching for a semi-gloss paper that really stands
out with the original UltraChrome inks. None we have yet seen match the performance of the lustre (E finish)
papers. As mentioned above, the Epson Pro Glossy paper is close to a semi-gloss finish.
- Epson's Premium Semi-Gloss is serviceable, but not stellar. Significant bronzing shows in dark red and magenta colors, although the surface finish masks it to a large extent.
- Red River Polar Satin offers one compromise: Bronzing is minimal for darker colors, but the paper itself looks flat in highlight areas where little ink is deposited. Color range for 3/4 and darker tones is excellent. One caveat is the roll and sheet versions of this paper hold ink quite differently - a profile that works for one format will be marginal with the other.
All Epson UltraChrome models perform well with lustre finish papers. The color and contrast range is superb, although none of the papers are rated as archival.
- Inkjetart Micro Ceramic Luster: Retains better details, has a wider color
range, and costs less than Epson's Premium Lustre. Not a bad combination. If you use it, however, get
your prints behind glass or sealed in archival bags quickly to prevent gas fading and color shifts from
humidity variations. Do not use Inkjetart glossy paper – it bronzes unacceptably.
- Epson Premium Luster: Performance very close to the IJA paper, costs more.
- Ilford Smooth Pearl: Another excellent performer that also requires prompt framing for protection from the elements. Has the best hand-feel and highest contrast range of the lustre papers.
- Epson Premium Semimatte: A slightly smoother surface finish than the Luster/Pearl papers - close to a traditional N-Finish paper. The color and contrast range are excellent. This paper is only available in 16" and wider rolls, so it will not work on a 2200 or R800.
- Moab Kokopelli Photo Satin: Very close to Epson Premium Luster. Holds detail well, with good color range in shadows.
These papers are where the Epson UltraChrome printers, with the exception of the R800 and R1800, come into
their own. The Matte black inks are necessary to produce deep blacks. Use them, and a 2200
or its wide format siblings make stunning prints. The Epson R800, however, does not perform particularly well on matte papers. The R800's internal ink mixing algorithms do not appear to be optimized for matte surfaces. Compared to the other Epson UltraChrome printers, the R800 exhibits poor color definition in darker greens and blues on matte papers as well as reduced color range.
- Epson Fine Art Velvet: A favorite of ours. The textured surface works well with images that do not require tack-sharp details. The color range is fantastic for a matte paper. The drawback is that the surface is fragile. Rubbing or bumping it easily leads to a burnished look in darker areas. These prints really need to live behind glass, not from a fading perspective, but to protect the delicate surface.
- Hahnemühle Photo Rag in the 308 gsm weight. This paper is much like the
Epson Velvet with a smoother surface. Landscape shots printed on it take on a quality that is part photo,
part painting. If you have admired inkjet, oops – giclee – prints in a art gallery, you know
the look. Photo Rag is not a high contrast paper, so care must be taken with images having high dynamic range. Photo Rag is available in a lighter weight as well, but it feels flimsy in comparison. If the
prints flex too much the surface flakes. Be sure to brush the paper surface before printing to knock
off any loose particles.
- Hahnemühle William Turner: A highly textured version of Photo Rag. The
surface is too rough for my personal taste, but the image quality is very good. This is not a paper to
use for prints where fine details are important – the surface masks them. This quality makes it
excellent for big enlargements, however, as the surface texture masks pixellation and jaggies. As with the
Photo Rag, brush the paper carefully before printing to avoid spots in the final print.
- Moab Entrada Fine Art Natural: This paper blocks up slightly in shadows, but is otherwise a good performer. The surface is similar to Photo Rag, although it does not hold quite as much shadow detail. The cost is approximately half that of Photo Rag – a good buy. The non-Natural (unnatural?) version contains optical brighteners. Aside from imparting a cold cast to the paper, these do little to improve image quality.
- Epson Ultrasmooth: Epson's entry into smooth-finish, truly archival papers. This stock is similar in performance to Moab Entrada, with slightly improved ink handling in dark shadows. The closest Epson paper is Enhanced Matte. Epson Ultrasmooth has, name aside, a slightly rougher surface than Enhanced Matte. Be careful with images having critical details in light yellows and oranges, as the surface coloration can mask them. Prints made on Ultrasmooth also need protection from rubbing. Separate your prints with tissue during storage or for shipping.
- Epson's Watercolor paper is a good, reasonably inexpensive choice, albeit not in the same league as the
above papers. Prints made on watercolor paper will show less detail than on the above stocks. This paper imposes itself on the print - for soft, abstract work, that can be helpful. Otherwise, choose another paper.
- Mediastreet Royal Renaissance is a cheaper version of the Photo Rag papers. The quality is not up to Hahnemühle standards, but it is significantly less costly.
- Epson Enhanced (formerly Archival) Matte works reasonably well. This is a good, inexpensive choice for proofing. It is If you try one of the fancier papers, however, you will be forever spoiled.
- Epson's Matte Heavyweight paper has a relatively small color range and only gives middling detail. While suitable for rough proofs, Matte Heavyweight is not recommended for final prints.