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Inkjet Printing

Having bought a film scanner, I needed a decent printer to do justice to the images it produced. After many compromises, I settled on an HP 895Cxi. It was reasonably fast, could produce photo-quality images, and was within my budget at that time (early 1999).

Of course printing technology has improved markedly since then. Now I use a Canon i9100 which makes gorgeous (and large) prints but quite picky about the paper you feed it, is a bit heavy on the ink, and the ink evaporates if you leave it unused for any length of time.

A word of warning about the comments I’ve made below: the chemistry of printing inks and papers is still very much a black art. You really need the right combination of paper and ink to get the best out of your printer. Papers which work well with one set of inks won’t necessarily work well with another, and vice versa. All of my tests were based on the standard HP inks for the HP 895C series printers. If you use different inks you will most likely reach different conclusions.

The Trouble with Inkjets…

It very soon became apparent that both the quality of the image, and its durability, were very dependent on the paper. After some experimentation, I concluded that the behaviour of the papers when used with my HP printer, was at odds with the reviews I’d seen, based on prints done with Epson machines. I can only conclude that this is to do with the chemical differences between the inks, and the papers’ coatings. Whatever the reason, I decided to do some quick tests for myself.

I only tried a few papers: WHS Photo Inkjet Paper, Ilford Inkjet Photo Paper, HP Premium Photo Paper, Kodak Inkjet Photographic Quality Paper, Konica Photo Inkjet Paper QP, and Canon High Gloss Film HG-101. My tests were all conducted in early 1999, so be aware that most manufacturers will have changed the formulation of their papers since then. Nonetheless, my main conclusions are listed below, the most obvious being that you certainly don’t always get what you pay for!

The papers were all glossy, and are listed in order of the price I paid for them (my main concern, after image quality and fading). My test consisted of printing a test strip of both saturated and neutral colours, smoothly fading into one another. I then left half of each strip exposed to the sun for a few weeks, and compared the unexposed and exposed portions.

The smooth cross-fades were rendered better when selecting “deluxe” photo paper on this printer, regardless of which of the papers was actually being used. Unfortunately the colour balance on this setting was less than neutral and the newer versions of the driver don’t have the setting any more. Only Kodak actually recommended using this setting with their paper.

WHS Photo Inkjet Paper

This is a cheap paper, probably not available outside the UK. The base colour was not a very bright white to start with and it yellowed badly after exposure to the sun. It didn’t absorb the inks particularly well (especially the yellow), but the more intense colours on this test were almost entirely unaffected by exposure to the sun. This could actually be a good choice if you don’t care about pale flesh tones looking jaundiced.

Ilford Inkjet Photo Paper

More difficult to find, but still quite cheap. This has a good white base, unaffected by sunlight, and the HP inks seem quite stable on it. The cyan ink got slightly darker and became less saturated with exposure to the sun, but the other colours got a bit lighter. This could result in unexpected colour shifts as the image fades. Nonetheless, a good performance with the best colour rendition (before exposure to sunlight) and the smoothest gradation of tones of all the ones I tested.

HP Premium Photo Paper

HP’s own brand paper gave images that looked good to start with, but faded significantly faster than the Ilford paper. On the plus side, the fading was even across all inks, so images shouldn’t exhibit colour shifts when they fade.

Kodak Inkjet Photographic Quality Paper

This is probably the most common ‘popular’ paper in the UK (apart from Epson, perhaps). I hate it. It’s overpriced, very slow to dry, and the inks all faded badly. The whole strip shifted towards magenta, and all but the cyan inks became lighter in tone. To be fair, the cyan ink was fairly stable on this paper.

Konica Photo Inkjet Paper QP

More expensive and only available from specialist shops, but the ink dries very fast and the stability isn’t bad. The black ink fades more than on Ilford paper, but the cyan is better.

Canon High Gloss Film HG-101

This was the most expensive (albeit still half the price of the HG-201 film which has had some rave reviews elsewhere). It was mid-way between the Konica QP and the Ilford papers in almost every respect. Probably the best overall result – good cyan stability, with only slight fading of the other inks. The only negative point is that the intense colours were not quite so intense as the Ilford paper, and it took a long time to dry.

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