We’ve been testing quite a few printers in the past month or so–in fact, there are 10 printers set up in various states around my office as I write this. When we evaluate a printer, we start out with the printer manufacturer’s papers with our test images; in theory, that combination should offer the best quality “out of the box.” Realistically, it’s also the way that most people will use their photo printer. (The printer companies have also understood that providing a range of high-quality papers is a smart business move, so it’s a much easier way to go than it was a few years ago.)
When you want to compare prints between printers, it helps to have a more-level playing field. Looking at a print from competitive printers on the same paper stock can help draw some clear delineations on the qualities of a specific unit. To get to this point, we profile the paper-printer combination with either X-Rite’s i1 or DataColor’s PrintFIX Pro, which gives us an ICC profile that we can use when printing from Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture. Both products do a very good job of creating ICC profiles for us: the X-Rite solution offers more automation, but the PrintFIX system–since replaced by the Spyder3 Studio–is significantly less expensive. We find the profiles created with both to generally be of high quality, although you can often find very good profiles on the paper vendors’ Web sites.
When printing on matte papers, we’ve found Epson’s Ultra Premium Presentation Paper Matte (formerly Enhanced Matte) to be a good strong paper that has held up well and reproduces images very well on printers from Epson, Canon and HP.