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.
Glossy papers are a different story. We haven’t found that the glossy paper stocks from the different printer vendors necessarily do well when used on competing manufacturers, whether or not the paper has been profiled. It also gives us an excuse to try alternative paper types, and we’ve found two recently that we really like, Lasal Photo Gloss 270 from Moab Paper, and Red River Paper’s UltraPro Gloss.
Lasal Photo Gloss 270 is a midweight paper with a high-gloss finish, bright white color, and no optical brighteners. It’s priced from under $9 for 50 4×6 sheets to about $30 for 50 letter-size sheets on Amazon. To our tastes, which generally tend to matte-based and fiber papers, Lasal Gloss one of the best glossy stocks we’ve seen, and it has a nice thick weight to it that gives it a little better feel than the photo papers from the printer vendors.
Red River’s UltraPro Gloss comes in both 68- and 78lb. weights, and is nearly as bright (albeit with a cool slight-blue cast) as the Lasal. Its finish is a bit less glossy, but the 68-lb. version is a bargain at $30 for a box of 100 letter-size sheets ($48 for 50 13×19 sheets), and it works great with both dye and pigment inks.
If you want something with a bit more gloss that is as bright as the Lasal, Red River has a slightly pricier Arctic Polar Gloss, which is priced at $42 for 100 letter-size sheets.