Paper to me is more interesting than inks, perhaps because I can understand paper more easily. Thus any reader of our FLAAR sites will quickly realize that our Digital Imaging Technology Center is deep into reviewing paper for desktop printing.

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Dilemma of color desktop printers. What Paper is Best? Extensive tests present positive results.

After you go through the process of figuring out what printer to buy (and if you were clever enough to avoid Epson's clever advertising and chose an ALPS dual mode printer) you now have to figure out what paper to use. So here comes a comprehensive review with plenty of helpful pointers on what is the best paper to use for your ALPS dry ink printer (and for many other classes of desktop printer as well).

Since we wish to devote more than adequate time and attention to each printer, it was a considerable blessing when a kindred spirit dropped out of the sky and offered his help in testing paper. This colleague has the same interests as our test staff and is just as exacting. Furthermore, he is dedicated to excellence (another Capricorn?)

Here are his results, reported with permission. We will gradually use our extensive test suite to test these papers as well. The FLAAR test suite is a veritable rainbow of exotic tropical flora and fauna, exciting Maya artifacts, Aztec-Mixtec gold treasure, and all kinds of test images. It sure helps to be sitting on 40,000 images when called up on to test color printers.

Tests were done with the Alps which was current model in 1998; the model available today is the Alps MD-5000 Desktop Print Shop, 2400 dpi photo quality color printer.


Alps software settings:

The Mac printer driver provides for various paper, colors, finishes, resolution, etc. Using plain paper, I found that the "Cardboard" selection, Glossy finish, Millions of Colors and Best (600 dpi) provided the best output.

Other selections give choices for super quality (1200 dpi), regular finish, white undercoat, and spot colors.

Since my test was not that extensive (editor's comment: it was easily as extensive as any professional review in any national digital magazine) I found the "Best (600dpi" gave a more smooth output than the 1200 dpi "Super" setting.

The transparency selection doesn't allow you to put the finish cartridge in the machine and forces you to put the black for CMYK. On regular paper the image is too overlay saturated. In comparison to test photos under dye sub mode, all the images had slightly less contrast, which I compensated with a +10 increase in contrast using Photoshop. I tried to increase the saturation, but that output didn't have as much pleasing results as adjusting the contrast.

Therefore, for the plain paper study, I used Photoshop files with the added contrast boost and kept the driver settings with the "cardboard" settings mentioned above. I'm not sure if my methodology is faulty, but I'm following what makes sense to me, given all the different variables. All the evaluations were done by my "eyeballing" the color, graininess, banding, and how well it produced a continuous tone (using the dye sub output as the standard). I also used a magnifying glass for a more close-up inspection.

Sample files were 600 dpi and sized down to about 4x5.

Plain paper: card stock. I have listed the samples in order of my preference.

1. Hammermill Color Copy Cover 60# Finish: Matte $9.72 for 250 sheets. The output was the best on this paper. Flesh tones in a magazine cover (the test image was scanned to do the review) were even and graininess was low. Did a really good job on light solid background of a stock photo with the banding almost unnoticeable. Color accuracy was the closest to the dye sub print.

2. Kirk Brilliant Art Cover 8 pt. Finish: Semi-Glossy. $15.67 for 250 sheets. Second choice. Photos were a little bit more defined because of the glossy finish, but not as nice as the Color Copy Cover. I thought the magazine color looked almost as good as the Hammermill version. Color of black in the corners of stock photo was more brown and the output benefited from the +10 contrast boost. Some light banding was present in light areas. For a heavier paper, this would be my choice.

3. Kirk Brilliant Art Cover 10 pt. Finish: Semi-Glossy, $19.69 for 250 sheets. Similar output to 8pt version.

4. Exact Gloss Cover 80# Finish: Low Gloss, $11.29 for 250 sheets. Not a bad card stock, but flesh tones a bit grainy in magazine cover. Stock photo, as above; black was more dark brownish and some light banding. Some intermediate dark areas were too light.

5. Exact Matte Cover 80# Finish: Matte, $11.04 for 250 sheets. Similar to the Gloss Cover, but image slightly more "muted" because of matte finish. Everything else the same.

6. Express Pluto Plate, 10 pt, Finish: Matte, no cost given. Flesh color in magazine cover image was much more reddish and both photos exhibited more graininess and a little more banding than Exact stock.

7. Fox River Starwhite Vicksburg 80# Finish: Matte, $14.66 per 250 sheets. Flesh tones in magazine cover more uneven and grainy, especially in light areas of both photos. Banding was a little more pronounced.

8. King James Cast Coat 10 pt, Finish: Glossy, $15.45 per 250 sheets. The gloss finish brings up the contrast, but the flesh tones are much more grainy and uneven. More banding and shading is uneven in the background of the stock photo. Black is more like medium brown.

9. King James Cast Coat 12 pt, Finish: Glossy, $15.83 per 250 sheets. Similar to 10pt but experienced some "skips" in the ribbon, which produced a vertical line about two inches in light background of stock photo.

Plain Paper: Text Weight

1. Hammermill Jet Ink 24# Finish: Matte, $9.27 per 100 sheets. This is an expensive text weight paper Hammermill sells as premium ink jet paper. Gave the best of all images for both photos. Both even didn't need the contrast boost, as unboosted output was pretty similar to the dye sub print. Flesh tones smooth and fine grain. Background of the stock photo was the closest result to the dye sub in color and shading. Banding was extremely low--almost negligible. Nice paper, but just as expensive as dye sub paper which will give excellent photo quality. Still, my choice for text weight paper.

2. Alps High Grade Paper ~20# Finish: Matte, $16.99 for 200 sheets. If cost matters and you can't get the Hammermill Ink Jet paper, this is a good paper. Alps did their homework. Good flesh tones, low grain and low banding (slightly more than the Hammermill). Stock photo black was a little light and not as accurate as Jet Ink above.

3. Hammermill Color Copy paper 28/70 (more like 24#), Finish: Matte, $12.37 for a full ream (500 sheets). Slightly less in quality as the Alps,but still a nice image for magazine cover. Light background in stock photo lost some of the darker black areas in the corners and could see some banding and small "specks"in lower contrast version. Boosting the contrast took away the specks and gave a better image.

4. Tektronix Laser paper 28#, Finish: Matte, no price as paper was donated, I like the heavier weight of this paper in comparison to the Alps and Hammermill Color Copy papers, but the images were slightly inferior to both the Alps and the Hammermill Color Copy. Banding is a little better than the Hammermill in the light areas, but overall a half step down from it. Flesh tones acceptable, graininess also acceptable.

5. Beckett Expression 24# Finish: Matte, $11 for a full ream, 500 sheets. More grainy than Tektronix paper for both test photos.

6. Utopia CS Plus Gloss Book 80# text, Finish: Low Gloss, $11.48 for a full ream of 500 sheets. Bit more grainy than Beckett and banding also a bit more noticeable.

7. Exact Gloss Coated 70# text, low gloss finish, $10.58 for a full ream, 500 sheets. Grain and banding increases slightly here more than on the Utopia, but still within acceptable range. But with all the other papers available, why buy it?

8. Exact Matte Coated, 70# text, matte finish, $10.33 for a full ream. Similar to Exact Gloss, but images with a more washed out look because of matte surface. Pretty similar though.

9. Utopia Matte Book 80# text, matte finish, $10.03 for a full ream. More grain than all the rest.

10. Tiara (don't know full name), 70# text, matte finish, $14.42 for full ream. Grainy and splotchy flesh tones. Unacceptable for this purpose.

11. Fox River Starwhite Cicksburg 24# matte finish, $12.85 for full ream. Really grainy and unacceptable. Could see watermark in the light background through stock photo.

12. Strathmore Script 24# matte finish, $13.72 for a full ream. Yuck!..grain city, really bad on the light background of stock photo. Flesh tones were grainy and splotchy. (Editor's note: every paper is made for a particular purpose, and these nice papers are fully suitable for normal writing and traditional (pre-digital) office use).

Dye Sub Papers

Only got to test four different dye sub papers. They included the Alps paper, Tektronix paper for Chaser 480 and Phaser 440, and Kodak paper for Kodak model 8650.

The dye sub ribbon got destroyed using the Kodak paper. Tektronix paper for Phaser 440 produced an image that was light in saturation, but was acceptable. Tektronix 480 paper and Alps paper were almost identical in out put quality with the Tektronix paper easing the Alps paper out slightly with smoother continuous tone images, especially in the background of the stock photo. Also, was slightly heavier stock than the Alps paper (but not by much).

Interestingly enough, with about 65-70 4x6 inch prints made using the regular ribbons, I still have about 20% left and haven't changed them yet. However, I am on my second "finish" ribbon as all my prints had a glossy finish.


Editor: our sincere thanks to a helpful colleague. When the Macintosh coupling device arrives from Alps we can run our test suite and then show actual results in color.

Alps of course works perfectly well on any PC, but the Macintosh system generates automatic thumbnail images of all photographs and digital images. They pop up always, without you having to create them and regenerate them as in Hijack on a PC. Once you do desktop publishing on a Mac, I feel sorry for people forced to do the same on a PC.

I began on a PC, and I am sure I will die with a PC writing my obituary, but in the meantime, if you are working with photographic images, a Mac is faster and better, especially in portables.

If you really want technical details on inkjet media, inks, and/or inkjet printhead technology, and especially if you wish to meet the movers and shakers in this industry, be sure to sign up for the next conference organized by IMI. To contact them write to imi@tdstelme.net. These seminars are outstanding; the senior review editor of FLAAR usually attends because he can get so much fresh information for the readers of the FLAAR Reports in PDF format and the FLAAR Information Network of web sites.

editor: Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR Digital Imaging Technology Center, May 2, 1998

 
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