Power of Print

Best Baryta Paper Selects

May 9, 2013

By RF Staff

Selecting a paper on which to make high-quality, black-and-white prints reminds me of my days printing in a wet darkroom. Back then, there were endless permutations of paper weights, paper surfaces, paper tone, paper developers and paper toners. Now, there are endless permutations of inkjet paper weights, paper surfaces, printers and software—even more endless than in the past. What hasn’t changed is the fact that what suits one photographer or viewer won’t necessarily suit another.

In searching for an inkjet paper on which to print my personal images in black-and-white, I recall the wet darkroom days when I did most of my printing on Ilfobrom Galerie FB and Ilford Multigrade FB photographic papers. These were both double weight papers that felt substantial in your hands and were capable of deep, rich, detailed blacks, and bright, detailed whites with a full range of grays in between.

Both of these papers have a weight of 225 grams per square meter (gsm), but more importantly, they both have a baryta coating on the base paper. Baryta is barium sulfate, a clay-like mineral found naturally. In paper production, baryta is highly refined, and then coated on the paper base to provide a smooth, reflective surface with high D-Max.

All Baryta inkjet papers are fiber (cotton rag or alpha-cellulose) based, giving them a heavy feel, which to me is very important, both for myself and when showing them to clients. Many are heavier weight than the Ilford wet darkroom papers. I was also interested in seeing how they compared to Epson Exhibition Fiber, a non-baryta paper that was my “go-to” monochrome printing paper before the test. I really like its weight, tonal range and surface texture which reminds me of an air-dried double-weight photographic paper.

For reference, Exhibition Fiber is a 325-gsm paper with an exceptional white base and is capable of deep, rich blacks. While it has a fiber paper base and is acid-and lignin-free, it does contain optical brighteners that could limit its use for archival printing, but also certainly contribute to the bright but detailed highlights.

I decided to test a couple of the other baryta-based inkjet papers to find one that would best suit me, and found that there are more than a couple on the market. I chose ten, and the following is my impression of each of them.

I printed a close-up image of a bristlecone pine tree (picture right) that I converted to black and white and adjusted in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, which Google seems to have discontinued. I made the 8.5 x 11-inch prints on my Epson Stylus Pro 3880 in Advanced Black and White mode with Neutral tone, using the paper manufacturer’s printer profile for each paper.

The baryta paper surfaces range  from matte to glossy, and paper tones range  from neutral to a warm, slightly creamy white. Paper samples from left to right are as follows: Moab by Legion Colorado Fiber Satine; Ilford Galerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk; Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta; and Harman by Hahnemühle Gloss Baryta.

Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique

Canson has designed this paper with archival black-and-white printing with pigmented inks in mind. The baryta coating is applied over an alpha-cellulose, acid-free base, without the use of optical brighteners. Final paper weight is 310 gsm. The paper tone is a warm, creamy white with a somewhat wider tonal range than Exhibition Fiber, slightly better highlight and shadow detail, and slightly less contrast. Sharpness of fine details is the best of all of the papers. The surface texture is smooth, like air-dried photographic paper, but there is some gloss differential—difference in reflectance in areas with more pigment than areas in the highlights.

Price: $30 for 25 sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch paper.

Ilford Galerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk

Ilford Galerie Gold Fibre Silk is a warmer-tone paper, but not quite as warm as the Canson. Whites are just slightly warm, and sharpness is about average among the papers. It is a 310-gsm weight paper with the baryta coating on a fiber base and produces its best results on a pigment ink printer. The surface texture is very similar to the Canson, with the same slight gloss differential. Other than slightly richer blacks and slightly better sharpness in the Canson paper, it is difficult to tell them apart, which is high praise.

Price: $60 for a 50-sheet box of 8.5 x 11-inch paper.

Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta

There was such a feeling of depth when I picked up the test print on Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta from the printer tray, I had this weird sensation that the 3880 was suddenly printing in three dimensions. It also felt like a matte fine-art paper—at 325 gsm with an alpha cellulose base, it is the heaviest paper in the test, and the back of the print is roughly textured. For me and others to whom I showed the test, it won the “feel” competition. The surface is also unique and you will either love it or hate it. Its distinct and unique texture eliminates any gloss differential. Fine Art Baryta has bright, neutral whites, deep, rich blacks and a very wide tonal range. However, I feel it is slightly below average in sharpness.

Price: $5 for 25 sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch paper.

Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta

Photo Rag Baryta is another Hahnemühle baryta paper, but this one is on a 100 percent cotton base. It is the warmest paper I tested. If I were printing black-and-white portraits or sepia-toned prints, it, along with the other warm papers, would be my choice. At 315 gsm, it isn’t quite as heavy as the Fine Art Baryta, but it feels substantial. There is a very fine surface texture that is pleasing and seems to mask any gloss differential. Contrast is lower than Fine Art Baryta and the 3D effect is gone, while sharpness is the same. Hahnemühle has other baryta papers that I did not test, including the 350-gsm Baryta FB.

Price: $45 for 25 sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch-paper.

Harman by Hahnemühle Gloss Baryta

If you’re looking for a baryta inkjet paper with a surface almost as smooth and glossy as a glossy RC photographic paper, Harman by Hahnemühle Gloss Baryta is the one. Despite the gloss, there is absolutely no gloss differential. Sharpness and detail rendering is excellent, just slightly less than the Canson paper. Blacks are rich and highlights are finely detailed. Paper feel is good, with a weight of 320 gsm and a smooth back. Paper tone is white, but not as white as Exhibition Fiber, although optical brighteners are used in Gloss Baryta. Price: $35 for 30 sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
Moab by Legion Colorado Fiber Gloss and Fiber Satine

These two baryta papers from Moab are identical other than their surface finish. At 245 gsm, they are the lightest weight papers in the test, but are only slightly less in weight than double-weight photographic paper. Both are acid-and lignin-free with neutral grays and good detail in the shadows and highlights. The Fiber Gloss finish is smooth like air-dried photographic paper and without gloss differential. Finish on the Fiber Satine paper is like a matte photographic paper, but blacks are still rich and contrast is nearly identical to Fiber Gloss. Fiber Satine is the least glossy paper in the review, and if you prefer that look, it will serve you well.

Price: $30 for 25-sheet boxes of either paper in 8.5 x 11 inches.

Museo Silver Rag

Silver Rag is a 300-gsm paper that somehow feels heavier, perhaps due to its 100 percent cotton base and somewhat textured back. The paper is acid-free and no optical brighteners are used. It is one of the warmer-toned papers in the group and is designed for pigmented inkjet inks. Museo calls the surface texture a “textured (watercolor) finish” that I find very attractive without a hint of gloss differential. In this review, only Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta has more texture. Perhaps it is these surface textures that are giving both papers such depth, but it is apparent in Silver Rag also. With its inherent warmth and depth, it should be a great paper for portraits or sepia-toned prints.

Price: $35 for 25 sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch paper.

Red River San Gabriel SemiGloss Fiber

San Gabriel SemiGloss Fiber is one of Red River’s latest papers. It is acid-and lignin-free and produced without optical brighteners on an alpha-cellulose base. It, too, feels heavier than its 300-gsm specified weight. San Gabriel is warm toned, but not nearly as much as the Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta. It’s only fair to say that all of these warm-toned papers appear neutral until you compare one side-by-side with a more neutral paper. To my eye and others, San Gabriel SemiGloss is second only to the Canson in sharpness and detail rendition. The surface is only slightly textured, but there is some gloss differential visible. I was really impressed with this paper and the fact that it is available in 17 x 25-inch size, which is far better proportioned to DSLRs than the common 17 x 22-inch sheet. This is an excellent paper for printing full-frame landscapes.

Price: $48 for 50-sheet boxes of 8.5 x 11-inch paper.