Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Epson Hot Press Bright White vs Hahnemuhle Photo Rag

Every so often I get the itch to try some new papers. I recently saw some positive reviews for Epson Hot Press Bright White paper. This piqued my interest because I like matte papers, but haven't done much matte printing lately. In the past I have usually used Hahnemuhle Photo Rag as my 'go to'  matte paper with good results, though I find that I usually have to really pump up the saturation and contrast to get what I am looking for in the printed output. I decided to try the Epson because of the reports of deep blacks and a wide color gamut, as well as descriptions calling it the closest matte to a luster type paper.  Last but not least, Epson Hot Press is significantly less expensive that the Hahnemuhle, which seems to increase in price every year. I gave the Epson Hot Press a try.  This is obviously not a formal review of the paper, nor would I be particularly qualified to perform one. However, I can offer my personal opinion and observations:

Feel: The Epson paper has a nice rich, soft quality feel. However, despite being a slightly heavier weight paper than the Hahnemuhle if you go 'by the numbers', it doesn't seem to have quite as luxuriant a feel as Photo Rag. I believe this may be at least partially related to the fact that (at least to my eye) the Epson paper has slightly less surface texture with a smoother finish to it. 

Profiles: In my hands and with my calibrated monitor and an Epson 7900 printer, the Epson profiles seem quite good and work reasonably well with soft-proofing. To me they seem more accurate than the Hahnemuhle supplied Photo Rag profiles when compared to the actual output print. Of course, there are many variables involved with this statement and I can only describe what my experience has been.  As they say, your mileage may vary!

Optical Brighteners: The Epson paper is manufactured with the 'dreaded' optical brighteners.  There are those that will not use papers with them because of concerns regarding fading over time.  I am just stating the fact that OBAs are used and have no wish to get into that argument! 

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag also has optical brighteners, but these are kept to a minimum, at less than 0.1%, according to the Hahnemuhle website. I have seen the Epson paper described as having moderate amounts and suspect that it has significantly more than Photo Rag.

Cost:  B&H Photo has Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 8.5x11 inches, 25 sheets, 308 gsm (the closest equivalent to the Epson) for $39.31 and a 24"x39' roll for $166.75.  The Epson Hot Press is $22.40 for the box of 25 and $104 for a 24" by 50' roll.  So the Epson is significantly less expensive. 

But wait, there's more.  Although the Epson is not advertised as a double sided paper, a bit of research shows that the production process places two finishing coats on the reverse and three on the front 'printable' side.  Appearently, an Epson spokesperson has said that the non-printable side will not give as good a quality print as the side designated as printable.  Perhaps true, but I really can't tell them apart very well so it seems to me the non-printable side can be used very nicely for proofing, creating even more value for the money.

The Print:  This is where the 'rubber meets the road'.  I can only report what my eye sees.  To me, it seems as if the Hot Press paper gives greater tonal separation and slightly improved sharpness and detail.  The output is really nice, especially for a matte paper. 

If you hold the same print side by side with a glossy or semi-gloss  paper like Ilford Gold Fiber Silk, you may well be disappointed.  However, if they looked the same then it wouldn't be a matte paper.  But for images that would be appropriate for the softer matte paper appearance, I don't think you can get much better (particularly for the value) than the relatvely new Epson papers. 

Although I have just tried the Hot Press Bright White, I now have an order in for the sampler pack so I can see and try out the Hot Press Natural as well as the Cold Press papers.

Addenda: Between the time I wrote the above review and the time I published it, I rceived my sampler pack. While I can still say that I really like the Hot Press Bright White (which will become my new standard matte paper), the same is not true (for me) with the Cold Press and Hot and Cold Press Natural papers. 

The Cold Press, in my opinion, has a texture that is far too deep and symmetric.  If the lighting on the image is straight on it looks ok, but for any angled lighting it looks like someone took a pizza wheel or a gear and rolled it over the paper in symmetric lines.  To me, it just doesn't look right or 'natural'.  The coloration of the Natural paper, both Hot and Cold Press, does not appeal to me either.  It has too 'creamy' an appearance and in some light almost seems to impart a slightly yellow-green, as opposed to neutral, color.

There is no question that paper choices are very individual and if these other papers didn't appeal to a large number of people then Epson would probably not be reselling them.  So, take the above as my personal opinion.....but I am sticking with the Epson Hot Press Bright White, a paper that I find extremely attractive.