For the longest time my goto paper for my Canon printer has been Canon’s Pro Platinum photo paper. However, while it’s high gloss finish is tops for reproducing color and fine detail, there’s something about a big glossy print that’s never really been the ideal for me. I’ve been playing with papers off and on for several years now trying to find ones that I like, and I’ve found many, and ones that also fit in what I considered a good value for the level of printing I’m doing.
After having gone though all of Moab’s papers a number of year ago, and finding some I like but didn’t want to spend the money on, I put off the paper question for a while. Earlier this year, I was given some Canon Photo Paper Plus Semi-Gloss to play with and that rekindled my interest in looking at papers—well that and coming back from a trip to Alaska and having a lot of pictures I wanted to print didn’t hurt either.
I’ve published my thoughts on the Canon’s Photo Paper Pro Luster already, and this will be my look at Canon’s Pro Premium Matte photo paper.
Sorting out Canon Papers
I mentioned the trouble I’ve had with trying to sort out Canon’s papers in my review of their Pro Luster paper. Suffice to say, the Pro Premium Matte paper makes this even more confusing to me.
When I was writing that review, I had expected, perhaps somewhat naively, that the Pro Premium Matte paper would be essentially in the same class as the other two Pro papers (Luster and Platinum). This may very well be true from a branding and pricing perspective, but from a printing perspective, the Pro Premium Matte is treated as a fine art paper—namely because it requires using the 35 mm leading and trailing margins.
In truth, I shouldn’t have been surprised by this detail. Not only is it called out in the fine print on the printer specs that borderless printing isn’t supported with this paper, but also the fact that it’s an uncoated paper which changes the behavior of the ink loaded paper, including potentially contacting the print heads.
In doing some digging, I find that Canon UK’s site probably classifies their papers in the most straight forward way I can think of.
|Photos at Home||Gallery Quality|
|High Gloss||Photo Paper Plus II Glossy|
|Photo Paper Pro Platinum|
|Gloss||Photo Paper Glossy|
|Semi-Gloss||Photo Paper Plus Semi-Gloss|
|Photo Paper Pro Luster|
|Matte||Matte Photo Paper|
|Pro Premium Matte (PM–101),|
Museum Etching (FA-ME1)*
*The Museum Etching is actually manufactured for Canon by Hahnemühle, and is a cotton rag based paper with a matte but textured surface.
Suffice to say, at least with my experience with the Plus Semi-Gloss paper, you can be extremely good prints for either the “Home” or gallery qualities lines. However, if you want the ultimate in print quality out of a Pixma Pro printer, you want to stick with the Gallery Quality papers. However, once you get into the gallery quality papers, the sky becomes the limit as to how far down that rabbit hole you want to go.
Surface, Feel, and Weight
A paper’s surface finish can be broadly categorized as one of three types: gloss, semi-gloss, and matte. The type of surface impacts the resulting prints in a number of ways.
Glossy papers, because of the smooth coating used to achieve the gloss finish, tend to be higher resolution papers that can show much finer detail and more colors. However, gloss papers have a down side of reflecting incident lights almost perfectly which can be distracting.
Semi-gloss papers retain much of the detail and color retention of the glossy papers but due to variations in the coatings they don’t produce pure reflections. However, fundamentally the coatings are glossy at a small scale and they do reflect to some degree, though not as distinct the paper tends to sparkle some.
Matte papers are almost alway uncoated, or at least they’re not coated in the resins that semi-gloss and gloss papers use. As a result they tend to lose some resolution and color reproduction capabilities due to the ink being able to diffuse more. However, they don’t produce reflections at all, or exhibit any sparkles like semi-gloss papers. Matte papers can further have a number of surface textures, from smooth to ones that exhibit some fiber texture.
Canon’s Photo Paper Pro Premium Matte is a smooth matte paper. Obviously, there is no reflection or sparkle when viewed with a light reflecting off the print. Moreover, the paper is smooth enough that it doesn’t show any obvious fiber texture in a print.
In many respects, I’m more than willing to take the hit in color gamut, blacks, and fine resolving power that comes with a matte paper. I really like handling my prints, and I know the fine-art printing purists are screaming about not handling prints at this point, but I don’t care. I print, in no small measure because I enjoy the experience of feeling a really nice, large photograph instead of just looking at pixels on a display. Yes, eventually handling prints will degrade the paper and destroy the photo. When that happens, I can simply reprint it or replace it with something else.
This is where the Pro Premium Matte really shines in my opinion.
One of the nicest papers I’ve every handled was Moab’s Entrada Rag. Entrada is a cotton rag paper, in either the 190 GSM or 300 GSM weights, was just a dream to hold and experience a print on. It’s also a relatively expensive paper (at about $3 per A3+ sheet), and because of the cost and the level of printing I do, I simply haven’t pursued using it. However, as a much cheaper (~$1 per A3+ sheet, or less if you catch it on sale) Canon’s Pro Premium Matte, though not a cotton rag paper, feels similar enough in the hand to be an effective subsitute.
Aside from texture, weight also has some impact on the feel of the print in the hand. The Canon Photo Paper Pro Premium Matte weighs in at 210 GSM (56 lbs.). This actually makes the paper lighter than the Canon Pro Platinum (300 GSM) and Pro Luster (260 GSM) papers by a slight margin. However, much of the weight of the Pro Platinum (0.30 mm) and Luster (0.26 mm) papers is clearly found in the resin coatings as they’re both thinner than the Pro Premium Matte (0.31 mm).
All told I find the paper handles fairly well. Though it’s lighter, the thickness makes up for that in terms of feel. That said, I have found that one has to be somewhat careful in how they handle the paper as it is possible to bend the paper while holding it; though the bend will flatten out easily enough.
Brightness and Whiteness
Brightness quantifies the amount of incident light the paper will reflect. It’s given on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 would indicate that the paper reflects little to no light, and 100 indicates the paper reflects all of the incident light.
Like the Canon Pro Luster, the Pro Premium Matte is rated at a brightness of 92 using the ISO standard for measurement.
However the two papers certainly aren’t identical. To my eye, and I have no scientific way to measure this, the Pro Matte seems a little less bright than the Pro Luster. This is probably entirely related to coating on the pro luster being somewhat glossy and reflecting light slightly differently.
Canon doesn’t provide whiteness measurements for their papers, and I don’t have a scientific way to measure this, so I’m eyeballing it here. To my eye, the Pro Premium Matte appears to be warmer than the Pro Luster, which in turn is somewhat warmer than the Pro Platinum. Though, I can’t speak for sure on whether or not this is real or just something that I’m perceiving when looking at the paper side by side. Though practically speaking I can’t really see any real effect in an actual print, and it’s really only noticeable when the papers are held side by side under identical lighting conditions.
I tested this paper for the use of optical brightening agents (OBAs), or fluorescent whiteners. These agents increase the apparent brightness of papers by absorbing UV light and reemitting it as blue light in the visible spectrum. OBAs aren’t inherently bad, but they can be problematic. Moreover, in a framed fine art situation, where the print is behind UV blocking glass, their inclusion is largely pointless.
Where OBAs can cause problems is with generating profiles using a reflective spectrophotometer. If the device includes a UV-cut filter or a source that produces no UV light (such as a white LED), then the resulting profile is incapable of compensating for the shift that the increased blue from the OBAs creates. Papers without OBAs can be properly profiled with any spectrophotometer, including the inexpensive ones like the SpyderPRINT or ColorMunki Photo.
Testing for OBAs is simple enough if you have a UV flashlight. The presence of OBAs will cause the paper to glow brightly blue, while OBA free papers will remain dull.
In the following image, the large sheet of paper is Canon’s Photo Paper Pro Premium Matte, the brightly fluorescing paper is a sheet of regular bright white typing paper, and the other dark sheet is a control using Moab’s Entrada Rag Natural.
Since the Canon paper isn’t fluorescing, it’s safe to say that Canon’s Photo Paper Pro Premium Matte does not have appear to have optical brighteners and therefore can be profiled properly with any spectrophotometer.
Color Gamut and Range
In absolute terms, color gamut and dynamic range are the one place where Canon’s Pro Premium Matte falls down compared to the other Canon gallery quality papers, at least according to my imprecise testing. On the other hand, all of the Canon gallery quality papers exceed the gamut available with the sRGB color space, and in many case the gamut of the AdobeRGB color space as well.
Like I’ve done on other papers, I’ve generated granger rainbows with the Canon provided ICC print gamut warnings to get a rough idea about the performance of the paper.
What I noticed most is that extremely dark colors tend to be more poorly represented with then Premium Matte paper than anything. With that said, having made a black and white on my Pixma Pro 9000 mark II, the results are still very nice. To the point I’d say that the ICC profile’s indicated muddying of the blacks doesn’t really matter in practice.
Not that any of this should be surprising, matte papers rarely if every are comparable to gloss papers when it comes to color gamut. And ultimately, while it’s a nice measure of objectivist numberphiles, it’s hardly the end-all-be-all measure that matters when a print is made.
One aspect of this paper that is a little frustrating is that Canon’s drivers enforce a 35 mm leading and trailing margin on this paper that isn’t enforced on any of the other Pro or Plus papers. The big outstanding question I see being asked online about this is why?
Some people speculate that the 35 mm margin is there to make the prints look more “artistic,” as most fine art prints aren’t printed to the page edge. I’m not sure I buy this reasoning, as there’s no reason for Canon to enforce this as an un-overridable configuration.
Instead, I suspect that the situation is technical in nature, and the enforcement is the standard conservative Canon behavior. If you look at the gallery quality Canon papers, only the ones that aren’t resin coated also carry the margin 35 restriction. Moreover, if you look at Canon’s documentation for pretty much all of their Pixma Pro printers, while they support printing in the area covered by the 35 mm margin on the other papers, the note that the print quality may be degraded when printing in that area.
I suspect, that the difference comes down to the absorptive behavior of the paper’s surface. First, the resin coated gloss and semi-gloss papers pull the ink into the coating via capillary action. This makes them dryer faster, which means it’s a lot less likely that ink can or will transfer to the out feed rollers which could then be laid back down as streaks. Secondly, on the coated papers, the coatings are absorbing the liquid ink, not the paper itself. This will make the paper much less prone to potentially curling unless held down, which could then strike the print head.
Building on the margin 35 comment on drying, I want to spend a moment talking about drying inkjet prints. While it may sound silly, ink, be it dye or pigment based, includes a solvent that carries the dye/pigment to the paper. For the ink to truly become permanently adhered to the paper, the solvent has to evaporate; that is the print has to dry.
The coatings on coated inkjet papers are designed to wick the ink into the coating via capillary action, thus the paper dries quite quickly. If you look at the instruction card that comes with any of the coated Pro or Plus papers (Platinum, Luster, Semi-Gloss, etc.) you’ll find a section on drying that reads as follows:
After printing, allow the sheets to dry for about 24 hours. Make sure the printed surfaces do not overlap. Allow the sheets to dry for about 15 minutes first before stacking such sheets. Stack sheets by placing plain paper (such as copier paper etc.) in between each sheet then allow to dry for 24 hours.
However, the instructions for the Pro Premium Matte paper read:
- After printing, allow the sheets to dry for about 24 hours. Make sure the printed surfaces don’t overlap.
- Avoid drying printed images with a hairdryer or in direct sunlight.
Notice the absence of the 15 minute stacking aspect. Canon recommends that prints on the Pro Premium Matte paper remain uncovered or stacked for the full 24 hour drying time.
While I doubt you’ll get smudging or something like that while handling the print prior to the 24 hour drying time, the ink may not be as resistant to moisture until then. More likely you’ll see subtle color shifts happen over the first 24 hour drying period as the solvents evaporate leaving the true color of the ink.
In the past, I’ve seen sometimes not so subtle color shifts in prints made on coated Canon papers over the initial 15–20 minutes after the print came out of the printer. So much in some cases that fellow photographers have commented on there being a noticeable color cast compared to a fully dry comparison print, only for it to disappear when we came back to look at the prints 20 minutes later. I expect the same, though probably not as obvious or quick, will happen with the Pro Premium Matte paper over the initial 24 hours as well.
Best uses for Gallery Quality Papers
If you’re serious about printing, unless you only do one thing, you’re going to want to stock a couple of different papers for different use cases.
Canon Photo Paper Pro Premium Matte is, in my opinion, best used for prints that you want people to handle and experience in the hand. This could be as loose sheets, or in some kind of bound album. Either way, I think the paper really shines when you can touch it. In addition to that, prints that will be displayed without covering can benefit from the matte surface as they won’t reflect light as long as it doesn’t clash with the subject (i.e. matte papers may not be suitable for portraits).
Canon Photo Paper Pro Luster provides an increased color gamut, better black detail, and higher resolutions than the Pro Premium Matte, and does so without all of the glare issues imposed by the Platinum paper. This paper is good for situations where you want to resolve more color and detail while still not having a high gloss sheen. If you’re going to stock only one paper, that has to be decent at all tasks and subjects, this is probably what you want.
Canon Photo Paper Pro Platinum is Canon’s ultimate solution for high resolution wide gamut printing. Though the cost of that is the high gloss surface and the reflections it can bring. When you need every detail and every possible color, this is likely what you want. In fact, until I got the Premium Matte, Pro Platinum has been my goto paper since I started printing, and still is what I’m going to reach for when I need the most resolution and color for a matted and framed print.
My biggest complaint with the Pro Premium Matte is the inclusion of the 35mm leading and trailing margins. This cuts the working area down from basically borderless, though I usually print at something more like 18.5 x 12.5 inches, to 12.69 x 16.26 inches.
That said, I’m willing to live with that limitation simply because I’d rather not potentially ruin my prints or printer to get few more inches out of it.
With that complaint out of the way, I really like this paper. Admittedly I bought a lot of it, 250 sheets, sight unseen from Canon during a major sale. However, I’m quite sure I’m not rationalizing a stack of paper as good simply because I have a stack of paper. I’ve really like the quality that’s come out on every print I’ve made on this paper since I started printing on it, and even more when I put my grubby paws on it and hold it.
It’s hard to conclude this with some kind of recommendation though. The choice of paper is, or at least should be, dictated as much by the print being made as the personal tastes of the person making the print.