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Beginner’s Guide To Canson Infinity Paper

If you’ve decided to try Canson Infinity fine art paper but aren’t sure where to start, this guide is for you. If you’re already using Canson paper, but want a better understanding of the characteristics and features of their papers, then this guide is also for you.

My goal is to give you a basic and practical introduction to Canson’s papers that you can put to use right away. I’ll discuss best case use for each type, and explain how and why different papers can influence the perception of your images. I’ll also share my recommendations for papers you should start with as you develop your printing skills.

Paper Characteristics

Let’s start with the basics; paper characteristics. Fine art inkjet paper is composed of a base and a micro-porous coating. The base is what gives the paper its weight and feel, while the coating affects the texture, finish, and overall contrast level. A separate category of papers, called RC papers, are composed entirely of a plastic resin. Though they lack the feel and longevity of fine art papers, they are nonetheless excellent in many situations which I will share later.

The texture, or tooth, of a paper can range from ultra-smooth to rough. The differences in texture, from none to pronounced, provide lots of creative options that you can explore and take advantage of when printing your work. This interaction can complement and enhance the interpretation of your images immensely.

The finish determines how reflective the surface is, from matte to high gloss. Generally, flatter papers like matte and satin produce a softer, more subtle look (think painterly), while semi-gloss and gloss finishes provide a shinier, reflective surface, which appears more aggressive and photographic.

Overall contrast levels are affected most directly by Dmax, a unit of measurement for black density. The higher the Dmax, the more black ink a paper can hold, and hence the greater the contrast and shadow definition.

Basic Principles

In order to make selecting the right paper a bit easier, I want to state some basic principles you can use as a guide. These principles are not judgments about which papers are better or worse, but rather relate to the characteristics of the papers themselves and how to use them creatively.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each paper allows you to make creative decisions about which paper is best for your image.

This approach, which I call the image-centric approach to paper selection, lets you match a paper to an image to make a print that is more expressive and personal. It allows you to develop your vision as a photographer.

1. Density Levels

It’s useful to make a clear distinction between matte papers and all others, and this is the first principle of choosing a paper I want you to understand.

All matte papers have a lower Dmax rating than non-matte papers.

Lower Dmax does not mean better or worse, but simply means that matte papers cannot hold the same levels of black as satin, luster, or gloss papers. A matte paper may not be the best choice for an image that needs to be aggressive and photographic, but may be perfect for an image that is painterly, abstract, or subtle.

2. Louder or Softer

This next principle concerns how Dmax relates to aesthetics, or how we perceive varying amounts of density.

In general, a print can appear to be louder or softer based on its overall contrast level, or Dmax.

This is not to say that you can’t make loud prints with a matte paper, or softer looking prints with a luster paper. But generally speaking, if you want to convey a softer, more painterly look to an image, regardless of whether it’s black and white or has lots of darks, then a matte paper is ideal. Similarly, if you want to convey a more literal, photographic look that is more aggressive, then higher density is ideal.

This is the first decision I make when choosing a paper. Do I want a print to convey a louder, more aggressive look and feel? If so, then I start with papers that provide higher dmax levels, namely not-matte papers.

If I want a print to convey a more subdued feel, one that is more painterly and suggestive, then I start with a matte paper.

To take this concept one step further, you can also think of detail in an image as being analogous to volume. The more detail you convey in a print, the louder it becomes. Lots of shadow detail, which comes from higher dmax papers, will inherently be more photographic. Less detail in the shadows allows a print to be more nuanced and suggestive.

3. Texture for Dimension

This principle concerns texture, and how it can be used to complement your image compositionally.

In general, the smoother the paper, the less the surface of the paper impacts the image. The greater the texture, the more a paper’s surface affects the image, often adding dimension and complementing fine details.

If you have very smooth areas in your image, then a smoother paper will generally preserve those areas. If you have lots of textural details in your image, then a textured paper may enhance those details and add a bit of depth to the print. If you have areas of smoothness and detail, and you want to preserve those relationships as best as possible, then an ultra-smooth paper might be best.

In all of these cases, what’s important to consider is whether a textured paper will enhance or compromise the most important aspects of your image.

Less is More

The final principle is all about making this fun instead of intimidating.

The fewer papers you start with, the easier it is to understand these principles.

As you can see, most papers can be judged by these two basic categories: density level and texture. So starting with two papers from each category is ideal so that you don’t become overwhelmed with too many choices. I recommend the following papers:

  • Matte papers
    • Rag Photographique 310gsm (medium Dmax, ultra-smooth)
    • PrintMaking Rag 310gsm (medium Dmax, fine texture)
  • Fibre papers
    • Baryta Photographique 310gsm (high Dmax, ultra-smooth)
    • Platine Fibre Rag 310gsm (high Dmax, slight texture)

This limited selection lets you explore all the possible scenarios that actually matter in the broadest sense with just four papers. From here you can fine-tune and expand your paper choices by adding papers that offer more texture, or perhaps a slightly different reflective surface.

But the basic look and feel of your prints will remain the same because you’ll more easily recognize what the main differentiators are—Dmax and texture. (I also recommend the heavier weights-310gsm-for increased stability and tactile experience.)

RC Papers

Because RC papers are not available in a matte finish, they all have higher dmax levels that matte papers. However, they are generally more budget-friendly than fine art papers, and for many purposes more than adequate.

They are great for proofing your images as well. Just remember that they are no substitute for the aesthetic experience of using a fine art paper.

Principals In Use

These principals are only a guide to help you navigate what can seem confusing and overwhelming. But once you understand these basic fundamentals, it does become easier to make decisions about papers.

What it does require however is looking deeply your images and asking, “what do I want to convey?” You must start there before you can become confident that you’ve chosen the right paper for your image.

What emotional response are you trying to elicit from the viewer? Does the composition clearly support what you are trying to convey? Would it benefit from a photographic look, or something less literal and more suggestive?

Here are a few real-world examples to help you understand these principles.


Canson Infinity Rag Photographique – matte, ultra-smooth

My first decision is whether I think this image needs high-density blacks or not. Do I want the image to feel loud or soft, aggressive or quiet? How much shadow detail does it need?

This image is about subtlety, the softness of the light, a painterly look and feel. Less density is best since it complements all of these qualities whereas a high-density paper would diminish them, making the image appear too literal.

Second, I chose an ultra smooth paper so that the textures in the image are maintained – the fog in the top portion should be as smooth as possible, contrasting with the grasses in the foreground.

Canson Infinity PrintMaking Rag – matte, subtle but distinct texture

Do I want the image to feel loud or soft, aggressive or quiet? How much shadow detail does it need? What role do the blacks play compositionally?

This image is also about subtlety, suggestive rather than photographic. I want all the trees to look and feel connected, so as to emphasize the interaction between the moving fog and the trees. Deep blacks would eliminate this, and make the foreground tree stand out too much, separating it from the rest.

I want to convey a sense of stillness and how I felt; quiet, aware, calm. Printmaking Rag’s distinct texture adds a unifying quality to the print that extends from the bottom to the top. The trees provide the strong shapes and detail that isn’t compromised by the paper’s texture.

Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique– satin (high dmax,) ultra-smooth

Do I want the image to feel loud or soft, aggressive or quiet? How much shadow detail does it need? What role do the blacks play compositionally?

Dramatic, aggressive, definitive, grounding. These are all qualities I felt when I made this image, and the print needs to reflect that. Blacks play a key role creating the leading lines and strong shapes, and provide maximum dynamic range, which complements the image– from the shadows on the foreground to the highlights in the clouds.

I also want to maintain the textural relationships in the image (high texture in the foreground rocks, no texture in the sky area without clouds) which adds maximum depth front to back, so Baryta’s ultra smooth surface is ideal.

Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag– satin (high dmax), very subtle texture

By now you know the questions… This image is all about the drama of the light – I want it to feel aggressive and dramatic, strong and undeniable. High density is what it needs in order for the blacks to appear as dark as possible. This doesn’t add shadow detail (defeating the composition) but rather makes the sunlight that much more rich and brilliant. The blacks create the light, and this image is about light.

Platine’s subtle texture also complements the texture in the foreground rocks without any compromise to depth – the color and light provide the depth.

Conclusion

What’s important to take away here is that these ideas and principles apply to any subject, not just to landscapes. I have tried to describe qualities and emotions that are applicable to any style of photography.

This is why I don’t recommend a “best” paper for black and white or “best” paper for color. The best paper for your image depends on how you want to interpret that image and what kind of experience you want to create for the viewer holding your print. That to me is the most exciting part of printing your work. It connects you to your vision in a deeper way. 

Whether you’re printing images of wildlife, people, architecture, or abstracts, think about what you want to convey and what makes the composition work. What compelled you to press the shutter button?

Canson Infinity papers are not just about quality and longevity. They are about maximum creative expression. Loud or soft, dramatic or serene, suggestive or photographic, and an undeniable tactile experience.

All of these are characteristics you can and should consider when you select a paper for your image. With practice, your prints can become more personal and representative of your vision, whether for a museum, gallery, or your home.

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This article is excerpted from an upcoming ebook “The Ultimate Field Guide to Canson Infinity Paper” which I hope to release in early 2018. 

 
 

RR Jr

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This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. After taking Robert’s Master Class in Fine Art Printing I have been using Canson papers. Shared some prints with neighbors last night and on one the comment was made “it looks like artwork.” Hence, ‘painterly’. Still learning which are best so the article reinforces what Robert taught in class. Great learnings.

  2. Thank you very much for this great article.

    I focused a little more on your “Less is more” point as i just finished printing all Hahnemuhle sample papers now and i am in a room full of prints, not knowing which is better or worse out of these more than 20+ samples. Now, i am checking some Canson papers and i will try to stick to your advice about the 2 types for matte and gloss papers you suggest. Although the baryta prestige will most likely be added to them. it seems to be an amazing paper and i would like to try it as well.

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