Green Photo Printing from Hahnemuhle, Sugar Cane and Bamboo 290

Hahnemühle, maker of high-end photo paper, has a long history.  One brochure from the company reads “The Art of Expression Since 1584” and goes on to point out that the founding date is 10 years prior to the writing of Romeo and Juliet and 93 years before ice cream became popular (which, FYI, happened in 1677).  How has the company handled the modern era of the pigment ink jet printer?  By making very elegant, substantial-feeling papers, that tend towards a textured matte surface, are never really glossy, and are treated with some of the finest digital-friendly and archivally-sound coatings in the business.

It struck me as particularly interesting to learn how the company has chosen to respond to the ecologically-aware mindset that is oh-so-popular this century (334 years after the popular rise of ice cream).  Hahnemühle, in a product line containing a wide range of historically-inspired inkjet papers and canvases, offers two papers with very contemporary inspiration: Hahnemühle FineArt Sugar Cane and Hahnemühle FineArt Bamboo 290.  Both are, true to Hahnemühle form, matte-finished and beautifully textured.  Both are also promoted as environmentally friendly alternatives to traditionally-made paper.

Hahnemühle FineArt Bamboo 290

FineArt Bamboo is a thick matte paper with a subtle and smooth organic texture.  At 290 gsm or 0.5 mm of thickness, it is a heavy, card-like paper, and has a distinctly more raw back side (there’ll no mistaking which is the print-ready surface).  It has a subtle warm tone described by Hahnemühle as a natural white.  According to the paper’s description, it is 90% bamboo fibers and 10% cotton.

The subdued texture makes Bamboo 290 a versatile matte surface for photo printing.  It renders clean detail and can handle generously sharpened files without looking harsh.  Hahnemühle has a knack for creating matte surfaces that defy convention by rendering good shadow area detail and tonal separation.  In test images, the difference is noticeable in dark areas.  In testing, I found visible tonal separation in the very depths of the scale, within 10 points of 0 on Photoshop’s 0-250 scale (black to white), which I find very impressive for a matte surface.  Color reproduction is also an impressive trait of Bamboo 290.  Using a default profile from Hahnemühle (see the notes below for more on my printing equipment and method) I was able to perfectly match on-screen colors with the first print.  Color rendering is vivid and lively without looking artificial.

The paper has a gentle contrast.  Combined with its golden tone and smooth texture, it is a great choice for portrait or wedding photography.  Advertised as the world’s first bamboo-base fine art inkjet paper, Bamboo 290 is certain to be an interesting distinction and marketing point for a studio.  In marketing materials, Hahnemühle states that the paper “stands for spirituality, naturalness, and resource-saving paper production.”  I’m still considering the spirituality of the paper, but can certainly appreciate the benefit of a more ecologically-friendly tangible product for my studio that also manages top-tier color and detail rendering.

Hahnemühle FineArt Sugar Cane

I like the bamboo paper, it’s a very good standard matte surface with a good story.  Between the two, though, Sugar Cane is especially interesting.  It has a very noticeable texture, clearly visible, even at arms’ length.  Colors have exceptional pop and detail rendering is very good, a touch better, to my eye, than Bamboo 290.

By comparison, Sugar Cane also has a bit more contrast than Bamboo 290, surrendering a small amount of deep shadow detail for more mid-tone bang.  I like punchy photos, and Sugar cane is oh-so-subtly punchier (not to mention the lively surface texture) I’m certain many photographers will prefer Bamboo’s smoother qualities, both in texture and contrast rendering.  Certainly, photographers who really enjoy digital printing (on both ink and pigment inkjets) would do themselves a favor to order a sample pack (Matte or Glossy, both Sugar Cane and Bamboo 290 samples are included in the Matte pack).

Containing 25% cotton fiber, and 75% sugar cane fiber, FineArt Sugar Cane has the historic feel for which Hahnemühle in known and feels quite substantial.  It is similar in feel to Hahnemühle’s German Etching paper, with a bit less intensity to the texture and a touch less weight.

It is a neutral white color, with a very subtle warm tone (oddly described by Hahnemühle as the same natural color as the visibly more golden Bamboo).  It has remarkable detail clarity and is likely to have photographers using less sharpening.  In my testing, I’ve found shadow tones are difficult to visually separate below 10 on Photoshop’s 0-250 scale, which is not bad at all for a matte surface, especially one with as much punchy contrast.

I believe this would be an interesting paper choice for large prints and for landscape and fine art work that would benefit from the added eco-friendly narrative.  Sugar Cane’s combination of heft and undeniable texture lend a sense of luxury and workmanship to printed photos.  To my eye, the texture is too much for portrait work, except perhaps in very large prints.  Skin tone is somewhat mottled anywhere within three feet or so of viewing distance.  As a fine art watercolor paper with great color, clarity, contrast, and tonal range, and the added benefit of a unique ecological consideration, FineArt Sugar Cane is an interesting new photo paper that is certain to find a market.

Conclusion

Both Hahnemühle FineArt Bamboo 290 and Hahnemühle FineArt Sugar Cane are ink jet surfaces capable of producing excellent results.  Both are thick, textured, and luxurious-feeling.  Both paper yield wide color and tonal range and especially satisfying shadow detail rendering for matte surfaces.  Bamboo 290 is an impressively accurate paper, with wide tonal and color range and a slight warm tone.  Sugar Cane offers a strong texture and visibly more contrast and will be an interesting surface for photographers who enjoy photo paper with a unique character.

With both papers, Hahnemühle has provided an interesting resource for photographers, papers that are both artistically satisfying and ecologically friendly (which will, I’m sure, be a great selling point).  427 years of paper-making have brought us an interesting place!

Prints for made on my studio’s Canon iPF 6100 large format pigment ink jet printer.  Taking advantage of the Canon’s built-in calibration, I used default ICC profiles provided via Hahnemühle’s Website.  Images were printed from Adobe Photoshop through Canon’s 16-bit print plug-in (which also applies ICC paper profiles).
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