Over the years I’ve seen and/or tested more than a hundred “fine-art” matte and watercolor papers. Hahnemühle Museum Etching Digital FineArt Paper stands out as one of my favorite papers in the inkjet-coated watercolor family. I put this review together to give readers an overview of the paper, with some tips to help you decide if the paper might be right for your work.
BACKGROUND & SPECS
Hahnemühle Museum Etching was developed according to specifications put forth by photographer and digital imaging pioneer Stephen Johnson. A large scale black and white print of one of Stephen Johnson’s images output on Museum Etching was on display at Photo Plus Expo in 2005, and it was breathtaking. You can read a quote by Steven Johnson about the paper here.
The primary specs of the paper are as follows:
-Grammage (weight): 350gsm / Thickness: 6mm
-Media Color: Natural White
-Surface: Slightly Textured
-100% Cotton Rag
-Printable on one side
-OBA (Optical Brightening Agents) free.
-Available in 17, 24, 36 and 44-inch rolls (39 feet in length) and the following cut-sheet sizes (20 sheets/box): 8.5″x11″, 11″x17″, 13″x19″ and 17″x22″
A downloadable data sheet for Hahnemühle Museum Etching can be found here in PDF form.
The two letter-sized prints with test charts (left), and the 11×17-inch print of the Chrysler Building were all printed on Hahnemühle Museum Etching. To give the viewer a sense of the paper tone, two blank sheets of Epson Matte Paper Heavyweight (a bright white paper), are shown on the left side. An X-Rite Digital ColorChecker SG chart was included, and used to set gray balance. (Chrysler Building photo and product photo © Andrew Darlow, all rights reserved)
Although the paper is natural white in color due to the fact that it contains no OBA’s, the paper doesn’t come across as being very warm in color. It’s similar in tone to an off-white rag mat. Since the base is not bright white, some photographers and other artists will prefer a whiter paper stock for their imagery. One of the most frustrating aspects of fine art printing is the fact that with some matte/watercolor papers, you can hardly breathe near very dark areas without damaging them, and even a slight brush with your finger can create a shiny look in the dark areas, or cause what appear to be tiny white spots in the paper. Hahnemühle Museum Etching resists flaking and scuffing very well, though it is susceptible to scuffing (especially in very dark areas) if scratched with a fingernail or the corner of another sheet of paper.
On a similar note, I would use slip sheets between prints if stacked in a portfolio, and I would also recommend protecting the ink from transferring to other sheets (especially if kept in a portfolio box or bound book/portfolio without slip sheets) with a few coats of a spray, such as PremierArt Print Shield. As demonstrated in accellerated fade testing with similar papers on wilhelm-research.com, PremierArt Print Shield should also help to extend the fade-resistance of Museum Etching.
The surface texture is an important feature of any paper, and Museum Etching’s slightly textured surface makes it suitable for a wide range of imagery. I find that the texture helps to increase apparent sharpness and gives the paper a very attractive look and feel. Another big advantage of this paper is that there is not much lint to be found on the surface of the paper, or even after cutting sheets, which is rare with 100% cotton papers. To further reduce the chances of flaking or scuffing on any matte/watercolor paper, I recommend brushing sheets and roll media with a drafting brush on both sides prior to printing.
Image showing a close-up of Museum Etching’s surface texture. Image courtesy Hahnemühle FineArt.
TESTS & PROFILES
I tested the paper (using both color and black and white images) on a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5000, Epson Stylus Color R2400 and HP Designjet Z3100 (all pigment-ink printers), and in all cases, I found that both color and black and white images had very good saturation and detail. In addition, the color constancy (lack of much change between different light sources) was not very noticeable with all the printer/ink combinations I tested. Some paper/ink combinations will show a market change when placed in different light sources. This is also probably in part due to the fact that the paper contains no OBAs.
It’s important to read the loading instructions for your printer, because heavy sheets like Hahnemühle Museum Etching often need to be fed individually through a straight paper path (or nearly-straight path, like the cut-sheet paper feed of the HP Designjet Z3100). The roll version is better suited for making multiple prints, but then you will need to cut the prints after printing. I like to just print and be done, but if you have a good quality cutter and are careful, this can be a very good option.
I primarily use the 17×22 inch sheets of Museum Etching and I find the sheets to be well-packed and very cleanly and accurately cut. If I did use the roll version of the paper, I would first cut the rolls into sheets, brush them, and allow them to flatten under pressure before printing. I have not tested the roll version of the paper, but I will note my findings when I do.
I’ve done measurements of the Dmax (darkest printable area of a print) of a number of papers over the years, but I’ve found that the best way to judge papers is by viewing them under different lighting conditions (such as under daylight and tungsten gallery lighting), to get a true feel for their visual impact. Every paper has a unique look and feel, and I also recommend placing prints behind the glass or acrylic you plan to use when framing your work. It can make a big impact on the overall look of your images. This paper can accept a lot of ink, so I recommend using a paper type and quality setting (for example, 2880 vs. 1440 on most of the pigment-based Epson printers) that lays down more ink. As with just about any paper, for optimum results on your printer, I recommend making custom profiles after testing a few different paper settings.
Hahnemühle provides an extensive library of profiles for many of the most popular printers on the market (even for some printers that have been discontinued). For those who would prefer not to make (or have someone else make) custom profiles for each of their papers, these profiles are an excellent option worth testing. I always recommend doing a few tests with a standard image such as the PhotoDisk target, which you can download directly as a .zip file here from DryCreekPhoto.com.
The easiest way to find Hahnemühle’s profile section is by selecting “Digital FineArt” under the Products tab on Hahnemuhle.com. Then choose “Matte Fine Art” for Museum Etching and then select “ICC Profiles” from the left-hand side of the screen (circled in red below).
I was pleased to find separate profiles for the Canon imagePROGRAF 5000 print plug-in and standard driver on Hahnemühle’s profiles page, with specific instructions for which paper type and quality setting to use. In some cases, the printing instructions are in a separate PDF listed under “Handling Instructions” just under the printer name. That is important because the profile was made with the paper type and quality setting that is noted on the website next to the name of the printer and paper. A different paper type can yield very different results. That doesn’t mean that you can’t boost (or reduce) ink density through settings inside of many print drivers. I suggest that approach if necessary, or you can use a Photoshop adjustment layer that boosts saturation, adjusts contrast or makes other adjustments prior to printing. Here’s a good softproofing tutorial that should help guide you through the process. The tonality chart in TIFF format provided at this link is an excellent file for testing how different paper types affect ink and color in different tones. The right side is not as important as the left side of the chart.
Two recommendations I have for the folks at Hahnemühle would be to place a lightweight sheet of acid-free paper between each cut sheet in the box to further protect the paper, and to serve as slip sheets in portfolios and when transporting prints. That being said, acid-free slip sheet paper is relatively inexpensive. One brand I like for use as slip sheets for fine art inkjet prints is non-buffered Renaissance Paper from Light Impressions. My second wish list item is for larger sized cut-sheet boxes of the paper (ideally 20 x 24- and/or 24 x 30-inch sizes).
COSTS & CONCLUSION
Hahnemühle Museum Etching is one of the more expensive papers in its class (I paid just over $6 per sheet for 20 sheets of 17×22 inch paper). However, for fine-art prints that will stand the test of time, I think that the paper is well worth the cost. One of the best ways to determine which paper might be right for your work is to purchase a sample pack. Hahnemühle offers one called the “Hahnemuhle Sampler Pack” that includes two sheets of Museum Etching and two sheets of eight other papers.
Hahnemühle Museum Etching is a paper that I highly recommend for its weight, surface texture, detail and Dmax, resistance to surface damage, and lack of OBAs. Most importantly, it’s a paper on which I am proud to print many of my exhibition prints.
For more information on Hahnemühle Museum Etching, visit Hahnemühle FineArt’s website at www.hahnemuhle.com.