Awagami Washi Inkjet Printing Paper

      Photo Review 8.8
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      In summary

      We’d encourage any photographer who is seriously interested in printing to purchase the A.I.J.P (Awagami Inkjet Paper) Sample Pack Pro and explore the range of papers it contains. We’re pretty sure at least one of the papers in the pack will be right for showcasing favourite colour or B&W images, depending on individual preferences.

      While images should stand on their own merits in competitions and exhibitions, sometimes the choice of paper can add that extra intangible quality that makes an image catch the viewer’s eye.

      Most Awagami papers are produced using ecologically sound practices and all have been developed with archival preservation in mind. What more could you ask?

       

      Full review

      If you want to add a different, tactile look and feel to a photograph you’re printing, Awagami’s Inkjet Papers offer a very attractive alternative to other fine art media. Made in Japan, using traditional methods, these ‘washi’ papers have distinctive visual and tactile qualities that make them stand out from other inkjet media. We were  provided with a sample pack with 20 A4 sheets   of each of its inkjet papers, which sells for AU$15.63 ex GST ($17.20 with tax).

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       The Awagami Sample Pack Pro, containing one sheet each of the 20 papers in the company’s A.I.J.P. range.

      Japan has a long history of paper making that dates back to about 700 A.D, when commercial paper-making began around Awa in the Tokushima prefecture on Shikoku island. Plants and other materials that were ideal for papermaking grew here in abundance.   Early papers were used mainly for religious texts, political records and literary works, principally by the aristocracy, priests and samurai.

      Handmade ‘washi’ papers from the Tokushima region were introduced to Europeans at the 1878 Paris World Fair.  From that time they were prized by artists and printmakers until economic slumps following World War II eliminated much of the demand, causing many papermakers to shut down.

      The Fujimori family has been making washi papers at their Awagami Factory in Tokushima since 1825, successfully adapting production methods and products in response to changing demands. Over the years, the Awagami factory has introduced many new products, with inkjet coated papers being the company’s latest initiative.

      A.I.J.P. (Awagami Inkjet Paper) papers are quite different from mainstream, western-style media.  Developed to enable photographers to utilise the benefits of traditional washi, they are as easy to use as other inkjet media but maintain the tactile feel of traditional washi.

      Special coatings have been developed to minimise ink bleeding, improve ink fastness and maximise overall printing quality. But the paper base retains all the characteristics that artists have valued for centuries.

      The development of coated inkjet papers has resulted from the burgeoning digital photography market and the availability of printers that can handle fine art’ media. While paper production is Awagami’s main pursuit, the company also operates a paper museum, runs international papermaking workshops, maintains an ongoing artist-in-residency program and a multi-disciplinary printmaking lab. Details can be found at http://www.awagami.com/.

      About Washi Paper
       Washi papers have traditionally been used for art works, ranging from pictorial to calligraphy. Paper garments were fashionable between 1192 and 1333 and around 1620, these papers were used for printed currency.

      After Japan began trading with the Dutch, artists like Rembrandt, used washi for sketches, printing and other art works. Today, washi is accepted as a major cultural craft and the papers are popular with artists and printmakers as well as architects and interior designers. Many artists work with papermakers to produce special or unique washi.

      All washi papers have matte surfaces, sometimes with the original fibres adding a subtle texture that is more decorative than regular media. The handmade papers also have deckled edges and are noticeably thicker than the machine-made papers. Being made from natural fibres, they are creamy in colour, even papers that are labelled as ‘white’.
       

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       A scan of Awagami’s White (left) and Natural (right) papers, showing the colour differences.
       

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       A scan of a sheet of normal matte white inkjet photo paper with optical brightening agents (left), compared with Awagami’s White Inbe paper (left).

      The fibres used in washi come from three main types of plants: the ‘Kozo’ or paper mulberry and the ‘Mitsumata’   and ‘Gampi’, both shrubs belonging to the Daphne family. Each plant adds its own characteristics to the resulting paper. Other plant materials that may be used include hemp, bamboo and straw. The best fibres are long, fine, slightly shiny and strong.

      For more information on the company, the paper production processes and Awagami products, visit the company’s website at http://www.awagami.com/awawashi/index.html and follow the links at the top of the page.

      The Awagami Inkjet Paper Sample Pack Pro
       The A4 sample pack we received for this review contained the following papers:

      – Mitsumata White Double Layered
       – Kozo Thin White and Natural (2 sheets)
       – Kozo Thick White and Natural (2 sheets)
       – Kozo Double Layered
       – Inbe Thin White, Thick White and Extra Thick White (3 sheets)
       – Unryu Thin
       – Bamboo Paper 170 gsm and 250 gsm and 220 gsm
       – Murakumo Kozo Select White and Natural
       – Bizan Medium (200 gsm)
       – Bizan White Thick (300 gsm)
       – Premio Kozo White
       – Premio Inbe
       – Premio Unryu

      Of these, only the two Bizan papers are hand-made and indicated as such by their deckled edges. Bizan papers come in natural and white (bleached) versions, with the main source material being Kozo fibre. They are entirely handmade one sheet at a time and then air-dried on boards. The reverse side of the paper is not coated and unsuitable for inkjet printing.

      With a typical weight of 200 grams/square metre (gsm), Bizan papers are 0.68mm and available in sheet format only with A4, A3, A2   and A1 sizes offered in five-sheet packs. Local price for an A4 pack is $AU165.63 ex GST.

      Mitsumata White Double Layered  is two-layered paper with 100% of Mitsumata fibre used for the front and the pulp for back side. Its typical weight is 95 gsm and the top layer can be peeled into two sheets after printing, enabling printed images to be stuck onto silk and used as scrolls. Its finish is smooth with a rich subtle gloss. This paper is offered in roll and sheet formats. The A4 size comes in a pack of 20 sheets for AU$71.22 ex GST, while the A3+ comes in a pack of 10 sheets at AU$89.44 ex GST.

      Kozo papers come in two thicknesses, thick (110 gsm) and thin (70 gsm). Entirely made from Kozo fibres, they have the classical look and feel of washi. They are available in roll and sheet formats, with A1, A2   and A3 sizes offered in 10-sheet packs and A4 in 20-sheets. A 20-sheet A4 pack of Kozo Natural Thin paper costs AU$41.41 ex GST, while a 10 sheet A3 pack sells for AU$49.69 ex GST.

      Kozo Thick paper is supplied in A4 packs of 20 sheets at AU$53.00 ex GST. The A3 size comes in a pack of 10 sheets for AU64.59 ex GST, while the 10-sheet A3+ pack costs AU69.56 ex GST. Kozo Double Layered paper is included in the sample pack but not listed on the DES Pty Ltd website. It consists of 100% Kozo fibre on the front, with pulp for back side. It can be peeled into two sheets after printing for use on scrolls.

      Premio Kozo paper is made by laminating two sheets of paper together. Premio papers are easy to handle and extremely durable so they are often used for exhibition prints. Colour reproduction is more vibrant than other Awagami papers. This paper has a typical weight of 180 gsm and is 0.35 mm thick. It comes in A1, A2, A3+, A4, A5 and Postcard sizes. A box of 10 A4 sheets sells for AU$41.41, while 10 A3+ sheets is AU107.66 (both ex GST).

      Three sheets of paper represent the Inbe range: Thin White (70 gsm), Thick White (125 gsm) and Extra Thick White (160 gsm). These papers are made from a mix of hemp and kozo (mulberry) fibers, and have a very subtle surface texture. The Thick and Extra Thick papers are double-sided and can be used for printing books. Each side has different textures, one side being smooth and the other slightly rough. The ink reacts more or less the same way on each side.

      The Thin and Thick versions come in rolls or A1, A2, A3 and A4 sheets. Only the Thick White version is listed on the DES website, with a pack of 20 A4 sheets priced at AU$31.47 ex GST.

      Premio Unryuhas soft and classic look, with the pattern of the Kozo fibres on the surface resembling the ‘floating clouds’ indicated by the Unryu name.  This single-sided paper has a special coating to prevent ink bleed and is available in sheets or rolls. The Premio version (which isn’t listed on the DES website) has a weight of 165 gsm, while the regular Unryu is 55 gsm (or 0.13 mm thick). A pack of 20 A4 sheets is priced at AU$39.75, with a 10-sheet A3+ pack at AU53.00 (both ex GST).

      Awagami Bamboo  is a dense but soft paper originally developed for traditional printmaking. A key characteristic is its longevity.   Sheets and rolls have been specially coated on both sides for double-sided printing. Only one thickness is available locally: 170 gsm and it is offered in A1, A2, A3+ and A4 sheets and rolls. The A4 size comes in a pack of 20 sheets at AU17.19, with the A3+ offered in 10-sheet packs at AU$18.13 (both ex GST).

      Murakumo Kozo Select is the latest addition to the professional-grade papers. With a weight of 42 gsm, it is thin but very strong and has a smooth, sinuous surface texture. It is made from 90% Kozo plus 10% wood pulp and comes in rolls or A4 (20 sheets) and A3+ (10 sheets) packs in white or natural colours.  Each A4 pack is priced at AU17.19, with A3+ packs selling for AU$18.13 (ex GST).

      Printing on Awagami Washi Paper
       Awagami papers are compatible with Epson and Canon printers and the company’s website provides plenty of information on printer settings to use. All papers in the range can be used with both dye ink and pigment ink.

      The comprehensive Tips for Printing page on Awagami’s website (http://www.awagami.com/aijp/print/index.html)    includes tips for handling the paper before printing and identifying the printable side of single-sided sheets. Suggested media, print quality and loading settings are provided for Canon and Epson printers. The same ICC profile can be used for all papers with any given printer.

      We used the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 printer for our tests of the papers in the sample pack. The suggested profile for this printer is Velvet Fine Art, which requires the rear loading slot to be used (even for the thin papers). With Canon printers, the Matte Photo Paper, Premium Matte and Fine Art Paper profiles can be used, with Premium Matte suggested as the preferred setting for the Bizan paper.

      Borderless printing should be supported for the machine-made papers, although it may not be available in the printer’s driver when a fine art paper profile is used. The handmade papers with deckled edges aren’t suitable for borderless printing.

      With the Epson printer, Awagami recommends using the maximum Quality level (Level 5), but we found the level 4 setting worked well, provided we switched off the High Speed setting in the printer driver. For Canon printers, the High quality setting is recommended. Image resolution should be around 300 dpi. Make sure the Black Point Compensation check box is checked.

      It’s difficult to reproduce the look and feel of an inkjet print on a computer screen so we aren’t able to show you the subtle differences between the papers in the sample pack. Fortunately, the cost of the pack is low enough to justify purchasing it so you can see for yourselves how the different papers respond to your favourite images.

      On the whole, we found the Awagami papers printed a lot like other matte surface papers, although they looked and felt distinctly different. As with some other matte papers, boosting image contrast and saturation slightly produced livelier results, although it is impossible to achieve the dynamic range provided by glossy (or even semi-gloss) papers.

      With most of these papers, it was a bit more difficult to obtain eye-catching results from pictures containing subtle tonalities than subjects with plenty of inherent contrast. Nonetheless, when tonal subtlety was required, most of the papers could deliver it, with the Bizen papers producing very attractive results.

      Monochrome images print up very nicely on most of these papers, but the Bamboo and handmade Bizan papers produce particularly fine results, revealing plenty of detail in shadows and subtle tonalities in highlights, plus a well-balanced intermediate range. Both papers are suitable for exhibition work.
       

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       A scan of a B&W print made on Awagami Bamboo paper 170 gsm using the Epson Advanced B&W driver to add a slightly warm tone. The print contains as much detail and a tonal range that is almost as wide as a similar print on normal inkjet photo paper.
       

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       Using the Epson Advanced B&W driver to prepare the above image for printing.

      We found the fibres embedded in the surface of the Premio Unryu paper particularly attractive and feel this paper would be attractive for portrait prints. The smoother Kozo, Mutsumata Murakamo and Inbe papers are better suited to printing landscapes as their smoother surfaces enable details to shine through.

      As a general rule, when choosing images to print on these papers it’s best to select those that will be complemented by creamy-coloured paper. Expect to see some reduction in the depth and vibrancy of blues as a result of the Awagami papers’ inherent warm hues; more so with papers carrying the ‘natural’ label.  

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      The image above is a scan showing the differences in prints made on Awagami Inbe Thin White paper (left) and a regular matte white inkjet photo paper with optical brightening agents (right). Note the higher contrast and saturation in the print on the normal media, contrasted with the lower contrast  and vibrancy in the image on the Awagami paper. Blues printed on the warmer paper fare worse than other colours. Note the tonal subtleties in the image on the Awagami paper.

      We had a few issues with feeding paper into the printer, which were largely caused by the Epson printer driver forcing use of the rear sheet feed with the Velvet Fine Art paper profile. When feeding the thicker sheets (Bizan and Bamboo 250 gsm in particular) into the rear chute, a gentle push was often needed to start the paper moving in smoothly.

      In contrast, the thinnest sheets of Kozo, Unryu and Bamboo paper were often reported as ‘skewed’ by the printer and had to be carefully re-aligned before they would feed in. When we swapped the paper profile to Ultra Premium Presentation Matte paper, we were able to use the main sheet feed for thinner papers with no loading problems. There were no obvious differences in colour rendition or detail reproduction between prints made with the two profiles.

      To bring out the fibre characteristics of these papers, the thinnest papers can be lit from behind. (This can also add depth to some printed images.) The Unryu and Kozo papers lend themselves particularly well to this treatment.

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       Photographs with decorative edges print up well on most of the Awagami papers.

      Photographers who enjoy experimenting with decorative edges on their pictures will find most of the Awagami papers have a natural affinity with this type of treatment. The thicker handmade sheets are particularly appropriate, not only in appearance but also in how they feel when you hold the print and how they look when mounted on a cardboard backing.
       

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       ‘Artistic’ manipulations created by texture overlays can also produce eye-catching results when printed on the Awagami papers.

      Most of the papers in the range work well with images that have been ‘artistically’ manipulated, through the addition of textures and patterns. Choose images with stronger colours and contrasts for the greatest impact.

      Conclusion
       We’d encourage any photographer who is seriously interested in printing to purchase the A.I.J.P (Awagami Inkjet Paper) Sample Pack Pro and explore the range of papers it contains. We’re pretty sure at least one of the papers in the pack will be right for showcasing favourite colour or B&W images, depending on individual preferences.

      While images should stand on their own merits in competitions and exhibitions, sometimes the choice of paper can add that extra intangible quality that makes an image catch the viewer’s eye. Most Awagami papers are produced using ecologically sound practices and all have been developed with archival preservation in mind. What more could you ask?

      (Australian readers can  click here to buy Awagami paper.)

       

      Rating

      RRP: $17.20 for a  sample pack of 20 A4 sheets of inkjet paper

       

      • Durability: 8.8
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Distinctiveness: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.5

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