Ilford’s Galerie Gold Fibre Silk; A Galerie For The Gallery Wall

At a recent photo trade show in New York numerous paper companies showcased the latest trend in inkjet media--papers that had the look and feel of the best of past silver printing papers. The diversity of weight, base color, and texture are now quite amazing, exceeding anything we ever had in the chemical darkroom. The truth of the matter is that while there are many brands and surfaces, many companies carry re-branded papers of the same make from a few mills or coating alleys, with perhaps slight variations in weight and tone. One company that handles coating itself is Ilford, a name not unfamiliar to silver printers. While they carry a variety of paper types, their latest, and that which caught our eye, is Galerie Gold Fibre Silk.

Available in sheet sizes from 8.5x11 to 17x22", and in long rolls up to 44" wide, the paper is a heavyweight (310gsm) if you go by darkroom standards, which should cause you to check the throughput channel that's best for your printer. It shows a clean white base, although it is slightly warmer than the recently tested Epson Exhibition paper. The paper surface is an extremely close match to air-dried double-weight glossy fiber photographic papers. It also has a barium sulfate (known as baryta) base, which Ilford claims enhances the media surface and enhances the textural whites and deep blacks it does indeed produce. In fact, and I know this will sound odd, it even smelled like photographic paper when I opened the interior plastic wrapping, much like fresh coffee when you first open the can.

Any inkjet paper company worth its salt will provide you with profiles for your printer, and Ilford has done its homework with a host of profiles for the most popular printers, including the one I used on this test, the Epson Stylus Pro 3800. If you don't want to bother with that (and I can't imagine why that might be) you can use the Epson profile for their Premium Semigloss. To get the profile for your printer go to the Ilford website. After supplying an e-mail and picking a password, Ilford e-mails the GretagMacbeth-generated profile back to you along with instructions on how to install it in your particular OS.

No matter what you throw at it, Ilford's Galerie Gold Fibre Silk paper handles tonality, contrast, and even "toning" effects in excellent fashion. This black and white IR shot was made with the Fuji S3 IR D-SLR. Variations were made, including high contrast, low key with soft contrast, and a Tritone (Image>Mode>Grayscale>Mode>Duotone) effect. In each case the print met or exceeded expectations in terms of faithful reproduction of what was on the screen. Blacks were deep and rich and, perhaps as important, highlights had a luxurious quality that really enhanced the IR look.
All Photos © 2008, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

I tested the paper using two workflows. For one I used the profile Ilford supplied and as suggested chose Relative Colormetric as the Intent. I let Photoshop Determine Colors and turned Printer Color Management Off. My monitor is well calibrated so I had no challenge there, and I loaded the paper using the rear channel on the 3800. The other method I used was to work with Epson's Advanced Black and White mode (thus I let the printer handle colors), which does not use the Ilford profile, and in the Print Settings on my Mac chose Premium Semigloss, as Ilford suggested. In both cases I used Photo Black inksets for the paper; in fact, in the Epson driver you'll get that automatically when you choose that paper.

When the prints came out they exhibited a slight curl, not from anything the printer did to the paper but almost from the inks being "wet," although there was certainly no smudging. I placed them on a rack and they were flat in about a minute, which meant they were OK to handle. Ilford suggests letting them air-dry like this for quite a while, overnight being my procedure anyway before they are put away, a de-gassing that seems to be the norm.

I am happy to report that the prints were among the best I ever saw using this printer. I printed a series of one image from high key to deep toned and the paper responded with a range of interpretations that yielded everything I saw on the monitor, no mean feat. Blacks were certainly deep and rich, but it was in the lighter grays and highlights where the luxurious values came through. The paper base is just a touch warm; not what you would call "warm tone," just a touch below bright white. And the weight made the paper easily handled, which will be helpful when having them matted by outside services, which I do, having sliced too many fingers attempting that skill myself.

The Epson Advanced Black and White mode workflow also was very rewarding, especially when using the custom toning available through that interface. Ilford does provide helpful tips for toning if you wish, but I find them a bit elaborate, and they need to update some of their website's recommendations to include the new features for black and white printmakers in CS3.

This level of quality does not come cheaply. While prices vary by merchant and form of distribution, my search for a 13x19 box of paper yielded a cost of about $2.80 per sheet in 50-sheet boxes, and more for lesser quantities. You might want to try out a 10 pack to see if it suits you, which in 8.5x11 size is well under $20. But if you are seeking one of the best papers for monochrome printing that holds the look and feel of the best of the silver papers of the past, I found Ilford's Galerie Gold Fibre Silk to be among the cream of the current crop.

For more information, contact OJI ILFORD USA, 1350 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103; (888) 453-6731;