Pursuing the perfect print

February 15, 2002

Up to now, artists who used computers to generate their work ran into difficulties when they wanted to print out their images on art-quality paper.

Printed artwork images have been known to disappear overnight even when they have been stored out of the light. But now researchers from the University of the West of England have initiated a collaboration with printer manufacturer Hewlett Packard and paper merchant John Purcell to discover the perfect combinations of how much ink to use for specific papers.

Carinna Parraman, research fellow at UWE's Centre for Fine Print Research, said there were two key factors that impacted on print quality: the type of paper and how the ink sits on it.

With centre director Stephen Hoskins, they tested a single-colour ink on 30 different proven archival printmaker papers. These did not have the special receiver layer built into most inkjetprinter papers.

They looked for image clarity and lack of bleeding or feathering in the prints.

"We have noticed a big difference in the quality of colour on different papers," Ms Parraman said. "The composition of papers has an impact on how the print looks - whether it is gelatine sized for example, or has a starched coating.

"Others have variations in surface texture - this is especially the case with some handmade papers."

Most printmakers use cotton-based, handmade papers for archival works. The difficulty is to make these compatible with inkjet printing. The aim is to make it easy to print on lightweight Japanese tissue as on heavyweight handmade paper and to develop colour profiles that tell the printer how much ink to use depending on the paper.

In addition, they soon realised that most printers were designed for lightweight paper. Bars may block the heavier papers that the artists tend to use.

In some cases, the answer may be to raise the gap between the inkjet head and the paper roller.

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