In the past I also tried myself printing on watercolor paper with my Epson 2100, but the results were terribly disappointing. Colors are completely wrong because standard profiles doesn’t work on artistic paper and black are almost grey, therefore the contrast is strongly flattened.
If the first problem is kind of easy to be solved, you just need a calibration device that creates custom icc profiles, the black problem is more complex. At its basis there’s a problem of excessive absorbing of the ink from the paper, expanding in its fibers and giving back flat and without blacks images. The ideal solution would be covering the background of the paper with a layer of some material that doesn’t allow the penetration of the ink. Well, in practice the paper for inkjet printer should be created at home. More than all of the sizing techniques, there are also pre-prepared products, such as Inkaid, a sort of paint which I was talked by Dorothy Simpson Krause in her interview and that, at least the producers say it, allows to print on each support.
It is a pity. Using fine arts papers is a very attractive idea. In general those papers are much more beautiful than the one for inkjet print and there is also an enormous, almost infinite variety with different characteristics available.
I then got in touch with Marco Tardito and I was talked about a second possibility, that is painting after printing. After some time he brought to me in Paris some wonderful prints of still life (wonderful pictures as well) on paper like Rives BFK, heavy and textured, which means sponge for ink. Although this, black were the most lucid and deep ever, the prints brilliant and contrasted. A thick layer of transparent paint covered the surface, as some millimeters of plastic resin would have been poured on it (actually, the layer was thinner, but that was the impression). The irregular surface united the beauty of the paper with the beauty of hand-made objects. The only problem, in my opinion, was the horrible synthetic smell and an interrogative point on the print conservation in time.
Marco Tardito confessed me about his countless tests on paper and resin to find the right combination, therefore I tried myself. Seen the results, I’m far away from Marco’s wonderful prints, but I learned a lot about resins and paints anyway. Recently I’m mostly worried about photography and work than print testing, but who knows maybe one day I will take printing on watercolor paper more seriously.
Prints have been made on Graphia paper, an amazing, not too expensive, white and smooth Sicilian paper. Testing is not rigorous as usual. I just printed 5 or 6 different images and painted each one using 3 different resins: from acrylic to Arabic gum and a polyurethan paint. The followings are some notes about the experiments and the scanning of one of the images of the series. Scansions are particularly to execute, results should better be judged in person. Pictures are only reported as guide.
Acrylic must be watered down, as it facilitates the preparation to every dilution. The solution has the aspect of a white viscous liquid, as a sort of vinavil diluted. It smells like ammoniac, but not so intensively. The seller told me that it doesn’t yellow, even after long periods; after two months I still don’t notice any kind of change. Half a litre costs almost 8 euros.
The acrylic, used directly at the original concentration, is really dense and thicken rapidly . It is much easier to coat the print when it is diluted one to one with water, but I’m still unable to make an even surface, without the brush streaks. Even with a dried, soft brush to smoothen the harshness, after the first coarse application (imitating the smoothing technique of the bichromate gum) it is hard to brush in a very uniform manner. When wet, the brushstrokes are white therefore particularly evident into the shadows; when it dries, they become transparent. The surface of the print keeps on being striped, evident if watching the print with a grazing light.
Probably acrylic should be diluted more and more to be scoated in an efficient manner or it must be sprayed with an airbrush. Anyway the seller told me that the less the acrylic is diluted, the more the acrylic is diluted the less the print is brilliant. Brilliance should be recovered superimposing more layers of acrylic. In this last case, we must verify that the successive layers will not soften and take away the past ones.
In about 30 minutes the print will dry, but if acrylic were working as all of the resins I used in the past, it would be better to wait some hours before the second coat.
The surface, even with some stripes of the brush, is homogeneous, in the sense that the stripes are regular and the effect can be lovable. The print is lucid and brilliant, such as the Arabic gum or the polyurethane, but I’d say blacks are less deep.
After some days, I put the prints one on the other and I put some weight on the top to flat them. All of the acrylic painted prints adhere one to each other; this never happened with Arabic gum or polyurethane. When I divided them, the part behind stuck on the picture behind. There’s no crease.
Arabic gum can be solved on water as well, and this allows all kind of desired solutions. It is a sort of yellowish transparent liquid, characteristic that should warm the tints of the prints. The gum is practically without smell; the soft aroma is pleasant and natural, remembers about craftsmanship stores. A bottle from 1 liter up to 14 degrees baume costs less than 10 euros, turning the Arabic gum into the cheapest resin between the ones I tried.
I tried it directly without any kind of dilution, as all of my attempts with gum prints, knowing it would have been too thick. It is easy to paint with; the aspect of the humid print is lucid and nice. As far as it dries though, micro-bubbles born because of the paper absorbance, micro-bubble that can’t run away because the solution is too dense, making the picture surface irregular.
Probably this problem wouldn’t exist if Arabic gum were more diluted. Another attempt could be adding some ethylic alcohol, as in the preparation of paper for carbon prints it sensibly reduces the presence of bubbles. Superimposition creates same doubts of the acrylic; I didn’t verify if other layers remove the precedents. Arabic gum could be hardened with a little addition of potassium dichromate, making it completely insoluble. The problem is that dichromate leaves a green dominant in the gum and is very toxic, therefore I rather renounce. It is useless to use gum, a natural product, when you put a highly toxic and carcinogen substance in it.
Even after a couple of months, the surface of the print is gluey if touched, but it doesn’t seem like dripping or sticking like acrylic, which is perfectly dried when handled.
The surface, from perfectly smooth, has been covered with cracks that follow the sense of the paper fibers. Although this, the effect is still delightful.
In the complex, this is the resin I prefer: no smell, natural ingredient, brilliant and deep blacks, kind of easy to spread out, centenary photographic tradition that confirm its stability during time. But most of all, looking at the pictures, it is the one that I prefer.
This paint is solvable with a classic industrial solvent, not water. It is in fact greasy to the touch. Though its transparency, it has a slightly purplish color. It has an intense and unpleasant smell typical of solvents. I bought the cheapest paint I found in a DIY shop, but the price is 9 euros for 250 ml, the most expensive between the three resins I tried.
The polyurethane paint rapidly penetrates the paper. Even a large quantity is quickly absorbed. The humid paper is the most brilliant, but when it dries the surface becomes opaque. Its drawing up is easy and uniform, even with a hard brush. If, with some layers of paint, I could create the right surface that will not be absorbed, this would be the perfect resin.
Unfortunately, once the surface dries, it becomes irregular, in some zone is matte and in some others lucid. Blacks are actually deeper but the surface is very rough.
After only two months the polyurethane layer turned visibly yellow.