Those of you who follow this blog and my various social media posts will know that I declared 2015 to be my year of print. I was very serious about this objective – I’ve already completed a significant slip-cased A3 sized general portfolio of work with a fabulous high-end product from Hartnack & Co (see the mini-series which STARTS HERE) and I always had in mind to produce something a little more intimate to contain a project series like Backwater.

Once again I found myself back on the trail of hunting down a high quality product. When I had originally searched for something to hold my main portfolio I had considered a few options which offered leather binding. While compelling, they weren’t cheap, even more expensive in fact than the hand-made Hartnack & Co portfolio I eventually sourced. Nonetheless, buying a leather product came much higher up the wishlist of objectives this time because I wanted something different to the original portfolio.

hportfolio 1 copyFollowing up an eagle-eyed and well placed tweet from Hahnemühle UK, I investigated their options for Fine Art Inkjet Albums and they seemed to meet all of my criteria with some very interesting options… black soft leather bound jacket, red accent stitching, pre-punched pages, an unexpected double-sided printing option with their PhotoRag Duo 276gsm Fine Art Matt paper, translucent pre-punched dividers, hidden screw-post binding, it ticked all the boxes and without breaking the bank too. In my main portfolio I had struggled with getting portrait orientation images to work (so much so I didn’t put any in at all in the end) so I wanted something which would work better in that respect this time, Hahnemühle’s 12″x12″ option looking near perfect for that purpose.

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I placed a web order with on-linepaper.co.uk for both the square and the larger A3 options (I’m always thinking ahead with what I’m doing next) and within a couple of days I had the products in my hands. The first thing that struck me was the box label: “Fine Art Photography” it declared. Was it a description of what should be inside, more a statement of intent perhaps, but I can’t help feeling this upped the ante somewhat as if to suggest that only photography of a certain standard would be allowed between the covers…

The 276gsm Photo Rag Duo paper also worried me at outset – until I’d researched the options I didn’t know quality double-sided inkjet paper even existed (hardly anyone offers it) but it meant I could in theory print more like a book format and use half as much paper, very appealing for the project based printing I had in mind. I was anxious about printing one side and then damaging the print when printing the reverse, so I ordered some Hahnemühle Protective Spray hoping it would help – a decision which proved to be critical later I think.

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The kit basically comes as two parts – select your binding option (which doesn’t come with any inkjet paper) and then your paper option. The supplied binder and handling instructions were straightforward as was locating and downloading the Hahnemühle Photo Rag Duo ICC profile for my Epson 3880. The pre-punched pre-scored paper was perfectly protected and I assembled the whole binder as a quick test to see what sort of overall thickness this represented. You get two sets of screw-posts included so you can choose differing heights which is great, though the shorter set fitted perfectly I thought. I must also say I was very pleased that I’d chosen the red stitched option for the leather cover, it definitely added that touch of class I’ve been after which elevates the whole final presentation. The textured leather feels soft to the touch whilst offering good protection, it absolutely does not have the look or feel of fake PV leather either, someone at Hahnemühle designed this product with all of the right principles in mind.

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Finally I was down to the crucial part again, selecting and printing the photographs. As before with my main portfolio I organised the final images I wanted to use, certainly the strongest of the project to date, and then tried to create a cohesive flow. This was particularly important to get right before printing because unlike when you print a series of single images, if you’re printing double-sided then sequencing needed to be decided first.

Backwater Portfolio

Finally to print. The fun really began here:

  • Which way to load the paper? Not as simple as you’d might immediately think…
  • How much of a margin did I need left, right, top and bottom?
  • Which side is left, right, top and bottom?
  • What standard height and width do I want so that the printing doesn’t jar from one page to the other?
  • What was the offset I needed to take account of for the punched edge?
  • Which way up do you load the paper for book style printing?

I can’t possibly go into all of the answers for this here because much depends on what dimensions and crop you would want to print, but there are several conundrums to solve here – you need a good grasp of spacial awareness to get through and I don’t mind admitting I didn’t find all of this very easy. Unfortunately there is one thing that lets this package down a little – there are no templates to help, so I resorted to pencil and paper and created my own. Understanding which way to load your paper, realising you need to flip your image 180 degrees in Photoshop for the reverse side printing, getting the offset right with a 5:4 crop to take account of the punched margin all made my brain hurt somewhat, and yes I made some mistakes which lost me a couple of precious sheets too – harsh words were spoken several times.

Below Left shows what happens when you set the offset on your reverse print on the wrong margin, Below Right was the idiot guide I had to build for myself – you’ll come to understand how important this is if you give it a go!

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Once I’d built my templates for portrait and landscape orientation, front and back printing, everything dropped into place. The procedure went something like this:

  1. Print the front side and leave to dry for at least 30 minutes. Most were left overnight, but matt paper dries very quickly in my experience.
  2. Apply a horizontal coat of Hahnemühle Protective spray and leave for 10 minutes. This is pretty pungent stuff so I protected my large dining room table and threw open the double doors I have to the outside.
  3. Apply a vertical coat of Hahnemühle Protective spray and leave for 10-15 minutes. Place print in large anti-static bag – I tended to leave these overnight too.
  4. Repeat 1, 2 and 3 for the reverse side. You can see here how long this process could take… I bought one can of spray, applied two coats to nearly forty 12″x12″ prints and I reckon I have at least half left yet – that’s good value I think.

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After what seemed like literally days of printing, drying and spraying, the project was finally ready to assemble into the screw-post leather binder. The protective spray had done its job remarkably well – I didn’t have a single mark on the prints even though the paper had been through my Epson twice, no print head strikes or anything, though I was paranoid about ensuring the paper was perfectly flat before loading it each time. The only thing I did encounter when printing the reverse sides were some initial feed issues where my 3880 seemed somewhat touchy about the page alignment despite the fact it looked perfect to my eye, each time this was easily remedied with a reload however.

I should add a word on the paper quality here too – it really is very, very nice indeed. It held the gamut of my prints perfectly with superb colour rendering and fantastic tonality. The smooth velvet finish to the paper had a faint but noticeable texture which definitely added that often elusive fine art feel. Pretty perfect for what I was producing here at least and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. 276gsm is enough so that you can only see something of the outline of the print on the reverse side if you hold it up to the light, it should go without saying it would be the case, but it was another slight anxiety I had before buying it.

This is a project that is not for the faint-hearted or impatient however, but quality outcomes rarely are something you can rush or complete entirely with ease. It felt like a lot of thought was required throughout the process, certainly an awful lot more than printing single images for mounting and framing. Having said that I do think the end result is spectacular. I finished the project with a cover page giving some words and definition to the whole work and when assembled with the translucent interleaved pages it does indeed meet the Fine Art Photography mantle that was so purposefully stamped on the box. I can’t wait to show it to others anyway – my plan is to seek one or two exhibitions with this whole production as an indicator of what’s possible and I definitely think it makes all of the impact I had hoped for when I embarked on this latest enterprise.

Some images from the final production are below, I’m happy to take the odd question for others too. All in all a big win for photographers and Hahnemühle in my view:

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