Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 Fine Art Paper (Podcast 553)

by | Dec 12, 2016 | Podcast, Printing, Review | 17 comments

I recently got hold of a roll of Signa Smooth 270, a new supple and smooth fine art paper, and today we’re going to take a look at this beautiful new offering from my friends at Breathing Color.

It seems like Breathing Color are releasing new paper on a very quick cycle these days, and that can be considered a good thing, and a bad thing, but the bad thing mind-set is a somewhat selfish one, and I’m talking about my self here too. Why? Because I love being in a place where I’m happy with my decisions regarding options available to me. I like to decide on something, then run with it for a long while. There is a relaxing beauty in contentment.

So, when something new comes along, you have to rethink strategies, and decide whether to embrace it, or push it aside. With my cameras, I’m often asked why I don’t shoot mirrorless, and although I’ve given it a lot of thought, I’m still with my big Canon camera gear, because I’m totally happy with it. It’s like being in a good marriage. You don’t have an affair if you are totally happy with your own spouse.

Breathing Color All the Way!

One of the few areas that I can safely say though, that I am generally always happy to be forced to rethink my current state of contentment, is fine art printing media. Actually, let me add to that—here’s the thing—I’m totally happy with my decision to, in general, only use Breathing Color media.

Breathing Color has over the last six years (from my own perspective) continued to provide options for absolutely everything that I need in inkjet media, so I’m not generally out there looking for other manufacturers. If something incredible came along, I might be tempted, but I’m generally just not even looking.

When it comes to my chosen fine art printing media, I’m in a state of contentment, but continue to remain open to new solutions, probably because of my trust in Breathing Color. I was totally happy with Optica One, although that did contain OBAs or Optical Brightening Agents, which I wasn’t so sold on. Then along came OBA free Pura Smooth. I still had some Optica One stock left, but decided to change to Pura Smooth as I ran my stock down.

Just as I’d hung my hat on Pura Smooth, Pura Bagasse Smooth came along, and had a nice Eco Friendly appeal to it, being made from sugar cane waste product, in addition to being brighter white, and Archival, so as my Pura Smooth ran out, I transitioned to Pura Bagasse Smooth, which I’m still very happy with. So, when Breathing Color contacted me about Signa Smooth last week, my knee jerk reaction was “not again!”

Printing Profile Patch Sheet - Canon PRO-4000

Printing Profile Patch Sheet – Canon PRO-4000

But, that feeling lasted about 15 seconds, as my trust for this great company made me realize that I should at least take a look. After all, there was the promise of even whiter paper, no OBAs still and incredibly wide gamut, and no printer worth their salt will ever pass up a chance to increase their printing gamut.

So, a few days later, I’m profiling a roll of Signs Smooth 270, and almost 30 feet of test prints later, I’m really happy to find a place for this new media in my printing, and to share my findings and reasoning with you today.

Incredible Detail and Gamut

Landmannalaugar Winding River

Landmannalaugar Winding River

Let’s start with the premise that most matte fine art paper isn’t ideal for high resolution photo prints, but as we’ll see, Signa Smooth breaks that mold, and does it in style. It has stunning details and an incredibly wide gamut for a fine art matte paper. One of the best tests of a paper’s gamut is seeing how it prints vibrant greens and yellows, so for this test I picked a photo from this year’s Iceland Tour, as you can see here (Above).

That’s the web version, but here (below) is a photograph of the printed image, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the color reproduction is absolutely incredible. I’m really blown away with this media, especially when you consider that it’s a matte fine art paper.

Iceland Photo on Signa Smooth

Iceland Photo on Signa Smooth

When you look at the photo of the print, keep in mind that I shot this under window light, so it gets darker towards the left side, and I purposefully didn’t correct the image at all, so that you see what I saw, via my camera.

I also shot a closeup of a portion of the print (below) to help you to see the detail. It wasn’t that light in my studio today, so I had to keep a relatively large aperture, as I was hand-holding the camera, trying to get stuck into the preparation for this episode, but I think you’ll still be able to appreciate just how much detail this paper provides.

Closeup of Iceland Print on Signa Smooth

Closeup of Iceland Print on Signa Smooth

OBA Free

As I mentioned, this paper is OBA-Free yet still bright white. Breathing Color have continuously improved on the whiteness of their paper even after they moved away from including Optical Brightening Agents, to make the surface of the paper appear more white. As a very quick recap, OBAs are added to some paper to make it react to ultraviolet light, so that it glows, like white shirt collars used to do at discos, and under normal light, this makes the paper appear whiter.

The problem with OBAs is that they can make the paper unstable, and break down over time, so although you still get archival paper that contains OBAs, it’s generally considered to be a bad thing, and should be avoided when possible.

Beautiful Black and White

Printing Man with Umbrella Photo

Printing Man with Umbrella Photo

I also printed this black and white photo from Iceland, to see how Signa Smooth handles these deep almost black grays, and I was again very impressed. As you can see in this close-up photograph of the Umbrella Man, there is no pooling of the black ink whatsoever (below) even in the very darkest areas.

Close Up of Man with Umbrella Print

Close Up of Man with Umbrella Print

By the way, all of my test prints are 18 x 24 inches. I was using a 24 inch wide roll, and I just like this size. It’s not huge, but it’s plenty big enough to really appreciate the detail in the images. It’s also a standard paper size ARCH C and I have some large Itoya Art Folios to store these prints in (as I mentioned in Episode 499) so I tend to go with this when testing, although it isn’t the cheapest way to go about this.

Beautiful Subtle Whites

Of course, the ability of a paper to hold lots of ink is one thing, but we also need to be able to differentiate between very subtle light tones, so I also printed this photo of a tree on a hill from my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour this year (below).

Hokkaido Tree Print on Signa Smooth

Hokkaido Tree Print on Signa Smooth

Look at how well this media handles that subtle difference between the brow of the snow-covered hill and the white sky above it. This is of course also a tribute to the PRO-4000, which is an amazing printer. Note too that although in my review of the PRO-4000 I mentioned that printing on matte media did not produce as good results as my old iPF6350, during these tests, I’ve figured out how to work around that.

I don’t yet know if it’s a problem with the printer, its software, or how third-party tools like Capture One Pro and Lightroom interact with it, but I’ve figured it out. I’ll provide a report and the workaround for this as soon as I can in a future episode, next week if I can pull it in before I start traveling in a few days.

[UPDATE: The workaround can be seen here. Basically, if you use custom media types, you have to associate the ICC profile with the media type.]

The Translucency of Gloss Paper

Matte paper, because of its quality of being non-reflective, often can seem a little lackluster, so one of the last images that I chose to test with, is this image of the blue ice on the beach in Iceland. I chose this, because I wanted to see how well the translucent feel of the ice came across in Signa Smooth (below).

Sapphires on Beach Print on Signa Smooth

Sapphires on Beach Print on Signa Smooth

Again, I’m sure you can appreciate from this photograph that I’m very happy with the results. There is a translucency about this image that you’d normally associate with luster or gloss media. Of course, other paper comes close, and I’d love to show you this on Pura Bagasse Smooth as well, but I’m afraid I just used up the last of my stock doing some tests prints for a meeting with five engineers from Canon last week, to talk about the new PRO-4000.

Plus, with my finding out about the workaround that I mentioned earlier, I’m not really confident enough in my original matte prints from the PRO-4000, so I can’t just print the same photo as I did before for comparison either.

Spec Comparison with Pura Bagasse Smooth

What I do want to do though, is compare the specs with Pura Bagasse Smooth, to also enable me to place Signa Smooth in my printing process.

Firstly, Signa is 17 mil thick and weighs in at 270 gsm. Compared to my standard fine art matte paper, Pura Bagasse Smooth, which is 20 mil thick and 320 gsm, it’s a little bit lighter, and this might not be what you are looking for in terms of a heavyweight fine art media. I urge you to not simply rule out this new offering based on its weight though, as I’ll explain.

Signa is $100 for a 24 inch x 50 feet roll, compared to Pura Bagasse Smooth at $159 for a 24 inch x 40 feet roll, so Signa is more cost effective. You could use Signa as a somewhat cheaper alternative for personal or test prints if you absolutely must have a very heavy weight paper for customers.

Honestly though, the weight at 270 gsm is still nice, and from this comes a beautiful suppleness when handling Signa. It’s much less rigid than Pura Bagasse, yet has a very smooth feel to it, while still providing a rich, quality experience.

Impossible to Ignore!

I still haven’t made up my mind on how I will use Signa Smooth in my product line up, but I know already that I am going to be ordering another roll for use in my personal printing. It is less heavy to store in my Itoya Art Folios and beautiful to the touch, and with this level of detail and gamut, it’s just impossible to ignore.

Archival Certification

I haven’t heard how close this media is to achieving archival certification, or even if it’s actually being sought, but from previous new releases, I’d imagine that the Breathing Color team are working towards this, and will add an Archival Quality Certificate at some point. Right now, this paper is not archival certified, so keep that in mind as you consider how you might use it.

For myself, I’m going to continue to use Signa as my personal printing favorite and probably as a very high quality product to use for printing educational purposes, and I’ll gradually work it into my product line as the archival certification is reached. It’s just too beautiful and rich to push aside just because it’s not certified.

[UPDATE: Signa Smooth 270 is now Archival Certified! You can now download the certificate to include with your products from the product page.]

A Bit Dusty (to say the least!)

It’s not all great news though. There was one downside to Signa Smooth that I feel I should tell you about, and that is that this paper creates a lot of dust when cut, and I mean a LOT! After printing 28 feet of this paper during my tests, the floor around my printer was covered in white flecks from the cutting of the paper, as was the table where I placed the prints.

The good thing is that this doesn’t seem to adhere to the face of the paper, at least not with the Canon PRO-4000, which now feeds paper upside-down, partly to avoid this kind of issue, as it’s hard for dust to settle on the media now.

If you do get dust on the face of the paper and then print on it, of course you apply the ink to the dust, and that then later falls off, leaving a white mark on the photo, because no ink was applied. I did not see this with Signa, but I’d say there may be risk of this happening depending on your printer.

Conclusion – Thumbs Up!

So, in conclusion, as you might already guess, despite the dustiness and lack of archival certification, I give a huge thumbs-up for Breathing Color’s new Signa Smooth 270 matte fine art paper. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t think I needed this paper, until I saw it, and now, it’s a part of my printing to stay, or at least until it’s replaced by something better. 🙂

Himba Girl Print on Signa Smooth

Himba Girl Print on Signa Smooth

You can buy Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270 here:

And don’t forget, if you are new to Breathing Color, you can use our voucher MBP20 to save $20 off your order. Using this code also let’s Breathing Color that I sent you, so please do use it if you heard about this product from me.

Comparison of Pura Smooth and Signa Smooth ICC Profiles

In reply to a reader question below, I recorded this quick video to compare the ICC profiles for Pura Smooth and Signa Smooth so that we can see that Signa has a wider gamut, slightly more neutral color and brighter white point. It has a very slightly lighter black point than Pura Smooth though, so that’s the only area where Pura has a very slight edge.

Show Notes

Breathing Color Signa Smooth 270:

Canon PRO-4000 Printer:

Music by Martin Bailey


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  1. John Steadman

    Hello Martin.
    A very interesting read about the Breathing Colour Paper I shall have to see if there are agents in the UK. I have been using Canson Baryta Photographique and Permajet on a Canon Pixma Pro 1. As I was going over to Capture One Pro I did cancel my subscription to Adobe, but ran into problems Adobe even stopped me using paid for and registered version’s of PS6 & LR5, which I thought was very naughty for them to do that, so I have had to sign up again for Adobe CC. to get things working again. I photograph mainly preserved steam locomotives and traction engines, 1940’s events and a few landscapes, the problem I have with Capture One is that I cannot get rid of the highlight’s with warning turned on. This shows up any ware on the loco and even on Sky between branches of tree’s etc. I use a Nikon D810 and with the Nikon software the problem is not really an issue, the problem is that the software is to slow but the colours are great.

    Best Wishes John.

    • Martin Bailey

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the comment.

      That isn’t great that Adobe stopped you using your old licenses. I assume you actually reentered the old licenses after you cancelled the CC subscription. Personally I’m keeping my Creative Cloud subscription, as I still use Photoshop and many of the other CC apps. I’m still going to be teaching Lightroom occasionally too, so I can’t even uninstall it. 🙂

      We communicated offline about the issue you mention with the highlights, and the last I heard from you was that the settings I sent helped to get rid of the highlight warnings, and that you closed the case with Phase One. If that issue is back even when using my settings, your images must be over exposed in those areas. How about exporting one of the images that you are seeing issues with as a EIP file, and share it with me via Dropbox or something. I’ll take a look and let you know what I think.

      If Capture One is too slow for you, there are a number of reasons that could be causing that, including not enough RAM, computer too old etc. If you’ve already decided not to use Capture One Pro, then don’t worry about sending me a file. I only want to help if this is a gating factor for you.


  2. Thom

    Hi Martin!

    I was just curious if you have ever used Moab paper…and your thoughts?

    They have a lot of different finishes to choose from, I’m currently using their “entrada” rag bright paper and their slick rock for more experimental and digital paintings (non photographic work). I am familiar with signa paper and have used them when I did print quality for a greating card company and will definitely try the smooth 270 (perhaps when I return from Japan and begin printing the shots I take there!)



    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Thom,

      I did try Moab many years ago, when I was still searching for my favorite paper. It was nice, and I’m sure they have improved their products since too, but at the time it wasn’t remarkable enough to lure me in.

      BTW, Signa is not a line of paper. It’s just one paper. The product name is Signa Smooth 270.


      • Thom

        Thanks for the prompt reply. I must be mistaken on that particular papers name, they were testing quite a bit of stock…I’ll have to pull out my samples collection to see if I have any left. lol
        Thanks again Martin, have a great holiday.

        • Martin Bailey

          You’re welcome Thom.

          Happy Holidays to you too!

  3. John

    Hey Martin,

    Thanks for the great review. Curious to know if you were able to figure out where Signa sits in your paper line-up especially in comparison to Pura.

    Also, you mentioned creating your own profile: any insights on how it compares to the one provided by BC? What media type did you use on the PRO-4000?


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi John,

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

      I am using Signa for most of my personal printing, i.e. when I just want to print something for my own enjoyment, and have provided a few prints for friends etc. with Signa, when the archival certificate isn’t necessary. For archival fine art prints, I’m still using either Pura Smooth or Pura Bagasse.

      I actually created the ICC profiles that you get from Breathing Color for the PRO-4000, so in this case, they are identical. Usually though, if you can get a profile from the media manufacturer, it’s going to be pretty good. In my opinion, the most important thing is specifying your profile, rather than letting the printer handle color management because there is too much processing that we can’t see that happens when we leave it up to the printer.

      The base paper I use for SIgna and for most of the matte media I use is Fine Art Smooth.

      I hope that helps!


  4. Mike W


    I just went to the Breathing Color website and two notes for you:

    1) Signa 17″ 50′ rolls are currently on sale for 32% off (US$49). I know it’s not your preferred size, but I just ordered 3 rolls at that price.

    2) Your coupon code seems to no longer work.

    Keep up the good work.


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Mike,

      That’s great. You’ll love Signa if you haven’t already tried it.

      I’ll ask about the code, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was disabled for discounted products. I’ll let you know what BC says.


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi again Mike,

      My friend’s at Breathing Color say they needed to tweak the settings for my code, but it’s done now. Sorry you missed it with your purchase.


      • Mike W

        Thanks Martin, I appreciate the follow-up. No worries about the discount; I did let them know that I heard about them from you.


  5. X

    Thanks for the review.

    How do you find the smoothness, white point, colour neutrality and gamut of Signa to be in comparison to Pura Smooth (my current paper)? Is it smoother and whiter, or around the same?

    Have you tried applying Timeless to it? I’ve had a good experience with Timeless on Pura Smooth/Velvet – using various dilutions and multiple coats, you can create anything from a flat matte to a mirror gloss, while leaving a very tough surface that actually soaks into the paper base, encapsulating and reinforcing the image layer. Presumably Signa, with its greater thickness and lower weight implying a less dense/more porous paper structure, would soak up the Timeless even more than Pura. But i was wondering if you had tried it already.

    • Martin Bailey

      Thanks for the question. Too bad you couldn’t leave your name so that I can address you properly.

      I’ve answered your questions about the white point, color neutrality, and gamut in a video that I’ll embed at the bottom of the post, so please check that out. As for smoothness, Signa does feel slightly smoother to me.

      I haven’t tried applying Timeless to Signa. I think the last time I tried that I was still using Optica One, so I can’t help you there.

      • X

        Thanks – very informative. I’ll have to give it a try.

        No clear data on what the print longevity is like (no data on Aardenburg for this or Pura Smooth/Velvet), but, looking at the data for other Breathing Color paper and canvas products (excellent for the OBA-free products, and with most of the deterioration in the OBA-containing papers seemingly due to OBA burnout rather than ink fade), and with the safe assumption that Signa’s coating will be similar, I’m expecting it to rank very highly in that regard among currently-available papers.

  6. Sterling J Haidt

    Does BC Signa have an AM1X to add to the Canon Studio Pro software? Do you use Canon Studio Pro software to print?

    I look forward to reading about your work around “my review of the PRO-4000 I mentioned that printing on matte media did not produce as good results as my old iPF6350, during these tests, I’ve figured out how to work around that.”


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Sterling,

      There is an AM1X file on the Breathing Color website I believe, but it’s not specific to Canon Studio Pro. You just need to add the custom media type via the Media Configuration Tool. I actually just create my own Media Types based on the fine art paper types.

      The workaround for the issues I was seeing with the PRO-4000 is here:

      You basically have to embed (associate) your custom ICC profile in the media type, or don’t use the Print Preview, but I prefer associating the profile and continuing to use the Preview.



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