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

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

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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Review of New Breathing Color Media (Podcast 380)

Review of New Breathing Color Media (Podcast 380)

I recently took delivery of two new types of paper and a new canvas from Breathing Color, and having profiled and worked with them over the last few weeks, today I’m going to discuss some of the attributes of these new media types and how I’m going to be introducing them into my printing workflow.

If you get all excited about these papers and run off to the Breathing Color web site to place an order before we finish, note that we have a discount code, MBP20, for a $20 discount, but I’ll give you more details on this at the end of the Podcast. The first two of these three media types have me very excited though, so I do hope you also give them a try at some point. I usually like to save the best ’til last too, but I’m bursting to tell you about Breathing Color’s new Vibrance Metallic paper, so let’s jump into that first.

Vibrance Metallic

Breathing Color Vibrance Metallic

Breathing Color Vibrance Metallic

Until now, there haven’t been any true metallic inkjet papers available, apart from as a selectable media at some professional printing houses. There were a few companies that created inkjet metallic paper, but it didn’t really compare, until now. In true Breathing Color style, they have totally outdone themselves with Vibrance Metallic. This paper has a depth and quality that I’ve never seen before. Sure, I’m usually a matte guy. If I’m reaching for a paper to print for myself, it’s pretty much always matte, but I have a feeling that is going to change for at least for some of my printing.

Even as I printed out the patch sheets to create ICC profiles for these three new media types, I could see that Vibrance Metallic was very special. Of course, all three of these media types that we’ll look at today have excellent color gamuts and incredibly deep blacks, but Vibrance Metallic is like off the charts when it comes to depth and punch, but it’s not just about punch. There’s a subtle beauty that brings out the best in many types of photo. I found images with large swaths of color or dark areas look best on this paper.

I tried some of my almost totally white winter scenes, which also look beautiful, but as you can see in this photo (right) the paper does have a silver look to it, which really enhances some images, but doesn’t necessarily add anything and maybe even detracts from a some snow scenes. All photos have their better matched media though, so we don’t have to try to find a single paper that will work with all of our images.

The biggest challenge I had in putting this review together was finding a way to actually shoot photos of the printed metallic paper in a way that would help you to see just how good it is, and I don’t really know if I’ve achieved that, but here is one of my favorite black and white shots that I’ve printed so far. I’ve put the paper in a position where the light from my studio window is reflecting in the top right corner, as I find that it’s these reflections that give you part of the feeling of depth. I’m really not sure that you’ll get this, but looking into this photo feels very much like peering at a slide, where you almost feel as though there’s a 3D type of depth and richness to the image.

Tokyo Metropolitan Building on Vibrance Metallic

Tokyo Metropolitan Building on Vibrance Metallic (Click to Enlarge)

Here’s another black and white photo, this one of the Cocoon building in Shinjuku, Tokyo, that I printed on both Vibrance Metallic and Pura Smooth, the paper that we’ll look at next. Here you can easily see the slightly silver metallic look of Vibrance Metallic on the left, and the slightly yellow feel to the Pura Smooth. We’ll touch on that shortly, but I wanted to note that although this looks beautiful too on the Metallic paper, for this one, I kind of still gravitate to the matte version, so we definitely still need to match our images to our paper. This is how it should be though, and this is part of the fun and excitement of printing in my opinion.

Vibrance Metallic (Left) and Pura Smooth (Right)

Vibrance Metallic (Left) and Pura Smooth (Right) (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve posted this double print comparison in higher resolution than normal too, so open up your browser as wide as it will go and click on the image to dive into the detail a little more.

Houwa on Vibrance Metallic

“Houwa” on Vibrance Metallic (Click to Enlarge)

Black and white shots look great, but color images are simply beautiful on this paper too, especially ones with lots of dark patches or swaths of color. Here is a shot from the Zoujouji (temple) here in Tokyo, where some people were sitting for Houwa, a kind of buddhist sermon. I know this isn’t coming across totally in the photo, and I’ve purposefully left in some reflections from my studio, but this is probably my favorite of the images I’ve printed on Vibrance Metallic so far. As I hold the print in the window light of my studio, it’s almost as though I’m back looking through the side door at the temple again, as I was of course when I shot this. There are reflections in the image too, and I think that is a point to note when looking for images to print on metallic. Water, reflections, highly dynamic images, and I also believe HDR images will work very well on Vibrance Metallic.

It is of course available in sheets as well as rolls, and with our discount code, it really won’t break the bank to give this paper a try, and I reckon that’s the only way you’re really going to be able to fully appreciate this paper, to try it for yourself. When you look at the price of the rolls of Vibrance Metallic, you might initially think that it’s much more expensive than other roll media from Breathing Color, but do note that most rolls are 40′, whereas Vibrance Metallic is 100′ long, so you get one and a half times more paper for about a 25% higher price. It’s a steel really.

Pura Smooth

The second new paper I’ve just started using from Breathing Color is their new fine art matte paper, Pura Smooth. This is a simply beautiful paper, and as excited I am about the new metallic, matte paper is probably still going to be my favorite media. Although it lacks the punch that the high gloss metallic does, Pura Smooth is a subtle, almost sublime paper. Again, here’s a photo of a print, but it will be difficult to appreciate just how beautiful this paper is without holding it in your hand.

Deadvlei Trees on Pura Smooth

Deadvlei Trees on Pura Smooth (Click to Enlarge)

There used to be a time when matte papers were difficult to print on, with weak color and not very deep blacks, but those days are long gone. The color gamut of Pura Smooth is again off the chart. This was the case too with Optica One, my matte paper of choice from Breathing Color, but there is one major advantage that Pura Smooth has over Optica One, and that is that it is OBA free.

OBAs are Optical Brightening Agents, that absorb ultraviolet light that we can’t see, and emit blue/white light that makes the paper look a brighter white. This isn’t always a bad thing, and papers can still be archival certified, even if they use OBAs but they are considered to be unstable, and can break down over time, reducing the longevity of the prints, and therefore should be avoided if possible. There are other profiling concerns too, but I actually just wrote an article for a future issue of Craft & Visions PHOTOGRAPH digital magazine in which I go into more detail on all of this, so I won’t cover it here today.

Because Pura Smooth does not contain OBAs, this is part of the reason why it looks a little yellow, compared to the metallic paper, in the double black and white comparison shot that we looked at earlier. You really only notice this though, when the paper is held against a very bright white paper, or something more neutral, like Vibrance Metallic. Otherwise, the prints just have a beautiful, slightly warm tone to them, and wreak of quality.

I’ve always been very happy with Optica One, and because it is archival certified, I’ll use up my current stock before switching, but Pura Smooth is going to be my new go-to matte paper. It’s just beautiful, and OBA-Free. You can’t lose.

Crystalline Satin Canvas

The last of the tree media types that I want to talk about today is the new Breathing Color Canvas, Crystalline Satin. When I first heard about Crystalline, I was very excited, as this canvas does not need to be laminated. Although I have perfected my application of the Timeless Laminate for Breathing Color’s Lyve Canvas, it’s still extra work, and requires an extra day to let it fully dry. Crystalline canvas does not need that, and my tests show that there is no cracking along the edges of the canvas when you stretch it onto the stretcher bars, which is one of the main reasons you need to laminate.

20x30" Gallery Wrap Using Staple Method

20×30″ Crystalline Satin Gallery Wrap Using Staple Method (Click to Enlarge)

Without lamination, the edges crack and the white canvas shows through, looking horrible. In addition to that, without Lamination, canvas is usually susceptible to dirt and scratches, and cannot be wiped down with a damp cloth if it does get a little dirty. Crystalline is water resistant to a degree though, and can be wiped with a damp cloth to remove excess dust, even without lamination. You probably still don’t want to go rubbing at the printed surface for very long, or I’m sure you’ll lift the ink, but being able to give a canvas a quick wipe down is pretty much a necessity. Remember you hang gallery wraps straight on the wall without a frame or glass to protect them, so the collection of dust and sometimes a bit of grime is a real issue.


So, what’s the downside? Well, after I ordered my Crystalline canvas I found that it is not archival quality. I’m not sure if this information was just released or I just overlooked it initially, but Crystalline is only rated to 55 years before the print may start to deteriorate, and 75 years if you do apply a laminate. You can apply Timeless or Glamour II varnishes to Crystalline canvas, but it has to be applied with a HVLP Spray gun, which I don’t have or want to use. This was a bit of a blow, as the lack of necessity to laminate was the major attraction over Lyve Canvas, my current canvas of choice from Breathing Color.

The color gamut of Crystalline canvas is simply amazing. Very deep blacks and excellent color reproduction. It’s a pleasure to work with, but so is Lyve canvas. With the longevity in mind, I will continue to stock and use Lyve canvas for any and all work that I create for customers. I will use the Crystalline canvas I currently have for casual printing at home, because I’m not that concerned about the archival qualities of a home print, and the ease of use makes this canvas very attractive, but that will be the extent of my use. I really can’t put my name to anything that I’ll be sending to a customer, unless the formula is improved or a new canvas is released that doesn’t require lamination, but is still archival certified.

Requires Stapling

Another thing that you need to note about Crystalline is that you have to staple the edges to the back of the stretcher bars. I had actually intended to start doing this anyway, and had already bought a heavy duty staple gun, but I forgot to use this method when I put my first Crystalline canvas gallery wrap together. The result was that within 30 minutes of my hanging the gallery wrap on my studio wall, the edges came away from the adhesive tape on the stretcher bars as we can see here (below).

20x30" Crystalline Canvas Gallery Wrap without Staple Method

20×30″ Crystalline Canvas Gallery Wrap without Staple Method

Needless to say, this doesn’t look good, although I noticed that Breathing Color do recommend that you apply a bead of their archival glue along the edges of the gallery wrap, or to use the staple method, to stop the edges of the canvas from lifting away from the stretcher bars. I’ve confirmed that using the glue is somewhat effective, but if you are going to use this canvas, I’d strongly recommend using the staple method, as you can see in this photo (below).

Crystalline Canvas with Stapled Back

Crystalline Canvas with Stapled Back

You normally want to leave a 1/2 inch of canvas to stable to the back of the stretcher bars, but as I made a 20×30″ gallery wrap with a 24″ roll printer, I have to cut it a little fine on the long edge, although it’s still enough to table the edge down with. Although I never had a problem with the edges of my old Lyve Canvas gallery wraps lifting, I actually prefer this method and will be using it going forward, so I’m not raising this as a demerit for Crystalline Canvas, but it is something that you’ll need to note if you give Crystalline a try for yourself.

Remember that Breathing Color don’t sell through camera stores etc. so if you do want to try any of their media, visit, and don’t forget that you can use the code MBP20 when you checkout, for a $20 discount on orders of $20 or more. This code is used to identify people that I recommend to Breathing Color, and you get a discount too, so please do use it. Note too that I only ever recommend products that I fully believe in, and as with today’s review, you will always get my honest opinion of any product I work with.

I hope this has been of some use though. I’m always excited when Breathing Color release something new, because they are continuously pushing the boundaries in inkjet media, and I even though the Crystalline canvas doesn’t hit it out of the park for me, this is still a huge step forward, as it Vibrance Metallic, and now having an OBA-Free fine art matte paper in Pura Smooth! I’m currently a very happy teddy.

Show Notes

Find Breathing Color’s amazing media at

Music by UniqueTracks


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