Kentmere Art Classic

Reviewed by Les McLean
Kentmere, photographic paper manufacturers based at Staveley in Cumbria, on the southern fringe of the English Lake District, have produced a comprehensive range of papers for many years. In addition to the traditional fibre-based and resin coated papers they have produced tinted monochrome papers and lightweight document art paper. The latest addition to the range is Art Classic, which is a textured paper with a matt finish that comes in one grade only (I will comment on this later). The paper is similar in weight to Kodak Elite, therefore is quite robust and handles well at both wet and dry stages.

Art Classic resembles a heavy watercolour artist's paper in feel, and is suitable for special after-treatments including colouring and some pigment processes. It is however supercoated, and can not be used in place of a hand-coated watercolour paper.

I used three developers to explore both the contrast control and image colour of Art Classic. They were:

I chose three negatives for the test, one high key still life, one low key still life and a low key portrait. We have reproduced only the high key still life here in PHOTON, as it is the best suited to computer display. All prints were developed for three minutes.

When placed in the developer the image appears after about 30 seconds and continues to develop steadily until the last 40/60 seconds, when development seems to speed up. The negatives I chose to print would normally have been printed on grades 2, 3 and 4 had I been using graded paper. However, all printed reasonably well on Art Classic although I carried out more manipulation than I would normally have done. When compared with graded papers I think that Art Classic is about equivalent to grade 3 Record Rapid. The use of different developers at various dilutions will enable grades 2 and 4 to be achieved. I would strongly recommend that this should be tried if you decide to use this paper.

A sectional reproduction of the scan (made on a Sharp JX-600) at full size will show you the texture of this unusual paper pretty clearly. Just click on the scan to view (29Kb JPEG).

Print Colour

Dektol gave the coolest print colour and the strongest tonal range whilst OD62 gave the warmest. Selectol Soft produced a most pleasing result on the high key print as well as a warmish colour. Art Classic is a paper that is receptive to the manipulation of image colour in many ways, first of all by use of different developers or a combination of more than one developer, secondly by using toning baths such as selenium. I found that the natural colour of the image tended always to be on the warm side, no matter what developer was used. Toning in selenium cooled the image a little as well as intensifying the blacks which increases the contrast of the final print.


Because of its weight, Art Classic dries well either by air on a drying rack or by heat on a flat bed dryer, although I only use heat when I have a deadline to meet.


Before I carried out the careful tests described here, I did make some quick prints on Art Classic at the end of a morning printing session. I have to say that they were less than satisfactory in that two of the three prints made had strange oily marks on them and the third had uneven streaks in an area of grey sky, and I know that particular negative prints perfectly on my normal paper.

However, after completing the formal tests I felt somewhat happier when I assessed the results. I had no strange marks or streaks and felt that Art Classic could prove to be paper that may have a place in my darkroom. It is not a paper I would choose for general use, but I do think it could be useful for the print that needs a different treatment to communicate the message.

Editor's Postscript: while Les found this 'ready-made hand coated' art paper no match for the quality he looks for in his glossy unglazed fibre-base prints, I commented that to the punter buying a framed art print in a gallery, the final result looked less like an ordinary photograph and more like a handcrafted print. We chatted about this aspect, and Les had to agree that the tactile/visual aspect of Art Classic could improve print sales. That's how we ended up with one his test prints on the office wall...