Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Two different types of Costco / Kirkland Signature Professional Glossy Inkjet Photo Paper tested

For some time I have used Costco’s own brand Kirkland Signature Professional Glossy Inkjet Photo Paper as one of my draft/proofing (before committing ink to an expensive paper) and contact printing papers and for prints for friends & family with my Epson 4800, and before that on my Canon 9000S. I have been very happy with it, but noticed recently that the box had changed and whereas all the paper I had used before was made in Switzerland, the latest batch was made in the USA. So are they the same? If not, what’s the difference?

According to the gossip on the web Costco sell several papers under their Kirkland label, with the paper made in Switzerland being rumoured to be made by Ilford and the USA made paper being made by Kodak. There are also some stories about it being made by Epson as well.

For several years I have bought A4 Kirkland paper in the UK mostly via eBay as I do not have a Costco account and until recently it always came in boxes containing 125 sheets and was made in Switzerland - below is a scan of the box top. Initially the paper was rated at 260gsm (69lbs), but this changed to 255gsm (68 lbs), although both were 10 mil thick and had the same product code: 77755 (circled in the image below). Since the rumours had it being made by Ilford and that it was the same as Ilford’s Smooth Gloss Paper I did try it with Ilford’s SGP ICC profiles – the results were OK, but I decided to get a bespoke profile made; which unsurprisingly was better still. The two different weights of paper seemed to look identical (or so I thought – see below) so presumably used the same paper substrate and ink receiving layer coating.

The most recent batch (May 2008) came in a 150 sheet card wallet rather than a box, and said that it was made in the USA, and although the same weight and thickness, it had a different product code: 80623 - below is a scan of the front of the wallet, with various key clues to its difference circled I red.

So before using it in anger I put it through my normal paper test process (If you want to know how I test papers I wrote about it in an earlier posting here) to see which if any of these papers it behaves like.

The Comparison
First off I was quite confused for some time in this test as my perceptions changed each time I looked at the prints, until I realised that the Swiss made Kirkland papers I was using were different – some from the 260gsm box and some from a 255gsm box. I thought that they were interchangeable until I realised that the 260gsm paper was whiter on the coated side than the 255gsm paper; or was it the other way around?

I compared sheets
in Northern morning light from the Swiss (the whiter one was actually used) and US made batches of Kirkland papers with a sheet of Epson Premium Gloss, and Ilford Smooth Gloss and Omnijet papers (I have never used any Kodak paper so do not have any to hand to compare with).

Looking at the coated sides shows that the Ilford Omnijet is the most cream coloured, with the Swiss Kirkland the whitest, with the other two looking extremely similar; but slight variations of light shifted my perceptions. The less white Swiss Kirkland looked much the same as the US Kirkland and the Epson.

Looking at the back of the papers, however, showed up significant differences (besides having Epson printed all over the back of the Epson paper). The USA made paper was whiter than the other four, and the Ilford Smooth Gloss looked whiter than the Swiss made Kirkland, which looked much the same as the Ilford Omnijet; the Epson was the most cream coloured and had a more glazed look to it and was smoother. The Epson and US Kirkland had the most fibrous looking backs in certain lights.

Since the USA made paper was rumoured to be made by Kodak I looked for a generic profile to try and the only one I could find was for their Professional papers (the same profile seems to cover both gloss & lustre papers) @

I made the following test prints through Qimage:
  • The Swiss made paper with its bespoke profile
  • The USA made paper with exactly the same settings as the Swiss paper (profile, printer driver settings, rendering intent, black point compensation etc).
  • The USA made paper with the Kodak Pro profile with all the settings as per Kodak’s instructions; most notably with black point compensation (BPC) turned OFF.
  • The USA made paper with the Kodak Pro profile with all the settings as per Kodak’s instructions; but with BPC turned ON (because I do quite a lot of printing from Lightroom 1.4 and, as far as I can see, there is no way of turning BPC on or off in Lightroom).
  • The USA made paper with standard Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper (PGPP) settings, using the Pro4800 PGPP profile – in case it is actually made by Epson.
I let the prints dry for 24 hours and then examined them.

In the Northerly morning light the most striking difference is between the B&W prints made with the Kodak profiles and the rest. Both the Kodak prints have a distinctly less neutral look to their B&W renditions, looking much warmer - on the yellow side. The other three look pretty similar with neutral B&Ws. With its whiter base the Swiss Kirkland looks cooler with there being very little to choose between the bespoke Swiss Kirkland and canned Epson profiles on the US Kirkland paper. The bespoke Swiss Kirkland profile probably makes the closest rendition of B&W images on the US paper to the Swiss paper, but the Epson profile is pretty close.

In the colour images things are a bit different.
The main difference is between the Swiss made Kirkland with the bespoke profile and the rest. The blues are more solid and skin tones are better, but the differences are pretty subtle. The Prints made with the Kodak profile look a bit brighter and thinner than the others. The mountain range image (in the multi-image test print I use) looks brighter with slightly less dense shadows, but skin tones look a bit washed out and greens look yellower.

Viewed in isolation they all look pretty acceptable, and friends and family were quite happy with prints from all of these combinations and even viewed side-by-side no one picked one over another consistently.

Even looking at the colour bars at the bottom of the test image nothing was clear – I had to look pretty carefully and stare and shuffle strips around to see any difference. Changing the light made much more difference than the profiles.

I could not see any effect of turning the BPC on and off with the Kodak profiles, so printing through Lightroom should be fine if I chose to use this profile.

I might have been able to see some numeric differences between the profiles’ actions if I had looked at the per channel ink usage information that the Epson LFP Remote Panel utility produces, but by the time I had thought of that the data was overwritten by subsequent prints. Perhaps another time, but I do not plan to redo the prints just to gather this data.


As is often the case B&W images show differences in printers, papers and profiles better than colour. The Kodak profiles clearly produce a warmer, slightly sepia look, while the others produce a more neutral, cooler image.

So assuming that colour rendition is not absolutely critical for contact printing or friends & family prints then the US Made Kirkland paper looks pretty good with a range of profiles – I’ll probably get a bespoke one made in due course just to be sure. In the meanwhile I’ll use the bespoke profile made for the Swiss made Kirkland as it is easier just to treat all the Kirkland papers the same to avoid confusion.

Unless the real difference in B&W rendition is deliberate then I do not think that this batch of US made Kirkland paper is made my Kodak, or the profile I used (which is the only one I could find on Kodak’s web site) is for a completely different paper altogether.

In any case I am quite happy to continue to buy Costco’s Kirkland paper for non-critical prints whatever the source is.


beachpoet said...

My Kirkland paper is made in Mexico. It is the best ink jet paper I've ever printed on bar none and ranks very well with a 4 grade Ilford glossy. For cost, I can't see how it could be beat.

Jerry Hicks
Torrance, CA

Spike said...

A few years ago I bought a box of Kirkland Signature Professional Glossy Inkjet Photo Paper that looked just like the one in your photo. It said "Made in Switzerland...ITM./ART. 26352" with a batch(?) number 170422. It's been probably a few years since I used any of it. It's now about half full. Last week I used my Epson printer to print a black and white photo on a sheet, and noticed that if I touched the image, the ink would move. I let it dry for a few days, but it still hadn't dried. I suspect the ink will never dry. This wasn't a problem with earlier sheets from the box long ago. Any ideas?

Jenna said...

Nice post! I use a lot of inkjet photo paper as a photographer, so I know it's important to find good quality.

christine mae Engcoy said...

For 6 years now,I am so thankful for Epson photo paper because my small business in making wedding invitation,birthday card and other romantic cards Epson enhance the output that I have.Thank you so much.

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EPSON Premium Glossy Photo Paper

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