What is realistically neutral?

I’m wondering how you’d quantify a neutral toned print? I primarily print on Photo Rag Baryta, William Turner and Epson Semimatte. Three very different papers, one with OBAs, two without OBAs or minimal amounts of them. I don’t ever expect images printed on a paper to match tone-wise to a different paper - I’m aware that neutral on a print is relative to the paper’s base color.

I know I can read the a* and b* values from measurement patches and see how closely they track to neutral on a given paper (and try to bring them closer to the neutral axis with the blender tool). But is it realistic to expect a print to ever be truly neutral, given the warmth/coolness of each paper’s base? If not, is there a range or tolerance of a* b* values that’s effectively neutral in everyday printing?

I pulled some untoned silver gelatin prints out of my drawer to compare, and while they look neutral to me (under my Just Normicht d50 booth), if I take some spot readings with my i1 the values actually go a bit on the cool side.

Neutral is in the eye of the beholder entirely.

There is a cultural “European” neutral that I think of as defined by the old FORTE paper range (aka, a bit green) which our classic (pre me) k7 neutral exhibited. And there is a the US neutral which is a bit more blue.

But if a/b is zero at D50 it’s not going to look neutral to most people. It will look cyan/green.*

see my comments at the bottom here:


*also depends one what D50 light you have and how it spikes and what the blue dip is (LED or non). It’s very complicated.

Thanks Walker! I knew it was a complicated question and a subjective one too. Is there a range of a* b* values that are within a tolerance of appearing neutral on a baryta paper like Photo Rag Baryta? Or is it really just by feeling/perception?

For lighting, we have a d50 Just Normlicht booth with fluorescents. And a print viewing wall with Soraa 3500k bulbs on dimmers. I usually look at my test prints and toning under the d50 lights, esp. when comparing one print to another or evaluating toning. Then we look at them on the Soraa wall for a more realistic simulation of a gallery environment or home lighting.

We have something similar. All fluorescent (no matter the expense) will spike in green and magenta a bit. I suggest doing a mix of Soraa/Fl. when evaluating neutral.