The dark art of printing

The dark art of printing

I thought I would take today’s post and discuss another aspect I had to contend with to bring my project Landscapes of the Body to it’s present state.  Today will focus on how I choose the right paper for a project, and my process to get a final print. I personally believe that you can be proficient at getting a good shot, but an image is not finished in my eyes until there is a print in my hand. Most importantly, I need to be happy with that print in all aspects from color gamut, saturation, contrast and paper feel.

In some respects, learning to be a good printer can take nearly as long as thoroughly learning the basics of photography. A solid understanding of what good contrast and color is goes a long way in the printing process. If you aren’t at a level in your photography where you feel comfortable evaluating images for color and contrast it may be better to consider using a printing house and choosing the full color adjustments option when ordering your prints. I personally have used Mpix for years because of their turnaround time and consistent quality from print to print.

Fair warning: learning the printing process so that you can obtain consistent results can be deceptively costly. My personal experience with printing spans many years and involves the use of many kinds of printers from commercial class Fiery to home basic class photo printers. Models include Canon, Epson, HP and Lexmark. Printers, like cameras continue to evolve over time and prices fluctuate more than the stock market for paper and ink prices depending on your make and model.

As of this writing, I personally use a Canon Pixma Pro-100 model photo printer. This is because of the price of ink, the ability to replace one ink tank for a reasonable 16 dollars and it prints up to 13 inches wide – which is reasonable for most applications. This blog is not sponsored by Canon and they have not given me anything for this writing. I have found this printer to work the best in my workflow and want to share my experience. I figure that if I need a bigger print, I can send it out. This printer fits my needs for quality while still maintaining a reasonable size in my office, and the printing suite software has a native feature which I have found to be incredibly useful when achieving a final print I am happy with.

The first step to getting a good print, and future consistent results begins with ensuring that the image you see on your monitor is color, contrast and brightness correct. The best way to do that is to buy a monitor calibration device. You can check out previous blog posts on light for my whole color calibration workflow. To sum it up, I use a Datacolor Spyder Pro 5, however good results can come from other manufacturers. Even if you get the base model which can run under $100, you are going to notice a vast difference in getting consistent results. The less times you need to reprint an image, the less the final image will cost you. With the method explained here, I can usually get a good end result large print with one large sheet of paper and two small.

I learned to print on Epson printers (large and small) and found myself initially frustrated with the result when it was too dark or the color was off from the image I saw on my screen. I would make small adjustments and reprint until I finally got the settings dialed in, the end result was wasted prints and wasted ink. So, being adept at photoshop, I made an action that would take a final print and make a grid of thumbnails which adjusted the color and contrast in varying degrees. I also made an action for color cast. This process drastically reduced wasted paper and ink as I could print a few pages and not only be able to visually choose which image I liked best, but I also would store these thumbnails with my final print so I could refer to them for the settings when I needed another print. This workflow gave me consistent repeatable results. I found this workflow is successful for any brand of printer, Epson, HP, Lexmark or Canon.

Canons Pattern Print

When I heard about Canon updating their Print Studio drivers and added pattern print in, I picked up a Canon Pixma Pro-100, the entry model in the Pro line. The cost and replaceability of the ink tanks was a big seller for me, but not as big as the pattern printing ability. The pattern printing I previously used Photoshop for is now part of the printing suite software, and getting a final print could not be easier. If I am trying a new paper, I usually order 8X10 size and the 13X19 sizes. I print the contrast and brightness and the color pattern grids on the 8X10 size, choose my adjustments and confidently print a final image on the 13X19 size. My wasted paper and ink has been reduced dramatically. The quality of the prints is good enough to hang in a gallery, as a matter of fact many of the prints for my upcoming show in Denver for Landscapes of the Body are printed on the Pixma Pro-100 and I could not be happier with the results.

So, one of the biggest concerns I have read all over the internet is that you can only get perfect results from a manufacturer specific printer using their paper. I have not found this to be the case. Even Epson’s notoriously finicky Velvet Fine Art paper can be dialed in with relatively little effort. I have printed many canvases and alternate paper types like pictoricco transparencies with this printer with equally fine results. The printer is still a very reasonable $400 on Amazon, and you can find them dramatically cheaper (new and refurbished) if you subscribe to Canon’s online newsletter.

What did I learn from making my final choice for paper for my project?  The black and white images looked great to me on a paper with less glossy surface. I worked through semi-gloss and finally ended up with a basic cheap matte paper. Since this project is about accentuating the negative space in the images. I ended up buying a sample packet of paper from Freestyle, which included all the non-gloss rag papers I also tried the matte finish Canson papers. When all was said and done, I settled on the Epson Fine Art Velvet paper, as it held the best black and provided the best contrast for my body of work. A very close second was the Canon premium matte paper which I use often for other black and white applications. Choosing the right paper is a process, and can be expensive as well. Don’t pass up something like a good matte paper until you have seen your work on it. I was surprised when I chose that as the final paper for my work. A side note: printing matte paper costs significantly more ink than gloss as the printer has to apply more ink to the paper to achieve the color in a non-surface treated paper. Just something to be aware of.

Questions? Comments? I would love to hear from you drop me a note and let me know what you think about the article and if it helped you at all. Get out there and start printing your work!