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Some Day My Prints Will Come

April 11, 2013

Although the majority of pictures are viewed online, there is something satisfying about producing and handling a print of a photograph you have taken. Printing allows sharing pictures tangibly with family and friends. Your prints don’t need electronics, cloud accounts, log-ins or any mechanism interposed between the viewer and the image.
It is interesting to observe that in catastrophic events such as floods or bushfires, people try to save their pictures in order to preserve the past. My elderly father sits surrounded by family photographs and never leaves home without some in his shirt pocket.

Currently there are numerous ways of getting prints of your images. These range from self printing booths in chain stores to high end print shops that produce custom work. Between these two extremes are a multitude of very capable photo printers suitable for home use. They range in print size from 6″ X 4″ (150mm X 100 mm) photo printers to A3+, 10 colour archival printers. Your choice depends on your needs and budget, but printing your own work is always a big commitment in time, learning and cost.

The most inexpensive solution is to go into one of the chains or camera stores that offer processors. Insert your card, CD or DVD, select your photos, edit, press print and collect your pictures. Many offer special deals for multiple prints or large numbers in one order. For anyone who doesn’t want to learn the intricacies of printing, this is the best solution.

If you decide to print your own work, an A4 printer is a universal solution. These allow you to print most sizes up to A4. There is a wide choice of papers available in many surface finishes. I prefer the Pearl finishes as they give photographic results without reflections and are suitable for framing. The best printers for photographs are the inkjets. Four and six colour printers are adequate, but 8 colour printers give exceptional results. The extra colours make up for any shortcomings in the colour conversion process which takes place fin downloading rom camera to computer to printer. Extra colours are dedicated to improving skin tones or enhancing colours that are difficult to reproduce such as greens.

I favour Epson inkjet printers, their colour sharpness and ease of use make them my printers of choice for quality photographic results. Photography is the focus of Epson’s printer business, so they offer archival ink sets and advanced optimisation of colour and tonal range. They also offer separate cartridges in various capacities from standard to extra high. Separate cartridges are a must-have feature in a printer. Ink is expensive with replacement ink sets costing many hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the life of the printer. Replacing ink makes the initial cost of the printer insignificant. Sometimes saving money on buying a printer can be false economy. An extra hundred dollars spent on the initial printer purchase can result in thousands of dollars saved, by more efficient use of the consumables over the life of the printer.

Here are a few of things I’ve learned.

1. Use the manufacturers original ink cartridges. In spite of assurances to the contrary, cheap ‘compatible’ cartridges cause problems that can result in damage the requires you to scrap the printer. I have paid dearly to be able to offer that advice.

2. Don’t use cheap paper. It never ends up saving money. To save money, something has to be left out.  Either the coating is poor and absorbs excessive ink, or you set yourself up for clogged jets through paper dust. Cleaning clogged heads can use a full ink set, which is much more expensive than a sheet of paper.

3. Don’t print drafts on plain paper. You can’t adequately evaluate how your final image will look by printing a draft image on plain paper. Colour gamuts are different as is ink usage. My solution is to have various sizes in the same type of paper. Once I have processed my image, I do a test print on 6 X 4, make any adjustments, then print an A4. If I’m happy, I make my final print on A3+ which is the size I favour. Any larger than that and I use a commercial printing service. I take my A3+ in as a sample to match. This pre-production step saves both time and money and affords me the results I demand.

A few words on processing and calibration.

If you decide to print your own work, it is worthwhile, in fact, I would go as far as to say  essential, to invest in a screen calibrator. A calibrated screen gives you a consistently repeatable method to assess your images. Most computer screens are too bright and even though there are fixed profiles supplied by the manufacturer, screens alter with changes in brightness and colour over time. The most common issue with excessive brightness is that although the image looks OK on screen, when you print, the print is too dark.

Datacolor, X Rite and many others offer calibration solutions. These consist of software and a sensor unit that you connect to the computer and use to measure your screen colour and brightness. To calibrate your screen, the calibration software generates a standardised range of colours and tones on screen, which is read by the calibrator. This in turn adjusts the screen brightness and colour balance to ensure that you are always seeing a consistent image in terms of colour and brightness. Having a screen that is calibrated, allows you to modify your images with the confidence to know your prints will be close to the screen image.

Print Profiles
Reputable paper manufacturers offer downloadable printer profiles for their papers. These are tested and matched to your printer model and ink set to give you the best possible results for the printer, ink and paper combination. I process all of my images in
Lightroom 4 which now incorporates integrated soft proofing. This feature generates an on screen representation of your final printed image using the same paper profile and colour gamut of your chosen printer. This allows you to make adjustments to ensure a near perfect print prior to using a drop of ink or sheet of paper. This feature, coupled with a correctly calibrated monitor will save you thousands of dollars and hours of frustration.

I hope this technical background doesn’t discourage you from trying your own printing at home. As a commercial photographer shooting film, I was tied to commercial labs for processing and printing. This involved massive commitments in time and money with satisfactory results, but no ability for exploration and experimentation in the process.

Freed from the darkroom and noxious chemicals, photographers can now print their own work and experiment. This is one of the most absorbing and satisfying pursuits a photographer can undertake, but it requires commitment. Don’t think you can buy a printer, hook it up and start producing masterpieces. It won’t happen. However, if you carefully choose a printer suited to your needs, being aware of the ongoing consumable costs, invest in good paper and process your work using a calibrated monitor, your first print will transport you to a world of appreciation, enjoyment and satisfaction from photography that has to be experienced to be believed.

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One Comment
  1. Valuable information. Fortunate me I discovered your site by chance, and I
    am stunned why this accident didn’t took place earlier! I bookmarked it.

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