Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

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Digital Outback Fine Art Photography Handbook

© Bettina & Uwe Steinmueller

 
 
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12 Printing
 
 

12.1 Printing Options

12.2 Large Format Printing

12.3 Inks & Papers

12.4 Printer Profiles

12.5 Upsampling

12.6 Longevity

12.7 Metamerism

12.8 Raster Imagine Processors (RIP)

12.9 B&W Prints

 
 
After a long journey through the world of digital photography we are close towards our goal: A fine art print. Fine art printing is a whole world of its own and we still have to go a long way. But the results a promising.
 
 
12.1 Printing Options
 
Fine art photography was a long time dominated by B&W photography, Dye Transfer or Cibachome prints. Today many high end prints are done digital.
 
12.1.1 Lightjet
 

An article by Galen Rowell "The worlds best Prints" showed us the world of excellent digital prints. We have still to say that the Lightjet is a kind of benchmark for digital fine art prints. There are especially some sort of photographs where the Lightjet shows enormous detail, great colors and good contrast. A key feature of Lightjet prints is their possible longevity. If used with Fuji Crystal Archive (a photographic paper) paper the prints are estimated for as lifetime of 60 years.

We will discuss later what us brought now using an inkjet printer.

 
12.1.2 Dye Sublimation printers
 

Dye Sublimation printers come from the result very close to common lab prints. There advantage is the high print speed and good results on glossy papers.

These prints are not really an option for fine art photography. The main reason is the lack of longevity and also glossy papers are rarely used for fine art prints.

 
 
12.1.3 Inkjet
 

First the Iris prints conquered the world of fine art prints and are now rivaled by some Epson and HP printers. The Epson printers especially also focussed on the longevity issue. Epson made a strong statement with there line of printers (2000P, 7500, 9500, 10000) using pigmented inks. While these inks might lack some gamut compared to dye based inks and also show Metamerism (see below) they are more and more the choice for fine art prints.

Inkjet printers are by far the most popular photo printers today and Epson holds a great share of this market. The Epson 2000P (about $900) is in the reach of many ambitious amateurs today. Also the Epson 7500, 9500 and 10000 were breaking some price barriers for the professional print market.

 
There is already announced a new line of 7-color Epson printers with new formulated inks (2200, 7600, 9600) and we have to see how much they improve in terms of gamut and also Metamerism. But as we think that an Epson 7500 printer is very capable we are very optimistic that Epson succeeds with some improvements.
 
The real boon for inkjet printers is the possible choice of papers (see below). We only print today on Hahnemuehle 310g water color paper. Even if the resolution is not par to a Lightjet print the fine texture of these papers make beautiful fine art prints possible.
 
Having an own printer also adds very effective iterations to get better results. The fine art photographer has now the possibility to control every aspect of his photographic process (From the digital image to the final print). We now have really a digital darkroom.
 
12.1.3.1 Epson 2000P
 
Except for being limited in print size (13x19"), having a slow print speed and high cost of ink the 2000P is an excellent performer. Most people complaining about the 2000P probably did not have a good profile or want high contrast glossy prints.
 
12.1.3.2 Epson 7500/9500
 
These printers use the same inks as the 2000P but are 24" (44") wide and are much more professional machines.
 
12.1.3.3 Epson 10000
 
The Epson 10000 adds much higher speed and even finer detail to the equation.
 
 
12.1.4 Online Labs
 
There are also many only labs which offer good print quality. It is not to easy to find a lab which properly implements full color management.
 
 
 
12.2 Large Format Printing
 
Size matters! This is true also for printing. Unfortunately is the jump beyond the 13x19" mark also associated with expensive equipment upgrades (the 7500 cost about $5000, the next version the 7600 dropped the price to about $3000).
 
It might be very interesting that we currently only print up to 21x14" but still feel happy not to be bound by the printer itself. It is now our artistic decision how big we want to print. Also these printer feel much more like professional tools. The allow to print on pretty think and heavy media.
 
On the other side you get more and more demanding and diving into printer profiling is not a trivial task.
 
 
12.3 Inks & Papers
 
You have always to see the combination of paper and inks as a unit. The ink and the paper have to work together. This seems for us more the case with dye based inks than with pigments inks.
 
 
12.3.1 Inks
 
There two types of inks: Dye and Pigment inks. The dye based inks are easier to handle (by the printer) and have a broader gamut. The downside is a shorter lifetime for the prints. That is why for use the pigmented inks are the only choice right now. And in this area Epson rules whether you like it or not.
 
Epson is more and more using chips in there ink cartridges which makes the use of third party inks a problem (the 7500 is not chipped). On the other side the Epson printers probably work best with their own inks and are more like to be available in the foreseeing future. We only use Epson pigmented inks with our 7500.
 
 
12.3.2 Papers
 
Paper is a again a whole universe by itself. I cannot count how much money I spent in trying out many different papers.
 

Here you can find a selection of our articles from our "Printing Insights" series just about papers:

 

#006 "Paper a la Carte"

Discussion of papers for the Epson 2000P printer

 

 

#010 "Some more excellent Papers"

 

 

 

#11 "Michael Reichmann on Fine Art Papers"

 

 


Photo Michael Reichmann

 

 

Right now we only use 2 papers:

  • Epson Archival Matte for proofing
  • Hahnemuehle "German Etching" 310g water color paper for fine art prints
 

The downside of using thick 310g watercolor paper is a lot of dust from the paper (we dust the paper off with a brush before loading it into the printer.

TIP: The papers are sometimes very dusty with fiber. This could leave blank spots for the print and/or clog the printer heads. We dust off every sheet with a brush (like we use for matting).

Some use this paper from a roll and then have to fight strong curl. The paper needs then to be pressed to get plain again.

 
12.3.3 Photo Canvas
 

Prints on canvas can look very good and have the advantage that you can display them without glass. Without glass you don't have reflections and have a very nice matte feel. We don't like glossy canvas as we stay awy from glossy paper.

We know photo artists who mostly print on canvas and the customers like it.

If you print on canvas you might want to use some UV protective spray to guard your artwork.

 
 
 
 
12.4 Printer Profiles
 

While you can create some reasonable monitor profiles with tools in the price range from $200-$600 good printer profiles require expensive equipment (spectrophotometers). Profiles generated using scanners will remain limited in their quality. Unfortunately these solutions start from about $3000 (software and hardware).

Be sure that your printer cannot be better than the profiles your use. So what are the alternatives:

  • Using the generic profiles which come with your printer. Some photographers apply this method and claim success. This method gets more complicated once you use papers not supported by the printer (in our case the Hahnemuehle "German Etching" 310g water color paper)
  • Buy some generic profile for your paper/printer/ink if available
  • Use a service which creates custom profiles for you
 

Also printer profiles have to take into account Metamerism if you use pigmented inks (the inks of choice for long lasting fine art).

You can count on us covering this subject in more detail in the future.

Good profiles rule. They not only influence correct color but also proper contrast.

 
 
12.5 Upsampling
 

Once you print large you probably need to upsize the image. For Epson printers many (like us) use 240DPI for all print sizes. The rest of the upsizing process is left to the printer driver.

You actually can spend half of your life to look for better/best methods to get the upsizing done. For us detail and extreme sharpness is not a main criterion so we might just use the second best approach.

 
 
12.5.1 Photoshop Bicubic
 
We would only use Photoshop's "bicubic" for minor upsizing. Otherwise it is clearly inferior to other methods.
 
12.5.2 Genuine Fractals
 
Genuine Fractals is the standard for major upsizing and we also use it. Some still believe it is one of the best methods some disagree.
 
 
12.5.3 Stair Interpolation
 
There is a method called "Stair Interpolation" which is free and some claim it is better than GF. The SI method uses Photoshop's bicubic upsizing by doing it in multiple small increments (e.g. 110%).
 
 
12.5.4 Sharpening after upsizing
 
Sometimes it is needed to sharpen the image after upsizing.
 
All these methods won't be the last word on upsizing: Stay tuned.
 
 
12.6 Longevity
 

Longevity is of crucial importance for most fine art artists. If you want to sell in galleries you should do your best to preserve the customers investment in your work (see also presentation). Ciba-/Ilfochrome prints are considered to be presentable to galleries and that these prints are rated to last 30 years before first visible fading. ( I have Cibachrome prints which are 25 years old and they are still OK).

Here some rated media:

  • Cibachrome 30 years
  • Lightjet with Fuji Crystal Archive paper 60 years
  • Epson 2000P, 7500, 9500, 10000 with Epson pigmented inks, Archival Matte paper, behind glass are rated for more that 100 years
 
What we get from these figures is that if the longevity is estimated below 30 years than it might not be the right process for fine art prints sold in galleries. But that is our own conclusion.
 
 
12.7 Metamerism
 

Every image looks different in color whether you view it at Tungsten-, Day- or Florescent light. We talk from Metamerism if this difference gets dramatic. Under Tungsten light the prints then seem to have a magenta cast if optimal at daylight and otherwise they show a green cast a daylight if targeted for Tungsten.

The current pigmented inks from Epson show quite some Metamerism especially on glossy papers.

If you want to target you image for Tungsten and it shows some magenta cast you can apply some curve for the green channel like this (or stronger):

 

 
You also might want to read this article.
 
The new announced printers by Epson might have less of Metamerism but we might still need to deal with it.
 
12.8 Raster Imaging Processors (RIP)
 

A printing shop would never work without a RIP (Raster Imaging processor) as they provide:

  • Support for Postscript
  • Print faster (especially the time it takes the print to start
  • Give more control how ink is brought to the paper
  • Use better dithering algorithms
 
We will have a look into some of these RIPs soon and will report on them if they provide significant benefit to fine art photographers.
 
 
 
 
References
 
 
inkjetart.com: "Controlling Metamerism"
 
 
 
 
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© Bettina & Uwe Steinmueller
 
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