Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘printing’
My favorite way to experience photography is through print. It’s hard to describe the tremendous satisfaction I get when viewing my own prints, or prints from a photographer I admire. I’ve always enjoyed printing myself. I learned to print in the darkroom in my college photography classes and when I moved to digital I taught myself how to make my own prints at home. As my photography progressed people started to ask if they could buy prints of my images. Eventually, I started doing art festivals and gallery shows to share my work and make more print sales. Whether you plan to print yourself, or have prints made by a dedicated print shop it’s essential that you understand a few basic concepts about color management and preparing images for print.
We live in an increasingly screen based culture. The majority of photography I see is on some sort of screen. A lot of photographers I meet who are starting photography exist almost exclusively in the digital universe. Eventually though, you, or someone you know might want a print made of your photos. Photographic printing can be daunting at first, but it’s very satisfying to see your own images in print, and you will be a better photographer if you understand the fundamentals of color management and print preparation. In this article, I’ll share five essential tips for getting you and your images ready to print.
- CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR:
It’s hard to stress how important this is. There is no point spending hours processing your photos for print if you haven’t calibrated your monitor. It’s the foundation of color management, and brings everyone into a common color standard. I remember when I got started in photography many years ago, I read on some forums about the importance of calibrating my monitor. At the time I was more concerned with acquiring more lenses and gear and didn’t see why it was a big deal. When I started printing I learned a hard and expensive lesson. The first prints I made were a huge disappointment. They didn’t look like what I saw on my monitor at all, the colors were off and it came out really dark. With a little more friendly advise I finally invested in a decent calibrations package. Once I calibrated my monitor I realized two important things. One, it’s really helpful when everyone is using the same color standards and profiles, otherwise what may look red on my screen could look orange, or purple on another. Two, I had my monitor set way too bright. Reflected light from a print will never look as bright as transmitted light from a screen. Lowering screen brightness much better reflects how an image will print. Here is a link to the colormunki screen calibrator I use now. Very easy to use and profiles really accurately. All of their products work really well, but I like the customization options with the colormunki display model: http://xritephoto.com/colormunki-display
- UNDERSTAND BASIC COLOR MANAGEMENT:
Whether you are printing yourself, sending your files to a dedicated print shop, or preparing an image for a publisher, you will get much better results if you understand the basics of color management. There are two basic concepts to understand when managing color on your computer. The first is using the correct color space when exporting from Lightroom, or Adobe Camera Raw and the right color setting in Photoshop. I always use the Pro Photo RGB color space as it has the widest color gamut, I prefer to start my editing with as many colors as possible especially if I will be printing the image. The second concept is using the right printing profile. If you’re having someone else print for you, it’s still important to understand printer profiles. You can use a printer profile to soft proof your image and get a preview of how it will look when printed with the specific printer and paper they use. Printer profiles are scripts used by the printer to adhere to color standards, they help the printer produce an image that looks as close to what you see on your screen as possible. I’ll talk more about soft proofing in the next section.
- SOFT PROOFING AND HARD PROOFING:
Soft proofing is using software such as Lightroom, or Photoshop to preview a printer profile. Soft proofing attempts to simulate what the image will look like when printed on a specific print paper with a specific printer. I think soft proofing is useful to get you in the right ballpark, but I don’t trust soft proofing completely. It is still pretty unreliable when trying preview exactly what a print will look like. I use soft proofing to get me close and then I order a test print which is called a hard proof. Once the test print is made, or arrives from a print shop, I can evaluate it and make any adjustments that I think it needs. This method is what I rely on when making prints for customers, art shows and galleries. The videos below help explain soft proofing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Great video on soft proofing in Lightroom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M9B8ABOb9U
Another video about basic soft proofing in Photoshop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y47uoKE_dAs
- SHARPEN APPROPRIATELY FOR EACH PRINT MEDIUM AND SIZE.
Each print medium I use requires different levels of sharpening to look it’s best. For instance, noise from over sharpening shows up easier on metal prints. Both acrylic and traditional inkjet prints are more forgiving and hide minor noise and digital artifacts better. Canvas is the most forgiving. Print size is also something to consider. What does this mean in practical terms for my workflow? I’ve adopted a simple and flexible approach to sharpening. I do normal output sharpening in Lightroom or ACR to correct for softness introduced by camera, lens, and the RAW format. The amount varies for each image. I continue with my workflow in photoshop to produce a master file with all layers and adjustments preserved if possible. If I’m going to make a print, I save a flattened copy of the master file and sharpen it specifically for that print size and medium. Sometimes it doesn’t need additional sharpening, but if it does it’s usually the last adjustment I make before sending it to print. As a general guideline, I sharpen more for smaller prints, and less for larger prints. The is counter intuitive for many people, but I’ve found that smaller prints need more because they lose sharpness when they are scaled down, and large prints tend to show any unwanted effects that might arise from over sharpening. This is my personal preference and there are other factors to consider including the view distance.
- ADJUST LUMINANCE FOR SPECIFIC PRINT MEDIUMS.
Each print medium has it’s own perceptual brightness and ambient reflectivity. Like I described in the sharpening section, I save a flattened copy of my master file for each specific size and print medium I print on. Aluminum prints and lumachrome acrylic prints have high ambient reflectivity and perceptual brightness, therefore they require very little, if any brightness adjustment. Traditional inkjet prints and canvas require a lot more brightness adjustments if you want to replicate the look you see on your screen.
I’ve been printing a long time, and I’ve learned several important lessons from printing over the years. I’ve noticed that my processing workflow has evolved to accommodate printing. I now tend to process with printing in mind first, and make specific changes to the file later when posting to the web. I also have evolved to process in the most editable and non destructive way to preserve the image quality. I think printing has made me a better photographer and has helped me improve my image quality.
Old video blog about basic printing from Photoshop: http://www.photocascadia.com/blog/intro-to-photoshop-printing-video/#.WIT_MrGZMUE
Recommended printing companies: These are the two print companies that I use. I’ve tried a lot print shops, and these guys both produce incredible, quality prints. I get my Aluminum prints from: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com and acrylic prints from http://www.nevadaartprinters.com
by Zack Schnepf
I’ve been doing art festivals and gallery shows for 8 years now. In that time I’ve noticed several changing trends in regards to what type of prints customers prefer. I’ve seen a huge shift away from traditional framed prints and canvas and toward newer technology like aluminum and acrylic prints. I think there are several reasons for this shift. In this article I’ll talk about my observations while selling prints and share my opinion on why people are buying more metal and acrylic and what advantages they offer over traditional print mediums.
A little history. When I started doing art festivals eight years ago there were only two mediums most photographers were printing on. Tradition printing papers like glossy and matte inkjet paper, and canvas prints. About five years ago, I started to see a few photographers printing on aluminum, acrylic and a few other non-traditional mediums. I really liked the look of these new mediums, but they were more expensive and in the case of the acrylic prints, really heavy. At that time I was in the middle of a failed experiment trying out canvas printing. Canvas prints failed for me because I specialize in highly detailed grand landscape scenes and the detail gets lost in the texture. Certain images still sold well on canvas, but they were primarily low detail abstracts and painterly looking scenes that lent themselves to the medium.
After my failed canvas experiment I wanted to try some prints on Aluminum. Aluminum prints have a lot of advantages over traditional print mediums. They are much more durable, water proof, scratch resistant, light weight, very archival, don’t need to be framed, very three dimensional, and very bright. They also have less reflection issues compared to framed prints with standard glass. They do have a few disadvantages as well. They are not as detailed as traditional inkjet prints and have a much more limited color gamut. The limited color gamut is my biggest issue with metal prints. It can be very challenging to get certain colors to render correctly. Because of this, I have test prints made before I order a full size aluminum print. Once I get a test print, I make adjustments to the print file and order a another test print until I get the results I’m looking for. In my experience, green is the hardest color to render correctly.
5 years ago, when I tried aluminum prints for the first time, they were a big hit. Very few other photographers were printing on metal so my images really stood out at shows. They also look very impressive in person due to their 3 dimensionality, brightness and punchy colors. Pretty soon, all of the images I displayed were printed on aluminum and I’ve enjoyed good success at shows ever since.
Photo: iPhone photo of my 2016 both setup displaying aluminum and acrylic prints.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with acrylic prints and they are my current favorite. They represent the best of both worlds and the best overall quality in my opinion. Like aluminum prints, they are bright and have a beautiful three dimensional glossy look, but they also retain the detail and color gamut of traditional inkjet prints. They do have a few draw backs compared to metal prints. They are heavier, and they scratch easier. Scratching is the only real issue i have with the acrylic prints. You need to be careful when moving, or cleaning acrylic prints.
Photo: iPhone photo, acrylic print made by Nevada Art Printers
Conclusion and recommendations. We have more options that ever for printing our photographs. Different types of images work well on different print mediums. For the grand landscapes I’m focusing on, metal and acrylic are my current favorite print mediums. If I were choosing a print to hang on my own wall I would probably choose an acrylic print, unless it was an area that wasn’t lit very well. In that case I would choose an aluminum print for it’s brightness and reflectivity. For most customers I recommend aluminum first. The durability, brightness, visual impact, and ease of maintenance are hard to beat. The exception is certain images don’t print well on aluminum. There are about 20% of my images that I can’t get to print very well on aluminum. In these cases I recommend acrylic instead.
Where do I have my prints made? I still produce my own traditional prints, but I use specialty printers for both acrylic and aluminum. For aluminum prints I use: http://www.hdaluminumprints.com. Randy at HD Aluminum Prints does a fantastic job and profiles better than any other aluminum printer I’ve used. I have my acrylic prints made at: http://www.nevadaartprinters.com. They produce incredible quality acrylic prints!
Sometimes I find that producing a print that looks as good hanging on the wall as I want it to can be a challenge. In many cases, as long as I have carefully developed my images on a calibrated monitor, ordering a print through a print lab or printing on my own photo printer yields very good results. However, there are times when producing a print that looks right displayed in it’s intended location is elusive. The light source in which a print is viewed greatly affects its apparent brightness, color and contrast and the particular print media will also affect resolution and sharpness.
Soft proofing in the computer is helpful for getting a print under perfect lighting conditions to more closely match the way it appears on the screen. I have a previous article and video on soft proofing in Photoshop if you want to check that out. While soft proofing is good for compensating for paper color and brightness, it can’t help anticipate how the texture of the paper, viewing distance and room lighting will affect how the image will look when viewed in its environment.
Hard proofing is a way to make fine adjustments for such variables. Hard proofing is the process of printing a test print, evaluating it in the intended viewing conditions, making adjustments, printing again and repeating this process until you are satisfied with how the print looks. Obviously, hard proofing can be time consuming and expensive. I don’t do extensive hard proofing for every print I make, but when a print isn’t living up to expectations I use a technique allows me to get the print right. This technique can be used to optimize any variable that will affect how your final print will look, such as brightness, color balance, contrast, saturation and sharpening.
We work hard carefully developing our images so they sing on the monitor only to be disappointed that when we print them they don’t quite live up to what we saw on the screen. Part of this is due to the fact that there are differences in the way that monitors and paper transmit light. However, if an image has been properly optimized for printing on a specific paper then it is possible to achieve something that very closely matches what we saw on screen. Printing multiple proof copies and making adjustments between each print until it looks right is one way to approach the problem, but this is time consuming, expensive and wasteful. Soft proofing provides another option. Photoshop (and now Lightroom 4) allow for soft proofing by simulating what an image will look like when printed on a certain type of paper or other print media. Comparing the print simulation to how the image looks on the monitor allows us to make adjustments on screen that will allow the image to match our intent when printed. Soft proofing is a multi step process so it can be time consuming. In this video tutorial I show how to build an action in Photoshop that streamlines the soft proofing workflow so a “proofed” image is created with a single click.