#768. Should you print your photographs at home?

#768. Should you print your photographs at home?

According to Wikipedia, DIY culture, with its grassroots societal overtones, spans a range of activities that includes Kit Cars (science fiction in a country overrun by administration such as France), naked cycling events, guerilla gardening, anarcho-punk and cult of the dead cow. But not home printing. I wonder why.

It hardly seems fair, too. After all, the perfect novice embarking on a printing journey soon encounters the same sort of anarchic impulses as The Psalters, Exit-Stanec and Poison girls. Here’s a world where it’s OK to sell you 50 dollars a product that costs 23 cents to make (ink). Not even the obscenely high markups of bottled water and designer jeans come even close to this. Revolt, I say. Here’s a world which, much like nude riding, can be political, recreational, artistic or any combination thereof. And I pledge to print a few photographs butt naked to support freedom. Here’s a world which, much like Cult of the Dead Cow, can provide all that’s needed for a powerful activist movement. Here’s a world which, much like guerilla gardening, can help make derelict areas look more attractive and promote a new way of thinking about property. Here’s a world which, much like kit cars, can provide hundred of hours of escapism (that’s a good thing) and redirect our GAS towards more grounded and creative preoccupations.

 

 

Anyway, rather than dwell on why the wiki overlords do not consider home printing a pursuit worthy of recognition in the DIY culture archives, maybe a better question should be “why in the world would any sane person want to print their own photographs ?“. I’m writing this as a deliberate counterpoint to Chris Stump’s very thought-provoking :

Who, honestly, who appreciates photography enough to have it around doesn’t produce and prefer their own? What photographer would buy another photographer’s original work unless one particular image was especially motivating or, if you’re well off, as an investment?

(believe me, that couple of sentences kept me awake for a long time …)

The correct answer to Chris’ question is probably “anyone who’s not yet printed their work”

The obvious reaction to mine is “to have prints of your work”. And that is very wrong. In fact, I’m tempted to think the last  and worst reason to print at home is to have prints of your work. Printing is hard, frustrating, meandering, toxic and super expensive. If you want prints of your work, there are plenty of pro labs that will do a remarkable job of it for the cost of a couple of pints. Just do it.

Don’t believe me ?

I own 3 types of prints :

  • Prints I can afford of artists I like (TheOnlinePhotographer is a great source for those).
  • Chemical darkroom prints of my film eras.
  • Digital prints of my digital era, printed by Picto, in Paris. Excellent, cheap and fun. Everything that my inkjet prints, made over the years, have not been (they are now all in the bin).

 

 

Still don’t believe me ? Check out this video review of the Epson P600 by Tony Northrup. He begins by explaining he threw away all his former inkjet gear long ago and swore never to return, just as I did. Early injket printing was an exercise in frustration comparable only to French administrative procedures. And, to me, he seems slightly flummoxed around the P600 (remember this is one of the most highly regarded experts in our industry). Printing doesn’t seem hard to people who have been doing it for the past 30 years. Just like walking. But look at all the one-year-olds holding on to their hair while precariously balancing on one leg before collapsing on the other. That’s how you feel when you begin digital printing from scratch (which is perfectly normal, since digital simplified everything, right?).

In no particular order of preference, here are a few of the stumbling blocks you’ll encounter along your way, and which have surfaced during my first days of bingesting YouTube expertise :

  • If you are not careful, bankruptcy. Buying a printer seems benign because manufacturers offer so many discounts and sell below costs to lure the innocent into their nets. But buying inks is crippling if you are not careful and deliberate in your learning.
  • Clogging. Reports vary but it seems that the higher end you buy the more you need to use your printer. According to expert Jose Rodriguez, top-notch printers have to be used at least every 2 hours (that’s hours, not days, not weeks, not months). Lower down the range, you’ll get away with progressively greater intervals (some printer models are more tolerant than others. My first 10 prints on my first Epson A3+ cost me far more than the printer itself …). When you leave your printer off, nozzles will clog up (and cause a cleaning proportional to the down time) before your 1rst photograph gets printed. Not only is that quite long and frustrating, it can use up to 15% of your cartridge on some printers. If your print still isn’t great after that cleaning, you’ll have to chuck it away and start over. Do that a few times and you could end up spending far more than by sending your files to a high quality pro lab.
  • Exponential experimentation. There are tons of papers out there. Many inks as well. Try all the combinations and you may well creep into old age before you’ve made up your mind on your fave combo.
  • Environmental disaster. Let’s face it, this ain’t a clean hobby. Toxic inks in plastic cartridges that you have to bin every few prints? Not good. Pro labs have much more streamlined processes and intelligent waste disposal.
  • Spouse acceptance. If the prospect of a stove-sized noisy plastic box doesn’t scare your spouse, marry him/her immediately. Then ease into the discussion of that architect’s filing cabinet (for the prints) during the honeymoon, in between margaritas.

 

 

So, no, home printing really isn’t a good way of obtaining prints of your work. Which is why I’m so much looking forward to it.

Because, come on, bad ideas are often the most fun. But also because of less puerile considerations :

  • Over the social media years, we’ve trained ourselves to consider the screen as the final destination for a photograph. And that’s all kinds of wrong. Screens are rarely calibrated, so my lovely photo might look rubbish on your screen. Screens are bright, prints are not. So we’ve lost the know-how required to make a print sing. Screens are not tactile experiences (not even tablets, argument dismissed) but prints are. Some papers are in fact so gorgeous that holding a beautifully executed print feels like holding a jewel. Feedback from screen views is shallow. The feedback we get for our work is based only on our work and celebrity. On the web it gets spread out over huge numbers of people and shallow interactions. On paper, it reaches far fewer people but impacts them in a much deeper way.
  • In my very limited experience, it appears that people who print are far less vulnerable to GAS. Because a good print transcends all considerations of corner sharpness at infinity in the corners, no one gives a hoot about the MTF curves of the lens that helped create the photograph. Printers obsess over tonal gradation, purity of colour, texture and the artistic value of the photograph itself. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if printing was the best possible antidote to GAS and fanboyism.
  • Printing is a deeply creative process. There are so many possible print sizes, margin sizes, paper types, textures, finishes, that the pseudo-scientific approach that plagues photography today makes no sense at all. You simply can’t test all possible combinations so you have to think and feel and let your intuition do its work. I speak from chemical darkroom experience but see no reason why that reasoning shouldn’t extend to inkjet printing.
  • Printing makes me revisit my photographs, which would otherwise be forgotten in a hard drive. Those displayed on this page are candidates for my first attempts at printing for myself (in over a decade).
  • Maybe printing leads to more introspection. I sent an initial set of low resolution photographs to Chris and when he asked for high res versions, I sent him another set. 3 out of 4 in the first batch were made with the X1D Hasselblad had sent me for review, 1 with my Sony A7r2. In the second lot (high res files, see below) all 4 are from the Sony. It was an unconscious process but, now, I really wonder why I made those choices ! It would we be good for me to figure it out before spending major moolah on a medium format camera!

 

(c) Chris Stump

 

This is the first post in a new series about printing that will document my progress and lessons learned, so that others wishing to embark on the same path don’t have to make the same mistakes.

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while now. One of the most intense photographic moments of my life was at a Nick Brandt exhibition in Paris. Since the gallery was too small to host all the large prints, a “book” of 24″ prints made on thick paper and tied together with some sort of rope was available for viewing of whatever was missing on the walls. Dozens of real prints made with as much attention as the ones in the frames. Thick paper, gorgeous photographs. I’ve never been so close to shoplifting anything in my whole life. That was a pivotal moment, that’s only coming to fruition years later.

For once, I’m starting this intelligently, by using Chris’ prints (above) as benchmarks for my own efforts. He’s sent me close up photographs of each to help me evaluate texture, shadow and highlight details, harshness or smoothness of my PP … lovely experience. And now, the prints are one their way to my home. I will use these prints to set a goal that I know is achievable and will pester Chris whenever my efforts fall short (he doesn’t know, please don’t tell him). Chris might even join me in writing a few articles in this printing series and I’ll interview a few other specialists along the way. And if *you* want to share some experience, *please* do!

Still, to sum up this first instalment, if you’re a print virgin like me, please repeat this a million times before spending a cent on printing gear :

People don’t print at home for prints, they print at home because they enjoy the process of printing.

It’s a process, it’s a path. As far as I can tell, this really is one of those cases for which the only reason to start is to enjoy the trip itself, not for the destination. If you look forward to experimenting with ICC profiles, papers, ink sets, settings, post processing … that’s cool. If not, just send your files to a pro lab or, for a more personal service, to someone who will tailor your prints to your liking, like Chris has done for me (chris@chrisstump.com). (Please note that this is not advertising, I’m not getting anything from mentioning his services. I’m just happy if two people who can be mutually beneficial to one another get in touch via DearSusan).

So, if you’re more expert than me, what have I missed? Care to share some insights in those coming articles? See you then.

 


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26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron September 15, 2018

    Let’s start.

    1 – printer
    2 – ink supply (complete set of spare cartridges)
    3 – paper – several sizes – cheaper in bulk (multiple packs of 100 sheets)
    4 – computer – needs plenty of grunt – post processing software is VERY demanding on processing capacity (mine is now scheduled for replacement by mid 2019, for that reason)
    5 – storage discs (plural – you’ll have digi storage coming out of your ears, in no time)
    6 – ColorMunki or similar, to calibrate your screen
    7 – that won’t do for too long- start shopping for a PROPER colour monitor – a self-calibrating 27 inch EIZO screen, perhaps?
    8 – albums, frames, filing cabinets or whatever – to store and/or display the finished prints
    9 – additional library shelving for storage of all this gear
    10 – technical literature – library, books, magazines, downloads from the internet
    11 – the occasional training session
    12 – nearly forgot – you need post processing software – loads of it – none of it does “everything” – there’s no one “perfect” program – some are free (thank God!), some are outright purchase, some are subscription only – some offer free upgrades, some offer them at concessional rates to existing customers, some make you pay for all the upgrades

    And then the fun can start.

    Do I print? – you bet. Wastage rates? – variable! – but it sure kicks your sorry ass, until you concentrate harder on getting everything right SOOC.

    Next, Please! 🙂

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron September 18, 2018

        It’s not all over, yet. I forgot to include these in my list:

        13 – You can’t really get too far with the colour profiles that are produced by the various paper manufacturer. Most of their profiles are way behind the current “gold standard” for a colour profile. Using theirs condemns you to lousy colours & tonings in a lot of cases. We have a guy on the other side of the country who makes colour profiles to order, for just under AUD$200 per profile. No great burden for me, because I only really use two types of paper, so my total spend was only about $400.
        14 – Likewise – give up on using PhotoShop to send your shots to the printer. Dinax (a German company) makes a FAR better printing program. Totally dedicated (all it does is send your stuff to the printer). FAR better control over process, and miles quicker.
        15 – And just when you thought it was all done & dusted – what did your mother tell you, about washing your hands? Well there’s no point spending all that money, time, etc on getting this far and then sticking your filthy fingers all over the output. Hygiene is just as important in the printing lab as it is in the kitchen. Wear light cotton gloves to handle the prints. Better still – buy a whole box of them!

  2. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo September 15, 2018
  3. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo September 15, 2018

    Pascal,

    That first photo, clouds above hills, is just wonderful!
    Also an example that simple is greater!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 15, 2018

      Thank you Kristian, autumn brings us very violent storms which sometimes lead to great images 🙂
      My favourite subject is light and that photograph has such a wide variety of intensities, it really appeals to me as well.

  4. Avatar
    Rudi September 15, 2018

    I’ve found a printer who gives me a decent “generic” print if I adjust my curves to suit his default settings and am very glad I resisted the urge to buy a printer…
    With my printing background with all my knowledge yadda yadda waffle waffle, I found it by far easier than having my own printer at home…also helps resist to change my own “exhibition” too often…oh and yes, I have a few prints by photographers I know who have an image that really moved me…they are proudly displayed with their blessing…

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      Yes, that has been my approach up to now as well. I’ll experiment with the printer for a while and then we will see if it was a wise decision or not 😀 😀

  5. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo September 15, 2018

    On print quality and paper:

    A large photo store here often has large high quality b/w prints on the wall in their printer department.

    Very nice, deep blacks and lovely greys on smooth paper, a notch above how I remember good chemical prints.

    But they seldom engage me.

    Personally I find prints more interesting if the paper has some fine structure that harmonizes with the photo.
    High resolution landscapes would, of course, loose (critical) detail.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      Well, paper is probably the number one reason why I’m tempted by printing my own photographs again. It’s very subjective and not all pro labs give you access to many papers. I’d like to experiment with a few over the months.

  6. Avatar
    Cliff Whittaker September 15, 2018

    I haven’t made a print since I set aside my Linhof 4×5 and got my first digital camera in 2005. Don’t get me wrong. I have a basement full of large, custom framed and matted pictures that I have used in my gallery shows. And I’m currently having more than 100 of my new bird pictures printed for my own archives. But I don’t print them myself.
    Over the years I’ve been through a number of printing services, but for the last several years I have only had prints made by a friend of mine down in Texas. Most of them have been 18×24 inches to 20×30 inches, and some larger. The reason that Brian does all of my printing is that when I download an image to him the print comes back matching the colors, tones and contrast and values on my calibrated computer screen. And, the print is on heavy, thick, 310 gm fine art watercolor paper that feels so good to the touch that it takes on an intrinsic value of its own. I don’t see any way I can do better work than that.
    Still, occasionally, I get the urge to buy a high quality printer and get started. I used to do my own b&w work in the darkroom and I remember the joy of owning the complete process from capture to print. Sometimes I think I would like to feel that pride of total ownership with the work I’m doing now. Then I think of the learning curve and the expense of getting started, and the waste of prints that are just a little bit off, and the clogs or whatever, and I go somewhere and hit myself on the head with a hammer until I get over it. At least I know it’ll feel good when it quits hurting.
    Still……….

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      That intrinsic value of its own that you mention, is what should draw more of us to having our work printed.

      It looks like quite a few of us with a background in the darkroom have been reluctant to switch to inkjet printing. I know I have, but feel like it’s time to reinvestigate the idea to test and document that learning curve for myself. I’ll let you know how it turns out, starting in October.

      Is there anywhere we can see those bird pictures online? You have peeked my interest!

  7. Avatar
    Wolfgang September 15, 2018

    Very nice train of thought. I started printing some years ago, on an Epson 3880. After a lot of testing I settled for two types of paper: Epson Archival Mette and Hahnemühle PhotoRag 308 grams, the latter one for filling 7 frames around my house, which I change once a month or so.
    After selecting the best shots of some event, I am going through the keepers again and choose 1-5, which get printed on Archival Matte. Think of it as a physical backup. And if there is a photo, which really stands out, it gets printed on Photo Rag and waits for framing and hanging.
    Simple put: Touching a good print, especially on matte paper really lets you appreciate your work.
    Danger: Looking at that print a year later makes you wish to re-process it to your current standard and taste.
    In short: If you do not print your work, you are missing half of the fun.

    • Avatar
      jean pierre (pete) guaron September 16, 2018

      If your don’t print it, you’ll never find out how good or bad the image is. And you’re right about the “fun”, Wolfgang – for me, anyway – it’s an essential part of the creative process. 🙂

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      Thanks Wolfgang, the 3880 seems to be a universal favourite. It’s a shame they are so difficult to find, these days.

      I like the ideas of physical backup (which you can look at, and not just store in a disk) and of having a rotating exhibition of your own work inside 7 frames. Pretty neat 😉

  8. Avatar
    John W September 15, 2018

    OK!!! I confess I’m a HERETIC. I LOVE making my own prints.

    Back before the dawn of time I cut my photographic teeth on film and darkroom. Developed my own film and made prints when I had access to a darkroom. When I got into digital about ten years ago I had prints done by a friend and loved them. But I always wanted to make my own prints. All the stories I heard about calibrating monitors and printers and all the other hair pulling involved kept me thoroughly at bay … till 5 years ago I bit the bullet and bought a Canon Pro10 printer for a song on one of those “come hither” sales. The box sat in the corner of my living room for months unopened … OMG! What Have I Done??!! Finally I took courage in hand and unpacked it. Assembly was a breeze. Plugged it in, loaded the software and the inks, inserted a sheet of 13×19 from the free 50 sheets that came with the printer, hit print, bit nails and waited … perfect print. ????!!!! WHAT HAPPENED? This is suppose to be difficult, complicated and frustrating!!!

    Here’s what I learned from some people who “know” … don’t know how true it is, but it seem s to fit the experience. Canon printers are designed to be “plug and play” and my Mac monitor is self calibrating. I’ve tried “calibrating” it a few times and always ended up with a mess and resetting it to the factory defaults. I’ve quit trying to “calibrate” it.

    And yes. Inks are hideously expensive, but that can be managed. I found a supplier of aftermarket inks that are indistinguishable from the Canon OMEM inks at a fraction the price. I can reload my own cartridges and that dramatically reduces the toxic waste to dispose of. A set of 8oz bottles costs about $220, about the same as a set of 15ml cartridges. Reloading is a bit finniky and time consuming but not difficult. The trick is to top up your cartridges before each print session to reduce ink loss from the auto head cleaning if you haven’t used the printer for a while.

    For the first couple of years all I used was Canon Pro Lustre paper. Inexpensive and a really nice paper. A couple of years ago I tries some Red River papers and really liked their Metallic for certain colour images. I’ve recently tried their Ultra Pro Satin and really like that too. Their Polar Matte is Ok but not one of my favourites. One Red River does offer is a sample package with ALL their papers, so you can buy one package and test drive all their papers for little cost.

    The BIG cost that slips under the radar is matting. Unless you cut your own matts, this can drive you into bankruptcy. Even is you do cut your own matts, it will still be a major expense. To control costs, I standardized my prints size and matt size. I found a really good framer who will cut matts and frames for me at half the cost I’ve been quoted elsewhere. I got a set of 12 matts and frames cut at once and simply switch the prints when I need to. On rare occasions I may need a non-standard opening, but the matt size stays the same so it fits my frames. I’ve replaced a few matts from wear and tear (I belong to three print groups), but that’s all.

    For what its worth, that’s my story.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      Welcome to the heretic ! Why am I not surprised 😉

      I’m hoping this Canon magic is at play here as well because my Pro 100 has been lying unused for several years … If it does work, and if a Mac driver is easy enough to find, then that’s me in business. If not, ahem, we shall see.

      Those inks sound great ! A complete set of cartridges for the Pro 100 is over 100 euros here. So a refillable alternative sure seems interesting.

      Most of my prints will be smallish (A3 or less) and will be stored in portfolio boxes. So the matting silent killer shouldn’t affect me. But I’ll get my matts cut by a local framer who has done great stuff for me in the past. That’s when my own pictures pass the test of wallhangingability 😉

      Cheers

  9. Avatar
    Per Kylberg September 16, 2018

    The print process is challenging, time consuming and highly creative. This is why I do it! Preparing for print requires lots small adjustments – mostly local. A file optimized for print will look very different compared a file for screen.
    A few practical tips:
    Newbie? Take your time, and print small exploring your process. The process is good when the on screen proofing = printed output. (see below). Now you can try optimizing for print by adjusting in PP. I often do around 10 local adjustments… Then there is paper. – There are many of them – too many for a firm recommendation.
    Eizo, NEC, HP and Benq make monitors for high end photo editing. Benq is the budget challenger costing half or a third compared to the others. I own the SW2700. Delta E average is 0.40 and it covers Pro Photo RGB.
    Use PP software that has proof reading. On screen virtual simulation on screen of your printer + paper combination. Essential for saving paper, frustration and ink!
    Paper: I use paper with grinded surface, resulting in less reflection losses. Gloss/semi gloss are not good to hang on the wall unless you can control lighting at all times.
    For prining I convert to TIF and use Qimage for printing. Clearly better IQ than from your PP software. Among other things it takes care of output sharpening.
    Only print large the very best ones! I test print to A4 – evaluate – adjust – evaluate – print the real good enough to “last” over time.
    Matting: I reuse, but never standardize. Every image deserves its own proportions, cropping and size!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      Thanks Per, it looks like screen calibration is step #1 for anyone. So that probably warrants having two screens. One for everyday use and one for printing.

      I’ve read lost of good things about Qimage, this will be step 2 😉

      Step 3 will be waking up my old Canon Pro 100 to see how well if works after years of sleep. If not, maybe a P800. We’ll see. But I really like holding small prints, so your advice of printing small will not be a problem for me. I’d actually like to bind some small prints into sorts of “notebooks”. Not sure who offers that service, but it will be a part of my explorations.

      Thank you for your help!

  10. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron September 17, 2018

    There’s another post script before this, somewhere in the system. After this, I’ll butt out and leave the rest of you chatting happily. I did remember this later today, and my humble apologies for failure to remember it earlier. It IS important, though.

    15 – “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” also applies in the photo lab. Do yourselves a favour. If you print, or even if you just handle prints that someone else has produced, wear a pair of light cotton gloves. ALL human fingers leave oily marks behind. There’s no point paying out all that money on gear and materials, and spending all that time producing prints, only to find you’ve wrecked them by failing to maintain adequate safeguards against any form of contamination of the final prints.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 17, 2018

      That must be why every shop I’ve been to that sells portfolio boxes is so intent on selling me gloves as well! Sound advice, thanks !

  11. Avatar
    Brian Nicol September 17, 2018

    My Epson 3880 was purchased on sale just when the P600 was coming out. It is an amazing reliable printer both in paper feed and not clogging after weeks of disuse. All other Epson printers have been horrible cloggers. Hi had some Epson giant 4??? Model that required two people to carry and it constantly clogged and had to be professionally serviced twice to unclog. I finally hauled it to a recycle centre and purchased the lovely amateur 3880 model and have enjoy and sell the occasional print. I now wish I had purchased a second 3880 as a backup printer. I purchased the Epson R3000 for an alternate printer a few years ago and it is ultra sensitive on paper feed and clogs fairly regularly- it may find itself in the Epson graveyard prematurely. I find printing sharpens my photography skills and there is nothing more satisfying than printing on a paper suitable for the image just like in the black and white days.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 18, 2018

      Thanks Brian. Everyone, absolutely everyone, seems to love the 3880. It’s a shame I didn’t wake up from my print-free slumber earlier, because it looks like other printers in the Epson range don’t live up to that star. Uh …

  12. Avatar
    Jay Hemphill September 27, 2018

    I’m on the fence about replacing my Epson 7900. The 7900 was a total piece of junk. Even though I printed daily it clogged like crazy and had to have two heads replaced in it’s first six months of life. On the other hand I have used my Epson 3880 for printing portfolios for the last ten years and I’ll go two months sometimes without firing it up and it has always worked perfectly.
    As far as profiles go I went down that rabbit hole and dumped lots of money only to come full circle back to the Epson profiles for all my printing on any paper. I was even warned by a very well respected friend in the printing industry that told me he secretly just used the Epson paper profiles for all of his printing. Gasp! I should have listen to him.

    • Avatar
      Chris October 06, 2018

      My experience has been very similar to yours Jay. The 3880 has been very reliable for me, with clogged heads a rare and easily cleared event. And, I also spent quite a bit of time and effort creating custom profiles with a densitometer, only to find the paper manufacturer’s profiles to be more consistently accurate. At this point I don’t do any regular calibration of anything, and find my prints to be gratifying.

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