#1251. Printing? What for?

By pascaljappy | How-To

Dec 17

So, a solid 18 months after promising to do so, I’ve finally started printing again. Good news, though not for the reasons initially imagined. The tactile “last mile” is actually so freeing.

 
  • Remember that pano is a cheat code for making any photo interesting? πŸ˜‰
  • Remember that high contrast mono is a cheat code for making any photo interesting? πŸ˜‰
  • Turns out white borders are a cheat code for making any photo interesting πŸ˜‰

So, printed, something like the photo above starts with a triple whammy unfair advantage.

But there are more interesting reasons for bracing and facing the unpleasant prospect of ICC profiles, high costs and unavoidable hit-and-miss.

 

Time and space roughly sums them up. And I have John-Paul Caponigro to thank for making me aware of those in a recent video of his.

Rather than space, think scale.

The essential nature of a print is being a physical object. This obviously mean you can hold it in your hands rather than look at it on a screen (or, worse still, a phone). It provides a very different appreciation of your photographs, which become crafted objects, much like a FabergΓ© egg, or a noodle necklace from Mother’s Day. And it lets you think of printing in terms of print size.

 

Now, much like the megapixel head-trash and French taxes, galeries catering to the needs of footballers in Qatar and oligarchs would want us to believe that bigger is better. But the beauty of printing is that it lets you decide the scale you want to give the image. How you want to view it, from what distance …

A four inch square will make viewers hold the print up close and personal, scanning little details in the most intimate fashion. An 80 inch print typically does the opposite, forcing viewers away as much as – rule of thumb – 3 times the diagonal. And some photographers like Ed Burtinksy or Andreas Gursky play on both levels, providing a grand scheme to be viewed from afar and luring eyes in via hords of intricate details. Not only does this require a large format camera to record, it demands a large format talent to achieve πŸ˜‰

But the point is that we can give our photographs different personalities by deciding how small or large to print them. This adds a whole dimension to our abilities to wow audiences πŸ™‚

 

But time is probably the most wonderful aspect of printing.

Deciding what size to print forces you to look at your photographs closely, trying to remember your initial intent, imagining how you would like others to discover them, how you would display them, or arange them on a page/table/wall. It makes you consider them differently, as you think about display size, the paper type, the print process.

That’s the freeing part mentioned at the top of the page. It’s quite amazing to watch videos of advanced printers. They make it obvious that, to them, cameras, files, resolution … are just a means to an end. That end is the print. And it is all that matters. It takes you from a frantic 30 frames per second to a satisfying 30 prints per year. That change of focus, and that change of pace need to be experienced to be understood, I must say.

 

This obviously begs the question of how to print. A vexing question, if you ask me.

Just like cameras evoled into a messy jungle of techno-babble and value inversion (resolution being more important than ergonomics or highlight management, for instance) printers also create a rather hostile environment for the aspiring artist. It’s a shame Steve Jobs wasn’t a photographer. Today, we’d have a stylish box with one butter that just … prints. Instead of which we have this other messy jungle of profiling, clogging, bronzing, metamerism, driver madness, ink prices, RIPing. RIP will one day be the way of the printer, at this rate.

So, for now, I’m not printing, not really. But sending files and euros to Picto, in Paris, and getting prints in return. This allows me to focus on prints rather than on the morbid technicalities, and to experiment with papers and processes. Above, you have piezography (neutral and slightly warm). Below is silver printing. Silver has deeper blacks but, so far, for my personal style, piezography has the (subjective) edge.

 

Still, this is both expensive and not as satisfying as printing at home.

So my thinking cap is on. What printer to get? Sadly, it seems that quantity goes hand in hand with quality in this part of the photo universe. There just isn’t an A4 printer that really does a great job. Which is a shame because I’d love to build up a little archive of A4 prints of my fave photographs and do the testing at home before purchasing larger prints from Picto or other labs.

Right now, the tiny Canon Selphy 1500 is rather tempting. Kyle McDougall, film-centric youtuber, does a good job of explaining the main interest of this little tool for work prints, particularly in the context of editing zines or books.

 

And that’s another pleasing topic. I’ve printed lots of travel albums over the years, and the idea on working on small books centering around a topic, rather than a trip, does appeal.

This leaves intact the problem of finding a decent home printer that doesn’t use up more space than the average Tokyo flat. I have no clue. My large Canon is gone, and I ain’t getting any that big anytime soon. A3 is my max, ideally A4. If you have any ideas, my eyes and ears are wide open πŸ™‚

 

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  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Boy, you’re game. Expect flood of suggestions!

    For purely historical reasons I’m using an Epson – and the one I’m using is the SC-P600. Which is now “obsolete” – or is it? – it uses one less print ink colour, which some might see as a negative – others tell me not to worry about that, and I don’t – more importantly, I’m told by the service technician that the P600 is a lot more reliable than its successor, and he advised me NOT to upgrade to the current model, unless my P600 caves in and CAN’T be repaired.

    Why so much blather about it? Well it fits. And it’s big enough to do up to A3 (which I have done – rarely). I quite often do A4 with it – that’s the size people seem to prefer, when I take portraits of their pets.

    Then comes – how? Do you want to print from PhotoShop (a common path)? Or get a dedicated print program, like Mirage Print (which I use most of the time).

    White border. Well – fine – whatever floats your boat. I don’t put borders on my prints. Anyone wants a border – they can add that, when framing the picture. OK – so that doesn’t work, if the picture’s not being framed – then I guess you’d need the border on the print.

    Two rules of thumb – for me, at least. Prints in albums look better without a border. And large prints hanging on the wall don’t need a border, they’re big enough to look after themselves without one. Small photos need one though – otherwise they kind of get lost, hanging on a wall.

    Like you, when I want a big print, I send it off. Or rather run it down the street, since my professional printer is 10 minutes from here. And his printers are MASSIVE. They also do a stunning job! The prints he makes are the ones hanging on the wall.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Pete. That Epson sounds like a keeper. I’m printing from LightRoom as there is no need for anything fancy beyond printing just the one photograph, but everyone seems to rave about Mirage. I’ve used it once and it did look very good.

  • Sean says:

    You’ve got a good handle on printing, Pascal. This is in contrast to my, at best, amateurish flops. It’s not as simple as it looks. You’ve achieved a level of prowess that I do admire and congratulate you on your competencies – knowledge, skills and experience – in this area.One question: have you firmly established what your final image is to look like prior to any printing, in most instances? And what sorts/types of gotchas have tripped you up in during your printing forays?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Sean. My process, so far, is to get the printer to look right in Lightroom, and look at the histogram to get a feeling of what it will look like on paper. Prints from Picto tend to look a little darker than on screen. But the good quality is largely down to their printers, not my skill πŸ˜‰

  • Frank Field says:

    Hi Pascal —

    I, too, delayed doing my own printing for years. I’m glad that I finally started about 10 years ago. A few lessons I’ve learned. First, I chose a then current Epson R3000 printer. It was the top of Epson’s line of 13″ printers at the time and used larger ink cartridges than other 13″ printers from Epson, reducing the cost of ink / ml. Second, I do most of my printing on US letter-sized paper, approximately A4. The largest prints I want to make are 12″ x 18″ or about A3. Should I ever want anything larger, I will use a service bureau. There is value in printing on A4-size. One has to do a lot of printing to gain reasonable proficiency. The cost of printing A4-size is modest, supporting learning. As you know, a print is a reflective media rather than a back-lighted media. Almost every image well-optimized for the screen needs adjustment to print well. Don’t introduce too many variables at once. Pick a single paper and learn to print well on it. Once you find yourself consistently making good prints with that paper, you can branch out to additional papers. I happened to chose a luster paper as my starting paper: it works well for both color and monochrome prints. Obviously, do color calibrate your display and use paper profiles from the paper supplier. Better yet, learn to make your own profiles as you gain proficiency. I do my printing through PhotoShop rather than Lightroom, I find the controls far richer and certainly value the ability to check for gamut warnings in PS. One of the dirty little secrets in the printing game is that your final print must be viewed under relatively low luminance light of a certain color temperature equating to the relatively low luminance and color temperature of a well-calibrated monitor. When so done, you can achieve darned close matches between screen and paper. I find this final step to be a bit too much. I calibrate, keep my monitor luminance low but not hideously so and view my prints in reasonable light levels as normal humans do.

    Best to you for the Holiday Season.

    Frank

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thank you, Frank. That’s very helpful.

      My screen is the default screen from a 2022 Macbook pro, using a “calibrated” mode that lowers contrast a bit and is reported to be “close enough”. So far, I have found it quite close to Piezography prints, but silver prints do look a little darker and more contrasty. Colour would be a different game, I imagine πŸ˜‰

      Epson now makes good A4 printers with large ink tanks that lower costs. Reviews suggest it is decent in photo mode, but definitely not good. I’ll be testing one in 2 days, but it does appear like A3 is the only way to go to get better quality.

      All the best to you too πŸ™‚
      Pascal

  • My thoughts on printing: 1) I’ve often said that a photograph is not a photograph until it is a print. Prints take on an intrinsic value all their own, above the value of the image they contain. There is nothing like the feel of a large print on 315 gsm fine art paper. 2) I haven’t made a print myself since I turned off the lights in the darkroom back in the ’90s. 3) I find it much more accurate and economical to do the processing in my computer and upload a PSD or TIFF file to a trusted printing business that I use. 4) I find myself ordering fewer prints these days. Only doing so for gallery exhibit and one contest per year, or preordered prints. I’m out of storage space. 5) I can choose from a large variety of print sizes (to an accuracy of 3 decimal points) and papers that I don’t have to keep in stock. 6) I have often thought that it would be very satisfying to have a nice professional printer of my own and keep everything in house. I can afford it financially but I can’t afford to devote the space or the time and frustration involved in the learning curve needed to turn out the quality of prints I would be willing to sign. Take away about 15 or 20 birthdays and I’d probably have a different attitude.
    I would still be retired at that point but have more physical energy. If I were doing it now I would probably get something with 8 or 9 inks and print 13×19 inches. Larger images would be ordered.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks, Cliff.

      Agreed. Considering prints as the output completely changes our outlook on image quality, and brings a more lasting appreciation of the photograph. In turn, this makes us more selective about images. All good things.

      I would like to print only small ones at home, and get larger ones done in a lab. The smaller ones would be good to get the larger ones right on the first attempt.

      If you’ve managed to fill your storage, you must have quite a fantastic collection, by now πŸ˜‰ Congratulations.

  • Pascal, again another great article. As per our earlier conversation at Paris Photo there is that 3rd option which (let’s be honest we both know you will eventually go down), is working with a professional printer (hands on) together. Here is a glimpse into that not too distant future.So sit back with a fine glass of wine or Scotch and enjoy the infinite possibilities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXDJiV-XKcw

  • Dallas says:

    Pascal, I liked to print images, but decided after a while to stop, as most of the time they ended up being filed in a draw, somewhat like the image on my hard drive. Sadly my Epsom printer will be dumped on my return home, it hasn’t been used for about 4 years. As for what printer to buy, I’m sorry I can’t offer up anything. Take care Dallas

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Dallas, you could try photo books. Companies like Matisseo (when you are in France) or Blurb, among others provide very good services at affordable prices, and there is great joy in browsing a self publishe “book”. Cheers

  • David A. Mack says:

    Printing; it’s my most frustrating aspect of photography. I’m no artist, not a single genome on the entire DNA complement. Given that, I see printing as a method of improving my photography, thinking, would this be a print with proper PP? It’s expensive, time consuming, and a lot of trial and error. I’ve taken the JPC class, a bit over my then photoshop skills, but he was up front and patient. The cost doesn’t end with ink, those papers are very expensive. Speaking of profiles, why don’t the paper manufactures just give us their brand name printers equivalent. Their individual papers are reverse engineered to the printer equivalent papers anyway. Rip programs are a “rip-off” and another source of constant cost for upgrades. I really don’t mind the over-all cost of the hobby, but there are a lot of constant wallet biopsies for software upgrades. Finally, if you own a printer, it has to be used regularly, or there may be clogging etc. Given all of this, I still enjoy the challenge of the “art of it all” and realize there is no end point, sort of like golf.

    Thanks for listening.
    David Mack, Oregon, USA

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi David, your frustration mirrors mine. I owned a large Epson that clogged up so badly, it cost far more to clean than to print. Then a large-ish Canon Pro 1000, which sorted that, but was super twitchy about not being moved or it would drain all its tanks. Plus I don’t want to print large, but only to do test A4s. So both printers ended up in the dump.

      I think one secret is to limit options. For instance, I print only b&w, always on the same Hahnemule Baryta 315g paper, always from Lightroom, always at the same size. That limits costly experimentation. Also, instead of trying to get a print to look identical to the on-screen version, I try to get a “good” print. That’s a much lower requirement. Typically, in Lightroom, I have found that prints will be a tad more contrasty than on-screen, and my only consideration today is the histogram. That’s the *only* variable I care about today. So, basically, if the histogram isn’t bunched up in the shadows, I know the print will look good, if not identical to the screen. That suits me just fine πŸ™‚

      Happy holidays.

  • Leonard Norwitz says:

    The artist in me agrees with Cliff’s sentiment that an photograph isn’t a photograph until it is printed. Until that moment, however, we do have images and they have their own artistic merit. I tend to print in weekend batches once every couple of months. It’s a very satisfying experience for the most part, especially once I junked my Epson P600 (sorry, Jean-Pierre) which gave me nothing but trouble, for the P900 upgrade, which works every bloody time, and I’ve never even needed to clean the lines! It’s also more economical re ink cartridges vs the smaller P700 (or P600.) I also agree with Frank’s advice to choose a couple of papers and learn how to print with them, which resonates with how I approach my photography, in that I tend go out on a walk with a single lens and no kit for back up. My papers these days — a glossy and a matte — are both from Breathing Color (Vibrance Metallic and Signa Smooth 300.) I print on 17 x 22 paper which happens to cut neatly into 11 x17.

    • jean pierre guaron says:

      I agree with your comment that “a photograph isn’t a photograph until it is printed”. Millions of course don’t – how would Instagram survive, if they did? But it’s not just a question of taste or choice. The word itself demands a print.
      People don’t want prints, that’s fine, everyone has the right to choose. And the key difference – which flows into other areas, is quite simple.
      A photograph is a reflected image – and CANNOT reproduce even 100% of the image it contains, because LESS THAN 100% of the light falling on the paper will be “reflected” – will be/can be “visible”, to a human eye.
      The other images – the ones the countless millions out there are so fond of – are “translucent” images, the strength of the light from the image is purely a function of the strength of the light shining through it (in the case of a slide) or used to produce or project it (in the case of a computer image or Instagram image or whatever). It can and generally will be far more vivid than a “photograph”, for that reason.
      As to the P600 vs the P900 etc – I don’t need the extra size, and although the inks are cheaper with yours, I’ve no particular reason to change while the P600 is still working fine. In due course, I’ll likely follow your example – on the basis of ink cost alone, it makes more sense – the cartridges do cost more, but they last a hell of a lot longer, so they are actually cheaper.
      For the time being I’ve no need for a “bigger printer” just for print size – when I do “go bigger”, as I’ve mentioned, I toddle down the street to my buddy Joe, who has the most outlandish professional print set up I’ve ever seen.
      Printing paper – that sets the ball rolling, all over again. There are so many different papers out there, so many personal preferences, so many difference “print characteristics”. I had a specialty firm “do” me a set of print colour characteristics (dunno what you call these things!) to match the papers I generally use, only to find I can almost invariably do a better job with the vast range of “paper specs” in my Mirage Print software. Except every once in a while it actually works better in the PhotoShop print function. Which is a crappy print function, but if it gets the job done, who’s going to complain?
      Looking through Pascal’s examples in this article of his, I can see the attraction of the different papers he’s using. I think I’d do the same, if I was using a Hassy and printing B&W – the results are stunning. But that is yet another “whole new ball game”, and I imagine it has its own learning curve too, like all the rest of them.

    • pascaljappy says:

      My “process” exactly. Only one paper. Only one printing mode (though I have experimented with silver this last time) : piezography. And, I do not fuss about matching the screen version, so long as the print is nice; This just leaves one variable to think of: the histogram. I now have an informal reading of the histogram that tells me whether the print will be good or not. And that has worked consistently.

      The real issue comes with that P900 upgrade πŸ˜‰ It does look like you need a large printer for good results, these days. And I don’t want one at home. So Picto will remain the source of prints for me πŸ˜‰

      Cheers

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