Printing your own works of art: tips from master engravers


While there are obvious advantages to working with a professional lab, I have always believed that the active participation of a photographer in creating their own prints adds value, ensures that every nuance of their vision is incorporated in the final image and loops the circle started when the photographer first released the shutter.

For all the creative satisfaction that comes with printing, it can be a demanding discipline. If you’ve ever struggled for hours to complete a series of inkjet prints on expensive paper that never quite match what you had in mind, printing your own images can seem like a frustrating exercise. With that in mind, I reached out to two master printers to get their insider tips for photographers who want–– get great prints from their own work of art.

Photographer Fred collins runs Berkshire Digital Laboratories, which offers digital restoration and repair of damaged works of art, publishing services, and reproduction and printing services of works of art for artists and photographers. It uses a Canon Pro-4000. Fred and his wife, Alison, also have a Gallery in Great Barrington, MA showing his work and that of other photographers.

Jonathan penney began his engraving career as a custom black and white film printer in the 90s. He currently serves the professional wedding, portrait and fine art market, making prints for galleries and wall exhibitions and for applications for competitions using a Canon IPF 2000. It also offers image editing and printing services and is a one-stop-shop for mats, editing and framing.

The two seasoned printers shared their tips on paper selection, profiling and calibration, print dialog setup choices, resolution, and ink and printer maintenance to avoid waste of paper and time.

More and more galleries are listing the paper and ink in the information plaques that accompany the art on display, a selling point that indicates the permanence of the print and the quality of the materials used. While both print masters agree that the choice of paper should match the intent of the image, Collins recommends a minimum weight of between 280 and 320 g / m² for artwork. He prefers papers with a mat or “near mat” surface such as Hahnemüehle’s photo cloth or, “for a brighter snap,” Moab Entrada Bright 300gsm. “A paper that I often use for color and black and white work is Fine Art Pearl by Hahnemüehle 285 g / m², a luster paper that reminds me of old air-dried ‘F’ (silver halide).

Penney’s choices are similar, with options for a textured “watercolor” look. (Canson engraving cloth), a smooth mat (Canson Rag Photographic), and, for a rich exposure paper that matches the look of fine silver papers of the past, Barite Prestige Canson. For the prints often requested by his wedding and portrait clientele (he works with many WPPI photographers), he uses Epson Premium Chandelier.

Color calibration simply means that the monitor, computer, and printer are all on the same visual page. This eliminates the need to “look in the eyes” and endless proof of random corrections that wastes time, ink and paper. Creating and using the right paper profile is a vital data point in the mix, as each paper will have its particular requirements for the correct ink laying depending on the paper thickness and the texture of the paper. area.

Collins creates his own paper profiles for his printer because he believes those provided by paper companies are not as accurate as he would like. It uses X-Rite’s i1 calibration setup for its Canon Pro 4000. Print the test strips on any shiny surface, but not matte or textured.

Penney relies on the print profiling service of Free photography to create custom profiles for your printer. This service, which costs $ 99, involves printing the provided test template and then sending it back to the company, where it is scanned using their professional hardware / software to create a unique and personal profile for each combo. printer / paper.

“Unless that,” Penney says, “follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, work with basic calibration kits, and, perhaps more importantly, be very aware of the influence of ambient light on the monitor. »Do not place your monitor where the vagaries of daylight will distort your perception of what is on the screen. A fixed position of the monitor is also essential, as the viewing conditions of a display change depending on how it is positioned.

Not knowing where the print can hang (and therefore what light it will be subjected to) makes viewing your printed proofs an inaccurate science, but using a controlled viewing environment that is uniformly and brightly lit at about 5500K can provide a good baseline for visual verification.

As for when to calibrate the monitor, it will depend on the age of the monitor and, more simply, when you notice a shift in color or print density. Common wisdom is to calibrate your monitor about every month or two, although many adhere to the “if it ain’t broke…” school when it comes to calibration. Modern monitors retain color stability much better than older CRTs, that’s for sure.

Jonathan Penny at work with his Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-2000 printer.

Every printer I have encountered has found a personal path for certain printer driver options, much of which depends on the paper and the printer. In my own work with an Epson SureColor P800, matching the brightness, tone and weight of the paper with different configurations gives different looks. This may involve turning black point compensation on or off and choosing different rendering intent options. (Rendering intent affects the color gamut controls for contrast and color saturation.) Overall, this is a personal choice that can only be discovered by proofing. Testing and consistency are therefore essential.

Says Collins: “If the image is 16 bit, I always leave this option on. I select Photoshop manages color and perceptual rendering intent and I turn off black point compensation ”in the print driver. “There are definitely ‘tips’ that can be used depending on the paper and the surface,” Penney explains. “I process everything through Photoshop, but I also use Canon’s Studio Pro for the nuances. As for the sharpness, I use the Topaz Detail software after all of my other processing jobs are done and find it gives the shadows a nice boost without overdoing it. Collins also saves sharpening until the last step of his editing workflow and works with Photoshop’s unsharp masking filter for those adjustments.

When working in Photoshop, try Filter> Other> High Pass on a duplicate layer of the image, then choose different blend modes to experiment with different looks. Keep in mind that if you emphasize your image too much, the photo will look harsh and too “digital” (ie poor continuous tone) when printed. Your monitor may not show the full effect of sharpening unless you are viewing the image at 100 percent (I like to use the browser to zoom in when I adjust the sharpness).

“I print at 300 dpi. That way the file can be saved after my work and the artist can use it for magazines, books, cards… whatever, ”Collins explains. “If I have to resample I use Perfect Resize, which for me is better than Photoshop. Collins recommends resampling and resizing before making any changes to your image; in this way, you can more easily find image defects due to high ISO sensitivity, lack of sharpness, etc.

Penney also prefers to work at 300 dpi and oversample in Photoshop’s print dialog if necessary. But Burke adds, “The dpi settings are flexible to a certain extent and it all depends on the viewing distance. A print placed over a fireplace can withstand lower dpi than one placed in a hallway at eye level. It also depends on the image: “A scene that is soft (but not blurry) in nature will certainly go down to a lower dpi than that of a finely detailed image.”

Last but not least is the maintenance of printers that are not in constant use, an issue that most casual printers face.

The danger of leaving printers idle is that inks can clog, resulting in streaking in prints or low ink flow through the printhead. Some of these issues can be resolved by running a few disposable prints before printing the images you actually want to produce. Collins suggests another quick fix: “If a printer is not in use for a while, take the time to perform a print nozzle check every five days. If broken lines appear, perform head cleaning. If that doesn’t work, perform a deep cleaning, and if repeated deep cleanings are needed, make sure a replacement maintenance cartridge is on hold.

About the Author: George Schaub taught a master’s class in printing (darkroom) at the New School in New York and workshops on digital printing and processing at the Maine Photographic Workshop, the Santa Fe Photo Workshop, the New Hampshire Institute of Art and at the Palm Beach Photographic Center. . He has written numerous articles and reviews on digital inkjet printers and fine art papers.

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