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Sunday, 26 April 2020

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There's an argument to be made for printing simply to allow you to improve your photographs. Making prints, even relatively small ones, and then studying them carefully is a very good way to improve pictures you're working on.

You're not likely to open up Lightroom or Photoshop a dozen times during the day while you're doing other things just to quickly look at a picture you're working on. However, if you made a print, you can leave it close to hand and do that; it's amazing what you'll see.

For this kind of printing, you don't need to spend a fortune on the printer and the paper. You can see a lot in a reasonably faithful letter-sized print. Even if these prints never go anywhere but the recycling bin, they will have served their purpose well if your photography is strengthened.

The question becomes, what can you do with prints?

Printing for sales, or doing custom printing for clients, is great, because at the end of the job the print leaves your house!

But if you're printing your own work for yourself...you run out of wall space. And your parents run out of wall space. And you run out of friends. I was getting low on wall space 30 years ago, and my parents are now dead.

Drop-front storage boxes are the solution to this problem, of course!

I'm retired and live on a pension. I would like to print some of my black and white photos at home and would be very happy to have 8x8 square prints on A4 paper. Is there such a thing as a very good quality A4 printer on the market, I tend to only ever see A3 size upwards recommended, too expensive for me never mind the ink refills.

@David Dyer-Bennet wrote "...But if you're printing your own work for yourself...you run out of wall space. And your parents run out of wall space. And you run out of friends."

I handled that by getting three frames built, each one for a different aspect ratio, and all of a moderate but big enough (for me) size (think 12 or 13 inches). I made mats to fit the frames. I would rotate various prints through these frames from time to time. This helped with the well-known syndrome of the disappearing picture - the one you don't see any more because it's always there. Any given print would be up long enough for me to learn what I really liked about it (or disliked), and that helped me take better pictures.

And since I made my own prints, I could make sure to print at the size and aspect ratio that worked for the frames.

Once printed it requires no electricity, wall or battery, or special device to view. You can put them in a drawer or a folder and look at them later. They are sharable in that you can sit next to another person and see the exact same image. They will most likely out last your current viewing device by decades. You can mail them to someone and be sure that it will be fully compatible for viewing.

The most intrinsic thing for me is that it gives me pleasure in creating something. The journey can be frustrating, but its about the end product. Although I do admit I enjoy the journey and its frustrations in the end.

It is not about cost for me. I do not sell images. I do not want the hassle of bookkeeping if I sell images. I will, "real soon now" (remembering BYTE magazine) begin to make my own frames and try my hand at cutting mats. It is all about the pleasure I get when I look at them. Handling a print is much more satisfying that looking at a screen.

I produce high quality prints on Hahnemuhle paper using an ancient Epson 3800. I bought it because I could not fit the 4000 series into my small office and the 80ml carts in the 3800 provided ink at the least painful price point.

If an individual is not printing for commercial reasons then they fit into the hobby category. Using myself as an example, some times I will print a lot, sometimes a little and sometimes months go by without printing anything. Then the cycle repeats, maybe with a slightly different rhythm.

I have put the hours in, understand the workflow and the underlying software, hardware, calibration, etc.. am more than proficient in producing good prints without too much effort.

The person who suffers the most is the individual with a tight budget that does not understand colour management and is at the start of the learning curve. That is a painful place to be and most people who develop the skills spend some time there.

The price of media and ink and issues such as clogging of heads just goes with the territory.

I started printing because I could not depend on the consistent quality of outsourcing the task. I am glad I did.

I think it would be interesting to know more about Peter Turnley’s printing technique. Most of the prints for sale on his web site are traditional silver prints, yet it seems that most, if not all, of his shooting these days is digital. I’d love to know more about that. I also wonder if this might be an approach that would appeal to you.

Mike you said and I hear it a lot: ' What kind of quality do I want? (The difference between "adequate" and "as good as I can get" is a big step in printmaking.)'

In my experience that is not so. For 12 years I have been photographing and printing for my college theatre--making prints for the producer, director, stage designer, etc. usually about 8"x11" to 8" x20", and making test strips to compare to/accept test strips before printing 2'x3' from professional Epson printer. And this with an all in one Epson Clara ink printer that cost me $70. reconditioned in 2009.

I have recently switched to pigment ink printer since I cannot run the older printer w/ my new Mac's operating system, and I can now print larger, use heavier paper, and presumably 200 year print lifespan, but those have nothing to do with the visual quality of the prints--given the limitations on paper (I use Epson matte and luster).

I took a Lightroom class at my local community college when I was forced to transition from Aperture (which I loved and made a conscious decision to go with when they were both nascent). The instructor in that course had us do a number of things including a lot of printing work with many different papers on their excellent large printers. He required us to compare that output to web-based printing houses, local commercial printers in the Los Angeles area and CostCo (using their custom profile). As you might imagine, there was tremendous cost variation between these modalities. I learned that for the vast majority of photographs I print, CostCo is adequate (provided you use their profile and soft proof) and dirt cheap. The time to go elsewhere is when I am seeking to print on an unusual paper. I also learned that Blurb (which is integrated into LR) delivers a really nice photobook product (with the aforementioned caveat). Oh, and I still hate LR compared to Aperture but probably won’t change until forced to do so.

I am often amazed at the rationalizations we use to justify our purchases. Many hobbies or passions can be expensive. Golf comes immediately to mind given the escalation of greens fees. Model railroading is anything but cheap. My wife is keen on gardening and I don't really want to know how much roses, tools, mulches, sprays and so forth add up to. And then there are those who are collectors. In the end, if one enjoys making their own prints and they decide on certain type of printer , whatever the cost, then good for them.

The drop-front storage box is a great idea. I have recently begun recycling older enlargements from my walls into large Profolio storage books. I had stuff on my walls that was 40 years old, pictures of my children when they were babies that I was very attached to and couldn't figure out how to add new material to the walls. I finally settled on the large book idea, big books for 13 by 19 and smaller books for eight and a half by 11. I've given books to my now grown children for their photos as well. When I gift them new enlargements of their children, my grandchildren, we rotate the older ones out of the frame and into the books. That's the plan anyway. We'll see how long this plan lasts before I get hopelessly behind, as usual. Those boxes look pretty nifty too. Oh, and all the older four by sixes get stored in those shoe box style boxes from B&H, labeled by year and stacked in order on shelves.

Mike,
for anyone looking for others' printing experiences, this site contains a lot of information:
https://www.printerknowledge.com/

Especially the member Ink stained Fingers has reported on a lot of experiments and experiences about fading of different inks on different papers and on the often very small differences between gamuts of ink sets. And of the advantages and disadvantages of dye and pigment ink.
There are e.g. also many reports on cleaning fluids and recipies, and on technical problems.

Keith Cooper’s website
http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/keiths-photography-blog/

has several reviews of wide printers and many serious articles on printing and its problems.

I know your comment was partly in jest, but one of the factors I really love about the TOP photo sales is the different printers.

I just looked at a wall where I'm rearranging modest size photos. Six were made on my consumer grade Canon all-in-one printer, perhaps one on whatever its predecessor was.

Framed, under glass, they look terrific. I replaced the last printer at an ink break to get wireless ApplePrint, so my wife can print her own stuff. Mostly, it prints out the usual home printer stuff.

Put a Canon semi-fancy photo paper in it, select the matching profile, and like magic, there's a beautiful 8x10 or smaller print.
I buy frames with mattes at thrift stores and Costco.

The fancy, shop matted and framed 16x20s from Adoramapix (Pictoria now?) elsewhere in the house cost a lot more, and are a lot larger, but they don't look much, if any, better in color, contrast, etc. once up on a wall.

Meanwhile, it might take an army of tiny creatures with hammers and chisels to get the Epson R1800 sitting on a shelf, unused for years, going again.

@David Dyer-Bennet: One solution to the wall-space problem are magnetic bands on the wall of my office. They allow me to have a running exhibition of five unmounted A2 prints. Having them up for three or four weeks increases my own critical perception, and changing them from time to time helps to keep colleagues and visitors interested in this side of my activities.

I would pose that the answer to Skip's question:

"Which would be the best home use printer for my circumstances?"

Would be "None at all".

And I would add that "None at all" is possibly the best answer for most people, even for folks who are printing enthusiasts.

Printing is a process of matching your artistic vision to what gets produced on a piece of paper. How that translation gets made hardly involves the actual printer itself - the art is in the digital space of monitor <-> printer profile <-> Photoshop <-> printer. A tweaked file gets sent to a printer. The printer then does what it does, and you look at it and evaluate if your artistic vision has been met.

If you have invested thousands of dollars on the printer and inks, you are committed to - heck, part of the fun is - the work and time and frustration and sweat you are obligated to invest to get your artistic vision to match what comes out on the piece of paper. Why does it matter which machine produces that piece of paper?

Why invest thousands into your own printer, when you can rent time on, say, CostCo's $75,000 printer?

Why - when we talk here of 1C1L1Y, of B&W digital, of covering up our camera's chimping screen, of going back to the darkroom - is the immediacy of using one's personal printer vs waiting a day or two to use CostCo's printer so important?

Is it that the end products are so different? Do home printers output significantly better prints? Or is it simply the hours spent on the perfection process? How many of us has spent an equivalent amount of time and sweat perfecting prints on CostCo's printer? Can it be done?
I don't believe I have ever read a single article on whether it can or can not be done.

All I know is that I have some prints on my wall from CostCo, and they look pretty spectacular to my eye. I spent almost zero time perfecting them - I know they could be optimized further. And they cost virtually nothing compared to the expense of running a home printer.

Should home printing not be the first thing that comes to mind, but instead be a last resort? Can a photographer dedicated to one's art use CostCo to produce top-knotch prints?

Very well-reasoned and I can't argue with it except for that one point near the beginning: "from then on it really is just a matter of programming it to make the number you want and then letting it run." Just last week I was trying to print 150 5X7s for a project I'm working on, rough work prints to put on the wall to see which images I really like. The P600 would print a few, then send a blank sheet through and screambeep at me while the display claimed the machine was out of paper -- even though a stack of 30 sheets was in the feed tray. Not being able to leave the thing alone to do a big run by itself is one of the most frustrating things about printing. It's better than doing the same in the darkroom but exceedingly frustrating because the causes of failure are either not mine, or they are mine but absolutely opaque to human reason.

I haven't read all the comments to previous posts, but the list of questions here matches my thought process a few years back.

I wanted to do it myself, big and get good quality. Cost was secondary, so I ended with 44" Canon PRO-4000 in my bedroom and it was the right choice for me, no regrets. I do print for friends when they have exhibitions or sell prints, but I don't want to make it another job. With the seletion of papers I have, I can hardly claim to be economical.

Things I have learnt from doing home printing since the 1990s:

1. Buy a screen calibrator

2. Buy a printer profile calibrator and make custom icc profiles for the combination of ink, paper and printer you use (this doesn't guarantee wonderful prints, but it standardises as much as you can so that subtle adjustments need to be made only in the editing process, not while trying to juggle multiple variables). Trying to adjust printer driver settings on the fly is hopeless, IMO.

3. It is often quite difficult to get a good match between print and screen. Intrinsically the screen and printer look different so the best you can aim for is a consistent appearance that lets you judge how to prepare your edits for printing. One common problem is that the shadow areas in prints look darker in low light - you may find that if your prints look too dark, looking at them in good daylight provides a closer match. Or you may simply have to lift the shadows in editing and/or keep your monitor very dim.

4. Small all in one type printers are quite cheap but are not made for heavy use and the carts are small and expensive. Bigger printers have larger carts but many more of them and it is still expensive in ink, especially as the printer uses half the ink with cleaning cycles!

5. 3rd party bulk inks for a small range of reputable suppliers can be cost effective if you are prepared to refill carts or us a continuous ink system. OEM inks tend to be more archival on average according to tests. The inks I have used seem OK though, not seen any fading.

6. Print head clogging can be a problem but it seems very variable. Printer and ink types play a part, as do usage patterns and seemingly climate. Very difficult to deduce clear patterns and solutions.

7. Mono printing with colour inks is much better than it used to be but slightly better results are still available from dedicated mono inksets if you don't mind the DIY hassle factor.

8. Printing for personal use always leads to the problem of what to do with the prints but is still worth it for the end to end production process experience and the sense of satisfaction. I like to mount and frame the best of my own prints myself and rotate a display around the house.

9. A bit niche, but mixing your own DIY mono inksets is fun!

Aieeee! You’re making me crazy. You have, as far as I know, a superb Epson printer. You know enough Photoshop skills to get to a good print. If you give Colorbyte Image Print a try, you will be shocked at how much better your first try will be and, a few corrections on you will have your print. Then we get to the big stumbling block.......will you keep at it? Give it a try.

[The Epson appears hopelessly clogged. First pass resulted in NOTHING on the page. At all. Having run several cleaning cycles over several days it's a little better, but now it wants more ink, and I'm leery of throwing good money after bad. Mea Culpa, I didn't use the printer often enough. --Mike]

I have read your posts [and responses] with much compassion and interest and I believe that many find the process of home printing to be either rewarding or frustrating - so let me chime in with my 2cents.
I love to do it myself. The risk/reward is satisfying from the outset.
Only need 13x19 most of the time and have almost 50 16x20 frames [many years of printing and various mats to add variety]
Very good to excellent quality is what I expect [have sold a number of prints and no complaints]
I usually print low volume - 1 to 3 copies of any image and higher volume if I am doing an exhibition
My output is sporadic - can be weeks or months between printing cycles and I have never had clogging problems [Epson 1200, 2200 and now P600 - the first two were replaced due to funky mechanical problems
Testing and then final production both the challenge and then the reward
I love my P600, fits all my category needs and allows me to rotate my images.

Hopes this helps someone, it certainly put me in a good mood. And I'll print today!

This has been a fascinating set of articles. I've enjoyed all of them and the comments.

I fall into the adequate quality and it's a chore to spend ages at it. Having said that, I do enjoy seeing my prints. I use consumer grade dye Canons - they really do produce lovely prints. And, no clogging at all.

I make a lot of 5x7 prints. Handed to everyone for temporary display. I do make larger prints for our wall but not that often now.

Andy

Can we get a - dare I say curated - list of online printers that have good quality and are easy to work with?

As I wrote earlier, the “final” result, at least for me, isn’t a print; it’s a displayed print (matted, framed and lit). (Or, at a minimum, presented in some fashion, e.g., organized in a portfolio case). Display activities involve similar considerations to printing, i.e., DIY vs outsourcing, costs, quality vs quantity assessments, etc. Lighting is a critical and underappreciated aspect of the print workflow. A fine print won’t ever ‘sing’ or become a wonderful print (assuming worthy content) without considering display lighting conditions. Anyway, these are things I think about before going down the home print path; the end in mind matters.

I confess that I really don't get it. How can someone who calls themselves a photographer not be a printer? I agree with Rob de Loe. Printing makes one a better photographer. Until there is a print, many wise people have said, there's not a photograph. Analog photography does not really exist without the print. The print is an essential part of any photographic process; it's the finish. Would one build a home or a piece of furniture and not put a finish on it, leave it as raw wood? Maybe not the greatest analogy but it'll have to do for this poor mind damaged by the current crisis.

All of these considerations are what led me to decide not to get a printer. I love holding actual prints and I want them to look the best they can. But I rarely sell anything and so there's just no way to justify the costs. Fortunately, there is a printer nearby who is, himself, an artist at what he does, and so it's a no brainer to work with him: he gets regular business from me and I get prints made just the way I want them.

For quick and dirty printing with predictable ink cost, look into an HP printer with HP’s Instant Ink program. Not suitable for pro and art printing, but ok for everyday printouts on inexpensive photo paper. Their Instant Ink program is their competitive advantage.

>>If you give Colorbyte Image Print a try...

ImagePrint BLACK for the Epson P600 sells for $695. Some, if not most, photographers will consider that a lot to pay simply to "try" something. By comparison, Epson cartridges for the P600 average $32.00 each. Mike may need only a half dozen or so at most to unclog his printer; assuming that's possible. If he's reluctant to spend that much (and I'm sure he had good reasons), then an additional $695 is even more unlikely. This is not an attack on the author of the comment, only a gentle reminder that we all have different perspectives, needs, and resources, so the best answer for one of us is not the best answer for all.

Is your P600 still under warranty? If so, Epson might fix. There are also third party repair services around that might provide a better cost alternative than a new printer. Lesson for next time...take a minute to run through a quick test print at least once a month.... you don’t need a formal print session.

Mike, I printed B/W prints in a darkroom back in the day, went to an Epson printer after going digital, got disgusted with it clogging, tried online printing services, and now am back printing myself again, this time with a Canon printer. And storing them in drop-front boxes.

Notwithstanding your horror story about dye printers, I am very impressed with the Canon P-100 printer, in conjunction with Canon Print Studio Pro.

Find the right sale and you can almost get that printer free. It would make a fine series of blog posts for you to review your experiences with it. (hint, hint)

I use an Epson P800 and the cost of printing according to Red River is even a tad cheaper. Both this and Canon printers are great from all reports

The question of dye based ink permanence has been bothering me since we started discussing printers so I did some digging. Canon claims the following for their ChromaLife 100+ inks when using Canon inks and paper and the Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. endpoint criteria.

- 300 year album storage lifespan
- 50 year light fastness/color fade resistance
- 20 year gas fastness (Whatever that means)

Red River Paper claims a 9-12 year life span for prints on their paper depending on paper type and with no glass protection. Red River goes on to say that while they don’t think these inks are "archival" per se, the two fold improvement over the old Canon dye inks and the outstanding color saturation makes them a good choice.

Uh-oh, I feel another car analogy coming on. If the average person is driven up a tree by the cost, complexity and “reliability” of printers and printing they should probably consider the Toyota Corolla of printers (PRO-100). It just works and the prints will impress most people. The semi-pros will always park a temperamental pigment based Ferrari next to their computer for the occasional track day and to create prints for sale while the pros will wonder what all the hubbub is about as the pit crew handles things.

I have been printing with an Epson 2880 for nearly ten years, and the best thing about it is that it gives me a measuring stick. I used to worry about different cameras and sensor sizes and film types. Now, if it looks good printed on my printer, then it is good enough for me.

To dovetail on Jim Arthur's comment. I think the 20 year gas fastness is if the print is displayed in direct contact to air, in a frame without glass or some kind of covering.

If displaying longer than 25 years, Red River recommends pigment, although as Jim describes, depending on how the print is stored/displayed dye prints will last longer. As a person who does not sell prints, I figure they can be re-printed anytime anyway.

https://www.redrivercatalog.com/infocenter/choose-dye-or-pigment-ink.html

Red River: I took the advice of settling on one paper to learn printing, and went with Red River Ultra Satin Pro 4.0. Red River does have certain papers they recommend for Dye ink, and this is one. I also recommend the Red River ICC color profiles, they really work.

https://www.redrivercatalog.com/profiles/inkjet-printer-color-icc-profiles-red-river-paper.html

It was a learning process for me, but by using a Spyder to calibrate the monitor, and the Red River paper and color profile, printing with the Canon 100 is pretty straight-forward. I do find I have to process the image a little "brighter" for prints to look similar to what I see on the monitor. I use DxO Photo Lab to process my images, and if I'm printing I send the image to Nik's Viveza for some brightness.

This may be as good a place as any to mention that I have a nearly full set of inks for the 9500 mk ii that I would love to give away rather than recycle (naturally, my printer died right after I bought ink). If interested, contact me through my link.

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