12 Things To Look For In Great Prints & Common Problems To Avoid

 

Most people evaluate a combination of elements to assess print quality. Find out what they are, how to get them, and how to avoid common mistakes in this new video.

7 Things To Look For In Great Prints & Great Artists Who Make Exceptions

Get The Digital Printing Quick Start Guide here.

9 Ways To Tell If Your Photographs Are Over Cooked

9 Ways To Tell If Your Photographs Are Over Cooked

Have you ever taken an image so far it gets completely out of control? I know that feeling well.  It happens to all of us. It’s not all bad. We have to step over the line to find it. It is better to work hot and then to cool down than play it so safe we never get where we really want to go. 

If you find yourself in so deep that you’re not sure where you got off track and you don’t know what to do, use this check list to identify the issue. Then fix it. Even one thing can make a big difference.

Here are some common pitfalls to avoid. (Most of these moves help images; this is just a matter of taking them too far.)

Highlights clipped

You want your highlights to glow, right? But you want them to have detail too. That’s the limit. Paper white is for poets not photographers.

Too Bright

Have you ever felt like viewing an image would be easier with sunglasses on? It’s common to make images brighter while trying to get them to glow. The key lies in midtone contrast. Place it in the most important image areas and darken and/or reduce the contrast of surrounding areas to support it further.

Shadows Clipped

Unless you’re going for gothic or graphic, hold that shadow detail. Areas of dark do make midtones and highlights appear brighter. Better still, handled sensitively these dark areas can hold a unique light at the same time.

Too Much Contrast

Contrast glows, until it makes you squint. More’s not always better.  Think of Goldilocks; one of them was just right.

Over-Sharpened

Yes, we tend to think of focussed sharp images as signs of good equipment and good technique. Blurry photographs are a real drag unless the blur in them is intentional. Nevertheless, it’s easy to overcompensate and make images too sharp, completely forgetting about the sensual possibilities of texture. Let those be your guide as to how far to go and not go. (Remember, angels have halos, not horizons.)

Noise 

A little bit of noise is not the end of the world. But try not to add more during processing. Guard against it when applying extreme contrast like Clarity and Dehaze as well as when sharpening. It’s not hard to reduce during post-processing but here again don’t overdo it; don’t make your subjects look like they’re made out of plastic wrap.

Posterization

Posterization is nobody’s friend except Andy Warhol. Not working in high-bit color modes and applying strong contrast and/or saturation adjustments quickly causes posterization. Use extra care when you’re working on JPEGs. (Don’t confuse this with a graphics card being challenged to display an image when zoomed in or out; if you don’t see posterization at 100% screen magnification it’s not in your file and won’t print.)

Unnatural Saturation

Don’t fool yourself. If you don’t believe it, neither will anyone else. Often just one or two colors will seem off. When this happens adjust them separately from the others. There’s no reason to limit one color because of another.

Vignetting

Vignetting can be a great way to strengthen the frame and to direct and keep attention in it. As with all things, it can be overdone, calling attention to itself and reducing the contrast of the areas it affects adversely. Monitor lens corrections as the ant-vignetting they apply often goes too far and you end up with corners that are so light they become distracting.

Using preflight checklists is a standard practice for pilots and doctors. Though the stakes aren’t as high, they’re a good idea for photographers too. Use this checklist before you share or print images and you’ll completely eliminate Homer Simpson moments. (Doh!) Checking these things will quickly become second nature for you, but don’t let that lead to sloppiness; be thorough. There are enough items to check that it’s easy to forget one or two. But there are so few that you can count them off with your fingers. It’s probably taken you longer to read this than it will to do it on your next image or print. Just scan the bullet points.

7 Things To Look For In Great Prints & Great Artists Who Make Exceptions

Get The Digital Printing Quick Start Guide here.

7 Things To Look For In Great Prints & Great Artists Who Make Exceptions

Classic prints exhibit sharp focus, extended depth of field, high dynamic range, pronounced contrast, and idealized color.

Reduced dynamic range, often with greatly reduced saturation, sometimes with reduced sharpness, occasionally with vignetting, and infrequently material process artifacts, printed on matte surfaces at small scales classically connotes historic photographic processes. 

 

Half of the battle is knowing how to do something. The other half is knowing what to do. So when it comes to making fine photographic prints, it helps to know what to look for.  A combination of elements (and their relationships with one another) is often evaluated when assessing print quality. When you depart from these standards you call attention to those elements, for better (intentional) or worse (accidental). Stack up too many exceptions and technique becomes a deal-breaker. Stack up enough well-crafted elements and technique becomes a deal maker. Speaking very broadly, you could say the goal is to clearly reproduce detail and minimize distractions from it. Let me get more specific.

1    Focussed

The default stance of a photograph is for everything to be in focus; critical focus is achieved (focal plane placed on the most important subject), depth of field is deep (aperture stopped down), motion blur is non-existent (high shutter speed). Blur is seen as an unfortunate product of poor tools and/or technique.

Exceptions

When exceptions are made, to work they need to appear obvious, deliberate, and be repeated in more than one image. Motion blur (from the subject or the camera) may be used to enhance gesture. (See Ernst Haas or Alexey Titarenko.) Selective focus may be used to direct attention away from less important elements toward more important elements. (See Keith Carter.) Soft focus may be used to reduce distracting detail and/or create impressionistic effects. (See Julia Margaret Cameron or Edward Steichen.)

2    Sharp

Sharpening (analog and digital) can be used to enhance focus by making lines and textures more pronounced. Push sharpening too far and an image begins to look graphic rather than photographic. Contours (bright halos and dark lines) may be accentuated unnaturally. Noise may become apparent. Texture may become overly crisp or even brittle. 

Exceptions 

So how crisp is too crip? That’s a matter of style, which follows intention. There’s a great gulf between Richard Avedon’s (extremely sharp) and Joyce Tenneson’s (soft) photographs. Both use more or less than standard sharpness expressively.

3    Low Noise

Noise is typically minimized. It can be reduced during capture (Use lower ISOs.), editing (Avoid aggressive contrast and/or sharpening.), or output (Use fine printer resolution and ink limits appropriate for the substrate used.).

Different types of images will present different limits. Noise becomes more apparent in smooth subjects and is often hidden in highly textured subjects. You may even elect to reduce noise during post-processing more in smooth areas than textured areas. A lot of noise becomes distracting. A little noise isn’t bad; it often makes an image appear sharper.

Exceptions 

Photographers like Sheila Metzner and (early) Michael Kenna have used extreme noise to emphasize medium and create compelling atmospheres.

4    Gradation

Gradation, or the ability to reproduce smooth tonal transitions continuously without posterization, is prized. Harsh tonal transitions quickly make an image appear graphic and sometimes even abstract, reducing the illusion of volume /space and calling attention to contours. 

Exceptions 

Photographers who have been successful with high contrast photography, like Anton Corbijn and Mario Giacomelli, take it to an extreme.


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The Big Overview – The Key Reasons Why Your Tools Matter When Printing

Prints are produced by not one but many things – a system.  You can make better prints if you understand how each of the tools you use to make them influences quality. In addition, you’ll be able to identify and come up with solutions for problems you run into, now or in the future.

I’ve written whole articles on each one of these components (Follow this article with the individual ones you’d like more clarity on.), nevertheless, rather than having to piece all of that information together, I find it’s also useful to have a broad overview of how the whole system works.

Here’s a quick survey of why each element of a printing system matters.

 

Camera                        resolution – dynamic range – bit depth

Lens                              sharpness – low distortion – few artifacts

Editing Space             saturation

Bit Depth                     gradation

Software                      color – detail – composition

Monitor                        accurate preview – saturation – brightness of white

Printer                          ink – size

Ink                                 black – saturation – longevity

Paper                            whites – materials

Printer Profile           accurate color – graybalance

Light                              how well you can see

 

 

I’m currently testing the Fuji GFX 100

100 mp / 14 bit / ISO 12,800 expandable to 102,400

Camera

resolution – dynamic range – bit depth

A camera’s chip determines how much detail it can render with three primary characteristics – resolution (sharpness), dynamic range (shadows and highlights), and bit depth (gradation). More is better. It’s easier to throw away what you don’t need than create it.

Among several lenses, I favor the Fuji 32-64mm

Lens

sharpness – low distortion – few artifacts

Good lenses are sharper, better lenses maintain that sharpness edge to edge, while the best lenses also produce beautiful bokeh (depth of field blur). Good lenses are also free of distortion and artifacts like chromatic aberration. Fixing these things in post-production can sometimes be arduous and at a certain point impossible.

Prophoto is bigger than Adobe RGB and sRGB

I edit in ProPhoto RGB

Editing Space

saturation

Pro-Photo RGB can hold all of the saturation your camera can capture while other standard editing spaces cannot. If you use one of the smaller spaces (like Adobe RGB or sRGB) you may lose and not be able to produce that saturation.

Read more here.

I edit in 16-bit

Bit Depth

gradation

16 bit’s thousands of shades of gray don’t give you more separation in prints. Printers can take 16-bit data but they can only print 256 shades of gray. Editing in16-bit eliminates the possibility of producing posterization (which can produce harsh graphic transitions and/or noise).

Read more here.

I use Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop together.

Software

color – detail – composition

You can pretty much change anything about the way your images look … for better or worse.

Good software lets you be more precise and go further. Better software does it more easily without cutting corners.

For traditionalists, it’s shadow and highlight detail, midtone contrast, color clarity, sharpness and reduced noise.

For non-traditionalists, it’s the ability to produce unique color palettes, special effects, and composites.

Read more on color here.

Read more on detail here.

Read more on composition here.

I use an NEC PA311D

Monitor

accurate preview – saturation – brightness of white

What could be more important than seeing your images accurately while you’re editing them? Good monitors can be calibrated to a device neutral standard that shows you what your images truly look like now and in the future (when you replace your current monitor). 

Better monitors render more saturation. (Currently, the best monitors can show you almost all of the values in Adobe RGB.) 

The best monitors can be tuned to show you the white of your print more accurately.

Read more here.

I use Epson’s P900 and 9000

Printer

ink – size

A printers manufacturer determines which ink set you’ll use. 

A printer’s series determines which of the manufacturer’s inkset you’ll use.

A printer’s model determines how big you can print.

Additionally, a printer’s head also impacts speed.

 

I use Epson’s Ultrachrome HDX ink

Ink

black – saturation – longevity

The ink you use has a huge impact on print quality and longevity … but to see what it can do you need paper.

Read more here.

Ink & Paper

black – saturation – longevity

Together, ink and paper determine … 

Black

The black of the ink and the white of the paper set the limits of a print’s contrast ratio. 

No matter how much ink you put down on some substrates you won’t get a blacker black and each substrate has an ink limit, which is the maximum amount of ink that can be put down before detail starts being lost.

Saturation

Good inks and paper coatings produce more saturation in all colors.

Longevity & Durability

Some are more archival than others. (Visit Wilhelm Research for reliable data.)

I use Epson’s Legacy Fibre and Legacy Platine papers

Paper or Substrate

whites – materials

Substrates determine an image’s white (where the ink doesn’t go) and so contrast ratio. A brighter, bluer white is more versatile, but may or may not be as archival.

Only paper (or substrate if it’s canvas, plastic, metal, wood, etc) can give your images a look and feel. It’s first and foremost about the physical characteristics of materials including things like reflectivity and texture.

Read more here.

Photo papers have greater gamuts than matte because of their blacker blacks.

I use Epson’s profiles

Printer Profile

accurate color – graybalance – gradation – shadow and highlight detail

A good profile can be more than getting a good match with your screen. But it can be more. Poor profiles can cause color shifts, reduce saturation, produce posterization, and even lose shadow and highlight detail.

If you’re using Epson profiles for Epson papers, you’re in good shape. Epson makes great profiles for their papers. But if you’re using a third-party or hand-made substrate you need a good profile. Don’t assume that the profiles you download from websites are good. Test them. If they’re not great, get a professional to build one for you. Or, build your own.

Read more here.

I use Solux 3500K lights

Light

how well you can see good results

Event the best print can’t be seen in the dark. To be seen well, good prints need good light. 

Think about three things …

1 Use a generous amount of light. Not so much light that it creates eye strain but use a lot. Good prints glow when they reflect light but they need enough light to create that glow.

2 Use the right color temperature. If you can’t control the light people view your prints in, assume it’s warmer than 5000K (most people prefer warmer light, like 3500K) and make your prints look good in a similar light.

3 If you really want to dial in the color for your exhibits (or your clients) recommend a full spectrum light source (like Solux) that doesn’t make one color look more saturated than another and so preserves the color relationships you produced in your prints.

Read more here.

It takes some initial research and testing to find the tools that are best for you but once you settle on a system of your own you only occasionally have to repeat this and only for specific components. It gets easier because you have a baseline. All you have to do is ask how much better can the new gear do and is it worth the cost and effort?

Meanwhile, if you run into issues (like my blacks aren’t black enough or my colors aren’t saturated enough or I’m losing detail) you’ll know which pieces of your system to tweak to get better results.

 

Read more on Color Management here.

Read more on digital Printing here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

12 Classic Mistakes We’ve All Made Trying To Make Better Prints

Plus 7 Extra Go To Printing Resources To Help You

 

Face it, we’ve all done it, that is overdone it, when we’re trying to make great prints.  As important as it is to learn what you can do and how far you can go, it’s also important to learn how far not to go and why. You learn what to look for as well as what to look out for.  These trials of error can be beneficial. You’re sure to learn a lot when you make mistakes. And we can learn from each other’s mistakes as well as our own. One of the many benefits of teaching printing for over twenty-five years is that I get to learn from my mistakes and from many other people’s too. There are some classic printing mistakes I see made time and time again because the approach is correct but the practice has just gone too far. If you’ve never made some of these mistakes, I recommend you make them – once.

Here are some classic mistakes I see so many people make when they’re printing – and the cures.

It’s Too Light

You want your print to be more luminous so brighter’s better right? But your image ends up looking washed out. The solution is to lighten the highlights more than the midtones and shadows. It’s a specific kind of contrast you won’t get with a Contrast slider but you will get with a Highlights slider or even better with Curves. You might also darkens shadows slightly. It’s the apparent contrast between highlights and shadows and in the midtones that will make your images glow. Most prints on average are weighted darker than middle gray so that their highlights will pop.

Whites Without Detail

So once again you’re chasing lightness and you push your highlights too far eliminating detail. There is a limit to how far you want to go and you just stepped over the line. Pull back. You can move in that general direction just don’t go so far. Don’t push the Whites slider so hard and pull your Highlights slider down a little, plus remember that you can get a second pass of Highlights and their neighbors Lights with Curves. You want highlights to have full detail and to be bright but not so bright you feel like you have to squint to see the picture better.

Whites Touch The Frame

Sometimes you have exposure that don’t have much (or any) detail in very bright areas. This is particularly problematic when they touch and break the rectangle of the frame. If you’re not going to clone detail into those areas, go old school and “fog” those areas, that is print them slightly gray. Using a brush lower the Whites slider (maybe the Highlights too) to build up some density without texture and restore the frame. You don’t need a lot, just enough to make the frame coherent, keeping the eye from wandering out of it and minimizing the distraction. Alternately, in Photoshop you can use a Curves adjustment layer and lower the white point slightly, then readjust the rest of the Curve to keep all the other tones glowing; paint on the mask to isolate this effect.


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12 Useful Test Files

Download your free copy now!

 

A little testing upfront can ensure that you get the finest results possible.

Use these test files to confirm color management is working properly.

 

1. Using Gray Gradient Test Files | Coming

2. Test File – Gray Gradient Smooth | Download

3. Test File – Gray Gradient 10% Steps | Download

4. Test File – Gray Gradient 5% Steps | Download

5. Test File – Gray Gradient 1% Steps | Download

6. Test File – Spectrum Gradients | Download

7. Test File – RGBCMY | Download

8. Test File – RGBCMY to Black Smooth | Download

9. Test File – RGBCMY to Black Posterized  | Download

10. Test File – RGBCMY to White Smooth  | Download

11. Test File – RGBCMY to White Posterized | Download

12. Test File – Line Pairs | Coming Soon

 

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Printing Tips

Download your free copy now!

 

The little things can make a big difference, never more so than with printing.

 

Banding

Colored Micro-Banding

Dark Micro-Banding

Delete & Reload Printer Driver

Evaluate Proofs Under Glass

Fragile – Packing & Shipping Prints

Ink Drips or Smears

Ink Spattering and Pooling

Light Micro-Banding

Locating Printer Utilities

Maintenance Tank is Full

Paper Won’t Feed

Printing Borders Aren’t Equal

Printing Off Paper

Printer Power Cleaning Cycles

Signing Prints

 

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The Art Of Proofing

Download your free copy now!

 

Get the best print quality possible with these proofing techniques.

 

Proof – The Art of Proofing
Refinine your proofing process to achieve the best print quality efficiently.

Proof – BAT
BAT (bon a tiré) it’s the final proof print.

Proof – Bracket Proofing
Bracket proof and get one hundred proofs in one.

Proof – Compensate for Scale
Larger images appear lighter than smaller images. It’s an optical effect that affects your prints.

Proof – Correcting for Viewing Light
Compensate for discrepancies in profiles and viewing light temperatures.

Proof – Full Scale
Proof at full scale to check noise and sharpness.

Proof – Light Temperature
Light temperature has a significant effect on exposure, calibration, printing, and display.

Proof – Notes
Take good notes so you can retrace your steps precisely.

Proof – Prevent Overinking
Set proper ink limit for a substrate and reduce overinking.

 

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The Fine Art Of Digital Printing

Download your free copy now!

 

Print your images to achieve new levels of mastery and personal expression.

 

Dano’s Glossary of Fine Art Terms 

 

Looking

 

6 Benefits Of Making Prints

What Printing Can Do For You
Making prints can do a lot for you.

What Printing Can Do For Your Images
Making prints can do a lot for your images and your vision.

How To Strike Up A Lively Conversation With Your Images

How To Map Out A Strategy To Develop Your Photographs | Coming

7 Things To Look For In Great Prints & Great Artists Who Make Exceptions

9 Ways To Tell If Your Photographs Are Over Cooked

12 Classic Mistakes We’ve All Made Trying To Make Better Prints

How To Key Your Prints Expressively – Go High Medium Or Low | Coming

How To Avoid Making Viewers Squint At Your Prints To See Their Highlights

How To Create Lively Midtone Contrast In Your Prints | Coming

How To Render Lively Shadows In Your Prints

 

Tools

 

Why Your Tools Matter When Printing
This big overview gives you the bottom line – and links for more depth.

Ink
Choose media wisely.

Paper / Substrate
Your choice of materials has a profound impact on your prints.

Make New Film | .99
Printing digital negatives with Adobe Photoshop (all versions) – 6 pages

Longevity  Free to Members
How long do inkjet prints last? What should you do to protect them? Find out here.

Printer Points of Control   Free to Members
You have a number of points of control with digital printers.

Printer Profiles
How do you make a printer profile? When do you need to?

Resolution  Free to Members
Learn how resolution can ensure fine detail and smooth transition.

Paper Sizes – Standard   Free to Members

Paper Size – Custom   Free to Members

 

Outgassing  Free to Members
Cure your prints before framing them.

Metamerism
Metamerism is the tendency of an object to change its appearance under different light sources.

Bronzing 
Bronzing is an iridescent flash of color when viewing prints under varying angles of light.

Gloss Differential 
Gloss differential is an uneven reflectance of the surface of a print.

Banding  Free to Members
Use these simple methods to cure banding.

Printer Maintenance  Free to Members
A little maintenance can go a long way!

Preflight Checklist  Free to Members
Create a preflight checklist designed to help you avoid common mistakes.

 

Epson

 

Epson Driver – Color 

Epson Driver – Advanced B&W Photo

Epson Driver – Double Color Management

Epson Driver – Ink Limit  Free to Members

Delete and Reload Printer Driver  Free to Members

Epson – Print / File Size Chart   Free to Members
The relationship between print size, file resolution and bit depth for Epson printers.

 

Presentation

 

Scale  Free to Members
Size matters. Consider the size of your prints with care.

Notation  Free to Members
The notations you make on your prints add value to them.

Mounting  Free to Members
Ensure that your prints are protected and beautifully displayed.

Matting  Free to Members
Make sure your images are protected and presented properly.

Framing  Free to Members
The frames you choose will enhance the quality of your artwork.

Exhibiting  Free to Members
Make your experience more successful by knowing what is required.

Limited Editions  Free to Members
Edition structures disclose the number of prints that will be made of an image.

Signing Prints
Use the best tools to ensure your signature lasts. 

 

Masterworks In My Collection

 

The Importance Of Viewing Masterworks

 

Paul Caponigro – Apple, New York City, 1964

Ansel Adams – Clearing Winter Storm, 1944

Jerry Uelsmann, Nude, 1983

Joyce Tenneson – Kristin, Hands In The Air, 1998

.

Photographers Celebrate The Print

 

Two Generations – Paul & John Paul Caponigro 

John Paul Caponigro 

Jeremy Cowart

Gregory Crewdson

Lois Greenfield 

Gerd Ludwig 

Steve McCurry

Mark Seliger 

John Sexton 

Tim Tadder 

Amy Toensing 

Stephen Wilkes 

.

Bambi Cantrell

John Paul Caponigro 

Douglas Dubler 

Greg Gorman 

Jay Maise

Steve McCurry

Jeff Schewe

 

John Sexton 

Kim Weston 

 

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How To Preserve Lively Shadows In Your Prints

Constellation_XXVI_Shadows
One of the keys to making a great print is great shadow detail.

Shadow detail is something to be mindful of during exposure, processing, and printing. Curiously, even if you see shadow detail in your file on a calibrated monitor you may not see all of the details in your print. What can you do about this? Many things!

First Check Your Color Management
Before you start editing your files based on your proofs, check your color management system.

Recalibrate Your Monitor
Make sure you’ve calibrated your monitor with hardware. Set a brightness value of 90-100 lux, instead of using the default brightness target of 120 lux. If your monitor is too bright, your prints will look dark overall, especially in your shadows.

Read more on Profiling Your Monitor here.

Give Your Prints Enough Time To Dry
Inkjet prints come out of the printer almost dry, but not quite fully dry. When they’re fully dry, they’ll appear slightly lighter, especially in the shadows where there’s a lot of ink. So before you evaluate prints critically, give them a few minutes to dry. This affects absorbent matte surfaces even more than glossy surfaces.

Find my resource on Outgassing here.

Look At Your Prints In Good Light
Look at your prints in good light. You need the right amount of light (a CRI of 90 or higher), you need the right color temperature light (5000K is the standard but many viewers prefer the warmer 3600K), and it helps to use full-spectrum light (Many manufacturers now make full spectrum bulbs.)

Read more on Controlling Your Environment here.

MediaType_P800

Media Type sets the amount of ink that's used.

Set Your Media Type Correctly
Your printer driver will allow you to set your media type, which controls ink the amount of ink that is sprayed on your paper. Use too much ink and you’ll lose shadow detail. Use too little and your blacks and midtones will appear weak. If you’re using a paper not made by the manufacturer, choose the nearest media type and then adjust its settings with the printer driver’s advanced utilities. (You’ll find this under Advanced Media Control with Epson printers.)

Find my resource on Ink Limit here.

testfile_shadows

Print test patches to determine when maximum black is achieved and when separation is lost.

Print A Target To Determine How Much To Lighten Shadows
Before you adjust your files for printing precisely determine how much you need to lighten your deep shadows by printing a target. While they vary a little, most media settings lose shadow detail around a value of 96% on a grayscale. If you print patches of values between 100% and 90% you’ll see exactly where you lose shadow detail. Printed results will vary slightly with each different media setting, so you’ll need to adjust files slightly differently for different media.

You can download my targets here.

Next Adjust Your File


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