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

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

1. Using Gray Gradient Test Files | Coming

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

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.

 

1. Banding

2. Colored Micro-Banding

3. Dark Micro-Banding

4. Delete & Reload Printer Driver

5. Evaluate Proofs Under Glass

6. Fragile – Packing & Shipping Prints

7. Ink Drips or Smears

8. Ink Spattering and Pooling

9. Light Micro-Banding

10. Locating Printer Utilities

11. Maintenance Tank is Full

12. Paper Won’t Feed

13. Printing Borders Aren’t Equal

14. Printing Off Paper

15. Printer Power Cleaning Cycles

16. 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.

Proof – Proof Template PSD File
Use this PSD file to make proofs.

Proof – A Step-by-Step Guide to Using the Proof Template
Steps to using the Proof Template.

 

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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 

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.

What To Look For In Prints  Free to Members
Knowing what to look for can help you make better prints.

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

Ways To Preserve Print Shadow Detail

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.

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

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

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

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.

Paper Sizes – Standard   Free to Members

Paper Size – Custom   Free to Members

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

Output II – 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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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Photographers Celebrate The Black & White Print

 

John Sexton 

Kim Weston 

 

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 

.

Photographers Celebrate Printing

 

Bambi Cantrell

John Paul Caponigro 

Douglas Dubler 

Greg Gorman 

Jay Maise

Steve McCurry

Jeff Schewe

 

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How To Preserve Shadow Detail 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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Top Photographers Celebrate The Power Of The Print



John Paul Caponigro

Jeremy Cowart

Gregory Crewdson

Lois Greenfield

Steve McCurry

Gerd Ludwig

Mark Seliger

John Sexton

Tim Tadder

Amy Toensing

Steven Wilkes
Top photographers celebrate printing and talk about what drew them to photography, the inspiration that drives their work, the stories behind their most famous images.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.
Read more with my online Printing Resources.
View more with my Printing DVD.

A Checklist OF Things To Look For In Prints

antarctica2016_3_425
When you’re evaluating print quality, knowing what to look for is almost as important as knowing how to achieve it. Many technical factors contribute to print quality. Here’s a list of things to look for when you’re evaluating print quality – yours and others’.
It’s not that every one of these factors has to be optimal to achieve great print quality. It is that every factor you optimize enhances print quality further.
Well Focused
No Motion Blur
No Sharpening Artifacts
Extended Depth Of Field
Extended Dynamic Range
Appropriate Lightness
Highlight Detail / Separation In Values
Shadow Detail / Separation In Values
Mid-tone Contrast
Gradation
No Posterization
Low Noise
No Noise Reduction Artifacts
 
Believable Color … or … Color Transformed With Intent
Color Without Artificial Color Casts
Variation In Single Colors
Saturated Color
 
Appropriate Materials
Appropriate Scale
Appropriate Presentation Materials
Appropriate Contextualization
Appropriate Price
So what’s ‘appropriate’? That all depends on the statement being made. The real question is, “What is the artist trying to do? And how well did they achieve that?” You can successfully break the rules if you break them for a reason.