From computer to lab to your own printer.
It was a bright sunny day as I sat at my regular Saturday market haunt where I actively sell my images to locals and visitors alike. As I soaked in the warm spring air and gentleman I know from the local camera club adorned in his street biking active wear came up to me to chat about photography and life. I said hi like usual and didn't think much of the conversation as we have spoken on at least three or four previous occasions. But today would start me down a photographic journey I was not expecting.
As an older gentleman, he had been printing his own work and trying to do local art shows for years and often picked my brain on what I do to maybe change up his strategy. Well today he changed up my strategy by saying he had a large format canon printer he was looking to get rid of. He was getting up there in age and his children had been pestering him to begin getting rid of things he didn't use, and I am a young and spry whipper snapper in his eyes and figured I might be the guy he needs. Right there he made a proposition, he would let me have his canon printer if I wanted it.
A few days later after discussing it with my wife, I decided to head over to his house, load up the four foot monstrosity into the back of my mini-van and brought it home to figure out how to use a workhorse of a printer. Three months later and over $1000 dollars invested in ink, print head, and paper I am here to talk about my experience and hopefully help those who are wanting to print. So for those who might be getting their first printers and those photographers who are thinking about getting a big fancy printer and those sending prints off to labs, all of this will pertain to you. But a chunk of this will actually pertain to those who are printing their own work at home and the few things I learned that might help you.
This is for you.
This post will be long. I advise you to read through the parts most relevant, but it should be a good lesson for everyone.
So let's get started.
Ok, there are four ways you can go about screen calibration. 1- you don't. You live with whatever happens and you go on your mary way. 2- You get a screen calibrating device. These include devices like Spyder screen calibrators that look at your screen and create a setting within your monitor that will provide the best results. I won't tell you how to do this, because you follow their instructions, not my own. I will say though, your screen has to have the ability to be calibrated. My monitor has a setting within it that specifically says calibration. My previous one did not. If you don't have this proceed forward. 3- The poor man's calibration system. After editing an image, print your image from a local print lab you trust and in a bright room, hold up the print next to your monitor and see how different they are in brightness. From here darken your screen until it matches the brightness of your image. Re-edit your image until it look bright. Print again and see how it looks and if you like it, leave your settings at that and use that as a fairly good proxy for your work.
All of these have their advantages from being easy with average to poor results to most time-consuming with bestresults. Frankly, I have lived with type three for years now and I think it works fine if you have the right monitor to begin with. I had a nice Samsung 27in. screen that was built very well and served me well for years. Since then I have upgraded my system to a monitor that is specifically designed for photography. The screen color modes can be adjusted to fit my needs so I can actually color calibrate my monitor simply by pushing a button. Unfortunately in due time, the colors of my monitor will probably drift, but I have not looked into that yet so that's a problem for future Nathan, not present Nathan.
My screen is BenQ photography monitor if you are wondering.
Now you might not think too much of this one, but there are a few things you need to have done right to get the best print results.
Step 1- Photograph in RAW not JPEG.
Step 2- Import your images as DNG's into a photo editing software like Lightroom. Lightroom does this natively into its software as long as you shoot RAW.
Step 3- Edit your images in 16bt. You can look up online how to do this in Photoshop. Lightroom already does this natively to my knowledge.
Step 4-Make sure your color space is ProPhoto RGB. This is done under Edit>Color Settings and select under workspace settings RGB and select ProPhoto RGB. This is particularly important if you bring your images from Lightroom into Photoshop.
Step 4- Save your images at TIFF and the highest quality JPEG for your prints. PSD works too but the format is specifically for Photoshop and is more difficult to work with outside of Photoshop.
Having all the above settings will put you in the ballpark of where your images need to be for final prints. There are a few other things you can do to improve your prints, but the above settings will get you 90% of the way there the last 10% come in a final few details like how you edit, sizing modes and sharpening. Those last few things mentioned is where you bring your image all the way.
If you do not own your own printer, this is where your reading ends. Send your image off to a lab and enjoy the fruits of your labors. If you own a printer/ want to learn a few things about printing from home keep reading.
This next section is for those with their own printers. Particularly those with Canon Prograf printers like the Prograf 1000 or higher and you are new to this.
Before I go any further I am going to point out something for those who are considering buying a fine art printer. If you do not print regularly, like every other day and want a large format printer for printing once a month. Do not do it. It costs money to keep the machines functioning and I am not sure yet even if this one I am using now will be financially a good idea, and I sell my images most weekends. So if you are an occasional printer, do not buy a Canon Profraf 1000 or higher. Just Don't! I Have set myself up to print nearly daily and sell continuously from this time forward with this printer and need to be on top of it or I lose money.
To see this menu in Photoshop you will being going to File>Print and the printer menu will pop up. In printer setting you:
Step 1: Printer- choose your printer
Step 2: choose your print orientation
Step 3: Select Print settings
Step 4: After selecting print settings your Printer properties should pop up. This is an important step and pay attention. For my Canon Prograf 6400 I see a few options. For media type you must select the right paper. If you do not do this the print will fail. If you are using native Canon paper, find your paper and select it. If you are using Red River paper you need to select the right paper amongst the canon papers or use whatever Red River provides for you. Print Quality set to highest. Color mode leave as no color correction. On the page setup tab, make sure you have the right size paper selected. I created my own for a 9x13 as there was not an option. Select OK and go back to the printer setup page.
Step 5:Color Handling Let photoshop manage colors. If you do not do this your image will fail!
Step 6: Printer Profile- select the proper paper that goes with your printer. If you do not see any options, you are missing your drivers. Get those now. If you do not select the right paper profile for your paper your print will fail!
Make sure you have Normal Printing selected.
Step 7- Rendering Intent- use Relative Colorimetric. There are four options here and they each have their own purpose. For printing fine art landscape images you will be using Relative Colorimetric. The reason is that your screen has a wider range of colors it can display than the inks in your printers. Since you have this limitation there are different settings to counter this shortcoming. Essentially what Relative Colorimetric does is it will use all of the available colors that the inks can produce and the colors on the extremes AKA out of gamus or out of color range, it will shift those colors to the closest available printable color. If you use the other ones your print will fail.
I printed on each of the other ones. It was really bad. Don't do as I did, be better.
Position and size: you should size your image in photoshop. Not here.
Other things to take into consideration. Color profiles can be made for specific papers by yourself or the company you purchased them from. In order to do this, there are a few other pieces of device you need, but you can create your own paper profiles for the papers you buy rather than depending on the profiles you get from the paper manufacturer. I do not know this area very much and I would not listen to anything I say on this regard except that is can be done and help you get even better results.
Trouble Shooting Common Printing Issues
Missing Colors: Probably due to a clogged print head. If you see this run a nozzle check and look at the banding. There should be a fine mesh grid printed on your sheet of paper. If the mesh is broken, streaked, or anything along the line, you have a clogged print head you need to clean your print head. Run that cycle, do another nozzle check and see if the problem remains. If the problem remains, clean it again and repeat until the grid pattern is perfect.
Banding: This is caused by a few things. Clogged print head or head misalignment. If it's a clogged print head go back to the above missing colors section and do the recommended steps. If you know the print head is not clogged, the problem is probably a misalignment. An out-of-aligned print head means that the print head is not in the proper position and will result in ink not being laid down properly in the right spot. If you suspect this, use High gloss cheap photo paper and run a print head alignment. It should use multiple sheets of paper as it scans the print it makes and fine-tunes its adjustments.
Things I recently learned
BLUE!!! Cyan!!! These colors have a tendency to band even after alignment and sometimes there will be issues that are hard to fix. I have one image I am working with right now that keeps banding no matter what I do. I spoke to a friend about this and he says that sometimes in pieces of the sky where heavy editing occurred banding will follow. Not always but its a pattern he has seen.
Jose has very useful videos on printing. I follow him now.
On Rendering Intent
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