Printing my own photographs gives me a feeling of accomplishment as an artist that is unparalleled. I’ve finally achieved my goal to craft dynamic, dimensional, colorful images that represent exactly what I created on my computer. But it didn't come easy.
For years I did exactly what I was told to do yet the information was never quite right. It took me over a decade to find a mentor with the right information who walked me through every step of the printing process and ultimately total success. Since then, I’ve immersed myself in the world of inkjet printing, become an educator and I'm always looking to learn more.
I continue to take classes, listen to podcasts, webinars, and videos and I still hear a lot of the same misinformation that led me to failure in the first place. I regularly hear guesses or old information that has since changed. This is an ever-evolving industry so it makes sense that information would change.
As educators, it’s our responsibility to keep up with the changes. Unfortunately it seems that when people are giving misinformation they are doing so with a lot of conviction and authority. This is a huge disservice to photographers who are trying to print their own work.
So I want to touch on the 10 top myths and misconceptions that I hear repeatedly and share the information I have that is based on science, facts and that has led to repeatable, consistent successful printing.
1. Using A Lab Is Cheaper Than Printing Myself
Or “Commercial labs have more professional equipment than I could so their quality must be better.” Nope! The large commercial lab I was using has the exact same printer that I do. I have done a side by side comparison after ordering prints from the major labs and compared them to my own prints. Mine were always more dimensional, a closer color match and I made them at a fraction of the cost.
The Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-1000, PRO-2100, PRO-4100, and PRO-6100 are very common printers that you would find in a lab. The large commercial labs ask you for an sRGB 8-bit jpeg which is the smallest colorspace and lower file resolution.
You can print with a custom ICC profile at home using a 16-bit Adobe RGB Tiff file for a much higher resolution and larger color space. Printing for yourself might not be for everyone but know the facts when weighing your options.
2. Prophoto Is The Largest Color Space And Even If It’s Not In Use Now It Will Be Soon Enough
Not for printing. When people say this they are usually referring to monitors or printers. The truth is that the microporous emulsion on our inkjet papers can’t hold a ProPhoto color space. There is little incentive for companies that create inkjet paper microporous coatings to develop a product that would be wildly expensive and consumed by a very small population of photographers.
While there are some photographers who could utilize the really large ProPhoto color space, a majority don't photograph anything that has that wide of a gamut of color. ProPhoto files are much larger, whether your colors are in that gamut or not, so be aware that your hard drive space could fill up faster than when using the Adobe RGB color space.
3. You Will Get The Best Results If You Print On The Proprietary Paper From Your Printer’s Manufacturer
NO! The truth is that neither Epson or Canon actually make paper. They make printers and ink, so the papers in their boxes are definitely papers from other paper companies.
While Canon has been a very good sport about supporting our use of other papers, Epson has not taken the same approach. Epson maintains that their papers are the “most compatible” with their printers but all that means is that the paper will not catch fire when it goes through the printer.
If you make a service call to Epson and you are not using genuine Epson papers, be aware that they are under no obligation to help you. That really limits our ability as photographers to create photographs that reflect our unique artistic signature by using the fine art inkjet papers of our choice like Canson Infinity or Hahnemuhle, Innova, Ilford.
4. The Box Of Paper I Bought Says That My Print Is Archival For 100 Years
Not necessarily. There is no standard or regulation for the word “Archival” in our industry. It’s largely used as a marketing term. What we want is to have our best chance for success, which means that the print will look like it did the day it was printed.
Don't get hung up on the ratings you see on the boxes. The tests for archivability are done by different companies and not all are created equally. There are test results that claim an image will last 100 years but it’s a plastic paper that we know will start to eat itself long before then.
So what is your best chance for success? Pigment inks and a 100% cotton paper with no OBAs like Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag.
5. Matte Papers Take More Ink Because The Paper Absorbs The Ink
Or “Matte papers are less sharp because the ink bleeds.” Both of these are false.
It's important to understand how inkjet paper is made. A majority of the papers consist of a base of 100% cotton, alpha-cellulose wood pulp, or plastic. Over that, there is a barrier layer that keeps the ink from ever touching the paper. On the top, there is a layer of microporous emulsion that sucks in the ink so it’s dry to the touch when it comes out of the printer.
Matte paper has a thinner microporous emulsion which allows for the characteristics of the paper to show through. Canson Infinity Aquarelle and Hahnemuhle William Turner, both very textured papers, are great examples of that. With a thinner emulsion layer, less ink is laid down. Matte papers are actually sharper but generally have less contrast because they use less ink.
6. Canvas Prints Are Like Paintings And Will Last Just As Long
No! Canvas is the lowest resolution and least archival substrate we use. Some canvases will only hold their color for 5 years before they start to fade dramatically.
Compare an inkjet print with a canvas and you will see the difference in the quality of the print itself. The same can be said of printing on metal or acrylic. Inkjet prints using pigment based inks are the most archival, highest resolution prints we have in this digital world. Coating a canvas with a protective varnish made specifically for inkjet canvas can help with fading but not with the lower quality.
Educate your clients about canvas and what it means for longevity. It’s important that both you and your clients make an informed decision.
7. Printing Involves A Lot Of Wasted Ink And Paper Because You Have To Make 10 Test Prints To Get A Good One
Not true! If you follow the science of digital prints then you can make a perfect print every time.
Yes, ink can be very expensive but that depends on how you buy it. A smaller printer has tiny little ink cartridges so the ink costs a lot more per ml. I pay more for the ink in my PRO-1000 with its 80 ml ink cartridges than I do for my PRO-4100 with its 700ml ink tanks. Those last me a very long time and my cost per ml is far less.
Ink can range from $1.07 a milliliter to .42 cents a milliliter, and when you are making perfect prints the cost of paper is the least of your concerns. My favorite paper, Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag is one of the highest quality on the market and only $1.50 for a sheet of 8 ½ x 11.
Follow the science of printing and you will make a perfect print every time without wasting any paper or ink.
8. Printing With My Computer Operating System’s Print Driver Is The Easiest And Leads To The Best Results
Not true. Canon printers come with free software: Print Studio Pro and Canon Professional Print and Layout software. That software puts all of the controls in one place so you aren’t hunting around for your settings, and you can make presets for your favorite papers for an efficient workflow.
Computer operating system print drivers bury menu options within dropdown menus and it’s too easy to change hidden options without knowing it.
9. Using Inks Made By Another Company Will Save Me Money
No. Using 3rd party, or aftermarket ink is a short sighted mistake. Printer manufacturers do not share their ink formulations with anyone so all other ink will not be the same. Epson and Canon ink are not just designed for optimal color and longevity but also to work in conjunction with their print head technology.
The research and development that goes into ink technology is the most expensive part of making printers. Print head clogs, color inconsistency and matching problems, and quick color fading from 3rd party inks are to be expected, not to mention that the warranty on your printer will be voided.
10. I Will Purchase A Printer, Plug It In And Print Successfully
Wrong! Buying a camera didn’t make you a photographer. Using a printer is as intuitive as using a camera, or Photoshop or Lightroom, which is not intuitive at all.
All of photography involves a certain amount of science and printing is no exception. Understanding the steps involved in printing will lead to success. Watch out for my upcoming article on the 6 steps to Successful Inkjet Printing.
I’m currently working on a website, PerfectPrintClub.com, that will house everything you need to know about inkjet printing. Follow the link, sign up and we will let you know when it’s ready. It covers everything from the technical details of individual operating systems integration with specific print drivers to the art of picking the right fine art paper for your work. It’s time we changed the discussion about printing and made it completely accessible to all of us.
This article was authored by our good friend Cheryl Walsh.
Cheryl is an underwater fine art portrait photographer and inkjet fine art printing expert and educator based in Orange County, CA. Website: CherylWalsh.art
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