Print making – a couple of professionals share their knowledge – 5-Jul-2012

Some of you may recall the comments last year from guest judge Lindsay Poland on the quality of printing in one of our competitions – and it wasn’t all favourable. So to help us improve things, we invited Lindsay back to talk about making prints. Lindsay is also friends with Steve Huddy from Canon, and managed to get Steve to come along too and share his knowledge of inkjet printing.

To start proceedings, Steve told us little about himself and the history of inkjets. Steve was once a professional photographer who cruised on Fairstar liners – and he shot Nikon (not Canon) for a long time. In those days it was all film.  When the first good quality, manageable digital cameras appeared, like the Nikon D1 (the same as Eric showed us a few weeks ago) it was a revelation. At some stage, Steve switched brands – but that’s another story.

Of course, once you have digital imaging, you need to print the images. You can of course use professional labs (like I do), but you can also print at home (like a lot of you do!). Enter the inkjet printer!

There is also a story that Steve told us about technician who accidentally put his fountain pen on a hot soldering iron. He didn’t realise his error, but a few minutes later ink squirted out of the pen, and the inkjet printer was born. In fact, story of the inkjets dates further back to around 1867 when Lord Kelvin patented a continuous (pumped) ink stream method directed by an electrostatic charge to mark products (didn’t know that did you?). But the first commercial version didn’t appear until 1951 and was mainly used in chart recorders. An IBM inspired idea was contracted out to InkTronic (according to one blog I read), which developed this further in the mid 1970s creating a matrix type printing system, but the quality of the printing wasn’t great. Other inkjet systems developed soon after using different methods – heating the ink through a matrix of small heated nozzles which bubble out the ink (think Canon, HP & Lexmark/IBM) and piezoelectric  head which changes shape when a charge is applied and ejects ink. from (think Epson & Brother). Incidentally, there are also thermal wax “inks” that work a bit like a laser printer and don’t run when they get wet (mainly Fuji-Xerox) – but these aren’t aimed at the home printer. There’s a Wikipaedia article on inkjets if your interested in more detail – and a stack of other material you can find with an internet search.

The inks that are used vary as well – either pigment inks which are particles that sit on the surface of the paper or dye inks which soak into the paper. Pigment inks are ideal for B&W images. We worry about the longevity of the these inks compared to silver halides and manufacturers now quote a 300 year life span (under glass and on a wall) but only 100 years if exposed to air and light – a long way from the inkjets of old.  This improvement in ink quality has led to many professional photographers now using inkjet printers for both proofing and display. For example, internationally famous wedding photographer Yervant (who recently gave some talks in Adelaide – and 5 BPC members attended) now uses inkjets. Part of the reason is that he perceived that 30% of the work is taking the photo, 20% is marketing, but 50% is the post production work which the photographer must do to realise their vision. Another example is Adelaide born photographer Robert McFarlane, who recently at recent retrospective display of his work  at the  (the Art Gallery of South Australia also have a permanent collection of his work as well) showed inkjet printed works – and is reported to have saved over $2500 compared to conventional prints.

To demonstrate the current generation of inkjets, Steve brought along a Canon Pixma Pro9500 Mk II printer – capable of printing on A3 using 10 colour ink cartridges using 6400 jets. This class of printer has a price tag to match though (over $800) plus inks (about $350 for a set of cartridges) – but has been superseded by a newer model that retails for about $1500. He also printed two A3 size images – one full colour and one in monochrome. If anyone is interested we have the images in our store cupboard (will they last 300 years in there? :lol:).

The important thing to note about using inkjet printers (and papers) is that they must be colour profiled along with the screen. Some large printing houses (such as Atkins) can provide the colour profile of their printing equipment to allow correct colour matching.

The question was asked of Steve – why are printer inks so expensive? The answer is that the printers are almost given away, and the cost recouped with the ink cartridge. The manufacturers of course don’t want you to use third-party inks, as they are not reverse engineered versions of the original inks, and are claimed to clog heads etc. I won’t get into that argument, but if your going to produce inkjet prints for competition or display use the best materials you can. Fortunately the ink wars don’t apply to printer paper, printer manufacturers now allow multiple papers profiles to be used from any manufacturer.

Lindsay then took up the conversation, talking about his own workflow. He has 22 years experience in the printing in the wetlab – and more recently the digital world. The difference as he points out is convenience vs control. Wetlab printing uses an sRGB colour space (see Jame’s Camera Clips for December 2010, February 2011 & September 2011 and for a discussion about this) with an array of 3 LEDs and any corrections are fairly basic – most must be done before the printing stage. Inkjet printers in contrast allow finer control – like a wetlab but still in an sRGB colour space (for reference, there is also Adobe RGB colour space – that’s used by offset printers that use CMYK). sRGB is adequate for most printing needs, and covers most colours we can perceive.

When we print in black and white, there may be a colour cast. This is a result of either the printer generating the black from mixing colours or a cast applied in post-processing. Better quality inkjet printers overcome some of this by having different shades of grey – not just black ink. The important part – again – is to profile the printer correctly and convert the image to grey scale.

The important part of that workflow is making sure his monitor and printer are calibrated correctly. For that he uses a spectrometer from ColorMunki from X-rite which allows him to calibrate the screen and importantly, the printer as well – a 30-45 minute process in total. Fortunately, the paper and printer only need calibration once, but the monitor is regularly checked (for those that aren’t aware, we have a Spyder 3 Pro spectrometer which allows us to calibrate screens only – club members may hire it for $10 + $10 bond).

Like the inkjet printers, papers also have calibration requirements. The International Colour Consortium (ICC) have a profile for each paper which may be downloaded from the manufacturer website. Lindsay uses Ilford Galerie papers – including a wonderful  new 310gsm paper that’s like traditional baryta (barium sulphate) photographic paper that allows a high colour gamut – Galerie Prestige Gold fibre silk 310gsm

Once calibrated, the workflow can begin. Lindsay uses Adobe Lightroom where he will check & adjust exposure and sharpness. A useful tool available in Lightroom 4 is soft proofing. This allows you to check how the final image will look on paper before printing (and so save money) – but it only works if the screen is correctly calibrated.

When printing, a couple of tips from the professionals we gleaned:

  • Don’t print at High Quality – it will just use more ink and you’ll get nothing extra. Just use standard or normal
  • Allow the prints to dry to get full colour saturation – it can take a few minutes
  • print at 360dpi – that’s more than adequate
  • streaking on your prints is probably a result of dirty print heads – clean or replace them

So there you have it – words of wisdom about printing images to the highest quality. And I think the take home message is calibration!

Cheers

Chris 😉

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