I’ve got round to doing some more prints again!
I’m not sure I’ve blogged about this before, but I do my own prints for home and my office at work, and for gifts. I’m lucky to have an Epson 3880 A2 Colour Printer, which is really quite amazing. It’s quite a big beast, but it sits quietly on top of a wide filing cabinet in my home-office, covered with a plastic dust sheet, and a large square IKEA storage box which I use for drying prints inside and storing them before framing.
Getting decent results out of the printer took quite a lot of trial and error and experimentation, but it now works a dream. Here are some very basic factors which you need to get right in order to get good results, especially for the larger sizes (beyond A4) and with high-resolution cameras like the Nikon D800E that I use for macro and landscapes with some really good glass (my best lenses being my Zeiss 21mm, Nikon 50 f1.4, Nikon 60 f2.8 micro, Nikon 200f4 micro, and Nikon 300f4).
• Understand your print settings in the various Photoshop dialogues.
• Understand display calibration (I use an X-Rite ColorMunki Display for calibrating my MacBook Pro and my Mac Cinema Display), and keep a detailed note of what settings you have each time you run a new calibration update.
• Understand how to get the best out of your paper (I have a large box of A2 Ilford Galerie Prestige Gold Fibre Silk) via proofing, softproofing, and profiling.
• Understand how to sharpen for output. One of the easiest ways to do this is actually to use the sharpening features in the Nik software suite of Photoshop plug-ins, which allow you to tinker intuitively with easy-to-understand concepts such as printer resolution and print viewing distance.
• Make sure that you have top-quality sharp images which have been edited correctly, with white-balance, black and white points, saturation, and contrast elements all sensitively dealt with.
With every large print I make, I always first do at least one small test print (i.e. say a quarter of an A4 page) to double-check colour accuracy before unleashing the full A3 or A2 experience!
I’ve learnt that there is no substitute to learning about all of these steps yourself, and as such no quick fix. If you like the idea of doing this yourself, then it’s a great investment and a fascinating process – not much can beat the atmosphere of excitement and expectation as you wait for the 5 minutes or so for a large print to slowly feed out of the printer! If this is not for you, then it’s a much better idea to get them done professionally by someone else.
Since I do my own prints, I also frame my own prints. I use relatively cheap frames – IKEA Ribba (they could be better, but they still look good, and come in a range of sizes and finishes) – but do my own mats (the pieces of card that separate the print from the glass). The Ribba frames come with basic mats but they are often the wrong size. For this you need two special kinds of mat-cutters and a metal ruler (for these I use the Logan brand), a cutting board, a trimmer (I use one from Dahle), and some mat boards that you cut to size. You also need some tape for mounting the prints to the boards, some vinyl gloves for handling the prints without getting fingerprints on them, and some kind of weight for positioning the print accurately on the back board while fitting the mat that goes over the top. For this I use an old sock filled with coins.
For mat-making I just did some basic research on youtube. It can be quite time-consuming cutting the boards and measuring everything correctly, but it’s quite satisfying. For printing with the 3880, I again read a variety of things on the web, and also read up on the ‘Printing and Photofinishing’ Forum on Naturescapes.net – once again, an entirely invaluable resource, without which I wouldn’t have the first clue about what I’m doing!!