Monthly Archives: June 2009

Making Fine Art Prints: Framing

Making Fine Art Prints: Framing

We’re really coming along on this series! Almost to the finish line now! In this article, we’ll be covering the topics of matting, mounting, and framing your fine art prints. These are really the final steps in producing the artwork, and they’re equally important as the other steps.

Some artists insist on defining and providing the matting and framing as part of the final display, while others are okay with leaving it up to the recipient of the work. There’s no right answer — you’re in charge and you get to decide what to do. Personally, I’m more inclined to let the buyer mount, mat, and frame the print so that it fits well in their home or personal gallery. For the work (of other artists) that I hang in my home, I like to do these final touches myself so they all match each other.

So if your work is going to a private collector, you might just ask them what they want in terms of matting and framing. If the work is for a gallery or exhibit, they might have strict guidelines for the final presentation. Every situation will be different, so be flexible!

THINKING AHEAD

Your print and paper dimensions will be determined by the intended matting and/or framing (along with where you sign the print). You’ll want to leave a bit of extra space around the photo so that it can be properly displayed. The mat will sit over top of the paper, so account for at least 1/8″ to 1/4″ of extra space for this. If you want to leave a white border around your photo in addition to the mat, be sure to leave that much extra space. As a rule of thumb, I tend to leave 1/2″ to 1″ of extra paper around my prints — depending on the intent for final display. You can always cut off the extra paper, but you can’t add paper back to the print. So leave lots of room if in doubt.

Also be aware that standard mat windows are slightly smaller than the stated size. An 11×14 mat or frame will be a bit less than 11×14. If you print at exactly 11×14, you will cover a small amount of the image around the borders. I’ve found that it can be a real hassle trying to fit my photos into standard windows due to the fact that the images are captured at a different aspect ratio. So I save myself the headache and go for a custom cut mat. Just keep that in mind through this discussion — mats and windows can be cut to any size you need.

MOUNTING

Mounting a print involves adhering the back of the paper to a board of some type. This keeps the print nice and flat while ensuring that it doesn’t move around in the final display. Mounting boards can be things like foam core, poster board, mat board, or (my favorite) Gator board. High quality boards can be quite expensive, but keep in mind that this is a fine art photo and quality is the name of the game. Don’t skimp on the mounting board if you go this route.

When mounting (and this goes for matting as well), be certain that you’re using a non-acidic and NON-PERMANENT archival quality adhesive. Why non-permanent? Once you adhere the print to something permanently, it will likely lose value in the eyes of some collectors. The actual print is the valuable item here, so it’s best to leave the possibility of removal. But, as with any advice in this series, the decision is up to the artist.

MATTING

Matting a print involves placing material on top of the print in the form of a border. This does two things: provides a predefined viewing space for the print, and protection. The mat border can be as large or small as you wish — as long as it looks good with the photo. It also sets the photo back from the top plane of the piece, which keeps the print surface away from other surfaces (like the glass of a frame).

When it comes to mat materials, you basically have your choice of colors. You can also get mats with different colors in the core (usually white if different than the main color of the mat) — this gives the border of the print a little extra complexity and separation. Most mats come in 4 or 8 ply, with 4 being more common and available. The ply just designates how thick the mat is based on how many layers of material are used. Mat windows are commonly cut at a 45 degree bevel to show the depth of the material, but there are other types of cuts available to suit your tastes.

If you want something truly unique and perfectly matched to your particular print, go with a professional framer! These folks have a huge number of mats available to them, and they have the equipment and knowledge for cutting the stuff. Unless you do a huge volume of matting, it’s totally worth it to use a professional framer.

FRAMING

The wall was framed
Creative Commons License photo credit: Leonski

Framing is the really expensive part of the final presentation. A good frame setup will cost far more than the mounting and matting. Framing is also the main part of the piece that needs to match with the surroundings of the display location. Change the frame from wood to metal and you have a totally different artwork. People are generally picky about the framing of their displayed artwork because it needs to match what they already have on the wall.

I generally don’t frame my photos unless the recipient explicitly asks for it. Even then, I try to find out exactly what they want so they’re not disappointed with the final piece. I’ll try to let the buyer do their own mounting, matting, and framing so that shipping costs are lower and so they can present the artwork in a way that suits their own tastes.

And as I said before, use a professional for your framing needs. Don’t go buy a cheap plastic frame that happened to be on sale and stick your “fine art” print in it. The quality of the frame will completely diminish the quality of the artwork. Not trying to be snobby about this stuff, but I’m just sayin’!

USE A PROFESSIONAL!

Ok, I know, I said this a few times already. But I have to say it again. Unless you create a large volume of mounted, matted, and/or framed fine art photos, save yourself the trouble and use a professional. PROFESSIONAL is the key word here. A pro will be able to provide you with a top quality product and a top quality experience. You’ll pay a few dollars more than a craft store framing service, but it’s worth it.

I use Artistic Endeavors here in San Diego, and these guys are REALLY good at what they do. A professional will work with you rather than just for you to produce exactly what you want.

For my personal collection (of other people’s works) hanging in my living room, I choose to mount the photos on black Gator board and mat them with a 4-ply black mat and white core cut at a 45 degree bevel. I usually leave a 2-3″ mat border depending on the print size. I hang the prints on the wall without a frame — just the mat and the board cut to the same outside dimensions. It gives me a trendy display at minimal cost.

WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE?

In this section, I’ve spoken mostly in generalities because we don’t have the time or bandwidth to get into the technical details of this topic. But I’d like to hear what the rest of you do for your fine art prints. Do you mount, mat, and/or frame them before sending them off? Do you do it yourself? Do you have experience with a professional framer? And if you collect prints, how do you display them in your own gallery?

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
BACK — SIGNING
NEXT — SHIPPING

Link Roundup 06-20-2009

WOW! It’s been a while since I posted one of these things! So here are a few interesting photography links for ya.

Oh… and I heard something about a new iPhone thingy with an updated camera or whatever. As soon as they make an iPhone that shoots medium format film, then I’ll be impressed.

What Would You Do?

In the “PhotoBlog” section, I usually post an article about how I created a particular photo. But this time, I’d like to see how you might approach a particular scene. I want you to step into my shoes at the moment I shot the photo shown below, and tell me how you might have done things differently (or the same).

Name Forgotten

For this post, read through the stuff below and tell me how you might have taken the shot.

Let’s start with the location… Salton Sea, California. This is a strange place to new visitors, filled with an interesting mix of beauty and decay. I was at a location known as “Salvation Mountain” on the east side of the lake, a small distance from the water. It’s sort-of a “holy” destination, created by a few (mainly one) religious enthusiasts. I don’t know how I can explain any better than to point you to my set of Salvation Mountain photos.

For this particular scene and subject… random guy, playing the guitar, on the back of a broken-down and over-decorated truck. He was sort of on the sidelines of the main attractions at Salvation Mountain, not really trying to draw attention to himself — just keeping to his own business. But he, and his surroundings, interested me so I asked him for a portrait. He agreed and asked what he should do. I said “just keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll get the shot”. So there you go — you’ve got a willing participant posing for a portrait in an informal state.

Bible Bus

And the technical stuff… like equipment, lighting, etc. I was using a 1956 Minolta Autocord MXS — this is a fully manual TLR (square format Twin Lens Reflex) with no light meter, loaded with Ilford PanF+ film (ASA50). The fixed focal length is 75mm (but remember, this is medium format film), a maximum shutter speed of 1/400 seconds, and a maximum f-number of f/3.5. Oh, and the ambient light was mostly sunny, fading into somewhat overcast, but hard shadows existed. The sun was to the left of you (as you faced the subject) and it wasn’t too high in the sky (approaching sunset by about an hour or two).

Oh, and one last thing… you’re on shot 12 for this roll (the last shot), and the rest of your film is out of reach. You get one chance to make this work and you want to get a good portrait of this fella playing the guitar as he sits on the back of an old truck. Also envision yourself wanting to get the shot off quickly so you don’t lose the opportunity or frustrate the subject. The smaller photo shown here is a different perspective of the scene and subject.

SO WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

… right down to the technical details of the camera settings, the crop, the perspective, and the timing. In particular, would you frame it the same way I did? I ask this because I know I committed a “guitarist portrait sin” by cutting off the head of the guitar. My friend Tasha brought this point up because she’s a very talented concert and musician photographer — and I’m glad she did, because I was waiting for somebody to call me out on it. But given the circumstances, I’m curious how others may have done it differently under the same conditions.

AND HERE’S WHAT I DID…

The technical stuff first — I shot the photo at 1/400 seconds and f/4 because it was slightly less than full sunshine. I wanted a shallow depth of field because he was sitting so close to the busy designs of the truck right behind him, so a the fastest shutter speed was a requirement in my mind. I also wanted to get as close to him as possible so that I could utilize that depth of field and blur the background a bit. This is where my dilemma began — get close to achieve the desired dof and background blur, or step back and get the desired framing. I knew that I couldn’t get both effectively. I did frame-up the shot to include the whole guitar, but I was far enough back that there would be no real separation between him and the background. I decided against this choice. Any closer and I’d cut out the guitar entirely — not really what I wanted either. What to do? I chose a middle ground and I cut off the head of the guitar. I was probably standing 6 or 8 feet from him when I took the shot. Maybe it wasn’t the best choice, but it was most reasonable decision I could make in a 10 second window.

So again, what would you do given the situation I outlined above? Would you take the same shot? Would you step back and include the whole guitar at the cost of blending the busy background with the main subject? Or would you step closer and throw the guitar out of the frame entirely while maximizing the background blur? And remember — you only have one shot with no crutches!

Making Fine Art Prints: Signing

Making Fine Art Prints: Signing

Finally, we’re getting to the less discussed topic of producing fine art prints: signing. I’ve had a few people ask the same questions about where to sign, how to sign, what to sign with, etc. If there existed an official rule book, set of laws, or holy parchment that contained the answers I’d direct everybody to the web page. But I don’t think something like that exists, and I know the process of signing fine art is less than defined.

Even if these things aren’t defined in a strict technical fashion, there are some traditional ways of doing things. Tradition is fine and dandy, but there are also alternative methods to every aspect of signing prints. In this article, we’ll explore some of the options and discuss a few of the things you might think about while producing your fine art prints.

WHY SIGN A PRINT?

The biggest reason to sign a print is to show that you approve of it. Your signature is the thing that states “I made this print. It is of the highest quality, and it deserved to be viewed as fine art. I stand behind this print and I put my name on the line.” OK, so not everybody is quite so dramatic, but signing a print is a really big deal! It’s like signing a check — if you didn’t write the check, and you don’t have the funds to back it up, you wouldn’t sign it. Right? Same thing with prints — if you didn’t make the print, and you don’t have the confidence to back it up, don’t sign it! (Of course, “making the print” can mean many things. But basically, it means that you know who made it, how they made it, and you trust them — so this could be yourself or a third party.)

Another reason you might sign a print is to increase the value of the piece. Since the signature states that the print was truly produced and/or approved by the artist, it becomes more desirable to art collectors. Unsigned reproductions can work fine for decoration or personal admiration, but they won’t hold the same value as a signed print. Add in the option of limiting your work (which we’ll cover in a moment) and you introduce scarcity, which in turn produces a higher (perceived and/or real) value.

One more reason you should think about signing prints is to promote yourself as an artist. A signature is easily recognized by people viewing the print. Whether it’s legible or not, your name is still on the print and you’re promoting your brand. It doesn’t matter if the print is in a gallery, a private home, a bank, or a diner — the signature (brand) will be seen.

BEFORE YOU PRINT…

One thing you’ll want to think about is “extra room” when you print your photo. That means leaving a border around the actual print, whether it be white space or a printed color (including black). As you read through the rest of the article, this will make more sense. We’ll also talk about this idea of “extra room” in the next article when we cover mounting, matting, and framing.

WHAT TO SIGN WITH

Above all, if you decide to sign a print, the stuff you sign with should be of equal or greater archival quality to the print itself. There’s no point in producing a print to last 200 years, only to sign it with a Sharpie or something. Once you sign, that ink or paint becomes part of the print, and you want it to last. Art stores typically carry archival pens for signing various mediums. Some are ink and some are paint. Either way, make sure the contents of the pen are acid-free and archival quality.

I sign my prints with paint pens (archival of course). These things are easy to find at art stores, and they’re quite reliable. They lay down a good amount of liquid and the tips are quite gentile on the print surface. These things take a bit of getting used to, but they’re not impossible to use.

Another thing to think about is the color of your pen. Black is an obvious choice since it works for almost any situation, but it’s not the only option. I usually sign my black and white prints with a silver paint pen and my color prints with a black pen. Sometimes I’ll break that rule, depending on the situation and the particular print. The color you sign with can be as recognizeable as the signature itself, so find something that works for you and stick with it.

Pencil is also used by some artists, especially when signing on mats rather than print material. I don’t have much experience with this, but I can’t quite get into it because it seems so temporary compared to paint or ink — but to each their own. I’d be curious to hear the thoughts of pencil-signers in the comments below.

WHAT TO SIGN

We have a lot of choices on what we write when signing a print. The most obvious thing would be your signature or autograph (or whatever you want to call it). This is the part that really matters — it’s your “seal of approval” and only you can put it on the print. Some people like to sign their real name, while others like to sign a pseudonym. Some like to sign in cursive, some with a crazy autograph, and others in plain text. How you do it is completely up to you — there’s no rule saying you must do it a certain way. I’d only suggest that you keep it consistent as much as you can.

fountain pen
Creative Commons License photo credit: [phil h]

Another common item found on a signed print might be the title of the print and the year it was taken. This goes beyond the “seal of approval” and is more of an artistic preference. A title is often important to the meaning of the print and if you feel your titles are important, by all means, put it on the print! Year of capture is another preference item — usually just adding a little extra context to the photo.

If you decide to offer your print as a limited edition or an otherwise limited print, an edition number is something you’ll want to show. If you have a predetermined number of prints that will be (or have been) produced, it’s a good idea to show the number of the print in relation to the limit number — so “5 of 40″ or “5/40″ might be a feasible option. Some artists also have open editions (so no limit), but still like to number their prints. This is totally okay too! Just be consistent.

There are other things you could include in the signed portion of the print, but it’s usually best to keep them to a minimum to avoid clutter. But as the artist, you can decide what is important to you. Things like date of printing, location, copyright symbols, camera used, etc. I don’t know… whatever you want to include on the print. Like I said, it’s totally up to you.

I choose to sign the title of the photo, the date taken, the print number and limit number, and my name. I’ll get into where I put those things in the next section.

HOW AND WHERE TO SIGN

The most common question that new artists have about signing prints is probably where to sign the darn thing. I think there’s some kind of misconception that there exists a book of rules and regulations for fine art photos. There’s not (as far as I know). Like the content that you sign to the print, the location of signature is totally up to the artist. Many people have strong opinions on this topic, but just remember that the signature is part of the art and you can do what you want — you’re the artist.

If I could give one piece of advice about signing prints, it would be this: PRACTICE! Use the actual pen or marker on the actual paper (but not the final print) and pretend like you’re in 6th grade again. Find your signature and write it over and over and over and over again. I go through this ritual before I sign each print because I don’t want to mess up the real one.

Back to the topic at hand… the most popular place to sign a photographic print will be below the print, outside of the actual print border. This is usually done on a section of white space and is clearly visible to the viewer. From what I’ve seen, this is a traditional method used by many artists. You’ll find many “old school” photographers condemning the act of signing directly on the print, and this is the method that they’ll likely suggest. The only thing about this method is that you have to allot extra space below the print — no 1/8″ borders will allow you to sign the print this way. I’d say that an extra 3/4″ to 1″ of space should be sufficient (depending on your personal style of signing). Here’s an example of this method — click to see the signed portion larger. Print by Joseph Szymanski

Sign on the paper, below the image

Another feasible method of signing is directly on the print. This allows you to frame or mat the print right over the edge of the photo without requiring extra white space or border. Like I said, some artists condemn this method, but that’s their own opinion. The upside to this method is that you don’t have to use a border if you don’t want one. The downside is that the signature is typically much more difficult to see. Black ink will work well on light prints, silver or white ink will work well on dark prints, but midtone prints and busy scenes will hide a signature quite well. Here’s an example of this method — click to see the signed portion larger. Print by Bryan Villarin

Sign on the print, over the image

The previous two options involve signing directly on the print material. Yet another feasible option is to sign on the mat if you happen to be producing a print with a mat included. This method allows you to sign below the print without producing and displaying an extra border or extra white space. It can be more aesthetically pleasing, but there are a few things to keep in mind if going this route. The mat is generally not a permanent addition to the print, so your signature may not mean much if the two become separated. Also, permanent adhesion of the mat to the print or the print to a mount will likely lower the value of the print in the eyes of a collector, so be careful how you do these things. Here’s an example of this method — click to see the signed portion larger. Print by Tom Webb

Sign on the mat

One final method that I’ve come across for signing prints is less visible. Writing on the back offers a way to be less obtrusive to the final display while also stating your approval of the print. Some collectors might like to have clean prints with no visible signatures, but I’m guessing that most would like to have it visible as part of the display (I know I do). Then again, not all collectors or exhibits will want or allow a signature on the front of the print, so this may be your only option for these situations.

SOME THOUGHTS ON “EDITIONS” AND “LIMITS”

We’ve talked before on the topic of limited editions here on the blog (and we even had a follow-up article), so I won’t get too much into this discussion. This terminology is defined by law, so just be aware of that if you decide to offer your prints as limited edition.

hidden despair
Creative Commons License photo credit: *MarS

If you don’t want to get tangled up in the legal stuff, you might think about offering your prints as “limited signed prints” rather than a true “edition”. This method seems to suit digital photography better because of the technology associated with making a print. In my case, I like to offer these limited signed prints which I can produce one at a time as needed. Whatever limit I choose for a particular print will be the maximum number of signatures that image can have — so if it says “37 of 50″, that implies only 50 prints of this image will have a signature on them, and this is the 37th one produced.

An even simpler solution is to offer “open editions” where there is no limit to the number of prints, signed or not. This method doesn’t produce the same scarcity that a limited set does, but at least it shows that the artist produced the image and they approve of its quality.

“Unsigned prints” have their place too, but one concept of fine art (photography or otherwise) is that the work has been produced by the artist and the artist approves of the final output. Without that signature, you can’t lay claim to these statements. I also offer unsigned prints of my work, but for decoration and enjoyment rather than collection or investment. I know this is also a heated topic among artists — do unsigned reproductions devalue the signed works? I tend to think not (and I’d use Ansel Adam’s photos as an example), but others will strongly disagree on this point. To each their own!

NOW YOU GO

I’ve covered quite a bit of stuff here, some of it probably long-winded and unnecessary. If you’re still questioning any of the topics on this subject, do ask! Also, if I skipped something that you wanted to know about, bring it up in the comments.

In addition to questions, I’d like to hear from the rest of you “print signers” how you do it. What method do you use? What type of pen or marker? Where do you sign? How do you sign? What do you sign? You get the idea… let’s hear it.

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
BACK — PRINTING
NEXT — FRAMING

PhotoDump 05-24-2009

More great stuff from the Epic Edits Flickr Pool! This selection of photos is from those entered in the pool between 5/10 and 5-24.

Isabella in roberts dress by bildterapiBlack & White Lines by Tim194Jump by Colour VoidIsabella in roberts dress by bildterapiMan Dojo by Twitching Eye (heart bleeding...)Porsche 996 by Digital Kloc PhotographyFloat On. by Katich_RenesmeePaulii by Ian MearsUnderneath It All by Brian AuerDans les arc de Triomphe by robie06Airborne by Håkan Dahlströmwalk the walk... by *ojoyous1* by the_wolf_brigadejenny in martinas dress by bildterapiThe field by photocumbria by BandalDoor to my heart is closed by robinn.Chapeau Melon by Guillaume LemoineDock at Long Lake by sevennineThere are things that drift away by henrikj by the_wolf_brigadeSo, this is Tuesday by bryanvillarinPorsche Battle by Brian AuerSunset Wind by Jonathan EnnsMormon Temple - Salt Lake City by piston9Holding on to Love by Dr|gThe Happy Couple by CoachAndyYou Are Lost by nathanielperales© Rex Lisman_061 by Rex Lisman PhotographyYellow28106 by cmiper

New Partner: Wix

Wix

Please join me in welcoming Wix as our newest blog sponsor! They’ll be filling the home page banner for at least the next month, and those of you who visit the blog via the web may have already seen their banner displayed.

Wix offers up a simple and powerful online platform for creating Flash websites — and for free! They also have a premium service that allows you to use your own domain, display your Wix-created site without ads or Wix logos, extra storage, premium support, and a few other goodies.

As photographers, you may be asking yourselves “How is this relevant to me, and why is Brian taking on a Flash website generator as a sponsor?” Yeah, just hear me out. Visit their sample websites and click on “Photographers” (2nd link down on the sidebar). Go ahead and flip through the sites and tell me that isn’t cool! These are all very unique sites and quite professional in appearance — definitely worth a look.

Wix.com

My thought is this… If you want to put together a portfolio or a photography website to display your work, but you don’t have the know-how or funds to create something on your own, Wix is the place to go. Hey, if nothing else, start off with a free site and build it up until you’re satisfied. When you get the dough to upgrade to the premium package, go ahead and get your own domain. At that point, you’ll have an awesome display of your work.

If you want to learn more about Wix or about how their site works, be sure to check out their FAQ in addition to the main site. They cover topics such as search engine friendliness, PayPal integration, stats packages, and more.

So who is this online service for? I’d say it’s a very good option if you don’t already have your own photography site or portfolio, you don’t want to spend a bunch of money to get your site going, and/or you don’t want to deal with the technical side of website creation. Hell, even if you already have a site, you’ve got the money and know-how for a custom site — you still might get a kick out of creating a Flash site through their platform.

If any of you out there already have a Wix-generated website, let us know in the comments so we can check it out!

Trading Cards for Strobists!

Strobist Trading Cards, Vol. 1

I’m a self-admitted non-Strobist — “fake” light scares me when it comes to photography, and I haven’t yet taken the initiative to learn my way out of this phobia. So anything that can bring lighting techniques down to my level is welcomed with enthusiasm. I’m fairly certain that these trading cards from Zeke Kamm and David Hobby are the best way to reach (and teach) people like myself.

What’s that? Trading cards? Yup — bite sized gold nuggets of wisdom! These guys put together a pack of 24 cards (same size as baseball cards) with amazing photos on one side and lighting diagrams on the other. This is a great way to teach the subject — one example, one diagram, and one explanation. Each card displays a unique setup with unique results.

The really cool thing about the cards is that they cover a wide variety of setups. We’ve got everything from strobes, softboxes, gobos, umbrellas, flashlights, gels, bounce cards, natural light, and lights from the hardware store! The cards not only show you what equipment you need, but how to position it to achieve the effect displayed on the opposite side of the card. This is super-handy because positioning is just as important as the actual equipment.

Sample Card 1-0 Sample Card 1-1

The images on the cards mainly cover subjects such as portraits, still life, product, and food photography. But they even include a few macro, landscape, and various other topics. Hey, if nothing else, the photos are pretty amazing by themselves!

Sample Card 2-1 Sample Card 2-0

I would recommend this deck of cards to any photographer wanting to learn about “Strobist” techniques in a simple and straightforward manner. You basically get 24 different lighting lessons for less than $1 each. Not a bad deal! Visit the following link to get your own set!

STROBIST TRADING CARDS

Disclaimer: Zeke sent me a pack of the cards at no charge for the purpose of reviewing them and providing feedback. I was not payed for this review and I’m not in any way affiliated with the product owners or distributors. I just think they’re dang cool!

Making Fine Art Prints: Printing

Making Fine Art Prints: Printing

I think we’ve covered the bases for general preparations, so now it’s time to start making that print! This is really the first step in producing a fine art print, but it’s not any more or less important than the other steps. If I could give just one piece of advice in this article, it would be to make the final print at the highest quality humanly possible.

Before we jump in, I should make my own printing situation very clear so there are no misconceptions. I use a local professional printer to produce my digital prints: Oscar Medina of San Diego Pictures. He’s the real brains behind the whole printing thing, and he provides me with a top notch service. I don’t handle any of the technical aspects of printing — I just bring him the files and give him the thumbs-up to press the go-button. So any technical information I provide here may be somewhat or completely wrong. As for darkroom prints… I do those myself, so I can speak to it with more confidence.

And again, we’re just skimming the surface of this topic in this article — please ask specific questions and discuss technical stuff in the comments below.

The following tips mostly apply to digital printing rather than traditional darkroom printing.

PREPPING YOUR DIGITAL PHOTOS

Fine art photos are all about “high quality” — and that starts before you even see the image. Make sure that you’re shooting at the highest quality available with your equipment. Shoot RAW, AdobeRGB, no downsizing, no compression, etc. Use high quality glass if you can, and avoid camera shake by shooting at a fast enough shutter speed, etc, etc.

When you process the image, workflow is important. Use 16-bit color depth and a high quality color space (I use AdobeRGB for color and Gray Gamma 2.2 for b/w). Watch your histograms while processing, and don’t let your colors, blacks, or whites jump off the scale — you’ll be throwing away good information. Obviously, make the photo look how you want, but don’t go crazy on the adjustments if you’re trying for a “natural” photo.

Calibrate your monitor so that you see a true representation of your image as you process it. Whether you print yourself or if you have somebody else do it for you, the printer will assume that your photo was processed with a properly calibrated monitor. When I take my digital files to Oscar, they look perfect on his monitor and they look perfect when they come out of the printer. We both use a color managed workflow [pdf 4.5MB].

My typical image prep involves processing RAW files via Adobe Camera Raw (same thing as Lightroom), and occasionally some Photoshop work if needed. I’ll work with the colors, highlights, shadows, and midtone contrasts to get the image looking the way I want. I also put on a very small amount of sharpening and noise correction — just enough to make any artifacts go away.

In the last article, Andrew Ferguson asked “I don’t know what needs to be done to prepare them for print, workflow wise. I’m reasonably sure I need to convert to CMYK, but I don’t know how else to optimize my files (both b&w and colour) to ensure that what I see on the monitor is what I see on the final print.

Maybe we can touch on this more in the comments, but I always shoot, process, and print using AdobeRGB for color images (I process and print black and white images with gray gamma 2.2). From what I understand, printers will do their own conversion from RGB to CMYK or grayscale. The important thing is to have a calibrated monitor and a calibrated printer — I know Oscar spends a good deal of time keeping up with this stuff to ensure that what we see on his screen is what we see coming out of the printer.

I could probably go on and on about this stuff in more detail, but we need to talk about other things! Chat-it-up in the comments.

PRINTER, PAPER, AND INK

After your digital file is prepped, you’ll need to decide on a printer. There are so many different types of printers and inks out there, I’m not even going to try speaking to the technical side of this. Just do your homework and find a system or method that suits your artistic needs. Chances are, you’ll either have your own printer or you’ll need to find a printing service (including PODs) or a local professional with the right equipment. With the current technology, any professional printer should be using top-notch equipment capable of producing archival prints ready for any gallery wall.

Paper, on the other hand, is more of the artist’s decision than the printer or the ink. There are a lot of different papers out there, and each of them has a unique visual quality suited for different applications. You’ll need to decide between gloss, semi-gloss, matte, metallic, canvas, watercolor, and other fine art papers with varying textures and colors. Even with all the choices available, keep the quality and archival life in mind — fine art prints are supposed to last a long time. Oscar actually has a book of the same image printed on various papers so you can see the different effects and outcomes. This is super-handy when deciding on papers!

I usually go for the glossy paper because I like my prints shiny, but it’s an easy paper to damage and scratch. I’m considering trying out a few canvas prints at the suggestion of Oscar… I just need to find the right photos for it.

SIZING, SHARPENING, AND NOISE REDUCTION

Print size is a big decision — don’t underestimate it! If you want to go really big, you’ll need the pixels to back it up. As a rule of thumb, I try to keep my stuff above 100 pixels per inch. So a 12MP digital photo can be printed up to about 20″ x 30″ without a huge loss of quality.

065 (lms)
Creative Commons License photo credit: heather

Once you get at or below 150 pixels per inch, you’ll want to consider upsizing the image on the computer so you can get a better quality on the printer. So for that same 12MP photo, once I go above 20″ wide on the long dimension I’ll probably resize the image to larger dimensions to avoid printing artifacts. This can be done with Photoshop (or other post processing software), but something like Genuine Fractals will do a better job for you.

If you need to up-res your photo in order to print at the size you require, it’s best to do your sharpening and noise reduction at the very end. If you’re printing from the original (not resized) photo, just make sure to apply these things at the very end of your processing. And don’t go overboard… make sure you view your digital file at 100% before finalizing the sharpening settings. Over-sharpening will definitely show up on the print.

[UPDATE] Gary Crabbe left a good comment below: it might be a bit clearer if it read, “You should *Always* do your output sharpening *After* the image has been (re-)sized to the final output measurements.” I think it might also be good to squeeze in a comment warning of over sharpening, and checking for sharpening artifacts at both “Print Size” and at “Actual Pixels”. Agreed! Thanks Gary!

One last thing on print size — know what size you want to print and WHY you want to print at that size. Take into account things like viewing distance, intended border, where you’ll be signing the print (if at all), how it will be matted and framed, and how you’re planning on transporting the print to the final owner. Most of these things will make more sense to some of you as we proceed through this series — so stay tuned for the next couple of articles.

PRINTING, HANDLING, AND SHIPPING

When you finally get to the point of printing, most of your prep-work should be done. If you’ve done you job right, you shouldn’t have any problems. But no matter how much preparation you’ve done, it’s always a good idea to print a test strip in order to evaluate the quality. Choose a section of your photo that contains critical information such as deep shadows, bright highlights, important colors, or people’s faces. Print that section and make sure everything looks right. If it does, go for it. If it doesn’t, go fix stuff. You’ll save a lot of time and material cost if you work with test strips before making the final print.

After the final print comes rolling off the printer, make sure you handle it like a newborn baby. There’s nothing worse than putting all that effort into a print only to bend it, crease it, or put a fingerprint on an otherwise perfect print. Use lint-free gloves to handle the print. Lay it out on acid-free paper. And don’t force it into any position that it won’t go naturally.

Larger prints can be rolled without damaging them — they can be flattened later. For anything larger than 11×14, I lay them face-down on acid-free paper and roll them into a 2″-3″ tube. Before rolling these prints, be sure that they’ve had time to properly dry so the ink doesn’t smudge. Other than that, use common sense!

When it comes to shipping, be careful how you package things. If the print is fairly small, you can use photo mailers available for 8×10 or 11×14 prints. Anything larger and you’ll probably want to send it in a tube. Even with tubes, some extra precaution should be taken. I actually had a print damaged recently because the Post Office just doesn’t care that you’re sending sensitive material. After talking with Oscar, he mentioned that he likes to roll his prints about 1″ smaller than the diameter of the shipping tube and float it in the center by placing extra packing paper at the ends. So even if the tube gets crushed or bent (which mine did just recently — sorry Mom), the print will likely survive due to that extra buffer of airspace.

FOR THE ANALOG FREAKS

Out of developer
Creative Commons License photo credit: adrenalin

Probably not the most popular topic, but I know at least one or two of you are interested in my darkroom workflow. First of all, I use high quality enlarger lenses and easels. Enlargers are no different than cameras, only opposite — so use good stuff. Also, for signed prints, I use fiber base paper and I tone with selenium for archival longevity. Proper fix and wash are also key in the quality of the print. I don’t have actual data points to back up my suspicions, but I’d expect my darkroom prints to last at least 100 years, probably more.

At any rate: print on fiber, don’t skimp on the fix and wash, and tone your prints. These things take FOREVER to print and finish, but it’s totally worth it. If you analog printers have any specific questions, hit me up in the comments — I could talk for days on this stuff.

SO WHAT DID I MISS?

The topic of printing requires a huge series of article on it’s own, so I’m sure we didn’t cover everything here. If you have specific questions about printing methods, techniques, and theories — do ask!!! I spoke with Oscar (my professional printer and fellow artist) about this article and asked him to chime in on the technical stuff. He’s more than willing to answer our questions and take part in the discussion. This guy is a fountain of knowledge on the topic, so don’t pass up the opportunity to tap into him!

FOLLOW THIS SERIES OF ARTICLES!
BACK — PREPARING
NEXT — SIGNING