Thinking of Fine Art Printing? Here are three first steps
May 28, 2020
Selena Simpson is our specialist at SUNPrint Sydney, the northern arm of SUNSTUDIOS' printing service. She brings fine art prints to life and is also the go-to person for Canon printer sales from desktop A3+ and A2 printers all the way up to our large format 60" printers.
In my role as a Printing Specialist I consider it my job to not only match an artist's intention as closely as possible but also deliver an absolutely beautiful print which makes you feel you are in it – not merely looking at it.
This takes some work and collaboration with the artist or photographer.
However, I’ve heard not everyone loves to print (crazy hey!) and I sometimes hear, “My print doesn’t match my screen” or “My print is too dark” and sometimes “It’s all just voodoo”.
I promise you it’s not voodoo. The prints I produce at SUNPrint very closely resemble the screen with very little file adjustment.
Printing is like any other process. There are rules. Some you should keep; some you can bend and some you can break. Get the balance right and it will be a joy to print.
In future instalments on Sunroom I will be sharing some advice on how to get the most out of your printing, whether printing yourself or using a printing service.
Today I would like to touch on three broad areas that help me in my print workflow.
Portfolio by James Fisher / SUNPrint
1. Be confident your screen is displaying as correctly as it can
One of the first things I ask when printing for an artist is: “Does your file look like you expect on my calibrated screen?”
If yes, this gives me the best indication of what to look at as my baseline for making the print. A fair proportion of the time I hear it looks a little darker and flatter. This is often followed by, “But my screen is not calibrated …”.
Colour is seen differently by each human eye and brain. Add to this great variety in hardware of computers, camera sensors, displays and printers with unique processing technology – and keeping one intent all though can be daunting.
Calibration of your devices can be very useful as a starting point. Most photographic and print editing workflows vary from a simple laptop or iMac to more advanced combinations involving graphics screens such as EIZO and BenQ.
All of these scenarios allow for calibration of the viewing device to varying degrees of adjustability, accuracy and ability to match prints. Your degree of control is often related to price point.
In simple terms, calibrating your monitor means comparing what is displayed to known values and making either a software or hardware accommodation (profile) to encourage it to display as correctly as it can – in most cases using an external colorimeter and software package to measure output and make the profile.
Laptops, iMacs and Apple screens generally only have a brightness control in their hardware. The heavy lifting of profiling is done by the computer video card and this is where the adjustment happens. These computers and screens are generally very bright and have a high contrast level straight out the box.
Graphics monitors like EIZO and BenQ often have hardware controls over a range of functions by using the manufacturer’s software and an inbuilt or external calibration device. Some EIZO screens even enable manual adjustments to an already calibrated screen to match the white point of different paper stocks and swap between a variety of calibrations depending on purpose. This is why I love my EIZO.
In my set up at SUNPrint I use a laptop connected to an EIZO ColorEdge CG277 27" (current version is the EIZO ColorEdge CG297X Hardware Calibration LCD Monitor). It has a built-in calibration device which uses EIZO’s ColorNavigator software to enable hardware profiling. A Datacolor Spyder calibrates my laptop.
The two screens don’t (and can’t) match as hardware differences make it impossible (also my laptop is old and beat up!). All my print and editing decisions are made based on the EIZO screen. Most EIZOs come with a hood blocking ambient light from influencing or directly reflecting on the screen – this is also incredibly useful.
Not everyone is of course so blessed with the means to have a $3.5K graphics screen (thank you SUNSTUDIOS!) and many people get by very well using laptops and other screens very successfully in their printing workflows. But success is based on a knowledge of your screen’s capability to display correct colour, brightness and contrast, and your ability to manage this in your workflow after being confident your equipment is working to the best of its ability.
Prints in progress for Nick Bowers' exhibition The Female Lead, a series of portraits celebrating the accomplished business women of Chifley Tower.
2. Get your colour management in order
All files I print or have submitted to me for printing should have a embedded ICC (International ColorConsortium) profile, so when opened on my calibrated screen, the file will display consistently to how it was viewed by the artist on their calibrated screen. The most common ICC profiles are Adobe RGB, SRGB and Prophoto. I don’t care which one is used as long it has a profile as my start point.
When using a print service, this is generally as far as you will be asked to go for colour management in your file, though you may be asked to supply a file at a fixed resolution and particular file format, with or without sharpening applied.
As my ideal, I ask for a TIFF or PSD with embedded RGB profile at a maximum native size at 240-300 DPI with sharpening on a layer so I can adjust and match to artists intention if interpolated resizing is required. I often receive Jpegs and these can produce great prints as well, but the lack of file compression in the TIFF or PSD can make my job easier for big prints especially.
When printing yourself, all the above applies, but you also need to manage your printer colour management and settings.
Your printer is not psychic – it does not know what paper you are feeding it or how it should behave without instruction.
When printing from your own computer, each printer will have a range of media/paper type presets made by the printer manufacturer (in the print setting dialogue controls). These set hardware and ink options appropriately.
Artwork in progress for Vicki Lee Gallery – in collaboration with Ted O’Donnell and SUNPrint on the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-9400
Most photographic inkjet printers today will have two black inks, one for matt/cotton papers and one for glossy and photo-like papers.
Giving the printer the correct paper information tells it which black ink to use for best results – the optimal media settings are usually stated for each printer brand and model by the paper manufacturer. The media settings also tell the printer how to feed the paper, what head height is appropriate for the thickness of the paper and how much ink to use.
Getting the media settings right is an important step toward getting the best print.
As well as choosing an appropriate paper type preset, you will need to set your paper size, print quality and feed tray in the print settings at a minimum.
Tim Jones' The Battle exhibition installation. In collaboration with SUNPrint.
In our print service we use and sell Canon, Canson, Hahnemule and Ilford branded commercial and fine art papers. Each paper manufacturer usually supplies a range of ICC profiles available for download from the manufacturer’s website. The manufacturers have made this “canned” ICC paper profile based on how the paper performs with each supported printer.
This is done by printing out a range of colours, greyscales and density measures on the nominated paper and printer under a specific set of conditions. Once settled these patches are read – usually with a spectrophotometer which shines a light on the paper and records the reflected values and then compares what is produced by the printer to the expected known values – and an ICC profile is produced by the devices linked software.
This characterises the printer response and encourages it to perform as accurately as it can – taking into account the limits of the printer ink set, hardware capabilities and the paper properties.
Using these manufacturers profiles in your printing workflow can go a way to optimising the results achievable on your chosen paper, you can also choose to have a custom profile made for your own printer and paper combinations which can refine the results further.
Choosing the best paper stock for your image is an enormous part of the overall picture as paper type, surface, base colour and base type can have a huge impact on how you and others relate to your print – the same print on a warm-tone soft semigloss can feel completely different to an optically brightened punchy semigloss even though the colours and tones of the actual image are reproduced faithfully on both papers.
This is a big one and we will cover paper choice in depth in later instalments.
3. Review your prints under consistent lighting
A print should look the same at 9am, 3pm or 7pm – but the colour temperature of the light around you will change as the day shifts from morning to evening – this is especially important if there is a lot of ambient light in your viewing area.
Evaluating prints in natural daylight, or daylight and mixed light conditions will give you no consistent reference. As a result, you won’t be able to make meaningful adjustments as the goalpost is moving constantly.
A good quality daylight temperature viewing condition at around 400LUX is a great way to start as a baseline, being aware of course that our prints are not always ultimately viewed under the optimal conditions.
I have a range of lighting conditions to show artists prints ranging from near tungsten conditions to daylight and a mixture of both to match the most common lighting conditions for galleries or homes.
Ideally for home printers this viewing condition should be placed so you can take in the image on screen and printed result at the same time – using a screen hood to ensure the print lighting is not influencing the screen.
I hope you find some of this information useful. It won’t align the planets for you or spit out the winning lottery numbers, but it’s a very good starting point.
Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions. SUNPrint is here to help you with your print workflow and printing hardware, ink and paper needs. You are also welcome to visit us for a demonstration of any of the printers.
Artwork on display is by Vicki Lee Gallery/Ted O’Donnell
Be confident your screen is as accurate as it can be for its capabilities, understand it may not be able to be completely accurate.
Get your file colour management, print settings and paper profiles in order.
Choose the best paper stock for your image.
Look at your print in good, consistent conditions.
Ready to experiment?
SUNSTUDIOS Sydney has a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 A2 printer set up for customers to execute a complimentary test print of their own file so they can find the best fit for their print requirements.
Having carefully considered each file before printing all 100, we asked Selena Simpson from SUNPrint to share some of the decisions made along the way to get the stunning results currently on display within This Time It’s Personal 2019.