Around 18 months ago I published a book titled “Perfect Prints Every Time”. The book was intended to help people who struggle with print making, master the techniques and produce images that match their screens. Judging from the feedback I received the book appears to have helped a lot of people. Unfortunately, it didn’t help me – allow me to explain.
As regular readers may be aware, I recently purchased a MacBook Pro and have been very impressed. So impressed in fact that I have now upgraded my main office PC to an iMac and am in the process of switching across. As part of this I wanted to set up and use my printer (an Epson 3880) and this is where the fun started.
Now I have friends who use Macs and swear the screens come well calibrated and the colour handling is so good, you can general do without printer profiles. All you need to do is allow the printer to manage the colour. I have also seen some very well respected authorities on printing say the same. And just to prove this, I have looked through many excellent prints produced in this way with the same printer I’m using. Everything should be easy, right?
The first thing I noticed when trying to produce a print was how flat the print appeared, lacking both contrast and vibrancy. After consulting with a friend, he pointed out that I need to set the “Color Matching” section of the print driver to “Epson Color Controls” as shown below.
This would then allow me to set the “Print Mode” in the “Printer Settings” tab of the print driver to be “AccuPhoto HD2” and then set the “Color Mode”.
After making these changes I found the prints had improved but they still didn’t look like the image on screen. They were quite dark and still lacked contrast. I then remembered he had also advised increasing the Contrast and Brightness settings in the Lightroom Print module. These changes improved the results but the print still didn’t come close to matching the image on the excellent Mac screen or what I could produce when printing from my PC.
I decided it was time to check the screen calibration of the Mac and used the inbuilt screen calibration routine that comes with the Mac. The new calibration appeared identical to the old one and the images looked great on the screen. I decided to copy one of the images over to my PC to see how it appeared there. Amazingly I found the image was too dark and lacked contrast.
It was at this point that I realised I needed to go back to basics. I pulled out my Color Munki Photo calibration unit and installed the software to the Mac. I ran the screen calibration first and found the screen profile produced lacked both contrast and brightness when compared with the Mac profile. I decided to edit a couple of images and then copy these over to my PC. This time I had a good match between both systems.
Having managed to calibrate the monitor I decided to produce a new printer profile for my paper using the Color Munki on the Mac. With this new profile installed I soft proofed the image in Lightroom, adjusting it so that the soft proof matched the original (un-proofed) image. The resulting print was a near perfect match for the soft proofed image.
So there you have it in a nutshell. Calibrate your monitor, use the correct print driver for your paper and soft proof your images, adjusting them to match your finished image. I could have saved myself hours of wasted effort if I had only just followed my own advice.
I recently showed the above image as part of my posting about film photography. At the time I made the point that my wife loved the image and picked it out from a selection of prints (all the others digital) as the one that stood out. My wife by the way is someone who doesn’t really bother about photography and bases her choice on what she likes. A couple of days later she asked me to get the same image printed large for our bathroom. In the past I have had a large print made by Whitewall so I decided to use them again.
I started by re-scanning the image on my Epson V700 using VueScan software. The V700 is OK for a flatbed scanner but it won’t produce super sharp images. The original image itself was shot on Kodak Ektar 100 35mm film using a Hasselblad XPan and my intention was to produce a print of around 30” wide. In the end the print was 31.5” x 11.4” as this was the best size for the intended wall. Once I had uploaded the processed image to the Whitewall website I was able to select the custom size option and set the longest side of the print – all very easy.
With the image uploaded I needed to select the print product to be produced. What I decided on was a print onto Fuji Crystal glossy photo paper which is then bonded onto an aluminium backing plate. This is then sandwiched with clear acrylic glass, in this case 6mm thick. The back of the aluminium plate also has a hanging rail attached which is very neat. In short, this is a high quality product.
In terms of printing, I decided to do my own soft proofing of the image prior to uploading. For this I downloaded and installed the printer profile from the Whitewall website. This was for a Lightjet print onto Fuji Crystal (a true photographic print is produced). When I compared the soft proof with the original, the soft proof was quite dark and needed to be lightened. Both the soft proofing and adjustment was carried out in Lightroom.
Looking at the print I received, it’s identical to the soft proof. Given the difference between the original and the soft proof, be sure to take the time to do this or you may be disappointed. Whitewall do have an option on the site to allow them to optimise the image. Personally I would rather take control over this step and I haven’t tried their service. If you don’t feel confident with soft proofing, it may be worth trying the service or at least contacting them for advice.
The total cost of this little lot was just over £100 including shipping and a discount code.
If you’re now wondering what the quality of the finished product is like, my view is that it’s superb. The colours and tones are spot on with the soft proof. The product itself is of a very high quality and the print is excellent. The image appears sharp (but not unnatural), despite being scanned on a flatbed and then enlarged slightly (the enlargement was carried out automatically on the Whitewall website. I do have a professional gallery print which is also a Lightjet photo mounted on aluminium and bonded with acrylic. This print from Whitewall is definitely of a similar standard.
If you’re in the market for a large print, I would certainly recommend Whitewall. I also want to make it clear that I am in no way connected to Whitewall and don’t receive any benefit from this review/recommendation. I have written this piece because I’m impressed and others may find it helpful.
I want to share a very frustrating printing experience with you in case anyone has any ideas about how to resolve it.
I have been printing using an Epson 3880 printer for around 3 years now using Lightroom as the host software. During this time, I have regularly switched between Gloss and Matte inks for the different paper types. Recently I made the switch from a Matte surface paper to Baryta (which requires Gloss ink). At this time, I made a Matte paper print then immediately switched to Gloss to compare the results.
In making this switch I was careful to reconfigure the printer as I have done many times. I even have the setups for both papers saved to allow for this switching. Both papers are profiles using profiles I created and I know to be accurate.
When I made these two prints, the Matte print was perfect but the Baryta print is completely wrong, to the point it looks like one of the black inks has run out (it hasn’t). You can see the result below. Nothing changed between making the two prints other than the printer switched itself between Matte and Gloss black ink.
My first reaction was to recheck all the settings and these were fine. I then ran an ink check which showed no problems but I carried out a head cleaning just to be certain. This made no difference. After a lot of frustrating failures, I decided to switch back to Matte paper. Guess what; this was also exhibiting the problem.
Now for the weird bit. The problem only occurs when printing from Lightroom. All other software including Photoshop prints fine. Here is an example of the same image printed on the same piece of Matte paper, one image from Lightroom and one from Photoshop.
I have checked the Adobe forums and help and it appears a few people have experienced the issue. What I can’t find is a resolution. There was a suggestion that uninstalling and re-installing Lightroom fixed it, but not for me.
So far I have tried uninstalling and reinstalling Lightroom, the print driver and the printer profiles. I have even gone as far are recreating the printer profiles but the problem persists. If anyone has any suggestions I would be interested to hear.
There is however a silver lining to this cloud. I decided to go back to using Qimage as my printer software and the results are much nicer and of a higher quality when compared to Lightroom. I suspect I will stick with Qimage even if I solve the Lightroom problem.
Thanks for reading.
Today I took delivery of some new inkjet paper that I wanted to try out. It’s a traditional Baryta paper from First Call Photographic and I have to tell you that it’s excellent. And not only is it excellent, its exceptional value as well.
In terms of papers you might know, it’s quite similar to the well regarded Ilford Gold Fibre Silk and it responds similarly to colour. The level of detail you can reproduce is superb as is the dynamic range and colour handling. Having now printed a few images using both papers, there is virtually no difference when viewing this side by side with the gold fibre (except that I feel much happier about the price). The prints have a lovely rich colour and a three dimensional feel that makes you think you could reach into them.
The only downside to the paper at the moment is that there are no profiles available. If you are using an Epson 3880 printer, you can download a profile I created from my Lenscraft website. You should also set the paper handling in your print driver to a Lustre or Silk surface with a paper thickness of 0.4mm – it’s quite a thick, heavy paper.
If you are using printer other than the Epson 3880 and don’t have the ability to create your own profile, I suggest setting your printer to manage the print. The paper appears to respond very closely to what you see on screen so it’s quite possible the printer colour management will be fine. Of course if you do prefer to use a printer colour profile, you could always invest the money you saved by buying this paper into a bespoke profile from a profiling service.
This paper is definitely worth trying if you like to make your own prints. Unfortunately, if you are outside the UK the postal costs may make it uneconomical.
It’s funny how we become locked into a way of thinking and acting as the result of conditions that no longer apply. Unless we are prepared to constantly experiment and challenge ourselves we don’t even recognise this is happening. Here’s one example from my very recent past.
After I blogged the Friday Image last week I decided to print the staircase that I featured. Initially I printed this using Hahnemuehle Bright White Photo Rag 310 paper which is my matte paper of choice. The image looked good but for some reason I wondered what it might look like on other matte papers. Whilst I didn’t have any test packs around I did have an old pack of Epson Archival Matte photo paper so decided to give it a try.
This is a much thinner/lighter paper than I am used to but it’s still quite stiff. I did use this paper for a short time about 8 years ago but stopped because I couldn’t find any profiles for my printer. Without profiles the images were coming out with strange colour casts that was very unattractive so I just stopped using it. Now that I am printing with an Epson 3880 printer I have no problems obtaining a printer profile or even generating my own using my Color Munki.
When I produced the print on the Epson paper it took me completely by surprise. The appearance was excellent and it had a great depth. It took a few test prints to perfect the black and white images but I cracked it in the end by printing using ABW, selecting the “Dark” option and increased my contrast by +20 in Lightroom. If you don’t use Epson ABW and print from Lightroom this probably won’t mean much to you so just take it that I made the printer darker and added a little contrast.
Overall I am quite impressed, so much so that I have order another batch of this paper in A4 and A3 sizes from Amazon (link on amazon.co.uk and amazon.com) as it’s very well priced. I intend to now use this as my matte proofing paper as it’s a much cheaper option and very good value.
The image above is an old one I have posted before because I don’t want to post the Friday image again so soon. I therefore repreocessed this image and printed to check the output. It’s also quite impressive on the Epson paper.
Here’s something that I have wanted to do for a long time, produce a large print from a Micro 43 camera. When I say large, this one is 62″ x 25″. As you can see from the picture here, the print is just a few inches short of the length of the Sofa (which is a 3 seater).
The image was shot in Death Valley and is actually 4 images stitched (with a 50% overlap). The images were shot using a Panasonic GX1 which was tripod mounted and the stitching was done in Hugin. In case you are not aware of Hugin, it’s a freeware stitching application (that’s the simplest way to describe it) which I absolutely love. Here is the resulting image which I have previously shared on this blog.
And in case you are interested, here is a section from the bottom right which is shown at 100%. This section has been taken after the image was resized to create the print above. This is approximately a 200% increase in the print size and was achieved using Akvis Magnifier.
I had the image produced by White Wall and I am very impressed with the quality and service. It’s actually a Lambda print on Fuji Crystal Archive DPII. The print has then been bonded onto Aluminium Matt Acrylic glass and the whole thing has been framed. I have to say, I am impressed and can certainly recommend White Wall from my experience.
There are however a few things to watch out for when producing a print of this size as its quite an investment:
- Ensure that you download the colour profile for the paper/print process you are going to use. You should then soft proof your image and check for out of gamut colours. When I did this I found that some of my orange highlights were out of gamut and if I hadn’t corrected this the image would have appeared flat.
- Sharpen your image at the final size before you upload it. The White Wall ordering workflow allows you to upload your JPG or TIFF image. It’s then possible to select a larger image and have the system scale this for you. I preferred to scale my image first so that I could sharpen this for the final output.
- If you follow my approach and scale your image before upload, I suggest printing a number of sections from the finished image (at 100% resolution). This enables you to judge the quality of the finished image before committing to the transaction.
- Now that I have the print I have checked the sample print I made and can directly compare the sharpness and detail. The White Wall print is very good and compares favourably with the image sections I printed on an Epson 3880. The Epson is however slightly sharper. If I were repeating the exercise I would add a little more sharpening. At the time I used Nik Sharpener Pro which allows you to set variables such as viewing distance and resolution. I used a viewing distance of up to 2 feet and a resolution of 2880 x 1440. Looking at the results I should probably have set the viewing distance to “6 to 10 feet” or perhaps even used the Continuous Tone option at 300dpi. It might even be an idea to contact White Wall and ask for a little more information on the Lambda printer as well as recommended Output Sharpening levels.
The only regret that I have is that I picked the Matt Acrylic Glass. One of the things that prompted me to do this was a visit to the gallery of Rodney Lough Jnr. when I was in San Francisco. The images in the gallery appeared to use a similar process (although it was suggested they did this in house and it was unique – I doubt that).
My reason for choosing matt acrylic was to avoid reflections but it doesn’t really. I really wish I had gone for the gloss and tried to counter the reflection with some good lighting – something I still need to invest in for this print.
I suspect I will try another print but this time on gloss and not quite so large.
I have just finished and uploaded an article on how to use the Soft Proofing features in Lightroom 4. You can download the article for free from my Lenscraft website by following this link to the Members Area. You will need to log in as a member to gain access but membership is free and you gain access to a lot of other articles and free information. Alternatively you could just wait until the article is publish on ePHOTOzine in the next few weeks.