Printing is another important topic that has been on my todo list from the day one of this blog. However, since printing is something we do right at the end of the (post-)processing chain, the subject has been delayed until now.
Let’s dive into it today, with one of these several never-ending series of entries which have become this blog’s trademark. Today, we will cover an introduction to printing, with questions like: home printer or not, printing technologies (dye or pigment based) and papers.
The case for printing
Although in today’s digital age there are numerous way to share one’s photos (web, emails, CD or DVD), a high quality print hanging on a wall remains the best way to give an image all the honor it deserves. That formula screams that not all images deserve that honor; I was mentioning previously that the Trashcan is a photographer’s best friend (as well as the undo). So printing should be a matter of a few images every now and again.
I printed about 20 images from my 2 week trip to Quebec (those displayed on my website) and 12 from a week in Barcelona (less than my web gallery). I would much rather print very few high quality bigger images than give my memory card to the local photolab and ask them to print me 10x15cm of all my shots.
Which brings me to my first point: is it really worth having a printer at home or would I be better off to rely on my local photo laboratory? On average, when printing in small format (up to A4), it will cost you more to do so on your personal printer than from a photo laboratory (considering the price of ink and paper). Reaching A4 format the cost is equivalent while for bigger formats, a home printer is (a tad) less expensive.
Having a home printer, however, also gives you:
- The satisfaction of controlling your photographic work yourself, from shooting to printing, or even framing and matting.
- The choice of your paper – as long as it fits your ink type (see below).
Well, I chose the home printer route not so much for money, but for pleasure. Even if it doesn’t match the satisfaction of a good old B&W lab, seeing your print coming out of the printer, handling it with white gloves and leaving to dry for 24 hours is close enough 🙂
Let’s also say that I also made a couple of disastrous experiences using photolabs. Even if there is quite a bit of learning to do before you can fully exploit your home printer, once this is done, you know exactly what you are doing, and reliably so; you don’t depend on a more or less gifted / tired / hurried photolab operator. So home printer it is for me – with the hope that sharing my experience will somehow make yours easier…
Pigment or dye based inks
The first type of ink to appear was dye based inks; they allow for high quality photo printing (as high as “traditional processing”) but they are not really stable over time – the colors fade. Basically, the ink stays at the surface of the paper and there is a lot of chemical interactions going on between the paper and the ink; so if you use the right paper with the right ink (namely both from you printer manufacturer) you can get decent result – something like 20 years without noticeable fading if your image is protected under glass. More or less equivalent to a standard traditional processing.
With pigment based inks, however, things get a lot more interesting: this type of ink penetrates deeper in the paper to offer a much better print longevity (up to 100 years) to fading. Also, due to the ink nature, there isn’t as much chemical interactions going on between paper and ink; as a result, you can combine your ink with several type of papers depending on your taste and your type of image (while with dye based inks, you chose between HP mat and HP glossy papers).
For more information on prints durability, check the Wilhelm Imaging Research – a laboratory specialized in testing durability of paper / ink combinations.
Most (if not all) of the photo printer sold today offer pigment based inks (Epson, Canon and HP). I mentioned dye based inks because that is what I use on my aging HP 7660, with HP ink and paper. The “fine art paper” market has been exploding recently with manufacturer offering plenty of products often described in an almost folkloric over-the-top marketing manner and sold for a little fortune (per sheet).
Epson (the leader in inkjet printing) has even put together the Digigraphie label to certify that a digital print has been produced according to their highest standard in terms of ink, paper and knowhow. A part from the printer manufacturers, a few independent paper manufacturer are: Moab, Canson, Arches, Ilford, Hahnemühle, Tetenal, Lyson, Crane…
A last word
As always, there is more ground to cover than I initially thought; there are quite a few decisions that you take once and for all and never think back about, but are nevertheless important to cover here. So I hope this is of help to you, knowing that there are a few more entries to come about the subject.
We went at Geneva Lake side last Sunday for a “winter walk”. Here is a picture which I like, especially for its treatment (using RawStudio, in case you wonder…). I am keeping it quiet for a few days and if it still flashes on me then, I may print it 🙂