|The ultimate expression of a fine photograph is a well-crafted print that's framed and illuminated properly.|
Probably 90% of my images live on my hard drives and never manifest themselves in the non-digital world. However, every now and then I get an image that I feel should be printed and shared. Taking an image from the realm of the digital to the physical can be a complex undertaking. It has taken me about a decade to hone in on what makes a great print and what display techniques work best for prints in homes and offices.
The good news is that printers are getting better every year. In the early days of prints from desktop inkjet printers, you could almost watch prints fade before your very eyes. The dye-based inks didn't have the longevity needed to make fine-art prints. When the Epson pigment ink-based printers were introduced and made affordable back in the 1990s, the world of digital printing finally opened up to photographers. This is when I became enamored again with photography. The ability to develop images on the computer and then print them without a darkroom launched a new career and changed my life.
My initial attempts at printing were somewhat disappointing. I realized that before I could press the print button, I had to start at square one learning about color management, papers, monitor calibration, metamerism, printing technology and ink longevity. Thanks to some excellent instruction available at various photo workshops, I was able to acquire the skills necessary to make my print output match my computer monitor. Printing skills represent an entirely new learning curve above and beyond digital image processing.
I now use an Epson Stylus Pro 11880 60-inch-wide printer powered by an ImagePrint RIP to create all my prints. While not everyone has the need for a 60-inch-wide printer, the technology is available to get wonderful archival prints from smaller affordable inkjet printers. I'm partial to the Epson line of printers, but I know excellent printers are also made by Canon and HP, among others. For the price of less than a nice new lens, you can acquire a fine art-worthy, pigment-ink printer from one of these companies and set off on a learning adventure that ultimately will help you free some of your images from your hard drive. Of course, if you don't have the time or inclination to do your own printing, there are many great printing services available that can print your image file for you. It's wise to develop a relationship with one of these services so you can work with them to get the best output for your images.
I encourage everyone who takes one of my workshops to pick at least one image from the workshop and commit to printing it on paper and framing it. You can master the printing learning curve by taking one of the many online courses available now. I think Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe have done a great service to the photographic community by making their "Camera to Print & Screen" videos available. This series of over 40 videos will give you the knowledge needed to make your own fine-art prints.
One of the challenges of printing is learning about the different papers available. I currently print on many materials, including canvas, satin, cotton papers, luster papers and even translucent polyvinyl that can be put in lightbox displays. I use papers from Epson, Innova, LexJet and Moab, but there are many others available. It's a good idea to order sample packs from companies and see what types of paper best suit your work.
Once a print is made, the final step is to display it properly. You should have it framed with an acid-free mat behind glass. I prefer nonglare glass for my images printed on paper and a frame that doesn't compete with the picture for attention. Canvas prints can be stretched around a wooden frame by most frame shops. I like canvas prints because they don't require glass in front of the image and don't have to be framed if you do a "gallery wrap," wherein the canvas is secured in the back of the frame. onOne Software Perfect Resize 7.5 will automatically upsize and add gallery wrap flaps to your image for printing.
Be aware of the lighting where your prints will be displayed if you want the best presentation of your work. Most homes these days are lit with either tungsten or fluorescent lights. Neither of these light sources is optimal for print display. Tungsten bulbs give prints a yellowish color cast, and most fluorescent bulbs emit a green tint. In our galleries, we've used halogen MR16 bulbs to properly light prints. There are some exciting new LED bulbs now available that give off light similar to halogen with a fraction of the energy use. GE and Philips brands are on the cutting edge of LED technology. I think when prices become more reasonable, most lighting will be LED in homes and offices. For the price, halogen bulbs currently provide the best light source.
If you're an avid photographer, I think you'll enjoy the process of learning and mastering digital printing. Yes, I know there are still many great darkroom printers out there. All I can say is "power to you"—please keep the darkroom printing skills alive. Most of us will rely on the power of modern technology to translate our vision from the physical location where we took the image, to the digital realm of our cameras and computers, and then back to the physical world as a print.