Why You Should be Printing in the Digital Age
Why print? You can look at your images on a nice, shiny glowing screen, how could it get any better? We’ll tell you why and how much you’re missing out on when you don’t. I will mainly be talking about inkjet printing in this article, however, if you should film don’t despair, you don’t have to do darkroom printing unless you want to.
It’s highly rewarding
Many people have started to feel like looking at images on a monitor or a phone has started to get old. It loses its tangibility, its character, and after a while it all starts to look the same in certain ways. Until you see your photograph come to life on paper, you won’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Experience the joy and reward it can bring you. I can’t explain the feeling in words, I can only recommend that you try it for yourself.
A symptom of our digital age is that we seem to have much shorter attention spans and we no longer stop and really absorb in an image that has meaning to us. Maybe we just don’t even look for meaning anymore, we just look for what looks cool, like it, then scroll down to the next one all in a split second.
Thinking more while shooting = better results
In my mind, my image is not complete until it is in print form. Yes, even if you shoot digital, the final product should be a print. It will change the way you shoot when you stop and think about whether this photo is going to make a nice print. I know I’ve spoken before about how digital photography has created an unfortunate mentality of shoot a lot and select later. I’ll probably say it until I’m blue in the face but here we go. When you just shoot to post online or to flip through a slide show on your computer, things get diluted. You shoot hundreds or thousands of images almost without thinking and sure, a few will turn out great. But most of them will be forgettable, and what is the point of storing all those images that you will never want to look at again? Even the ones who did turn out well, I would argue they may have turned out better if you slowed down. In my experience knowing how to print has certainly changed the process I go through when I shoot. It becomes more about the entire process of creating an image. It really helps narrow things down. The selective process becomes more natural. If it’s not worth printing, I don’t want it. I will not be happy until I get a final print that looks beautiful and is worth framing, or at the very least is worth taking up room in a portfolio or archival box.
Every paper looks different
Part of the fun of printing is trying different papers. There are quite a few brands out there and each brand has a selection of different types of paper. Each one has different thickness and different emulsions, effecting everything about how your print comes out from contrast to color rendition. So beyond how it looks on a monitor, you must stop and consider these other factors and then decide which paper to use. In general, glossy paper is the sharpest and has the most color saturation, while matte tends to have less color saturation and loses a lot of sharpness. However, there are exceptions to these rules depending on the brand and chemical formula in the paper. Moab Entrada Rag Bright, for instance, is a matte paper that holds sharpness and brightens color in an amazing fashion. When you start experimenting with papers, you will see how many different kinds results you can yield from a single image. The way you print and what you print on ends up becoming another part of your individual style as a photographer.
Best of all, you have something for your wall, or for someone else’s
In the digital age some of us have lost the true meaning of having something framed and mounted on a wall. It brings you back to real meaning of photography, which for many is to capture a fleeting moment in time. That moment is now preserved in glass and wood and hanging in your favorite room for you to enjoy. Framed prints also make wonderful gifts, they are my favorite thing to give out at Christmas and birthdays. The receivers always appreciate it more than anything I could buy for them. It’s personal and it’s something you created, something that they will treasure. Printing on a large scale especially makes it worth it. Seeing your image blown up so you can see every detail even from a distance really makes it magical.
Now that you hopefully see why you should be printing, lets discuss how you can print. I won’t lie, there is quite a learning curve with printing, but once you get the hang of it and you find favorite papers you are consistently using, it’s not hard at all.
There are many printers to choose from and this can be overwhelming. I usually recommend Canon printers because they are easy to use and reasonably priced. Canon makes some nice affordable papers that work very well with their printers so you don’t have do too much adjusting to make the colors come out right. Canon has a Pixma series which is great for home use and they also make a Pro series which usually offers larger scale printing and uses more types of color ink cartridges, giving better quality to the tones and colors in your image. Epson also makes some spectacular photo printers and they make their own papers as well.
There are also other brands of fine art papers to choose from. When you get into printing on third party papers then it’s time to learn about ICC profiles. If you’ve never heard of this, basically it is data that characterizes a color space according to the International Color Consortium standards. This probably sounds like gobbledy gook so I usually describe it as data that allows your printer to understand how to print the correct color for the paper you are using.
In order to use an ICC profile you simply download it from the manufacturer’s website. You can easily google instructions on how to import it into Photoshop, Lightroom or whatever program you are using based on your computer’s operating system.
I’ll have to go into grayscale printing in another entry because that’s where it gets trickier. Inkjet printers do not print true grayscale so there are some tricks you have to use.
Inkjet vs. Darkroom
Most of us Seawood staff use the hybrid method. Meaning we shoot and process our film, then scan it into Lightroom or Photoshop, do our post processing and then print on inkjet. The advantage is that it takes up the space of one large desk or corner of a room, where darkroom printing takes up a lot more room due to the equipment needed.
There is still a magic to darkroom printing that can never be replaced, and there are still people out there who prefer it, understandably. If you have the space, why not. You can find enlargers for free all over the place and a lot of other equipment for next to nothing these days. The chemicals and papers get expensive, but printer cartridges and inkjet papers are expensive too.
We have recently started carrying MOAB papers and we absolutely love them. We’ve carried Hahnnemuhle for a very long time, they are wonderful too, and decided to make the switch due to Hahnnemuhle’s large price increases and higher demand for MOAB. We’re very excited about their newest papers, the Slickrock Metallic Pearl and Slickrock Metallic Silver. The pearl version is extremely sharp and really makes colors pop. The metallic version is incredible for night photography especially. It really brings any light source in the photograph to life. We encourage you to come into the store and see some examples the staff has printed of their work.
MOAB’s ICC profiles for all of their papers are dead on, making it super easy to get great color rendition. Plus, one of my favorite features, all of the MOAB matte papers are dual sided! No more forgetting which side was the front and doing the sticky finger test.
We also carry Canon papers (Luster is our favorite) which are super easy to use on Canon printers, and Epson papers which are great with Epson printers.
Still not convinced? Seawood offers a fine art printing service in house, and we’re pretty dang good at it. Let us print something for you and see your favorite image pop!