Friday, 28 October 2011

Printing - Paper - Profiles

About a month ago I acquired an HP Z3200 24" printer and during the last few days it has undergone some intensive calibration and a host of test prints now adorn the walls.

The problems with printing are well understood but by way of a checklist and as an Aide-m√©moire, this is my list, hopefully all checked and complete.

  1. A monitor that is calibrated.
  2. Ambient light levels to suit.
  3. Photo quality printer.
  4. Suitable paper.
  5. Paper profiles.
  6. Photoshop CSx
  7. Printing software. (Optional)
Some are obvious and some not quite so obvious, so I will look at them in more detail.

1. The calibrated monitor. My ASUS is  1900x1200 and does a good job but it will not calibrate properly. The calibration is by an Eye One Display 2 and it simply will not get rid of a red cast (best seen in a monochrome image, which should be entirely neutral) so, an Eizo CG241W is now used and the difference is considerable. The Eizo comes with its own calibration software and accepts the Eye One  device. The difference is that the Eizo is hardware calibrated, so therefore the vagaries of Windows, Video cards etc do not come into play. Item 1,
  
2. Ambient light levels. Not a huge problem but improved here by installing all lighting tubes that are daylight colour balanced, together with two desk lamps with daylight bulbs. Print evaluation under these conditions is therefore entirely neutral. Item 2,

3. Photo quality printer. The HP Z3200 is my choice. It uses 12 Vivera ink cartridges which include a gloss enhancer to eliminate bronzing and is the only printer at this size that makes its own icc profiles.
Item 3,
  
4. Suitable paper. This is more difficult to establish an absolute outcome. There are just so many to choose from and although it is possible to buy sample packs, they come in A4 size and only one of each type. Internet research establishes that other users have their preferences but this is such a subjective issue it is difficult to know. For now I am using HP roll paper and some sheet from Hahnemuhle and Harmon.

I will soon get some Canson as they seem to be well into HP printers and offer presets ready for profiling. Item 4, can do better

5. Paper profiles. The HP 3200 makes its own. Load some paper, two clicks later and about 30 minutes due to drying time and a bespoke .icc profile is loaded into the PC and a new Custom paper joins the list on the printer display. Apart from the correct calibration, platen distance etc the profile is essential for soft proofing. My wish list is that all paper looks the same when under soft proofing, but unfortunately that is not the case. Satin and Gloss types require less work under SP conditions. Matt goes very muddy (as it does with the profile for a Blurb book if you download their profiles) and is difficult to work with. There is work to do before the SP set up is truly correct. Under View > Proof Set Up > Custom a number of options need consideration. From the list in Device to Simulate pick up the profile of the paper. Rendering Intent is a area where there doesn't seem to be a whole amount of agreement or direction. Perceptual and Saturation seemingly produce similar results and I will choose Saturation in most instances. I keep Black Point Compensation ticked. Display options to Simulate Paper Colour and Black Ink will often horrify me as the bright screen image of the photograph now looks muddy again. The screen settings recommended by Eizo for photography are 100cd 6500k 2.20 and will always be brighter that the print. So, a few test prints are needed to establish what looks best but once recorded they will be good for 90% of printed output without any further. Save the Custom proof  with a name and date and use it as required. Control + Y toggles to the current settings.  Item 5,  with work ongoing to introduce Canson paper as soon as possible.

6. Photoshop CS5 for some post processing but I don't use it for printing.  

7. Printing software. My preferred method for output to the printer is via Qimage It is stand alone software and has a few features that are superior to the likes of CS5. The most notable is its ability to up size images from their native size with algorithms better than Bicubic found in CS5 and the output sharpening is automatically determined to suit the print size. Item 7.


Conclusion.

Digital printing to exhibition quality is nowhere as easy as in a wet darkroom, although the angst is at least consumed in daylight and without the smelly hands. Printing with an inkjet device requires research and patience, but when it all comes together the rewards are joyous.

P.S. Use white cotton gloves when handling paper rolls. The dreaded finger prints show up if not.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting. I have heard of Qimage before but not really explored it. Still not sure what it adds over PS (I have other resizing options and like to control the sharpness on each print myself) but will research further. Building up to a nice new monitor. I hope to see some of your exhibition prints some day Nigel - I am sure they are very good indeed.

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  2. Qimage allows a drag and drop (onto the paper)regime. The image can then be dragged to its required size. The sharpening (which is of course size sensitive)manages itself at this stage, once a few trial are done to establish whats needed to suit paper type. The benefit therefore is that you only need to keep a single unsharpened tiff for each image after processing. Qimage also keeps a printing log so you can go back to that image at any time and select the job for a reprint. The profile, size, print settings, paper type etc are kept in memory. I use Photokit sharpener for capture sharpening and any local sharpening, and sometimes for web use the output sharpening. I used to do sharpening by eye but when I read the photokit manual I began to understand that I was unlikely to get it right as the size, dpi and associated maths are too complicated. I try to make every print to an exhibition standard, whatever the size and would like to exhibit one day. In Kings Lynn we have gallery run by a cooperative of artists and photographers and one day I will have a go there.

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