Over the last few weeks I have been producing more prints than I have in years. Some of them little 4x6 inch prints on generic photo paper. Some of them a little larger at 6x9 inches on all sort of fantastic paper produced by a lot of the high-end ink jet paper manufactuers. Most of the prints are not my images. They are for a couple of different projects I am helping a photographer buddy out with. I wanted to publish a couple of notes on the projects and printing in general. I will cover a lot of this in more detail soon.
First off I have to say that a significant amount of printing is purely paper testing in preparation for a giant print installation project. We have tested just about everything from almost every manufacturer that I have heard of. The range of ink jet papers available and the quality levels are overwhelming. I will post some reviews of my favoites soon. If you haven't tested some new papers lately, do yourself a favor and get yourself some sample packs from a couple of manufacturers like Canson Infinity, Hahnemuhle, Harmon and Moab. Get the entire range. You may be surprised at some of the papers you didn't think you would like. Even if they are not appropriate for every project or every image they might be perfect for one and something you wouldn't have picked out of the blue with your standard go-to paper.
As you probably know I am in the process of procuring a new color calibration solution and am not quite through with that evaluation and selection process yet. When I am I will detail what I went with and why. In the meanwhile I decided to try some of the profiles provided by the paper manufacturers just to see if they were any good before wrestling with the monotonous job of producing my own custom profiles for every single paper that I wanted to test using my increasingly unreliable system. Much to my surprise every single profile with only one exception was very very good. At least as good if not better than what I could have produced with my current system. I may even dare to say that they were critically good for the printer/paper combination that I was printing on. That printer happened to be an HP B9180 - I hate that printer for operational reasons but it does produced a reasonably nice print when it works.
The quality of the profiles produced across the three paper companies that I was testing could probably be used without reservation for most people. This is pretty good news compared to just a few short years ago. I would say with a couple of caveats that if you have a proper monitor profile, a printer that happens to be profiled by any of the paper companies I just mentioned, and a decent color managed print work-flow (including the ability to evaluate what is in gamma for the target output), that you should be able to produce exceptional output without breaking the bank on investing in a printer calibration solution yourself. I will get into some more details in the paper reviews. I myself have a decent monitor profile and happen to use Photoshop CS 5 for all of my print output.
On anther note even though I happen to personally prefer smallish prints that you hold in your hands, the upcoming print installation project that I keep using as an excuse for not posting frequently has a requirement for lots of big prints. After looking at the project from 363 different angles we have decided that it makes sense to produce all of the prints up to 24x36 inches in-house. The project also has a need to produce some gigantic prints that will be billboard sized - those will continue to be outsourced for numerous reasons. That means a new printer acquisition. I have been doing a lot of leg work to make sure that we select the right printer for our needs. I hope to share some of that evaluation and ultimately the selection with you as well. Obviously the big three are in the running for a 44" wide printer. HP, Canon, and of course Epson. I am 80% final on what that printer will be and the answer may surprise you.
The other thing coming down the road with this project and all it's print production are a ton of small print production. Yep, not just the prints that will be officially part of the installation but some add-on's. Namely the produciton of a book or catalog in a large number for "opening night" but also about a hundred or so sets of small portfilios that will be custom made and very elegantly presented for all of the major players in the facility where the installation is planned. As part of this I am thinking of running a contest here on the site that would help some lucky winner select, process, print, and produce this type of portfilio - with the printing and paper supplied by me. Let's say a dozen images. Drop a comment if you would be interested in this kind of thing.