First things first.
- I haven't yet offered a print over 11 x 14". I'm planning my first 16 x 20" one for this year but until now I haven't tried it.
- I don't have my own printer. I don't have the floorspace to dedicate to one right now though I DO know which one I'd buy if I did
- I believe in the principle that says art prints are works of art separate from the original. In other words, it is more important for them to look beautiful when judged by themselves than to look perfectly like the original when hung next to it. Likeness is important - perfection not quite as.
- I do NOT like any results I have ever gotten printing on my home printer, no matter what quality setting I put it on. I would not recommend printing your own prints on anything less than an Epson printer as you won't be using archival inks and the quality will be, to use a technical term, diddly-squat.
- I do NOT like paying people lots of money to scan, photograph, and color correct my work. I tried that route and hated the results. Much better to learn to do it myself.
- Camera. I have a lovely Canon Rebel xti with a million jillion megapixels, and I get great results with it. Confession, though? I've also shot prints off my Sony Cybershot 5.0 megapixel, and they came out beautifully. It did 8 x 10" quite nicely, and struggled perhaps with an 11 x 14" - the focus had to be perfect. I would shoot for the best digital camera you can get - it's a good artistic investment anyway as you need shots of your work for everything and you can also shoot slides with them.
- Scanner. Nothing fancy. I have a Lexmark 3-n-1 or something like that, and it does a nice job with most pieces. It balks at paper with a lot of texture or work with a lot of white in it. And it has a limited plate size. I use it for 8 x 10" and 9 x 12" works on paper and pieces on canvas I just can't photograph properly. To scan cradled works and canvas, put the piece face down on the scanner and drape with black fabric to keep light from getting in. (Thanks Gayle for that tip).
- Adobe Photoshop. I have the full version, though you might be able to get away with Elements. I almost never take a perfect shot; invariably I need to work on the color or the contrast. I used to have to print out a sample to make sure I had gotten it right as the screen looks a hair different than the printed result, but now I'm pretty darn good at getting it right the first time. I can usually get the print to look just about identical to the original or even better.
When you get the photo into your computer, try to avoid tooling around with it too much, especially in terms of resizing. The more you mess with a Jpeg the more you corrupt the file and lose image information, and that's bad.
What you're aiming for is an image at 300 dpi. That's what will get you doable results. More is fine. Less is . . . not fine.
Okay, what do I do with my files once I have them? Well, once they're all color-corrected and beautiful, I send them to one of my two favorite printers. I've tried many and you can look around too, but I really like these two for turnaround, service, and results.
They both use archival inks and offer great products. I use iprintfromhome for my prints on paper (I think they just began to offer a 16 x 20" fine art print too) and Quality Canvas Photos for my prints on canvas. The latter sends theirs unstretched, so you'll have to stretch them yourself - which is easy.
Yes, I know artists are supposed to suffer and spend $250 for their first two prints and proofs and what not, but I just decided not to do that. When I first pull a print from one of my images, I order one trial print from the printer and see if I got the color right and if the file had enough info to make a good image. And I have to tell you, the first time I got an 11 x 14" print done for $17.50 instead of $250, I expected it to look awful. But I held it up next to the original and I couldn't tell the difference. Archival inks, acid-free paper, and a great looking image - what more do you want from a print!
Someone asked me how I market my prints, but that's a whole 'nother question - that's all about selling, and I'm afraid I'll need more begging for that question to get answered.