Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Fine Art of Printing

Those of you who know me well know that I don't follow any of the rules for anything. It shouldn't surprise you that I don't follow the rules for making my prints either. Many many many beginning artists have asked me how I make my prints and so I wanted to share my very simple lazy method.

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.
All right, that aside, let's head on to the equipment I use.

  • 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 I'm shooting for prints, I want good lighting. I know, you're supposed to have a proper lighting set up and reflectors and blah blah - yeah. I go outside. Preferably in the morning before the sun is too high, or on an overcast day. That's all they're trying to reproduce in the studio anyway.

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.


Kasie Sallee said...

Thanks for taking the time to put all of that down, Maggie. It's very helpful. I truly appreciate your willingness to share.

Chumplet said...

That was wonderfully informative. I have a closetful of Nikon equipment I should trade in for a really good digital camera.

Someone told me to handle larger pieces by scanning in two parts and fusing them together using Photoshop. I haven't seen results from such a technique, but I suppose it's worth a try.

Thanks, Maggie.

Katherine said...

Maggie - it's maybe worth saying that you don't want to use a jpeg file in any case for printing. Jpegs are great for the internet but they're already compressed and henc have lost info - and as you indicate lose more every time you mess with them.

I do two scans for images - one for printing and one for the internet. The printing one is 300dpi as a .tiff file (and is huge - but will go on a CD) and the internet one is a 150dpi jpeg file which is then reduced down to 60-72dpi for posting on the internet - which means my website loads faster.

holly said...

Thanks sooo much, Maggie. After years of Photoshop, Illustrator, etc., shooting, scanning and printing are *still* scary mysteries to me. Your info really helped.

I have a "you-gotta-be-kidding-you-moron" question . . . when you post an image online, is it 500/600ppi longest side, 72ppi resolution, JPEG, no compression? (See - I've really *tried* to learn this stuff - I even know it's ppi not dpi)

-N- said...

Tell us more about how easy it is to stretch the canvas prints! Pretty please?

Cara Dawn Romero said...

Okay Maggie - we're begging! Thank you so much for sharing the information - I'm learning..really...

Karen Mathison Schmidt said...

Great post, Maggie! Lots of good info.

I agree that Epson printers are best for fine art prints - if I provide the paper and inks, my employer allows me to use our 9600 Pro (no longer made; now they have the 7800 and the 9800) to make my art prints and they come out fantasic! Now that I'm working from home 1600 miles from the office, though, it's not quite as convenient as it used to be.

And Sandra (chumplet) is right: you can scan your larger pieces in sections and put them together in Photoshop; I do it all the time. (Easy for me to say - I've been working with Photoshop since version 1.0 - circa 1990!) You definitely need to know your way around the program (or know somebody who does) to get good results.

The largest painting I've scanned (using a dark cloth as a shield against the light) is 18 x 24, which takes 6 passes, and a little bit of doing, but it's more that worth it to me; I like the end result much better than a digital photo. (Note: working with files this large takes up a LOT of memory on your computer.)

Karen's Tip of the Day: Make sure your painting is completely dry before placing it on the scanner.

andrea said...

Dinahmow sent me here and now I'm begging. Marketing is an endlessly fascinating topic for me because I suck at it!

As for printing, I have come to almost the same identical conclusions as you, but I have a better print house than iprintfromhome.com -- which I have used and liked a lot. I use http://www.digitalartrepros.com and the results were amazing -- and he's cheaper. With the CAD/USD exchange rate, even cheaper for you. He doesn't package them like iprintfromhome.com does, though. They are the world's BEST print shippers.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Chumplet - the 16 x 20 of Gawain I'm making available this summer is done from stitching four pieces together in Photoshop, but as Karen says, it's a heckuva file and my computer chews a long time on it before deciding what to do with it.

Katherine - I've heard that about the jpg a lot but frankly - show me the difference and maybe I'll change. I can see how with a big piece it might make a difference but my prints are all pulled from jpegs and look fab next to the original. I think probably once I begin to do 16 x 20 and on up, I'm going to have to look harder at my capture and saving methods, as it'll become more crucial then.

Holly - yes. I like to put a 72 dpi image online as it won't take too long, and I would say 600 pixels for the height, max, and 800 wide if you're doing something very large. Otherwise 500 is fine. My art card images at the top of most of my blog posts are 300 pixels wide.

N- the canvas from iprintfromhome is light enough to you can do it by hand with a staple gun and a firm, even pull, but with heavier stuff I understand you need pliers to make sure it's pulled evenly. With the canvas from iprintfromhome it's not so much stretching as folding tightly on the corners and stapling into the wooden stretcher bars.

Karen - thanks. And that sounds distinctly like the voice of experience about the wet paint and the scanner . . .

Andrea - thanks for the hint - I'll check him out! And I think I'll solicit questions on marketing and answer them individually - might be easier than a whopper blog post.

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