Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Get the Goods: Should I Outsource My Printing Services or Change to an Inside Job?

I've been making plans in my budget to purchase a professional Canon printer in hope of boosting impulse sales during presentations, but an email I got today from the Professional Photographer Magazine gave me some pause. In his article Andrew Darlow made the case that it might save me more time and money if I print my images myself, but it's also a good idea to consider other costs involved in in-house printer before I spend $1,000 or so on printing. Actual costs must also be calculated in the time and effort it takes to prepare files, hand-feed sheets, load rolls of canvas, trimming and mounting prints and the cost of ink.

I use Wolf Camera for all of my printing needs because they haven't failed me yet. Darlow suggests finding a fine-art inkjet studio dedicated to printing online, or using the Digital-FineArt Yahoo Group that he moderates to find vendors and sponsors.

He adds that many studios are owned by photographers who print for themselves

Try using this tips excerpted from Darlow's book, "301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers:"

TIP 13
Ask for a sample print.
Many companies are happy to send you a sample print at no charge, or they will sometimes charge a nominal fee to send a sample. Some will even print your full image (or a portion of an image) on a few different papers at a discounted rate if you are interested in possibly using their services.

TIP 14
Visit in person if possible.
The best way to get a feel for a printing company is to see their facilities in person. The most valuable part of this type of visit is to see sample prints that they’ve done for other artists. Working on-site also allows you to proof images under the lighting that your printmaker uses, which will generally be very consistent (such as a 5,000 Kelvin light box). Some printmakers have more than one lighting setup, which is even better because it allows you to see how your work will look in different situations. For example, at Fine Print Imaging in Fort Collins, Colo., you can review your prints under typical gallery lighting (using 3,500–4,000K halogen spotlights), or in lighting that simulates the walls of a typical home with daylight streaming in through windows (about 5,000K), or even under typical office lighting (overhead warm white fluorescent lights).

TIP 15 Match your lighting.
If you can’t work on-site with your fine art printmaker, it is important that you view your prints in a similar quality of light. For example, you can view your images in a darkened room in your home or studio, with the same quantity and type of bulbs focused on your prints, and from the same distance and angle as your printmaker does in his studio. This may require you to invest in a color-corrected light box, or you and your printmaker can both use a high quality set of halogen lamps. One well regarded manufacturer is SoLux. Their bulbs come in a range of color temperatures and beam spreads, from narrow spot to flood, and they also make fixtures and lamps that are well-suited to their bulbs. See Chapter 14, “Packing, Lighting, and Framing,” for more on this topic.

TIP 16
Buy a smaller version of a similar printer.
To reduce the cost and time spent proofing projects, consider buying a printer that is similar to the one your printmaker is using. An example would be for you to purchase an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (13-inch) if your printmaker has an Epson Stylus Pro 9880 (44-inch) because both use the exact same inks. Other examples of two-printer models that use the same inks are the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5000 (17-inch) and the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9000 (60-inch) and the HP Photosmart Pro B9180 (13-inch) and the HP Designjet Z2100 (24- or 44-inch).

It’s also important that each set of printers be calibrated and profiled. Even though the paper and ink used are the same with each set of printers, some differences in color and density are to be expected. However, there are some techniques that can help you make your prints more closely match those of your printmaker. See Chapter 4, “Color Management & Driver Tips,” for techniques related to this topic.

TIP 17
Ask your printmaker to keep a sample of each approved image.
If you plan to print a specific image again as part of an edition, ask your printmaker to keep a sample print of the final approved image and keep one on file yourself. If you’d like to have very tight control over your images (in other words, if you would like to only have a specific number of final prints in circulation), you can write with an ink-based pen or marker, in one or more areas of the sample, print the words “Test Print—not for sale.” Even a year or more after the first prints are made, the sample can be taken out of storage and used as a reference without having to send your printmaker a print. See Chapter 13, “Exhibitions, Editioning, and Image Tracking,” for more about creating editions of prints.


2sweetnsaxy said...

I really appreciate this post. I want to start selling some prints and haven't decided which way to go in printing them.

Sheba Wheeler said...

Thanks sweetnsaxy. Trying to print at home can be more difficult than I think. One of my contacts told me that calibration and things of that nature make him want to stick to having the pros do the printing for him! For large print packages, I like the idea of having a pro printer do it, but if I'm just doing a small package...of say, a few 5x7, I would love to be able to turn those around quickly at my home. Let me know what plan you come up with.

Sheba Wheeler said...

I got a great email today from Business Manager and photographer Jim Turley with Illuminate Photography Workshops that I thought might be helpful to readers as it was to me. Jim says:

"I bought a Canon Pro 9500 early on - before learning, sometimes the hard way, that getting good prints is a whole endeavor in itself (profiling monitor and printer, using correct settings for paper, et al). I took a one-day seminar recently on color managemet in printing, and walked away realizing how much I did not know (and would have to learn). Much to learn and perhaps still time consuming after getting through the initial hump. Bottomline, I am having all my printing done on outsource, with the possibility of doing more of my own down the road. For now, I am concentrating on marketing and improving my behind-camera skills, of which I have plenty to learn.

Reed Photo here in Denver does a lot of fine art work, as well as more pedestrian work. They've been around for 30+ years. Boulder Pro Photo was recommended by Andrew Clark. And, of course there are scads of places outside Colorado. I am biased toward using a Denver/Boulder company; maybe because if I really have problems I want to visit and be able to discuss things face-to-face."

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