How to Get Started With Printing Photos

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon1 Comment

Jeff and Brent go through the 4 things photographers should consider when getting started in printing their own photos.

How to Get Started With Printing Photos

Really nothing like taking your own photo, printing it yourself, and hanging it on the wall.  To get started printing your own photos:

  1. Buy a good photo printer.  Doesn’t have to be expensive and we’ll tell you how.
  2. Buy name brand paper.  Make the process as easy as possible to start with.
  3. Buy name brand ink.  Yes, expensive, but again makes things easier to start out.
  4. Calibrate display and printer.  This is the hardest and most important part. X-Rite i1Basic Pro 2 calibration hardware helps, but it is a whopping $1,600.  Read on for more information.

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Quick Aside – Don’t Use Late 2018 Adobe Software Updates!

Many listeners have been asking if the updates to Lightroom and Photoshop released in October 2018 have been given the Photo Taco seal of approval.  They have not. Not only have there been a lot of lingering issues being discussed in the Adobe forums (https://feedback.photoshop.com) but my own experience has been very bad as I have processed family photos over the past couple of weeks.

Photoshop CC 2019 version 20 (and 20.0.1) is extremely buggy.  I have had it crash many times per editing session when trying to use some of the advanced features like Shake Reduction and Select and Mask.  Worse than that is an issue where if you round-trip from Lightroom to Photoshop and Photoshop wasn’t already running, then your photo makes it into Photoshop but you can’t do anything with it.  Adobe has acknowledged the bug and has officially stated that the workaround is to manually launch Photoshop prior to round-tripping from Lightroom. The workaround does indeed seem to work.

The issues are not limited to Mac or Windows, equal problems across both platforms.  Lightroom Classic CC 2019 seems to be working pretty well for me and there are fewer issues there that I wish I could say you were good to go on an upgrade there, but because you really want both of them in sync you don’t want to do one without the other.

My recommendation is to stay with Photoshop CC 2018 and Lightroom Classic CC 2018 if having those tools run without any bumps is critical to your business.  The other great thing here is that if you are having issues you can actually downgrade to the 2018 version because the Lightroom catalog wasn’t updated this time.  Downgrading is as simple as using the Creative Cloud app and choosing the previous version.

Love Photography, Hate Printing!

I want to start off by explaining where I am at on photo printing to level-set the conversation here.  I love photography. I think it is going to be my hobby and passion for many years. I love getting out to shoot landscapes.  I love working with my wife to capture family and individual portraits. I even love post processing, maybe more than the capture part of the process.  What I really don’t like is printing photos. Let me explain.

At this point, I have done a fair amount of printing my own photos.  All of my portrait clients want prints of course, that is why they are getting their portraits taken.  I also love to hang one of my own landscapes on the wall. So I have figured out what it takes to send my photos off to a printing lab and get them printed.  I don’t really enjoy that part like I do the shooting and post-processing, but as a necessary evil I have figured out how to get good prints of my work from a lab.

I dislike printing so much that I offer but do not force my portrait clients to print through me.  The portrait photographers listening all cringed at that because that is how you make money as a portrait photographer.  The deposit/sitting fee is just to make sure they are serious about scheduling the shoot, portrait photographer make their money on prints.  In-person sales, working with the clients to help them get from the shoot the prints they want.

In-person sales are an incredibly valuable service.  Takes the headache out of it for clients to figure out how to get their photos printed at a high quality, something that does take some knowledge for a truly premium result.  Something that is totally worth paying for. I just don’t like it. This is not how I make a living. I do this as a hobby and I have no intentions of changing that at this point.  I love the shooting and post-processing, ordering 8×10’s of my shots is not something I enjoy.

Why Learn to Print Your Own Photos?

With that understanding Brent, I have decided I need to learn how to print my own photos.  Since I just got done saying it is something I don’t enjoy, you may be wondering why I have decided I need to dig in and figure this out.  There are two reasons.

Right Price

First, the price was right.  Cost is a pretty significant driving force in my photography.  This is a hobby for me, and like pretty much any hobby an adult pursues it is a very expensive hobby.  In order for me to try something out, I have to find a way to do it with as little cost as possible.

At least once a year I see a deal come up where you can buy a good quality Canon printer for less than $100.  You only get there via a mail-in-rebate, which they hope most will forget to do and it takes forever for the money to come back for the few who remember, but the cost is only a few hundred dollars normally so you don’t have to be without thousands waiting for it to come back.  I have seen these deals for years now and I finally reached a point where I decided to take the plunge and invest during one of these sales.

Learning Tool

The second reason is to learn more about photography.  When I dove into learning flash, I learned a lot about photography.  It helped me better understand light, which is what photography is all about of course.  I expect that if I dig in and learn about printing, even though I don’t have a lot of interest in it right now, it will help me be a better photographer.  I also suspect that I may come to like it, but it will take a lot of convincing for me to go there.

I imagine there are a lot of photographers listening who are just like me on this, so I thought an episode where you offered me suggestions on how to get started would be a good one.  Though really I am just being selfish and asking for direction on how to get started.

What To Look For In a Photo Printer

Brent, obviously the first thing you need when you are going to print your own photos is a photo printer.  Tell me what should a photographer look for when they are looking to buy a photo printer?

Get a Canon or Epson

Brent: Normally, I try to go off brand as often as possible where it makes sense and can save money, but this is not one of those cases.  You have to go name brand here. The two major players are Canon and Epson. HP has some nice office printers that work quite well, but they aren’t one of the leaders in the area of photo printing.

Getting a Canon printer on one of those deals you see once, maybe twice a year, is a great way to go.  Though my preference is Epson. Canon does have some software advantages that I like better than what Epson offers, but the quality that comes out of the Epson photo printers are just spectacular.

Start with 13×19

For the hobbyist, bare bones is to buy a 13×19 printer.  Photo printers smaller than this don’t have the quality a photographer is going to be happy with.  You can look on B&H, Adorama, and other places for them and you will find three options available in 13×19 models at various cost levels.  The differences are in the number of inks.

The Number of Inks

All of them are going to have ICC profiles, which are important.  One of the big differences then is how many inks the printer uses to produce colors.  The more inks, the more colors it can produce and the closer you can get to what you have on your screen.  Some even offer different blacks to use depending on if you are printing on glossy or matte paper.

The more the inks the more the expense of course.  As you are starting out, pretty well every 13×19 photo printer is going to have enough inks to do a good job of representing on paper what you see on the screen.  You can start of with the less expensive option and then grow as your interest grows.

Space For the Printer

The other consideration is the space you have for the printer.  Some of these printers take up a huge amount of space. 13×19 printers are physically fairly small as it goes for printers, but they are actually still pretty large.  You have to make sure you choose something that will fit in the space you have to put it in.

Jeff: The deal I bought a few weeks ago here in late 2018 was one from Adorama for a Canon PIXMA Pro-100 Professional printer.  It was like $60 or $80 after the mail-in-rebate.

Brent, I have a smaller office kind of photo printer (Epson Workforce 845) which is not really good enough for what we are talking about here.  We have had it for several years, like maybe 4 or more. I have had prints of just office documents that have pictures on them come out with significant banding.  Looks terrible. My question is if the nozzles just plain wear out? Anything more I can do to make this printer work well again?

Brent: Ink is probably dried on there, and it is hard to deal with. Those kind of printers are so inexpensive you probably can’t do much yourself.  Probably don’t have replaceable print heads. Probably just time for a new printer. Can try to remove the head and clean it, but probably not worth it.  

That brings up a good point though.  Not good to have a printer sit for months and months with no activity.  Run the printer at least once a month because these better photo printers can also have problems with this, you just have a lot more you can do about it.

This is one of the areas where Epson has an advantage over Canon from my experience.  Epson has a better way to deal with ink that has dried in the print head with a very forceful cleaning process.

What Kind of Photo Paper?

When I order my prints at a lab there are two standard choices of paper, matte and glossy.  Then some offer a few others choices like metallic. What do those each mean and tell me what I should look for as I buy paper for my photo printer?  Is there a brand that would be good for me as a hobbyist looking to do this as inexpensively as I can?

Brent: It is overwhelming!  There are SO MANY different types of paper out there. This is part of what I love about doing my own printing.  I have been to Mexico and I have actually bought packs of paper with no intention to use it but I just love the paper.  Gorgeous paper that I just keep in the plastic wrap because I love high quality paper.

Initially I suggest starting with manufacturer rated/branded paper. You will likely have the best initial experience since the paper is fully supported in their print drivers and/or software. After you get comfortable with the paper handling, terminology and all that, getting special papers is the way to go. Epson offers some excellent papers, as does Canon, but the third party manufacturers really have it down. They make their own papers and they’re a little extra special because of it.

When you get it down to where you are getting good results that look like your screen when you print, then you can move into some other brands of paper.  The brands I particularly like are Canson Infinity, Moab and Hahnemüle. These are premium papers and they each offer a very wide variety of textures, materials and surfaces.  

Jeff: With this basic Canon 13×19 printer, can I do something like canvas?

Brent: Yes.  Most of the manufacturers have their own canvas as well.  You can use sheet fed canvas on a rider sheet. That is going to be the very easiest.  More popular is roll media canvas. Have to stretch it over a frame. This is a more advanced thing fo sure, so don’t go to this until you have printing on name brand glossy or matte paper down really well.

Keep it simple.  Remove a variable from the equation as you are getting started and buy your paper from the same manufacturer as your printer.  Get a few successes, then dive into the fun world of papers.

Can I Use Off-Brand Ink?

We have been over how important cost is to me as I expand into other areas of photography, so a concern I have right off the top here is the outrageous cost of ink for these printers.  Not just my Canon printer that I am going to use here. I have an Epson printer for the document type of printing my family does and the name brand ink is nearly highway robbery. What is your advice with regard to ink?

Brent: You can pretty much guarantee that if you use off-brand ink and your printer has an issue that the manufacturer isn’t going to want to touch it.  So there is a good reason to use ink from your manufacturer.

I’ve tried Cartridge World for a canon printer a few years ago. It was OK, but the quality just wasn’t there. There’s also external devices called continuous ink systems. These systems replace your ink cartridges with a pseudo cartridge that has a tube running to it from a much larger tank. Some of these system are excellent, though expensive and messy. It’s only really valuable for production printing.

My most used printer is the Epson which has 200ML inks. At about $85 per cartridge it’s expensive, but cheap compared to Canon with 13ml inks. Unfortunately, most 13×19 printers have the smaller ink cartridges. Epson has come out recently with a refillable ink system, but it’s for office printing, not really targeted towards the photo printing options.

In short, I don’t officially recommend off-brand inks. Make it easier on yourself as you get started into doing your own prints and don’t make off-brand ink be a possibility to impact the quality of your prints.  Plus, most printers today have little chips in the ink cartridges and it’s always a pain to override those. The manufacturers know where they make their money 🙂

How to Calibrate a Printer

Brent, one of the things that has been most frustrating to me with printing has been getting results that look very different from what I see on the computer.  I calibrate my screen, and maybe we need to go through that as part of the process here, but the tiny bit of printing I have tried myself has almost always been off from what I see on my calibrated screen.  

I didn’t have a great printer, so that has been an issue, but I assume I need to calibrate my printer.  How do I go about calibrating my printer?

Brent: Oh yes, this is the hairy part of the process.  You can end up with a color being close but not the same, or multiple colors close but not right.

There’s so much to this, more than we can cover on this short episode. This is why I’m making a course on the subject. But here is the order of how you want to go about calibration:

  1. Calibrate your screen.  Absolutely essential for doing your own printing and printing through a lab.
  2. Understand the color space your display is capable of
  3. Understand the color space you have Lightroom and Photoshop working in, printing beginners should edit in sRGB
  4. Understand what the histogram means with regard to printing.
  5. Use Photoshop to print, do File->Export and export to Printer
  6. Use and then modify ICC printing profile as you work through discrepancies between the screen and the print.  If it is close, then just make changes using curves in Photoshop rather than changing the ICC profile.
  7. If things are REALLY off even with the ICC profile then create a custom profile.  More advanced process here.
Calibrate Your Screen

One of the most common issues when you print is having the photo on the paper look much darker than it looked on the screen.  Most of the time the problem there is editing your photo with your screen far too bright. Calibrate the screen, with respect to industry standards of brightness. 120 cd/m with a 6500K or 5500K white point.

Jeff: This is something I do anyway so that my photos have a better chance of looking good as I share them digitally.  I can’t control the calibration of the person’s screen when looking at my photos that I share digitally, but having my own screen calibrated means at least it starts off with a better chance.  I use and highly recommend the X-Rite ColorMunki Display for this.

Brent: X-Rite has incredible calibration hardware and if you want to really get into this and make your prints spot on then their X-Rite i1Basic Pro 2 does a really good job.  Though it is $1,600 and probably not something you will want to do as you are just getting started.  

Get that ColorMunki Display or something similar to calibrate the brightness and how the colors show on your screen and then do some educated trial and error with prints to calibrate your printer, starting with the brightness of the print compared to your screen.

Be careful with all of these things you can do to improve your prints.  Work incrementally, only change one thing at a time.

Color Space

Once the print has a similar brightness to what you seen on your screen, you have to consider the color space our screen is capable of reproducing and how that compares to the color space we are editing in.

This starts with your screen.  You can edit in really large color spaces and many monitors actually can’t produce all of them.  sRGB is kind of the common denominator here. Then there is Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB which each get bigger.  There are more colors that can be represented in the digital files as the color space grows, but you can’t necessarily see them with the screen you are using.

Jeff: I understand that ProPhoto RGB provides a much bigger color space and that our cameras and the raw data in our digital files can fully support that color space, but with many displays not being able to show that full color space do you recommend editing in sRGB?  Would that make it easier for someone getting started?

Brent: There are differences when you edit in ProPhoto.  I prefer ProPhoto for sure. I see differences as I am editing and my printer can produce more colors than sRGB, so it makes a difference to edit in ProPhoto.

That said, and many will likely disagree here, as you are starting off I do think that editing and printing in the sRGB space makes a lot of sense.  Like getting into different papers for different looks and more capable/expensive printers, venture into the world of larger color spaces after you have sRGB really nailed down.

Remember, be careful to change only one thing at a time.

Use ICC Profiles

Brent: These good 13×19 printers we are recommending you start with will all have ICC profiles that you can download and use with Lightroom and Photoshop.  These are like special filters that the printer manufacturers have created to take an image that has been edited on a calibrated screen and translate that information so that it will be best represented as you print.

I prefer to use Photoshop over Lightroom for printing because you have more control over things as you print.  The soft proofing in Photoshop is better than in Lightroom. You can see more individual controls as you go to print.  In fact, this is one area where Canon excels over Epson. Their extension for Photoshop is really good.

One of the things I am looking for in Photoshop as I go to print has to do with the dots per inch.  I am going to print differently depending on which printer I am sending the image to and resolution plays into that.  When you print from Lightroom you don’t have that control. Not as detailed. Only options like “normal” amount of sharpening for printing.  Photoshop gives you a lot more options. Even for beginners, I recommend you print from Photoshop.

Jeff: I have used ICC profiles in Lightroom before to send photos off to print at a lab.  I have done it in Lightroom where you essentially print to JPEG files and can incorporate an ICC profile as you do.  You can download the ICC profiles from print labs for the equipment that they are using when they print your photos.

As I did that, when I looked at the JPEG images that came out of Lightroom the photos looked strange.  The colors looked off on my computer. Is this something I should expect?

Brent: I would use ICC profiles if the lab offers them in order to get the best replication of your image as you edited it on a calibrated screen.  Most of the labs have really gone to the point now where they just want a photo in sRGB and don’t really need images that have used an ICC profile.

One of the things to really look for here as you print with labs is to make sure they don’t color correct.  When I print, I want to know if I am doing something wrong and I don’t want someone else trying to fix things.  Working with a lab this way can take a long time and you have to invest in test prints, but you need to work through that to make sure you know what to do with that printer to get your photos printed.

Now as far as loading that profile, soft proofing with the ICC profile in Lightroom and Photoshop should mean you are seeing on the screen what the print is going to look like and you shouldn’t see a lot of color changes there.  Provided you have a well calibrated screen it shouldn’t work that way.

Make sure you load up the ICC profile for your printer as you are doing this.  Calibrate your screen and then use the soft proofing in Photoshop so that you can see on your screen with the ICC profile what the print is going to look like.  Then you print it and if there are differences you start troubleshooting things and changing things one at time.

Training Course Coming April 2019!

Brent, if people have enjoyed this discussion, they are going to love the training course you are working on.  Tell our listeners what you are up to there and what they can expect.

Brent: A course that takes you through all the details of setting up your equipment, your shot and the processing of the image. That’s one thing we didn’t even touch on much here, is image processing for printing. That’s a huge one and is probably needed a bit (dive into this a bit)

I’m also going to initially offer it as a virtual workshop and a live workshop. (details.)

By mid summer I think I’ll be ready to release it just as a series of videos you can watch online. I’ll still offer workshops. My dream is to take this workshop on the road for the summer of 2020 🙂 and do print workshops in various cities around the country.

Sign up for my mail list or find my photo workshops group on facebook for the first announcements of when the class is available.

Doodads:

Jeff: Canon PIXMA PRO-100 Professional, $360 initially, $110 after mail-in rebate.  https://www.adorama.com/icapro100.html

Brent: i1Basic Pro 2 by Xrite.  $1,600 (ouch) but this is a seriously good hardware calibration tool that will help you calibrate everything you can think of, including printers.  

Reminders:

Comments

  1. Hi guys,
    I am not even done with this episode, but I have to tell you something. In the past, I felt like I am done with printing. Expensive papers, expensive inks, so much stuff going around. For several years after my first attempt with a HP printer I did not even print any single photo. BUT. Epson has made L series. Behind, there is a different business model. They do not sell printer for 80 bucks and ink for that printer for the same price (as a manufacturer get money from selling ink, not the printers), but they raised the price for the printer, and you get inks for almost nothing, as it has external tanks. I bought in 2014 Epson L1800. A3 photo printer, 6 inks. It doesn’t have bells and whistles. It simply prints. Since that I made around 300 A3 prints with no ink exchange. I had to refill the ink last month. It costs me around 30 bucks for all of those 6 inks. I do not have any printing issues since than. try it 🙂

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