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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Black And White With The Canon ImagePrograf 2000

As I have mentioned in a prior post, I have been very pleased with my new  Canon ImagePrograf 2000 large format printer. I started by using it for color printing and found it to be comparable to my Epson 7900, which is to say that it is able to produce very high quality, vibrant, sharp prints. So I decided it was time to try printing in black and white.

I took this photograph of One Mellon Bank Center in downtown Pittsburgh. I have always liked the lines and shapes of this building's architecture and wanted to relay the feeling of it being something of an impenetrable edifice. Rather than trying to keep the straight lines straight, I purposely tilted the camera as I thought the 'off kilter' look better conveyed the feeling I was after. 

 

One Mellon Bank Center    © Howard Grill

 

We're going to get just a little technical here:

The image obviously started out as a color photo which I converted to black and white. I wanted to try using the printer's 'Black and White' only mode, as opposed to sending the image to the printer in an RGB color space using a color icc profile. The reason for this is that using the black and white only mode supposedly produces blacks that are a bit darker than those that are achieved when printing a black and white image in the printer's color mode. At least that is what I have read. 

One issue to deal with when using the black and white printing mode is that it is somewhat of a 'black box', in that there is no ability to soft proof or correct the output using an icc profile (well, read on, there actually is a way) to ensure that there is linearization of the output (meaning that all the levels of black are equally spaced from a tonal standpoint) with the biggest potential problem being compression of the dark levels and loss of shadow detail. Truth be told, the black and white only modes of printers have generally improved quite a bit over the years, to the point where this is often not a problem. However, I recently purchased an X-Rite i1Pro2 spectrophotometer to make color profiles and fortuitously had read an excellent article by Keith Cooper at Northlight Images about making icc profiles for the black and white only mode using the spectrophotometer and Quadtone RIP shareware. These profiles can only be used for neutral, untoned black and white prints. Nonetheless, I really wanted to give it a try!

The only difficulty was that every article I could find on making such profiles (I found Keith's to be the most detailed and helpful) assumed some knowledge beyond the basics of how to use the i1 Profiler software (knowledge I didn't have). With a bit of Keith's help and a lot of experimenting, I did get it all figured out! In fact, I am thinking of writing a 'how to' post so that anyone else that is considering doing this but is a bit short on profiling experience can easily accomplish it.

So how did it all turn out in the print? I do have to say that the image printed using the profile I made did match the soft proof image to a closer degree than those made in the black and white only mode without the profile or by printing in the color mode using a color icc profile. It also had more tonal separation in the shadows. Not by a tremendous amount, but definitely visible. I made the print on Ilford's Gold Fiber Silk paper which has a slightly warm tone to it. I like the way it looks quite a bit.

Black and white turns out very well indeed using the Canon IPG 2000.

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part 3

Setting Up The Printer

Prior portions of this review can be found her:

As one can see from Parts 1 and 2 of this review, getting the printer to where it needed to go was no small task. It is very clear to me that there is simply no way the 48 inch Canon IPG 4000 could have made it up to my 'Photography Man-Cave'.  Perhaps one day in a different location.....

Moving the printer to where it needed to go required turning it onto its side and lifting it vertically to get it up a narrow and winding staircase. There is no problem doing this (assuming one doesn't drop the nearly 200 pound device.....between the weight of the printer and the size of one of the two the fairly burly people doing the moving, one of the wooden steps actually broke) as long as the printer is new and not charged with ink.  Once filled with ink you would do well to keep the printer fairly level.

Reading the setup manual that came with the printer made me a little nervous, as it sounded like it might be a bit complicated. There were three items that worried me.  Most concerning was the bit about installing the printhead by yourself.  Ah, that printhead......the Achilles heel of my old Epson 7900! Second, the ink cartridge insertion levers seemed far more complicated than my old Epson, where you just pushed the cartridges into the slot and were done with it.  Finally, there were some adjustment parameters to be made.

Well, as it turns out, the whole setup process was actually very simple. In fact, you could pretty much do it by simply following the directions that the printer itself gives you on its LED control screen. The screen tells you what to do step by step, along with images of what you should be doing. My concerns really were unfounded. This was very nicely done by Canon! 

As it turns out, the oh so delicate printhead was extremely easy to insert. You simply open two lever locks, drop it in, and close the two lever locks. That's it!  If you can manage to get it from the package to the printer without dropping it you are good to go. That was no easy feat despite the fact that it only weighs a few ounces considering that I just knocked my coffee over onto the keyboard of my laptop while I am typing this.....really!! How the laptop is still working must be a miracle.

Ink cartridge insertion was just as easy. The Epson cartridges were pressurized and could therefore be inserted on a horizontal plane by just pushing them in. I don't know if the Canon cartridges are pressurized or not, but they load on a vertical plane and the slot has to be deep in order to accommodate the largest size cartridges. This means that if you were using smaller cartridges you would have to stick your arm down into the slot if they were inserted by simply pushing. Instead, there is a 'carriage' which holds the cartridge and which is controlled by a lever that lowers the cartridge into place and then locks. Again, it is very easy to do and once you do one it takes only a couple of seconds to do the others. As a nice touch, there are little plastic tabs on the cartridges that match the ink color slots and prevent your inserting the wrong color cartridge into any of the slots.  I decided not to test this feature out :)

Lastly, the printhead adjustments......nothing to fear. They are all automatic. All you have to do is feed the printer paper (supplied with the printer) when the LED panel asks for it. Once again, the process was really quite easy and required no user 'decision making'.

The printer offers various options for connectivity including USB (2.0), Ethernet cable, and wireless. Since it sits right next to my computer and I intermittently have problems with my router I simply connected via USB. One thing that is very nice is that once connected you simply open your web browser and type in a URL that you are given and are presented with the latest driver to install along with a nice array of software.  This includes accounting software that lets you keep track of the cost of your printing, a media configuration kit that lets you put together printer settings for custom media (I mostly print on third party papers) and several other useful programs.

My next (and final) installment of this review will talk about using the printer (including an annoying quirk) and the admittedly subjective quality of the prints (spoiler....the print quality is really superb to my eye).

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part II

Unboxing, Moving, And General Impressions:

Part I of my review, Getting It Into The House, can be found here.

I have never been one to be overly excited about 'unboxing' information. But given the struggle to get this wide format printer into the house there is something to be said for assessing the packing material. In my mind probably the most important part of this involves how the printer is situated relative to the wooden shipping palette itself. In this case, the bottom of the wooden palette actually only has a very thin piece of cardboard covering it BUT there are two large pieces of Styrofoam that lift the printer off the surface of the wood and appear to provide good protection from palette damage. The top and sides of the printer are also well protected with Styrofoam, which has cutouts at the top to hold the supplied ink cartridges (starter cartridges only.....just like Epson....nobody wants to give the consumer a break!), printhead, and parts for the printer's stand.

Once the machine is unpacked and the stand assembled the next challenge is getting the printer to where you want to keep it. One no longer has to worry about a 300 pound palette. The printer itself weighs 'only' 185 pounds. Not too bad. However, it is VERY bulky and you have to be careful to lift it only from certain areas that can support the weight. There are very nice built in 'handle grips'. Two strong people can lift it, but more would be preferable.

But where to put it? Unless your home 'studio' or office is on the first level of your home, the machine is going to have to go up or down stairs. My situation was a real challenge. In the city where I live the homes can be very old and have a fairly unique architecture that is common in the region. My house is well over 100 years old and my 'studio' is on the third floor. Homes of this age are typically built with third floors! And worse, while the stairway to the second floor is normal in size, the stairway from second to third floor is extremely narrow and makes a 360 degree turn!. My Epson 7900 required professional movers to get the machine up to the third floor and I took the same approach with the Canon. It was NOT easy, but it was accomplished, though the machine did have to be turned on its side to traverse the 360 degree hairpin turn. Plan for the difficulty of moving the machine once unboxed!

In order to provide some information that I would have found very helpful, but was unable to locate on-line, I am going to give the maximal measurement for each of the machines dimensions (in inches) OFF the stand. The Canon website seems to insist on including the stand. The length is 43 3/4 inches , the depth (front to back) is 28 1/4 inches, and the height (top to bottom) is 25 inches. This information may be useful if you are trying to figure out if the printer will fit through a door or up a stairwell. The stand is no problem as it comes unassembled.

So what about the build, particularly as compared to my old Epson 7900?

The entire machine is structured very differently from the Epson printer. The ink tanks, paper roll holder, and paper feed are all in different locations. Once I get the machine going and get facile in its use I will be able to tell if I feel the arrangement is any better, worse, or the same. However, the Canon, to me, does feel somewhat 'flimsier' or more 'plasticy' than the Epson. Of course, this also contributes to its being a bit lighter, which is very helpful in terms of moving the machine to where it needs to be. Other than for protection while moving I doubt that the difference in build is likely to be meaningful in everyday usage.

The printer stand is solidly built and easy to assemble.

There are two items which I feel are missing and should have been supplied. First, no USB cable for connecting to the computer.....really?? And how about a printed manual. There is a small printed pamphlet on loading up the inks, inserting the printhead, and starting and calibrating the printer. But beyond that you are referred to the on-line manual. I do think that for a device as sophisticated as this, enclosing a printed manual (Epson does) is really scrimping in a foolish way.

Coming in August......firing up the printer, ease of use, and subjective print quality!

The Canon ImagePrograf 2000 makes it to its third floor 'resting place'

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part I

Getting It into The House:

As I have mentioned in prior posts, after my Epson 7900 wide format printer died (again) I decided it was time to switch printer brands and ultimately decided to replace my Epson with the new Canon ImagePrograf 2000 wide format (24 inch) printer. This new printer is based on technology in the ImagePrograf 1000 printer, which has been out for months, and has received very good reviews. 

I have not been able to find any reviews of the ImagePrograf 2000 on line, so i thought it might be of some use for me to do a review of my own. However, because of various commitments which don't give me much block time until mid August, I won't be 'firing' up the printer until then.  I don't think learning a new device such as this should be done in short random increments. However, at this point I have unboxed the printer and had it moved up two flights of stairs. So I can talk about that now and return for more installments once I get the machine working.

Be prepared.....making the jump from a 17 inch to a 24 inch printer is a huge step that encompasses more than just another seven inches. The printer was delivered by a lift-gate truck on a wooden palette.  This 'big boy' weighs in at 300 pounds (including the palette) when fully packaged, though the printer itself 'only' weighs 185 pounds. The truck drops the palette on your sidewalk. Period. That's it. The rest is all up to you. You need to know what you are in for if you are a private individual, as opposed to a printing firm with a storefront.

So the first challenge is getting a 300 pound wooden palette into your home. In my case it involved getting it up two stairs at first, down a walkway about 15 feet long, and then up another 9 or so stairs and through the front door. Luckily my home is old and has a very large front door. Otherwise it would have to be unpacked and brought in without the packaging. Not good if it happens to be raining on the delivery date.

So how did I fare? Well, I arranged for the delivery to be on a day when my 22 year old son was home and I planned to see if the truck driver would help me if I paid him a bit on the side. In the past some drivers have been willing to help while others are not. Luckily, this one was. He had a palette lifting fork that could lift the palette about two inches off the ground. This was just short of getting the edge of the palette onto the first stair. But it did let two of us grab the edge of the wooden palette and get it onto the first stair while the palette lift was being removed. The three of us were then able to lift it onto the walkway, slide it forward, and then use the palette lifter to roll it down the walkway to the 'real' set of 9 stairs and to where the big challenge was.

The three of us could not simply lift the palette and walk it up. Even if we could lift a combined load of 300 pounds, it is just too big and bulky to be able to balance. With four people maybe. Maybe. My other concern is that the palette is meant to be lifted via fork lift, which supports the palette under its entire length. When people lift it, they hold the wooden palette by the edges which means that the weight of the device is borne by the unsupported center.  With the ImagePrograf 2000 this was fine and the palette held up. I would be pretty concerned though if this were the ImagePrograf 4000 48 inch printer. I believe that palette, when delivered, weighs in at about 450 pounds. That would have been essentially impossible to get up stairs and even if I had many friends help I don't know if the palette, held at the edges, would have held up without breaking. Perhaps it would have. 

So here is how it worked. Two people at one end of the palette lift and pull while the person at the rear pushes, in order to slide one end of the palette onto the stair and rest. Repeat. Nine times. At the bottom of the picture you can see how this type of activity actually broke a piece off the bottom of the palette. Then, at some point the entire palette is at a steep angle and the person in the rear has to ensure it doesn't slide down. Once it gets onto the top step lift from the back and push to get the palette onto the landing. Then tilt an end up and get a throw rug under the palette. Pull the palette into the house on the rug to protect the floor. We're in!

Sydney, the cat, halfway down the right side of the picture, was totally unperturbed by the whole process.

Canon ImagePrograf 2000, as delivered.

For the next installment, in a few days, I will describe the unboxing and my impressions of the general build. Then I will take a bit of a break from the review process until I get the printer functional.

 

Fixing Epson Nozzle Clogs

If you have an inkjet printer you have inevitably had clogged nozzles.  My experience has only been with Epson printers, and it certainly occurs with some frequency.  The vast majority of times they are fixed with a cleaning cycle.....but sometimes you get a stubborn clog that just doesn't want to open up.  Want to see a great video on how to declog that clog???  Of course you do! The video is put out by the Pro Digital Gear group and is quite well done and demonstrates exactly what you need to know.

Mum

Sometimes things go contrary to what I had expected.  With a bright and colorful flower like this Mum, I had expected the final image to be in color. But as I processed the image, I realized that the photo was really more about shape and form than it was about color.  Though I think both versions work, I personally prefer the black and white one.

Mum, Color

Copyright Howard Grill

Mum, Black and White

Copyright Howard Grill

Producing both versions also gave me the opportunity to try black and white printing with Epson Hot Press Bright White paper, and, I have to say, the results are really exceptionally nice.

Epson Hot Press Bright White vs Hahnemuhle Photo Rag

Every so often I get the itch to try some new papers. I recently saw some positive reviews for Epson Hot Press Bright White paper. This piqued my interest because I like matte papers, but haven't done much matte printing lately. In the past I have usually used Hahnemuhle Photo Rag as my 'go to'  matte paper with good results, though I find that I usually have to really pump up the saturation and contrast to get what I am looking for in the printed output. I decided to try the Epson because of the reports of deep blacks and a wide color gamut, as well as descriptions calling it the closest matte to a luster type paper.  Last but not least, Epson Hot Press is significantly less expensive that the Hahnemuhle, which seems to increase in price every year. I gave the Epson Hot Press a try.  This is obviously not a formal review of the paper, nor would I be particularly qualified to perform one. However, I can offer my personal opinion and observations:

Feel: The Epson paper has a nice rich, soft quality feel. However, despite being a slightly heavier weight paper than the Hahnemuhle if you go 'by the numbers', it doesn't seem to have quite as luxuriant a feel as Photo Rag. I believe this may be at least partially related to the fact that (at least to my eye) the Epson paper has slightly less surface texture with a smoother finish to it. 

Profiles: In my hands and with my calibrated monitor and an Epson 7900 printer, the Epson profiles seem quite good and work reasonably well with soft-proofing. To me they seem more accurate than the Hahnemuhle supplied Photo Rag profiles when compared to the actual output print. Of course, there are many variables involved with this statement and I can only describe what my experience has been.  As they say, your mileage may vary!

Optical Brighteners: The Epson paper is manufactured with the 'dreaded' optical brighteners.  There are those that will not use papers with them because of concerns regarding fading over time.  I am just stating the fact that OBAs are used and have no wish to get into that argument! 

Hahnemuhle Photo Rag also has optical brighteners, but these are kept to a minimum, at less than 0.1%, according to the Hahnemuhle website. I have seen the Epson paper described as having moderate amounts and suspect that it has significantly more than Photo Rag.

Cost:  B&H Photo has Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 8.5x11 inches, 25 sheets, 308 gsm (the closest equivalent to the Epson) for $39.31 and a 24"x39' roll for $166.75.  The Epson Hot Press is $22.40 for the box of 25 and $104 for a 24" by 50' roll.  So the Epson is significantly less expensive. 

But wait, there's more.  Although the Epson is not advertised as a double sided paper, a bit of research shows that the production process places two finishing coats on the reverse and three on the front 'printable' side.  Appearently, an Epson spokesperson has said that the non-printable side will not give as good a quality print as the side designated as printable.  Perhaps true, but I really can't tell them apart very well so it seems to me the non-printable side can be used very nicely for proofing, creating even more value for the money.

The Print:  This is where the 'rubber meets the road'.  I can only report what my eye sees.  To me, it seems as if the Hot Press paper gives greater tonal separation and slightly improved sharpness and detail.  The output is really nice, especially for a matte paper. 

If you hold the same print side by side with a glossy or semi-gloss  paper like Ilford Gold Fiber Silk, you may well be disappointed.  However, if they looked the same then it wouldn't be a matte paper.  But for images that would be appropriate for the softer matte paper appearance, I don't think you can get much better (particularly for the value) than the relatvely new Epson papers. 

Although I have just tried the Hot Press Bright White, I now have an order in for the sampler pack so I can see and try out the Hot Press Natural as well as the Cold Press papers.

Addenda: Between the time I wrote the above review and the time I published it, I rceived my sampler pack. While I can still say that I really like the Hot Press Bright White (which will become my new standard matte paper), the same is not true (for me) with the Cold Press and Hot and Cold Press Natural papers. 

The Cold Press, in my opinion, has a texture that is far too deep and symmetric.  If the lighting on the image is straight on it looks ok, but for any angled lighting it looks like someone took a pizza wheel or a gear and rolled it over the paper in symmetric lines.  To me, it just doesn't look right or 'natural'.  The coloration of the Natural paper, both Hot and Cold Press, does not appeal to me either.  It has too 'creamy' an appearance and in some light almost seems to impart a slightly yellow-green, as opposed to neutral, color.

There is no question that paper choices are very individual and if these other papers didn't appeal to a large number of people then Epson would probably not be reselling them.  So, take the above as my personal opinion.....but I am sticking with the Epson Hot Press Bright White, a paper that I find extremely attractive.

Epson Woes Update

In past posts I have documented the woes I have had with my Epson 7900 printer. The first one I had required a printhead replacement within the first two weeks of use and the machine ultimately died an untimely death of printhead failure about three years later (far too prematurely for a machine of this price), but not before I got to sink close to $700 into repairs that did not fix the problem.  The repairs are criminally expensive, monopolied to one firm, and seem to follow a script of sequential and escalating repairs until the problem resolves, which is great if your machine is under warranty but, well, not so great if it isn't.  Rather than throw good money after bad, I elected to stop at $700 when the next step (replacing the printhead) was going to cost over $1800 when labor was included, with only a 90 day guarantee.  For little more I could buy a new machine with a one  year guarante, which is what I did.  Stupid, perhaps, but I went with another of the same printer thinking that the first was anomalous. The other day I ran across a great video on how Epson repair charges $300 for changing out a $13 part that literally takes 50 seconds to do.  Even if you don't have a 7900, this video is worth the very brief watch if only to see the absurdity of it all.  Now, if he would just tell us where one can purchase the $13 part!

Watch this great video on the Epson 7900 wiper cleaner assembly change.  The video looks like it is 'under construction' but if you just click the start button it plays.

It Might Be Worth Knowing Your Inkjet Printer

I embarked on a small 15 minute project that I thought might be worthwhile  while I was reading Martin Evening's new book on Lightroom 4.  In it he notes that the printer profiles that one utilizes in Lightroom and Photoshop for specific printers and papers typically automatically map the very dark tones to levels where the printer can produce detail (ie a level of say 1-5 would be mapped by the profile to a new level where the printer can generate a bit of detail by visually producing differences in the black tones).  However, it is much more critical that one map the highlights to levels where the printer can produce detail, as profiles typically do not accomplish this very well. For example, 255 is pure white and any pixel at level 255 will print to paper white. This means that pixels at 254, 253, 252 etc SHOULD have some ink and that the levels SHOULD be able to be discerned from each other.....after all if you can't tell a 254 from a 253 then there will not be any ability to discern details or contrast in that region in the print.  But the SHOULD is not reality and all printers are different.  It seems it would be useful to know what level one's printer can start showing detail so that the brightest highlights with detail can be mapped to that level.

So I did a brief experiment.  I made a new file in Photoshop and with the marquee tool made multiple squares and then  using the Edit>Fill command filled the squares with neutral colors at 255, 255, 255 and 254, 254, 254 and 253, 253, 253 etc all the way down to the upper 240s.  My goal was to see where my printer started to produce printed patches that were able to be seen (thus, not printing paper white) and if one were able to denote differences between the patches (thus, denoting the ability to differentiate detail).

My results:

255, 255, 255 - appeared paper white with no discernible tone, as it should

254, 254, 254 - also appeared paper white with no discernible tone

253, 253, 253 - the very slightest amount of tone was visible under light and if you looked carefully you could make out the square

252, 252, 252 - this was the first patch you could see with a quick but directed look

251, 251, 251 - and lower were pretty straightforward to see and the differences between each were evident, ie 251, 251, 251 could fairly easily discerned from 250, 250, 250 and so on

Is this helpful information??  Maybe not groundbreaking , but I think it is helpful,  Now I know that the brightest level in an image where I still want some ink and not paper white should be 251, 251, 251 or 252, 252, 252.  Many books have advocated 248, 248, 248....but I think it helps to know how your particular printer acts and what it can do with the lighter tomes.  Of course, I believe the results might only apply to the particular paper and profile that you are testing, but nonetheless I think this is useful information to have.

I am using an Epson 7900 and would be interested in what types of results people get with other printers and if this is felt to be a worthwhile endeavor.

Epson 7900: More Frustration

About 2 1/2 years ago, when I first bought my Epson 7900 printer, I did a series of posts related to my unhappy initial experience with the output related to what appeared to be linear 'scuffing'.  At that point, since the machine was only days to weeks old, it was still under warranty.  After several 'house calls' by the service team the printhead was finally replaced, as nothing else seemed to do the trick.  As soon as the printhead was replaced the machine worked perfectly and delivered beautiful output.  I have to say that it wasn't as easy as it should have been to get the repair done because I wasn't using Epson paper and the service agents, over the phone, kept repeating that they could not warranty the machine for output onto non-Epson media, which was, of course, total nonsense. They finally agreed to service this brand new machine after I mailed them the output, including output on Epson media, showing that it occurred on their paper as well. Now, as I need the printer more than  ever since : i) I am trying to finish the project I have alluded to in this blog several times and ii) it appears that a nearby institution might make a sizable purchase of my artwork.....I have discovered a problem.  I noticed horizontal banding, mostly in the highlights limited to neutral coloration and when I print in black and white.  Printing a gray square showed why.  There is severe horizontal banding when I print gray/light black that is not present in other solid colors.

A nozzle check revealed a small area of nozzle clogging in the Light Light Black ink. The clog would dissolve with regular and power cleanings, though even when open the line of the nozzle pattern 'stairstep' seemed light, and then some nozzles would drop out a minute later.  A small fortune of ink and a maintenance tank later (related to power cleans) it still prints with gross horizontal banding.  This persists even with two head alignments.

Of course the machine is now out of warranty.  Though the printer has been used only very lightly, complex machines break and I would just attribute it to bad luck.....and bad luck always comes at the worst times.  However:

i) When I look 'out there' on the internet it appears that this is a known problem with the 7900, specifically in the Light Light Black channel, possibly attributed to the chemical composition of the ink.  It does not seem to happen in the other channels.  It does not seem to be a simple 'clog', and my experience bears that out.  Simple nozzle clogs are easily removed with the regular cleanings and don't recur within seconds.

ii) Once Epson tech support recognizes that the machine is out of warranty, they do very little to help except set you up with a service visit.  This too is well reported on the internet (with the realization that people don't usually take the time to post about good interactions in forums).

iii) Epson has a service agreement with only one service company (they don't do the repairs themselves), so there is no competition.  The cost, in this instance?  The charge will be $100 for them to travel here (even though there is a local office), $175/ hour labor and they want to start by charging my credit card for $1712 (yes, you read that right) in parts to be shipped by Epson, with the caveat that they will refund the cost of parts they don't use.  The whole printer cost $2500-3000 when I bought it.  The repairs are rapidly approaching the cost of the printer itself and may even exceed it when you start counting in the price of the ink/tank used for the initial cleanings.  This seems like highway robbery, but what else can one do except go along with it (or buy a new printer)!

Soft Proofing With Photoshop

I have frequently utilized Photoshop's soft-proofing when making prints.  While I have found it useful for getting a general idea of how the print might look, I have also found that the prints would come out with more contrast and with colors appearing far less out of gamut than soft-proofing might suggest. This despite having a monitor that is fully calibrated. Just recently, I saw an article that extolls the process of making hard copy 'soft-proofs' and thought it might be interesting to folks who read this blog.  It is called "The Hard Truth About Soft Proofs" and was written by West Coast Imaging.

Project Considerations

I am strongly considering undertaking a large photography project.  I have completed small projects before, but not large ones.  I started considering the issues that would need to be sorted through when approacing such a project.  Not the issues involved with deciding upon a subject or actually photographing the project, but in the output.  More specifically, what should the project look like. It turns out that it can actually take some time and experimentation to consider the possibilities and come to some conclusions.  If the project is to contain many images, and if the project is going to end up as prints, there needs to be some sense of consistency and coherence to the images.

I thought it might be worthwhile to relate some of the issues that I have been thinking about:

1) Color or Black & White (or both)?  This one seems pretty obvious, but it is a major fork in the decision tree that will define the appearance of the project, where it will potentially be exhibited or published, and, to some extend, who the audience is.

2) If the project is to be printed in Black & White, should it be toned....and, if so, warm, cool, sepia etc?

3) In the case of Epson, if printing in black and white, should the prints be made using the straight printer driver or using the ABW driver.  This will, of course, determine how the toning is done.

4) What paper should the images be printed on?  Matte, semi-gloss, glossy, warm toned, bright white, etc?

5) Should you happen to have more than one available profile for the paper, which one should be used?

6) Are there other multi-media options that might enhance the project, such as video or audio accompaniments?

Here is another issue I have been thinking about.  Help.  As in another set of eyes.  Sometimes one can become so emotionally involved in a project that it can become all to easy to lose perspective and objectivity.  I definitely think it is worthwhile to have a photographer friend who is willing to help with unabashedly objective feedback.  What you don't need is someone to tell you that everything is perfect.

These are a few of the things that have run across my mind.  Any other thoughts?

Canvas Printing And Gallery Wraps III

So, we finally reach the last installment of this series.....making the gallery wrap.  Part I was about printing on canvas and Part II covered varnishing the canvas print. So, now, the gallery wrap.  I tried the Breathing Color EasyWrappe system, which is manufactured by IG Wrap Inc, and, to my eye, looks to be the same product offered by Hahnemuhle and marketed by them as Gallerie Wrap.  There are two 'levels' , the basic and the Pro.  The only difference between them is that the basic EasyWrappe stretcher bars are 1.25 inches thick while the Pro version is 1.75 inches thick.  The corner tension is dealt with slightly differently in each, and the Pro version also offers center bracing bars for large panels as well as extenders so that individual bars can be combined to make longer ones.

I purchased the EasyWrappe Pro trial kit, but I personally find the 1.75 inch bars to be a bit too thick for smaller canvases.  I just oredered an  EasyWrappe basic trial kit as well as an assortment of stretcher bar lengths, which are on the way.  I plan to use the Pro version only for large canvases. Oh, and the basic kit bars are far less expensive than the Pro version!

The wrap can be made in one of two ways.  In can be constructed so that the edge of the canvas ends flush to the back edge of the wooden stretcher bar or it can be folded over the back of the stretcher bar and stapled in place to yield a more traditional finish.  I decided on the stapling approach to give the finished piece an appearance that really duplicates the more traditional look.

So how does it all work.  The folks at Breathing Color have produced a video to show you how to make a gallery wrap with their kit (scroll down the page the link brings you to for the video).....and this one is quite good and takes you through all the steps.  Rather than repeat what is well explained in the video (and on the instructions that come with the kit) I would just add two tips that might be of assistance:

1) Don't forget to increase the size of the image by the approriate amount, using a reflection of the sides of the image, in order to wrap around the bar.  If the starting image is for example, 12x16 inches, that is the size of the bars that are used, but you need to increase the image size using a mirror edge (don't freak out....this page has a video that demonstrates how to easily do mirror edges in Photoshop...just scroll down the list until you get to the one entitled "How to do a Mirror Edge in Photoshop for a Gallery Wrap", and there are also lots of Photoshop actions available on the internet if you do a search).

2) If you want to staple the canvas around the back of the bars like I did, you need to leave more excess canvas (the amount is given in the instructions and depends on if you are using the Pro version or not).  But more excess makes it somewhat harder to center the bars evenly before doing the wrap.  The way I did it accurately was to just make some mesurements on the back of the canves and put a mark at each 1/8 inch between 1 and 2 inches in from the canvas edge at two locations on each side so that the bars could be easily centered and lined up while they were still in the plastic corners.

Overall the system is really pretty easy to use and gives very professional appearing results.

So, as I said in my first post of this series: the process was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be and gave a very professional appearing final product.  If printing on canvas is something that you have been considering, why not give it a try? Your first canvas might not be perfect but your second or third might well be.

I highly recommend the Breathing Color products and, in my experience, their customer service has been second to none!

Canvas Printing And Gallery Wraps II

In my last post, I started to describe my experienece learning to print on canvas.  To summarize, I was really quite pleased with the appearance of my first print on Breathing Color's Lyve canvas, and had reached the point where I was going to discuss applying the varnish. Fear of having to deal with varnishing was one of the biggest reasons that I put off trying to print on canvas for so long; I suspect there are many would-be canvas printers that are likewise concerned.  The long and the short of it is this. Yes, varnishing is a bit of a pain in the butt for folks who are printing in their spare time.....but in the end the time spent is well worth it.

First of all, why varnish?  Varnishing provides a layer of protection to the bare print since it will not be behind glass.  It seals in the ink and prevents it from rubbing off and from cracking when the canvas is folded to make the gallery wrap.  It also protects the print from UV induced fading.  Finally, an added benefit is that it tends, to some degree, to deepen the balcks, saturate the colors, and give the canvas more 'depth'.

On to the specifics.  There are basically three ways to apply varnish: from a spray can, via a roller, and using an HVLP spray system.  I won't touch on using a spray can since Breathing Color recommends their Timeless (or Glamour II) varnish for use with Lyve canvas, and this can only be applied via roller or HVLP.

I was initially planning to use the roller method (Breathing color supplies a teaching video on how to apply their varnish using a foam roller) despite the fact that my research suggested that the method seemed to have a significant learning curve to get really nice and consistent results. My reason for planning on using the roller was that it seemed like there would be an even steeper learning curve to using an HVLP gun application....and, besides, the HVLP system recommended by Breathing Color costs close to $600.  Nonetheless, I decided to go with HVLP.

What made me change my mind?  Two things.  The first was that after doing some internet based forum research (ain't the internet amazing), I found that people had succesfully used Timeless applied with a Wagner $68 HVLP gun without any problem whatsoever.  In addition, even though there was a learning curve, it was actually pretty easy to do and gave, for the most part, better and more consistent results than using a roller.  So off I went to Home Depot to get my $68 Wagner HVLP varnish applicator.

To be honest, at first I really didn't know what I was doing and it probably would have been wise to fill the sprayer with water and use a piece of newspaper as a target to get the feel of how to apply the spray.  Instead, I went right to it with a canvas print and it was a disaster.  But, having made a ton of mistakes with this first canvas, I also thought through how to avoid problems during the next attempt.  Reading through this thread about how to correctly apply the varnish with a Wagner HVLP sprayer was also extremely helpful.   Breathing Color also has a video about the spray application, though the thread I noted above was actually even more helpful.

The second and subsequent canvases went really well and I got a beautiful, smooth, professional looking finish.  Allow me to give a few tips that are very basic, but which I found quite useful:

1)  Adjust the little plastic screw on the trigger so that when you fully depress the trigger you get just beyond where the liquid starts to spray out (the liquid doesn't start to spray even when you can hear the air turbine until you depress the trigger to a certain level).  This will ensure that you get a fine, light mist.  This is particularly important for the initial coat or two.

2)  Tape or clip your canvas to a supportive board (at all 4 corners) when spraying, as the 'wind' generated by the gun will blow the canvas around a bit when coming in from the sides.  You don't want it flopping around.  I mount the canvas to a piece of pegboard and then put the pegboard on an easel.

3)  Start spraying well to one side or above the canvas (depending on what direction you are applying the coat) and, after you have a good flow going, make your pass across the canvas and don't stop until you have gone past the other side.  I just start my next pass without stopping at all. 

4)  Some folks recommended using a horizontal or vertical spray pattern.  I found that I got the best results just using a round pattern.

5)  Spray straight at the canvas....in other words don't use your elbow as a fixed anchor and go side to side from there.  Instead, actually move your whole arm across the front of the canvas so that the spray is always approaching the canvas from a perpendicular viewpoint (helps obtain an even coat).

6)  First spray horizontally and then vertically to ensure complete even coverage. I wait 2 or 3 minutes between the directions and then repeat about 15 minutes later and then again 15 minutes after that.

6)  A finer, lighter coat is better.  To get a fine coat, I had to stand further back from the canvas than suggested in the teaching video above (which was not done using a Wagner).

7)  A finer, lighter coat is better.

8)  Did I mention that a finer, lighter coat is better?

9)  Clean the spray gun after using the varnish so that residual varnish doesn't dry and clog the gun.  The unused portion of the varnish can be poured back into the original container.  Breathing Color has assured me that the shelf life after opening is a year.

Varnishing sounds complicated and tricky.  It's not.  just give yourself one or two test canvases to practice on first.

This post was a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I think I will save the gallery wrap procedure for next time.

Canvas Printing And Gallery Wraps I

A few weeks ago, I went to the Three Rivers Arts Festival and walked around a bit looking at the various artists' booths.  I was really quite taken with the artists that were displaying photos that were printed on canvas and made into gallery wraps.  I had been thinking for some time that I really would like to learn how to print on canvas and display my work in this way, but had not done so because I had heard that it was fairly difficult to run the canvas through the printer and even more difficult to apply the needed varnish.  Then, of course, there is the issue of mounting the canvas on stretcher bars.  But seeing these wraps on display made me decide that the time to try was now. I thought I would take two or three posts to write about my experience of learning how to do it and the materials that I chose to use.  But first let me skip ahead to the ending for a moment......it was not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.  If you have an interest in making gallery wraps you should definitely give it a whirl.

My first goal was to do some research.  The issues:

i)  What canvas to use

ii)  What varnish to use

iii)  How to apply the varnish

iv)  How to assemble the gallery wrap

To take each issue one at a time:

i) There are several well thought of inkjet canvases, and I suspect that different ones will appeal to different people based on their individual taste in image output.  I tend to like images that are bright and contrasty and, based on my research, I thought that Breathing Color Lyve Canvas would be a good choice.  Canvas tends to be a bit pricey and some have specific varnish recommendations, so I wasn't planning to try multiple different canvas products if I liked Lyve.

I purchased one of the trial rolls (17 inch x 20 feet) which Breathing Color makes available at the very reasonable price of $29.  The canvas is a relatively bright white.  I can see how some people might find the appearance of the canvas a bit too bright (though no optical brighteners are used) as, in some ways, this tends to detract a bit from the canvas texture.  The appearance is really not too dissimilar from a print on paper.  In fact, it had more depth and contrast than a print on matte paper.  By that I mean that if I were to take an image optimized for printing on a satin or semi-gloss paper and print it on matte paper without using Photoshop to increase contrast and saturation it would tend to look 'flat'.  But my first canvas print, made using the Breathing Color profile for my printer, looked quite good with almost no adjustments.  The only adjustment I made when softproofing with the canvas icc profile was to brighten the highlights just a bit.

I should mention that I had no difficulty whatsoever printing on the canvas or using the canvas in the printer.  I did open the platen gap to its widest setting, as recommended by the manufacturer, as well as using the recommended media settings.  Though you can use both photo and matte black inks with the canvas, a support ticket to Breathing Color yielded the information that the Dmax would be better with matte black ink, which would result in deeper blacks as compared to photo black ink. (As an aside, I can not imagine better customer service than what I received from Breathing Color......rapid and clear responses to all my inquiries)

In short,the initial canvas print with minimal change made to the file I had used for printing on Ilford Gallerie Gold Fiber Silk paper looked really good!  I was psyched to move on!

ii) The choice of varnish was easy.  Breathing Color recommends Timeless varnish for use with Lyve canvas.  Timeless comes in three finishes: matte, satin, and glossy. It can be purchased in pints and gallons.  I decided to try both the matte and satin finishes and bought a pint of each.  A good many people recommend their Glamour II varnish but, given limited time, I wanted to keep life as simple as possible and Glamour II needs to be diluted prior to use while Timeless can be used straight from the can.

Although my experience with the varnishes to this point has been limited, from what I can see thus far the matte finish yields a beautiful, smooth non-reflective finish while the satin, to my eye, gives minimally deeper blacks and a tad more depth with a surface that is mildly reflective when one looks at it from an angle.  Viewed straight on, there is not much reflection.  There is no 'better', just slightly different.

Next post.....applying varnish and making the wrap!

Epson 7900 Experience - Printing

I suspect this will be the last of my sequential posts about the new Epson 7900, with plans for scattered additional posts about it as I become more facile with using the machine.

The 7900 is up and running and I can make some general comments to start with.

1. Printing is definitely faster than with the 7600; the printhead is much larger

2. Printing is far quieter though one could not call the overall machine startup etc quiet (not that this is a significant consideration for me).

3. I love the automatic head alignment...fast and easy.

4. I like the new automated method of loading for cut sheets very much. You simply rest the sheet in the slot, where it is supported from below, and make sure the side of the sheet is at the alignment marker on the side and press a load button. No more worrying if the sheet is going in perfectly parallel to the printer.

5. While the new 'spindle free' loading of roll paper is also nice I do worry a bit about the locking mechanism of the roll holder as it does have a feel or sound to it like it could break after a good deal of use...we shall see.

But what about printing? In short, the prints are absolutely superb. To be sure, I have never used photo black or semigloss papers before, so it is difficult for me to make a comparison in that regard to the 7600, and I have not yet changed out to matte black. Nonetheless, the prints are really gorgeous.

One thing that I have noticed is that the 'canned' 7900 profiles are quite good, as are the profiles I have downloaded from third party paper manufacturers. It seems the paper and printer companies are getting serious about these. I can also say that it seems, at least to me, that it is far easier to softproof and make a really nice print on the semigloss type papers that use photo black ink than it is on the matte fine art printers. I presume that this is because of there being less compression of the dynamic range and increased reflectance form the surface of the paper.

There are now two issues to work out and which I will report back on in the future. The first is what papers to use for printing with photo black in both color and monochrome as well as learning to use the Advanced Black and White mode driver to make black and white prints. Lots of experimentation to follow!

Taking The 7900 Leap

Over the last year or two, I have watched as various new papers have come out for black and white inkjet printing. I have really wanted to venture into black and white, but just never really liked the appearance on matte paper, though I do love the appearance of color prints on matte watercolor paper. In theory, I could change my 7600 printer over to photo black ink to use the new highly touted Baryta papers for black and white printing, but it is quite expensive as well as being a hassle to change over.

I have watched Epson printers morph from the 7600 to 7800 to 7880 and never really had a desire to upgrade, mainly because of the dual black ink issue. But now, with the advent of the new Epson 7900, changing the black inks is automatic and entails minimal wastage. Still, there is a small amount of ink thrown away when making the switch, but not very much....I believe it is 2-4 ml. One would think that since Epson totally revamped the head technology, they might have factored in separate nozzles for each of the two black inks so that no ink would be lost when switching, but then again they do sell ink...so not surprising. I understand it actually took a competitor's printer that makes such switches easily to motivate Epson to do so as well. But.....I digress.....

I decided to make the jump and ordered a 7900! I had been thinking about it for a while and, frankly, was not really ready to buy just yet. However, Epson has a $500 cash rebate on the machine if purchased before 3/31, so it didn't make sense to wait. I purchased it from Shades Of Paper, which is where I purchase all my media and ink and have been extremely impressed with their prices, superb and personal customer service, and rapid shipping. It should also be noted that the price listed on any of the printer vendor's websites (including Shades Of Paper) is not the real price. It is similar to buying a car. You have to get on the phone and talk to someone to get the real price. Sometimes you have to call more than once. Truth be told, when you include the $500 rebate, the final phone price, and the fact that the 7900 stand is included in the price of the printer I actually got the 7900 for less than I purchased my 7600 plus stand for back in 2004.

So, I am looking forward to experimenting with black and white printing as well as luster/semi-gloss color printing all with a wider color gamut, smaller droplets, improved dithering and at a faster speed. It had been my experience from back when I was printing with an Epson 870 that prints on luster papers matched the soft-proofing in Photoshop much better than matte papers did, and others have reported this as well. I am hoping that there might even be some time savings due to less required 'tweaking' of images with these papers. This is also quite important to me as I tend to be an incessant 'tweaker'.

The printer won't arrive until late next week and I plan on making some diary type posts about the machine, my impressions, and any problems that might occur. I can say right now that my first problem is going to be getting home for the delivery truck and hoping that I can get the delivery folks to take the machine through the front door of my home. My understanding is that with the packaging it weighs over 300 pounds. Then I have to try to get it up a narrow winding staircase. It can be carried up unpacked and off the stand, but it is still quite large, long, and heavy. Even in this 'naked' state I believe it weighs over 150 pounds. I managed, with some help, to get my 7600 up the staircase and this is just a bit bigger in dimension, so I am hoping it makes its way up 'with a little help from my friends' in an intact state as well.

Going Too Far

Printing is tough......it is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. I may try to make an image look great on screen, but that always pales in comparison to the effort I end up putting into trying to make a print that looks"perfect" to me. By the time I feel the work is done, I have generally gone through many iterations of the image, making local changes in tonality, contrast, and satuaration to get it to look just the way I envisioned it. I have always felt that the print is the 'final common pathway'; that it is where the artist's final statement is made. Much like the old adage that 'if you love it let it go', the final print is where the photographer lets go of his creative effort and lets it loose on the world. Perhaps a little melodramatic, but I put great stock in the importance of the final print.

Ah, but the purpose of this post is not necessarily to talk about my philosophy of printing. It is actually to pass on some advice I took from from Brooks Jensen regarding making prints. It is advice that I have found to be very helpful and that I thought might be useful to others as well.

Many months back, Mr. Jensen made a brief comment in one of his LensWork podcasts to the effect that (and this is not going to be a word for word quote) "you never know if you have pushed an effect far enough until you have pushed it too far". I realized just recently that this advice has been,for some time, in the back of my mind as I work on making prints.

With Photoshop, it has become so easy to add more saturation, more contrast, make local tonal changes etc, that it becomes hard to know before seeing the print on paper (yes, I know about soft-proofing and color management...but, still, while those may be important clues as to how the final print will look, they still don't replace seeing the hard copy and making appropriate adjustments) to what degree adjustments should be made. How far do you go? How much contrast, saturation etc? If some is good might not more be better?

Mr. Jensen's thoughts ring true to me. If you identify where the point is that you have gone too far, you know what the limit is. That is not to say that what is too far for me is also too far for you. That's what makes us all individuals. But once you know when an effect or idea has gone too far for you, then you can work within those boundries to fine tune an image and decide what type of feel you want to give it. It seems more manageable to work within a range or a zone than to work in a sea of endless possibilities.

The Print As Gold Standard

Today’s e-world has opened a multitude of ways for artists and photographers to make their work accessible for viewing. No longer must one have a gallery exhibition or a published book under their belt to garner an audience. With only a computer, one can open their own website, post images to collaborative websites, send images via e-mail, generate downloadable pdf portfolios, and publish e-books.

These are all marvelous and, for the most part, relatively new ways to share, market, and even sell images. But, for me, the most important end product is still the print…..the tangible, mountable, frameable, and ‘hangable’ hard copy print. There is still something special about being able to experience, examine and even pick up an image that carries with it the unwritten statement that it is the final common expression of an idea; that it is the best output that the artist was able to achieve. Simply put, there can be no question that the print is the way the artist meant for the image to be seen, as even with monitor calibration there still ends up being, at least in my experience, some variation in the way an image appears on different computers. Once printed, it has been set free by the artist and is now part of the viewers experience .

Interestingly, it doesn’t usually take me very long to bring a photograph from a RAW file to a low-resolution, internet ready image. However, to turn that RAW image into a ‘perfected’ large print that I am ready to ‘set free’ can take quite a bit of time indeed. I think that is interesting. I think that perhaps there is a message in that.