How to choose a photo printer

I did a lot of research to decide which photo printer to go for.

A4 or A3+. I decided that an A3+ printer would be ideal, especially as prices of A3 printers have gone down.

Dye or Pigment ? I understand that for Glossy paper dye is better, while for Matte, pigment is better. However in the real world I personally prefer the dye gradations to the contrasty pigment inks. I went for a dye + second pigment black. If you use CISS (continuous ink system) or re-fillable cartridges, you can obviously vary the type of ink, although I understand you have to then use some cleaning cartridges between type changes. I have never personally used an ink type (dye and pigment) that is not recommended by the manufacturer, and I do not know whether that voids the warranty.

How many inks. Most have CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Some have two extra lighter cyan and magenta. Some have Red and blue, and others have different blacks or greys.

Droplet size makes a difference to both gradations of colour tones and resolution, and they vary between 1-5 picolitre, with most new printers between 1-3. Type of paper makes a big difference to result though, and one has to use recommended or original papers or paper from long-standing manufacturers using standardised  products.

What resolution. Most photo inkjet printers nowadays have enough resolution to print very high resolution prints on up to A3+, and the resolution is also very much dependant on the droplet size and the print algorithm. I still lean towards the higher resolution machines for a more natural print.

Epson, HP or Canon. The three big players in photo printers. Epson use Peizo-electric heads, with a longer print cycles than the bubble or thermal heads used by HP and Canon. On the other hand, HP has head in cartridge, so every cartridge change includes a new head, and therefore more expensive. Canon has a very accessible and removable print head that can be easily changed, and costs about one third the price of the printer. Here the choice is difficult, although I personally tried all three.

Wi-Fi and network connection or not. This is now getting to the practicalities. I have 10 USB ports on my computer, and therefore went for the cheaper option of USB only, but for some, go for the network connection (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) if you need it.

Glossy or Matte paper. I prefer Matte for artistic effects. I also like textured paper and canvas. But for many users (portraits, weddings and the like) glossy is a better option.

Original or compatible cartridges, or CISS. For serious work I prefer original ink and paper to get the best results, although compatibles and CISS (continuous ink systems) are good for proofing and draft work.

Printing is a very serious business, if it is to be done properly, and requires a lot of calibration of equipment and standardisation of inks and paper, at least to get a consistent result.

 

Photo Processing

Most people, me included, are very excited after a shoot, and they want to use and show off their photos immediately .. what people usually miss is the excitement of going through the photos very slowly and processing them properly;

  • Renaming for organisation
  • Inserting keywords, tags and labels
  • Rating (stars and colours)
  • Discarding bad photos
  • Basic processing (White balance, exposure and contrast)
  • Intermediate processing (lens corrections, perspective corrections, colour corrections, noise and sharpening)
  • Advanced processing (area and spot corrections, vignette, graduated and colour filters)
  • Cropping and levelling
  • Creating several versions with different processing options
  • Artistic processing (Photoshop)
  • Exporting for sharing, printing, publishing, and archiving

Exposing to the Right !

I once asked a photographer presenting a workshop whether he exposed to the right .. I can still remember his face looking at me very puzzled waiting for an explanation of my question .. as he did not understand the question I wasn’t bothered to hear his answer ..

Basically .. there are many photographers who feel that photos should be exposed as much as possible without burning the highlights (checking the histogram for all colour channels on most DSLR’s) ..

The idea is not clipping while preserving as much detail as possible in the shadows where the signal/noise ratio is very low while also preserving most of the tonal details residing in the right bright illuminated part of the curve where there is a high signal/noise ratio ..

Photos will need a bit more processing in the RAW converter, especially to recover the contrast and colour intensity which usually look washed out .. and to recover the highlights up to a stop or two depending on the camera dynamic range and bit depth ..

This is of course done only using RAW and not JPEG ..

Exposure to the right of the curve (histogram) is discussed in detail at Luminous Landscape and is worthwhile considering in practice .. please read their very informative article http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/optimizing_exposure.shtml