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.

 

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Have you calibrated ?

Calibration and colour management are very critical to all photographic activities, from the second you take your photo, to the time you process it and display or share it either in print or digital form.

Most people are not initially aware of colour management, until the picture in the camera doesn’t match the scene, the picture on the computer screen doesn’t match the camera, or the print doesn’t match what they see in either or both.

The least that can be done by any photographer is to have a monitor calibration device that calibrates the colours, brightness and contrast of their computer display. In this way they are at least sure that what they see on the screen will be matched by professional prints, and by any calibrated display.

To get the right colour from the scene requires either shooting a test shot at the scene using ideally a photographic grey card, or at least a white sheet of paper, and maybe a colour chart. This calibrates the camera at the scene or works in post-processing for RAW files.

The last bit is calibrating the printer, as the colour profiles change with change of paper and ink, and the generic manufacturer profiles don’t usually do a very accurate job. The spectrophotometers for scanning prints are not as cheap as the display ones, but once a colour profile is produced for the printer/ink/paper combination the result should match either the original scene or at least what has been captured in JPEG or RAW, before or after computer processing.

So have you calibrated your workflow yet ?

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

How to organise photos

First thing after taking photos and importing them to a PC is to organise them in a way that allows finding them in the future

I use Lightroom to organise my photos (always shoot in RAW).

I have set LR to re-name files to yyyymmdd_filename and import to a folder named yyyymmdd into a folder named yyyy . So all photos are renamed to date shot, imported into a folder of the day and inside a folder of the year.

I have not mentioned of course that for special occasions, persons, travel, holidays etc I put the files in a folder named after the occasion or activity but still under the year .. i.e. activity/person_yyyymm

How to organise photos

First thing after taking photos and importing them to a PC is to organise them in a way that allows finding them in the future

I use Lightroom to organise my photos (always shoot in RAW).

I have set LR to re-name files to yyyymmdd_filename and import to a folder named yyyymmdd into a folder named yyyy . So all photos are renamed to date shot, imported into a folder of the day and inside a folder of the year.

I have not mentioned of course that for special occasions, persons, travel, holidays etc I put the files in a folder named after the occasion or activity but still under the year .. i.e. activity/person_yyyymm