Learn to Print. Get Free Stuff.

In Giveaways, News & Stuff, Workflow & Technical Issues by David

I’ve been at this over 25 years now. I love it. But as I’ve not let light through an open darkroom door in 15 years, it’s time to learn to print again. One of my goals for my eventual (and premature) return to Vancouver was to dig into printing, so moving into and setting up my new loft and office seemed as good a time to do that as any.

I still have an aging Epson R2400 kicking around, and the prints that come off that beast are lovely, but as technology changes, and 13×19 is a little small, I felt it was time to get something a step up. After reading some reviews and deciding on a budget, I went with the Epson Stylus Pro 3880. Where the 2400 would do prints up to 13″ wide, the 3880 will do 17″, and there’s about 4 years of technological improvements in between the two. Nothing about this craft is cheap, and that applies as much to printing as anything else. The 3880 cost CAD$1329.99 at a London Drugs in Vancouver (special order item). It’s a 9-ink printer and replacement ink will cost about $60/ea – that’s, God help me, $540 if my ink all runs out at once.

I found the perfect printer station for it at IKEA, where the Swedish Mafia gave me a FLYTTA kitchen cart in exchange for $229 and an hour’s worth of assembly aggravation. The printer fits perfectly, and rolls nicely, on large wheels, when I want it over by my desk. And there’s ample space on the shelves below for papers.

I asked a bunch of people about display calibrators and got some great recommendations for the Color Munki and the Datacolor Spyder3 Elite, or Pro. Prepared to go with either, I got the Spyder3 Elite on sale for CAD$70, and calibrated my primary displays – a 27″ iMac and a 27″ LED Cinema Display.

And then I sat down and worked my way through it all with Martin Bailey’s excellent (hey, I published it, I can toot his horn a little!) eBook, Making The Print, which you can find on the Craft&Vision site for $5. It’s a solid introduction to getting through the frustrations of printer setups. The one thing that made the biggest difference? Turning the display brightness way, way down. No more too-dark prints. I skipped the DIY process of profiling the printer itself, but otherwise found Martin’s teaching really clear and helpful.

I also took Martin Bailey’s recommendation on papers and bought a bunch of Optica One and Vibrance Gloss from Breathing Color, saving $20 thanks to a discount code in the appendix of the eBook. Then I asked some folks on twitter and Hahnemuhle Photo Rag kept coming out on top as the favourite, and as I’m a sucker for the texture of good matte paper, I’ll try that one too. While I waited for the papers to come, I downloaded and installed the ICC profiles. The papers arrived the next day, an hour after my printer arrived. Perfect timing. The first test prints off the printer, even without paper profiles being used, were stunning. STUNNING.

So what does this have to do with you? Well, I’m hoping some of the above is helpful, if only to see how relatively easy this is. Easier than setting up a darkroom and mixing chemicals, that’s for sure. I know people get intimidated by printing, but Martin’s book makes it much closer to painless, and with the discount codes in the back of the book, you can save way more than the price of the book. I think it’s also helpful to see how expensive larger-format printing can be – truthfully, for most people at home who won’t be doing print sales or have a need to learn this part of the craft, it’s much cheaper to pay someone else, who knows his craft, to print your work, and let them absorb the cost of the technology, which as you know, is a losing game. Knowing that before you get your feet wet might help save you from, well, really wet feet. Of course there are much cheaper ways to get into printing, among them much smaller printers. Or if someone gives one to you.

Speaking of giving away printers: if you’re in Vancouver and want to take my old R2400 off my hands, and will come pick it up, then it’s yours for free and I might make you a cup of tea when you come. If you want it, please leave a comment here (specifically letting me know you want it), with your name and email address and I’ll touch base. I’ll give it to the first person I can get a hold of. Last time I used it (2 years ago), it worked great. You’ll have to get new inks, and download current drivers, but it’s got a nice cover and it’s all there. I just want it to go to a good home and not to landfill site. *UPDATE – The printer’s now gone to a good home.

In addition to that I’ve decided to give away the best of the test prints I am doing. So for the next 5 days I am giving away the first 5 prints off the printer. Signed as an artist’s print, these are one of a kind (because each image will be different) and I want you to have them. They’ll only be 8×10, so don’t expect something massive, but it’ll give me something to do with these prints instead of throwing them out or into the recycle bin. Win/Win. What do you have to do? Just put your name and email into the comments (the form is fine, no need to put it in the actual comment) so I can email you if we draw your name, and I’ll randomly choose one every day for the next 5 days, and I’ll send them to you as a gift and a thanks for being among the readers here at the best photography community on the planet. *Update: Comments are now closed, and all 5 winners have been notified. I’ll put the prints into the post today!