Why I Print

In Creativity and Inspiration, Pep Talks, Photographs & Photoshopping, Tutorials &Technique, Workflow & Technical Issues by David63 Comments

Monument Valley, 2011

With the advent of digital photography, and even more importantly, the internet, our ability to share and experience photographs has changed dramatically. The wet darkroom, once so necessary for creating prints we could touch and feel, is much less common than it once was, and if I were a betting man I’d wager that the majority of digital photographers out there have never printed their own work, and never had the joy of seeing their work large and framed, never felt the richness of a rag paper with their art on it. That impoverishes all of us. High tech, but low touch.

I have always printed my work, though there have been notable hiatuses in my printing, the last 2 years among them. Sometimes I’ve done it myself, to varying degrees of success, and at other times I’ve had anyone from mPix.com to professional printers do my prints. But no matter what, sharing photographs on paper is a beautiful experience. That alone is why I print, and have returned to printing as a student. But there’s more.

I think photographers, and this is something my girlfriend taught me, need to live with their work. Not just on an iPad or laptop, but printed. Large. You need to feel it. Need to live with the lines and tones and moments. Feel the colours. Doing so reveals the flaws (dust spots on the sensor, anyone?), and the weaknesses. Could those lines be stronger? Could there be more tension? Are the colours right? In short, it can return us to craft. It can focus us on more than the momentary experience of seeing a photograph on Facebook, and give the image the dignity of being created in the real world.

For me, this return to printing has pushed me back from the edge of laziness. To see, in 17×22 inch detail, the flaws in my work, has pushed me to become more diligent. Not because I want perfection, but because my art deserves better than to be treated with the flippancy that digital can encourage me towards. And because, like the rest of this past year, it slows me down. It forces me to pay attention. It opens me to renewed receptivity. And, perhaps this is the real reason, the prints are simply more beautiful in my hands and on walls than they will ever be on my screens.

I encourage you, even if you never print at home, to print your work. The artist’s life is about creating and sharing, not creating and hording. If you don’t have a printer, look into mPix.com or WHCC.com and do some test prints with them, or go to your local Costco and try them out. But print your work. Do one a month and at the year’s end you’ll have 12 beautiful prints. Do two of each and at the year’s end you’ll have 12 to keep and 12 to sign and give away as gifts. The ability to see and experience the world, and express that experience through your work, is a gift; keep it moving.

If you’ve not read it, and printing your work yourself intimidates or frustrates you, take a look at Martin Bailey’s ebook, MAKING THE PRINT. It’s $5 and worth every penny. I wish I’d had it 5 years ago.


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  5. What you say is true. I love “living” with my printed work, large, framed and matted.
    It’s amazing how you will often find some little flaw on the first prints that you didn’t see on the screen, makes your work better…

    I print up to 13 x 19 myself, but have MPIX do my larger prints, they do a fine job. I have a pro account and get the prints back very fast.

    I do a few shows every year, which forces me to print, mat and frame, and it’s well worth the effort, keeps you sharp, a print is the final judge of just how strong your image is in my humble opinion.

    Great post David and on a subject you don’t hear that much about these days.

  6. Well said! I printed my own pics back in college, but even now I print the ones I love for my walls or as gifts. The best of the best I have printed on canvas. There’s just something to seeing my work on display that makes me happy—even if I’m the only one who likes it!

  7. This is a great point, one my wife is also keen to point out! I’ve just printed out my most favourite image from a recent trip to Skye for a big frame in the front room on Hahnemühle Photo Rag and it’s just *gorgeous*!

    There’s actually a funny story here too. Several years ago we bought 4 cheap frames from the supermarket for our bathroom for me to put some themed photos in. We hung them up as they came whilst I considered images for them. I couldn’t quite find something that was right (perfectionism sucks) and they kinda slipped out of mind (when they should’ve become a project).

    For *2 freaking years* we had friends coming over asking why we had 4 empty frames hanging in our bathroom. I like to think I was making some kinda post-modern statement but I don’t really know what that is or what it was saying! 🙂

    I now have my images hanging all over the walls of my study. I have a stash of mounts (mats) that I’ll put my prints in, then bullclip the mount to hooks on the walls. Some of the ideas here are better so I’ll look at them, but being surrounded by your images really is fantastic.

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  9. With regard to the “how to display” question, I was actually pondering this yesterday. (My wife found a nice wide panarama image she likes and so we want to “split it into three seperate canvases” on our living room wall. (The picture split into three canvas hangings with a gap between each.) A focal point for the room.

    The cost of printing an image onto three 3′ x 3′ canvases is beyond reasonable so I started searching for something I could do myself.

    And found these:



    You basically wrap a piece of styrofoam (cut to exact size of the print) with black cloth and then paste the print onto it. Seems to look nice and reasonably long-lasting, and is much more affordable then a true canvas print.

  10. Our local hardware store sells thin stips of steel, about 1″ wide by 3 feet long that can be mounted to a wall, either full length, cut to just the width of a print, or combined to make a long line. Used with the small button magnets, it’s a quick and easy way to hang prints.

  11. FWIW, I have two spots in my home where I just put velcro strips on the wall and I have 9 prints from Ladakh that are mounted on 7mm foam board and I just rotate those images in the two spaces. I’m going to do the same thing on a wall of the studio and if I get the spaces right, it will allow me to hang different combinations of prints in different sizes, change and mix them up at will.

  12. Your blog post is very well taken. I don’t rely on my photography to put food on the table, but I have done several exhibitions and continue to sell my photos.

    You are so right about printing. I post photos to my website, on Facebook, Google+, 500px, and Twitter. I feel that I am being very selective and don’t post a huge volume of photos to any of these forums. But when I am called upon to produce finished prints for an exhibition, it is seriously the “moment of truth.” Photos that looked great online are suddenly weeded out in the printing process. Inadequate sharpness, weak impact, previously undetected flaws are suddenly writ large all over that sheet of paper that issues from your printer like a big report card. It teaches you a lot about producing a good capture from your camera. It’s both humbling and enlightening; and an important part of your photographic education.

  13. On presentation on metal with magnetic buttons: I have seen some studios with a huge 4 x 8′ sheet of thin metal mounted to a wall, and prints are then put up on the metal with those little magnetic buttons. It has such a clean look, and prints can easily be arranged and re-arranged which helps in sequencing for a portfolio. Very easy to stand back or close for studying strengths and weaknesses; doesn’t distract from the prints. I plan to install one at some point. In addition to presentation, it provides a vertical space for prints to dry for 24 hours, without any dust settling on top of the print surface. I actually like my prints to dry for 48 hours.

    David, if you try the magnetic paint, I am sure we would all like to hear what you think of it and how well it works. Paint would be easier, except for textured dry wall.

  14. Not just printing, but actually displaying my work with forethought about the various (and endless) presentation methods often results in me loving a particular photo even more than when it stands alone on a web page. Lucky for me, I work in an environment that gives me direct access to anything from C-prints to giclees on stretched canvas to direct to metal prints on a flatbed printer… even wallpaper! Somewhere in my to-print list is printing a textured something or other (haven’t decided what yet) onto adhesive vinyl to apply to my boring white melamine kitchen cabinets! I even have an idea to wrap a metal file cabinet (not unlike a vehicle wrap) in an abstract photo… Man, I could be here all day with this stuff!!!

    David, if you ever make it across the border and down to Arizona, you HAVE to stop by our facility. I’d tell you what it was, but I don’t want my comment here to look like a trolling advertisement…. Let’s just say we have a number of big name photographers as customers you’d recognize immediately, and you’d fit right in! (Though you might wanna skip that cabinet idea, considering your dedication to homelessness as a lifestyle choice and all… Heh.)

  15. Author

    Love it. I’m still leaning towards painting one wall with magnetic paint, something like a dark charcoal. Then I print it and pin it to the wall with little neodymium magnets. Done. But the dry mount idea is great.

  16. David…let me elaborate just a bit.To eliminate the cost (and hassle) of framing “test” prints, I do use a Seal 210M Commercial dry mount press. I bought it very inexpensively via ebay and I can mount virtually any “reasonable” size image (comfortably up to say 30+”). I then take two scrap pieces of foam core and hot glue them on the back of the mounted print and run a hanging line. I then suspend this from one rail hook on an adjustable, thin light white nylon parachute cord (?). This virtually disappears against the wall. Simple, cheap, still looks great and provides the perfect “test drive” to see if all the parameters really work together to produce a finished, polished work…or not. And by the way David, I really appreciate your down to earth candor about your approach to photography. It is very refreshing.

  17. I started in the days of film so I remember and I also remember getting my own darkroom set in my basement, studiously going over Adams ‘The Negative’ and ‘The Print’ book and having a blast developing my own images. It wasn’t until I saw some my images displayed at my church as prints (11×14, 16×20 and 20×30) that I realized how much I missed the printed image.

    Since then, I make prints from time to time. I just had a slide image I made of NYC from Weehawken NJ made into 20×30 print and it was amazing to see all the detail like a hotel sign, a UPS logo on a building and the exact time it was I made the photo because you could see this clock on the side of a building.

    I swear by Adoramapix for getting prints made. They just do fantastic work. Their prices are great to begin with, but from time to time they offer specials that are impossible to pass up. Don’r let their lower prices fool you. They do quality work.

  18. Author

    Some great idea – Thanks Margaret and Joel. I like the idea of the rails. I also like the idea of a space just to throw the latest print without having to frame. A good friend uses cables and clips. I’ve been toying with a wall painted with magnetic paint or a large piece of steel bolted to one wall so I can put them up as I print them, live with it a while, make changes, etc. Frames are great but it takes time and I’d rather live with the work a little first, see if it’s really worthy of the frame.

    Any others with ideas like this?

  19. Hi all…I posted my opinion about half way up the page, but now that I see suggestions are coming in about the mechanics of showing prints, let me toss this out: Picture rails. I use picture rails throughout the house to hang virtually any size, frame or unframed printed image and I use a simple nondescript method for suspending the artwork. The system is very adaptable and simple and keeps the walls intact with the exception of having installed the rail itself which is painted the same color as the wall to perfectly blend it. The beauty of this approach is that I can “test drive” any and all prints in their varying stages of “gallery ready” completion very inexpensively yet still appealingly.

  20. I totally agree, David. I love having my photos printed and on my walls. To help with holes in the wall and with space (though that’s not an issue for me) my friend built several picture rails for the walls. That way, no pictures are “hung”, just placed on a very narrow “shelf”. I can change them around or replace the photos without worrying about hanging them straight or putting holes in the wall. A great way to view and study my work.

  21. Yes, the eBook is worth every penny, and more.

    I have a Canon Pro9000M2, a 600 entry level printer. I have downloaded profiles from Canon, RedRiver, Moab and Canson. I also have sample packs from all of them.

    Let me just say, I wish I had bought a better printer. Most of my stuff triggers out of gamut warnings on all but glossy paper (Epson Plat Pro is best for this printer and for the post-edit colors I tend to choose). None of them have a rag paper that I can properly print, tho they come back just fine on rag from mpix and whcc.

    That said, I have a gallery wall at home in a horizontal “T” shape. Three portrait and three landscape orientation prints make up the T, all with the same frames. I print up 6 new prints every few months, but I like your idea to committing to a print a month.

  22. David you are starting to freak me out. So often your posts touch a nerve or on the same wavelength with my own thoughts. Are you a psychic phenomenon? Over the past two months I have made a huge effort to make prints of my work not only for a print portfolio but for display. Recently after having them made by others I am lookiing at purchasing a printer.

    I think we are living in a generation where more images are made than ever before, but fewer are retained because of a lack of prints being made. This could lead to a lot of lost images in the years ahead. The physical print is not only a great way to look at your work, but also an important way to preserve it. Digital technology is always changing, and I am sure they will be a way to continually move our current files onto new upcoming formats. However having that physical print is something that needs no upgrades.

    Thanks for all that you do for the photographic community. Wish you well in your upcoming travels.

  23. Also, you know what I thought of doing recently: you know how sometimes you end up with a proof that’s not quite good enough, so you make a reprint, I thought what about bringing the seconds into town and leaving them around in random places for people to find. Not necessarily for advertising, just to give something away!

  24. Yes! Personally I strive to shoot for the ultimate goal of printing everything, whether or not I actually do, that is the ultimate realization of a photograph. Also I would venture that printing is the only truly dependable method of archiving because what would happen to all our digital media if there is like a massive solar flare attack or a EMP or something. Glad to hear your lovin your 3880 so much, I got mine last summer and just love to print!

  25. I am enjoying this printing dialogue as it is something I really need to do more often. I think the point of seeing the flaws up lose and personal can only make you a better photographer.

  26. I completely agree. There is nothing like a beautiful print. It makes a picture come alive. Printing has also taught me to pay closer attention in my post processing. Nothing like discovering that dust spot AFTER you made a nice large print 🙂 .

  27. There’s some really cool paper around at the moment.
    Printed some stuff recently on Kodak’s metallic paper and it looked amazing.

    So good I ended up giving them away because I wanted people to see them.

    Also if I don’t manage to get people’s grubby fingerprints all over my photos then I feel like I’ve failed.

  28. Looks like the word “free” created 10X more response!!

    Anyway, great post, perhaps one of the most important ones you have made. We couldn’t have said it better.

    Reminds me of Avedon’s “Out In The American West”…he sometimes would have his studio FedEx prints back to him just to see what he really got.

    The print is the arbiter, not the screen.

  29. As a follow up to the lab recommendations, there is an absolutely awesome lab in North Carolina called Dalmatian Photo Lab. They are a traditional B&W lab that also does stunning color giclee prints as well as printing silver gelatin prints from your digital files…

  30. Very well stated David! The creation of the printed image is the culmination of our art! Each of us as photographers are artists and the print is really the end game in the circle of creation.
    Just got an epson 4900 and am enjoying the challenges and rewards of printing and concur that the e-book you recommend is awesome!!

  31. i work at a private high school with a pretty impressive visual arts department. today i took advantage of this and had a photo of mine printed on a fancy printer on fancy paper, for free! i really should be taking advantage of this more often.

    thanks for bringing up the topic!

  32. I grew up with 35mm film cameras, studied photography at college where we rolled our own B&W film and printed our own prints. After college I installed a colour darkroom at home and taught myself to use it.
    I then graduated to medium format transparency film. All my cameras were manual, most without lightmeters.
    That taught me more than a DSLR and photoshop ever could. I still get a buzz from seeing my work as a print and totally agree with your sentiments regarding slowing down.
    Love the image by the way

  33. I completely agree, David. And aside from being a great self-instruction aid, it’s also wonderful means of doing good in the world. I recently got an Epson 3880 printer and made three 8×10 prints in 16×20 frames from some 40-year-old Kodachromes from my Peace Corps days, and was able to raise $900 at auction to benefit the Friends of Liberia (www.fol.org) at Peace Corps 50th Anniversary celebration last fall. A month later, I made two 20×24 canvas prints from the Kingdom of Mustang and Boudhanath Stupa and raised $1000 for the Tibetan Aid Project. It’s been very gratifying, and a great way to market your work. BTW, thanks for the tip regarding American Photo Canvas last spring at the San Francisco tweet-up (the Irish Bank Pub). The quality and service from APC were phenomenal.

  34. Totally agreed David. For the newer photographers who have never seen their work in a print, are truly missing out. There is no room to hide on a large print. Every bit of detail you meant to capture is there in full glory along with any flaw if you weren’t careful with your shooting and processing technique. Making images for print really forces you to be on top of your game.

  35. Well said, David. I would also make the suggestion that all photographers see their prints on a variety of materials. Check out different types of papers, Canvas, Aluminum, Acrylic mounts…so many different ways to see your work. Viewing on a monitor just doesn’t compare.

  36. Having your own work in print also gives a sense of pride.

    One thing that stops me from printing is wall space. In my current home, I don’t have much of it. When I move to a larger space, I intend on printing more of my images for the walls but not just my images. I also want images from photographers who inspire on my walls as well.

  37. I print on a 44″ Epson- and sometimes the larger the print- the more it “works”; even more so than an onscreen or a small 8×10. It just makes you look at an image differently in regards details , depth and visual harmonies.

  38. I completely agree, not much compares to the gratification of seeing your work printed. Tangible. A printed image hanging on a wall brings perspective and dimension that you never get with a computer screen.

  39. As a member of camera clubs I have grown in appreciation for printing due to competitions. That drives me to pay attention to details.

  40. I attended a lecture by a local photographer. His stories and recommendations were significantly more interesting than the accompanying slideshow of his images. However, after the presentation, he took out portfolio cases and let us look through huge prints of his work. They were the exact images from the slideshow, but in print they had a depth and life that I found it hard to tear myself away from. The prints fascinated me in a way that the screen images completely failed to; the difference was astonishing.

    Can you live with your work and feel it with a sense of experience and appreciation, ..without feeling the inclination to critique or improve it? Is there some self-talk that goes with that?:)

  41. One of two projects I’m working on this year is making a print every day. Most of them are inkjet prints on premium lustre paper, but I’ve been using some of Hahnemuhle’s art papers, as well as silver gelatin prints. I love the tangibility of prints at any size.

  42. David,

    I completely agree with you that seeing your work in print and big; really still has a level of connection to it you can’t get with an ipad or screen. Because of this I keep my work cubicle filled with 12 x 18 prints of my recent work. I can share it with other around me and I can absorb and see my work in a different light and learn the flaws of seeing my work everyday.


  43. David… you are absolutely right about printing. There is a richness, depth and tangible pleasure in producing and viewing an elegant piece of your own work. PLUS it provides a level of craftsmanship that others may never achieve. Ansel Adams was correct regarding his reference to it being the “symphony”.

  44. I love to print. My first experience of getting large 24 inch prints done was the exhibit of my Ladakh images in 2010. It was a sink or swim experience.

    There’s something about the physicality of the printed image that just makes the photo more, well, real.

  45. Printing one per month is a great idea!! I use my photos on printed calendars, which I then give as Christmas gifts. I need to start printing for myself.

  46. Also, show your prints to other people who can give you feedback – not just the “I like that” but critical feedback – how to make it better. A photographer friend can help – if your ego doesn’t get in the way.

  47. This is very, very good! I am so happy to see this one after yesterday’s post, as it seems to get to the heart of printing and to the gift of the print back to the photographer. I hope you will continue this dialogue on printing on occasion–it is really interesting and encouraging to see you say you are returning to printing as a student. It will be a fascinating journey.

  48. I love that I read this whilst filling out a Dwayne’s Photo film developing order form ; ) but I need to heed this advice for my digital photos, for sure. I love the idea of printing a few each month, by the time the end of the year rolls around, you already have xmass/New Year’s gifts done!

  49. Great article David,

    Last year i started at the beginning of each month spending £25 getting prints done. Sum months it was only 1 or 2 large prints, sometimes it was a few 10x8s etc but there is nothing better than seeing your work printed.

    A friend has just bought a 17inch wide printer and he just prints them out lays them on the floor and we walk around them just looking at the images. They just feel so much better than looking at an ipad or a screen.

    Just wish i could justify one myself!!

    Keep it up


  50. Author

    And Stephen, your comment reminds me, you were the first winner of the first print. Still have my email address? Drop me a line with your mailing address. 🙂

  51. Author

    Kim, I really don’t. I got some lovely fine art stuff done in Toronto at a place called Dragonfly, but nothing in Ottawa. A quick call to Vistek might get you some resources, though. Good luck!

  52. Great idea! I’ve been trying to find a great place to have my photographs printed professionally.
    David, from your stay around Ottawa last year, any recommendations on great local print shops? Cheers!

  53. Now that’s an interesting idea. On the same lines as the pressure to practice from a 365 photo blog project, add the print of the week or print of the month and commit to it on a schedule.

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