While I’ve been doing landscape and cityscape photography for many years, both on the ground and in the air, I’ve never printed my photographs from my home studio. I’ve always sent them to a lab.
But after visiting a friend’s studio this past December and working with her on printing her work from her home studio, I found myself drawn to this in an unexpected way. I found a real excitement in being able to print what I saw on the screen, hold the print in my hand and see the final results immediately.
After helping my friend with her printing, I found myself really excited about the prospect of being able to print myself. I also looked at why I hadn’t chosen to do this in the past and realized that I hadn’t explored this because I had a belief that it was just too complicated and expensive. I also had doubts as to whether I could really do this myself. The other question I had was could I produce something as good as a lab. Well, there’s only one way to find out.
Choosing a printer
In choosing a printer, I knew I wanted an inkjet printer that would allow me to produce prints as good as what I could get from a photo lab. So I did my research. I talked with colleagues, visited my local camera store, read the forums on printing and printers and decided on this list of exhibition print capable inkjet printers:
- Canon PIXMA PRO-100 (B&H | Amazon)
- Canon PIXMA PRO-10 (B&H | Amazon)
- Epson SureColor P400 (B&H | Amazon)
- Epson SureColor P600 (B&H | Amazon)
After additional research, I determined that all these printers would do a great job producing quality prints, that inks were similar in price and that Epson would allow me to print from a roll as well as cut sheets, so it was able to produce panoramas. I also was told by my local store and others that a problem with these types of printers is that the print heads can clog or burn out and that Canon has user-replaceable print heads and that Epson requires sending the printer in for repair.
Inks are another important area, specifically how many different colors it has and what kind of ink it uses. The number of colors or ink cartridges determines the color range a printer is capable of. The printers listed above have from 8-12 ink cartridges with 7-11 different colors.
There are two types of inks used in these printers — dye inks and pigment inks. Pigment ink has a longer life before fading than dye inks. Dye inks tend to be more vibrant. There are pros and cons for each type of ink and there is lots of discussion about that on the internet. Right now most of the higher-end printers use pigment inks, while lower cost printers use dye inks. My research led me to choose pigment inks.
Print size is the last area I was looking at. They both can print 13″ wide. The Epson can print up to 10′ long. The Canon is limited to 22″ long.
So which printer did I choose? First off, both printers are great and I’m not recommending one over the other. I’m just sharing my choice. They both use pigment ink which is a plus. The SureColor P600 uses nine inks and prints panoramas up to 10′ long which is a plus. The PIXMA PRO-10 uses 10 inks (nine colors and one chroma optimizer) and prints up to 22″ long, but it has a user-replaceable print head which means I don’t have to send it in for repair.
It was a tough choice because of the panorama capabilities of the Epson, but I ended up choosing the Canon PIXMA PRO-10 because I liked the idea of being able to replace the print head myself if it went bad. I’m told that returning these large printers for repair is expensive and requires removing all the ink in them for shipping. The ink loss adds to the expense of the return. I also had a number of people with printing experience suggest that the PRO-10 would be a great first printer.
Printing my own
As I began printing my own images on the Canon PIXMA PRO-10, I found there was truly something magical about the immediate feedback of printing, holding the image in my hands and putting it up on the wall to view. I also found that the ability to print and see the result on paper immediately began to change my approach to editing. I found my self looking at the content of the photographs differently, working with the tones and colors in different ways and most interestingly found myself allowing the photograph to unfold more naturally than try to force it into a look. I found these changes to my approach began to result in not only better-printed results but also better results for the screen/web.
Another area I found frustrating when using a lab was I would send photographs off to be printed and then get the result back, fine-tune it and go back and forth multiple times to get a result I was happy with. This would often take 1-2 weeks. With my own printer, I’m able to see the result and fine-tune it immediately, put it on the wall, sit with it and refine it and do a final print. I like this process much better. It just works for me.
While the cost of the printer is significant, the cost of printing also includes both the cost of the paper and the ink. It ends up that in the long run, the ink is the most expensive of the three. The ink cost of my prints on 8.5 x 11″ paper printing an 8 x 10″ print is between $.90 and $1.15 per print. A print on 13 x 19″ paper printing a 12 x 18″ print is between $2 and $3.50 for ink. Remember these costs are my best estimate. You’ll also need to add in the paper costs and that depends on manufacturer and quality. My paper costs range from $.50 to $4.60 per sheet.
What I’ve learned so far
- Doing my homework and knowing what I was getting myself into, really helped me in this process.
- That printing my own photographs is an ongoing process that I am getting better and better at.
- That I can make prints that are as good or better than sending them to a lab within the size limitations of my printer.
- That printing my own photographs is improving the way I edit and color grade them.
- Inks are the most expensive part of printing from my home office.
Before you buy
So now that I shared with you my journey so far, I would recommend that before you go out and buy a printer please be sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Below is a great video by Jose Rodriguez that I recommend you watch before you buy. I believe it will help you to understand what’s really involved and what you need to be willing to do to print in your home studio. His channel has been a valuable tool for me in my learning process.
It’s taken a fair amount of time, energy and money to learn the steps to start producing good quality prints, but the process has given a new life to my photographs and editing, which makes it worthwhile for me. But do your own research and be sure you’re ready for the process.
As I’ve progressed with my printing I also found Mitch Boyer’s videos helpful. You’ll find those here.