alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘printing’ category

Alternative Photographic Techniques – Platinum and Palladium Printing

I have been interested in alternative photography and their associated historic printing techniques for a few years now. The process itself coupled with the tonality, delicacy and unique nature of each print appeals to me. When a course became available at West Dean College, an arts and conservation college close to where I live, I immediately reserved a place.  The course took place last week and this is my report. Whilst this is a fairly long entry with a lot of illustrative pictures, if you are at all interested in this alternative photographic process specifically platinum and palladium, the aristocrat of contact printing, then I hope you will read on.

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My first A2 print, mounted and framed

A few weeks ago I invested in a  new printer, the Epson 3880, as it is able to produce exceptional black and white prints. It can print pretty well in colour too! One of the other main advantages of this particular model is that it can also print on A2 paper as well. My previous printer would only print to a maximum paper size of A3.

I knew it wouldn’t be long before I would want to test its capability to print large. The timing of my purchase was very fortunate because it coincided with some friends wanting a large print for the study in their house. They selected my image ‘Private keep off’ a monochrome picture of an old boat near Dell Quay in Chichester Harbour.

Private Keep Off
‘Private keep off’

Before I could make a print I had to decide on which photo paper to use. I had been pleased with the results from the Fotospeed test pack but the Platinum Lustre Fine Art paper was going to be a very expensive option. I also very much liked Fotospeed Platinum Matt Fine Art paper, which would not suit all work but for the right image it would be a very good alternative.

Having used Ilford Smooth Pearl paper I decided it would be worth trying a relatively new paper by Ilford – their Galerie Prestige Gold Mono Silk specifically made for black and white prints. I therefore contacted a company called the Online Paper Company to see whether or not they would supply me with an A4 sample sheet which they did. It arrived in the post a couple of days later and I ran a test print and compared the result with some other papers. I decided that in the future this would be my paper of choice so I ordered a pack of A2 and A3 plus, together with an A3 plus pack of Fotospeed Platinum Matt. I believe these papers will serve me well in the future. So will the Online Paper Company – their service was excellent and very efficient.

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Ilford Gold Mono Silk 
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Fotospeed Platinum Matt

I used the Gold Mono Silk to produce my first A2 print. The timer on my iPhone showed that it had taken just under 21 minutes. The result was in my opinion excellent. I was delighted.

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‘Private keep off’ emerges from the printer in just under 21 minutes.

I had already purchased a frame (80cm x 60cm or 31″ x 24″) and the mount card. The finished result is shown below. I included the wall light to try and give a sense of scale.

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Our friends collected the framed photograph and sent an email later in the same day.  I quote ‘Hung up the photo – it looks excellent!’.  I shall look forward to seeing it for myself in the near future.
Big is not necessarily beautiful but a large print in a suitable frame definitely has impact. I am planning to exhibit some of my work in a local Art Trail next year, so I have now bought four more large frames, if only to generate something of a ‘wow’ factor. I now can’t wait before pressing print again and seeing another A2 image slowly emerge from the Epson 3880. The question is which images shall I choose? Decisions, decisions!

First colour print from the Epson 3880

In a recent post I wrote about how pleased I was with the black and white results from the Epson 3880, not to mention how easy it was to set up and select the right settings. Whilst I expect most of my prints will be in monochrome, there will be times when I want to print a colour photograph, so I thought I would run a test print.

As opposed to using Lightroom I opened the image in Photoshop CS5, resized the image for A4 paper and selected the ‘Photoshop manages colours’ option. I also selected the ICC profile for the Fotospeed Platinum Lustre fine art paper which I had chosen for this first print.

The settings are shown in the screen shot below.

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The print settings in the Epson print driver is shown below.

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The printer started doing its job and the result looked quite promising. The printed colours were as I had hoped, although the clouds in the sky were rather more grey than blue when compared to how they appeared on the screen, but arguably more true to the scene itself.

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I have taken a shot of the finished print standing against the iMac. A camera will never satisfactorily capture the true colours of a back lit computer screen so it would be wrong to compare the print with this image below, so its purely for illustrative purposes. Having said that the screen does appear to have a ‘blue’ cast, so this is something I need to look in to in the future. It may well be the iMac needs calibrating which is something I have not done for quite some time. So in colour terms the print isn’t perfect but it’s more than acceptable and frankly if it wasn’t standing alongside the monitor no one would know the difference anyway.

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Having seen the results of this first test print I decided to print another version of the image with the same paper, ICC profile etc but using Lightroom instead of Photoshop. Lightroom has a ‘sharpening’ algorithm built in, so I wanted to compare the results both in terms of sharpness but also to see whether or not there was any noticeable colour variation.

In the print module in Lightroom I used the settings below, selecting ‘glossy’ paper for the print sharpening.

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When laid side by side the colour rendition of the two prints was very similar. I could not detect any difference in the greens and oranges of the foreground and middle distance, nor could I see any change to the colours in the distant hills and the clouds.  It’s pleasing to know there is no discernible difference when printing between these two programs, with one notable exception. The big difference between the two prints was the sharpness. I had not applied any extra sharpening when I printed from Photoshop, whereas Lightroom had applied it’s own sharpening for the size of print. There is no question the additional sharpening applied by Lightroom improved the image considerably. The grasses in the foreground now had real impact. The same can be said of the wall and the branches of the trees.

Given these were the first colour prints from the Epson 3880, I am very pleased. It really is quite a printer and in no way am I disappointed with any aspect of the product. Having read so many excellent reviews before deciding to purchase the 3880, there is always the possibility that it wouldn’t have met with expectations. This is far from the case. It’s a first class printer which more than meets my requirements and whilst it’s expensive at nearly £1,000, it fully justifies the cost in my opinion.

I now need to make sure that the quality of my photographs are up to the quality of the Epson 3880; after all, ‘rubbish in and rubbish out’, as the saying goes!

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Paper and settings for Epson 3880

When I went on my ‘One to One’ with Paul Gallagher in the Lake District back in February I was keen to find out more about digital printing. A dark art in photography circles but an absolutely essential skill to learn and understand to produce a well made image on paper.

I really take pleasure in printing my photographs. Yes it can be expensive with printer cartridges costing an arm and a leg but there is nothing quite like seeing a printed photo, mounted, framed and hanging on the wall for others to see. The photo paper is not cheap either, particularly if you choose a ‘fine art’ paper. There is also a huge choice from gloss to matt, from a smooth finish to a textured one and so the list goes on. The weight or thickness can also vary and is another factor when choosing the right paper. Different images or styles of photography also suit different papers so it can really get quite complicated.

Until today I have almost exclusively been using Ilford Galerie smooth pearl. A 290gsm paper with a lustre finish. My printer, a Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MkII is an excellent printer; it can print up to A3+, but it has one major problem as far as I am concerned. It only has one black ink cartridge and as I almost exclusively print in black and white it cannot produce the quality of print I would like. The reason why this is the case is that in order to print the full range of tones, it simply lays down less black ink to reproduce all the mid tones. Consequently the ink coverage is not as great, which can sometimes lead to a ‘blotchy’ appearance.

The other issue I had with the Canon was that I couldn’t produce a true black and white print, probably because of the single black ink or possibly a driver issue. It always had a slight, almost sepia colour cast. It was fine until you held it against the Epson print using the same paper. There really was quite a difference. If I was going to continue my passion for black and white, then I wanted black and white prints, not something which was very good but in all honesty was second best.

Trees
The image I chose for the test of different papers using the Epson 3880

In a desire to improve the quality of my printed work I was naturally interested to see what printer and paper Paul Gallagher used. When I arrived at his studio it didn’t take me long to discover that he used an Epson Stylus Pro 3880 and Epson Traditional Photo Paper. I had already read a number of good reviews of this particular printer. It uses four separate inks cartridges to print a black and white image. Photo black, matt black, light black and lastly light, light black. They are 80ml cartridges, so although expensive to purchase initially they work out much cheaper per print than say my existing printer, plus you don’t need to replace them so often. As well as being able to print on A2 size paper, it also has a dedicated driver for monochrome printing called Advanced Black and White or ABW for short.

After Paul and I printed a few images using this printer and the ABW settings, I was convinced that if I wanted to take my work to the next level then an upgrade to the Epson 3880 was going to be desirable.

So here we are a few months later and the Epson 3880 is out of its box, set up in my home and a few test prints later and all I can say is – ‘what a printer, it’s fantastic!’ Easy to install, I was printing my first images in no time at all, with I think great results.

Although I like the Ilford Smooth Pearl paper I was keen to try others, so I bought a couple of  test packs from Fotospeed and I started printing. I wanted to ensure I used the same settings for every type of paper, so by way of a record here they are.

The first screen grab is taken from the print settings tab in Lightroom 4. It is of course possible to use Photoshop for printing but I have always found Lightroom an easier program for this purpose. Although I have installed ICC print profiles from Fotospeed these are not required as the Epson driver manages the whole process really well.

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Click on ‘print’ in Lightroom and the Epson window opens. The screen grab below shows the ‘basic’ print settings.

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Click on ‘Advanced colour settings’ and it opens another window specifically for black and white printing. Here are the settings I chose for the test run of different Fotospeed papers. The preview image gives an indication as to how the image will print if any of the settings are changed.

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I chose three matt papers for this initial test to see how they would compare with the Epson Traditional Photo paper used by Paul on his 3880. Firstly Platinum Matt (280gsm), secondly High White Smooth (315gsm) and lastly Natural Smooth Textured Bright White (315gsm). There are others but I wanted to start with these. My first impressions of printing on a Matt paper was very good. In my view they retain excellent tones and detail but do not have the distraction of the ‘lustre’ finish which has a slightly reflective sheen. I don’t think the matt paper will work for every image but for this particular landscape I was delighted with the results.

Of the three papares I did not warm to the High white smooth paper. Despite its name the paper has a ‘cream or yellow’ tint which is particularly noticeable in the lighter areas of the image. This comment does not apply to the other two papers. Both the Platinum Matt and NTS Bright White produce excellent ‘whites and blacks’, the main difference being a little more texture in the NTS Bright White, together with the fact that its a slightly thicker paper – 315gsm against 280gsm. There is of course the question of price. For 25 sheets of A3+ paper the Platinum Matt works out at £2.00 per sheet whereas the  NTS Bright White is £2.40 per sheet. Both papers are 100% acid free and have an image life of 85 years.

I will test some more papers as I would like to find two or maybe three fine art papers that would suit the work I am likely to produce in the months ahead. But for now all I can say is how happy I am with the print quality of the Epson 3880 and the ease with which I have been able to print something which is more than acceptable to me.

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