Closing the (workflow) loop

By PF Staff in Influential Photo Gear on Jan 6, 2013

I have a confession to make.

Until recently, I had many thousands of photos I had taken stored in my hard drives. Pixels stored together clamouring to get out of the cramped darkness. At least that is how I think of it. So many in fact, that it was the only reason for me to upgrade my hard drive. Three times.

I share through Flickr, however, I never seemed to getting around to printing/sharing photos. I put this somewhat down to laziness, and somewhat to the copyright hooks that those who advertise photo-books and the like seem to have. I also found the price of printing anything bigger than 5×7's silly.

So one day recently I decided to get a printer, and try to print some of them out. This is not the first time I have done this, but last time I tried, it was 2004. Maybe, just maybe, things had gotten better...

Gearing up

Printers are now ridiculously cheap. Ink cartridges are not. I bought a two cartridge Kodak printer locally, and some 4x6”, and 8.5x11” Kodak paper cheaply off Ebay. I installed the printer (a Kodak C315), and connected this wirelessly. It worked nicely.

Four colour tanks...

Making Prints

The learning started. I already calibrated my screen regularly, but early signs were not encouraging. Main problems were shadow artifacts, and colour variances (beyond the expected Yellow/Red Brown gamut differences).

An unpleasant surprise was that Kodak does not provide ICC profiles for their consumer paper, so the printer driver and Lightroom 3.6 could not be trusted to play nicely with each other (suspected double profiling occurred). My solution was to export the file, and use the Kodak “AIO” software to conduct the actual printing operation (the printer reads, and appropriately adjusts to the paper type being used. Export of appropriately sized 300ppi sRBG JPGs were perfectly reasonable for prints. However, shadow “noise” artifacts, and occasional banding kept cropping up.

It's like getting your pictures back in the film days.....

Back to the past

When I was doing a lot of work with film, I scanned in 16 bit TIFFs. It took a short while, but eventually I realized that avoiding compression artifacts was easy when I exported in 16 bit TIFF, rather than JPG. Would the printer (software) handle it? Well, as it turns out, yes. Then I wondered if sRGB colour space was a limiter (chosen to support the CMYK type printer). Switch to AdobeRGB. Results have been excellent, specifically with respect to a surprisingly better colour accuracy in the blues, and greens.

The Pentax link

For the heck of it, I also had a go with processing TIFF files from my Pentax K-7 using the in-process conversion, and found that the “Reversal film” preset can give wonderful results. Not bad for out of the camera, and surprisingly useful.

What it all means

Piles of prints

My work flow now has another end point. A nicely tangible one, that involves a print in my hand to look at. It means that I can now definitely know what is on the screen matches what is in my hand, impossible without printed output. At 8.5×11 inches, output is also big enough that I can visualize what the image will look like once it is printed.

Post-processing for colour accuracy became a lot more important, and while I was previously aware of gamut differences between screen and print, I now feel I have a better idea of how things look. Focus accuracy and sharpening were also important, as were managing tones from backlit LCD to flat paper.

The width of colour gamut achievable from CMYK is pretty good, and looking at what some of the 8 colour tank printers can actually print using ProphotoRGB is simply amazing. Maybe in the future.

So that is it. I'd encourage anyone who hasn't already to have a look at printing to have a go. It doesn't have to be expensive. Nailing a good print that I've taken, processed, and printed gives me a similar kick to catching fish I've stalked, on a fly that I have tied.

- Clarkey

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