I'm printing again.
For years I owned an HP 1680 printer Until HP disabled the thing. Uh-huh, under the guise of an update they first altered the driver so that it would no longer allow the use of profiles for any papers other than HP's. Then they ceased to produce (or made very scarce) at least one of the inks. Then, as they sold fewer of those inks, they announced that the fall off in demand indicated that the should discontinue all of them. So the 1680 became a very heavy paperweight. I will never buy another HP device. Pity, the 1680 was a terrific 13X17" appliance but it "only" needed three ink cartridges (with two others interchangeable for B&W printing). So it was not only good, it was inexpensive to feed.
That was over two years ago, and since then I've outsourced prints with frustratingly mixed results.
Fine art photographic printing is high craft. Worse, it's a fragile skill that, like shooting a pistol, demands regular practice to stay fresh. So, irregularly for the past couple of years, I read printer reviews, and saved my money. There are only three companies which make reasonably competitive machines for the prosumer. And since HP is out, that meant Canon and Epson. A reason I'd originally chosen HP was that they built printing nozzles into their ink cartridges. So if one irreparably jammed, the only cost was the ink that remained in that discarded container.
Canon also builds nozzles into cartridges, Epson OTH feeds ink through a dedicated nozzle in its machine. Should that jam (and there's a lot of history of that happening - it's a common complaint), a big piece of the printer unit needs to be professionally replaced. Big Expense!
But Epson is the printer with the longest experience with pigment-based inks. Over the years I've asked artists whose prints I'd admired about pigment versus dye-abased ink. They convinced me that my own work could be considerably more subtle if I shifted to pigments. Side by side comparisons of my own prints done in dye (on my original HP) compared to pigment (done by friends), convinced me that I could see their extended gamut.
And yet, these printers took nourishment from 8, 10, 12 and more cartridges of ink - an expensive proposition. Moreover, the seductive song of prints larger than 13X19" also nuzzled my imagination. And then out came Epson's SureColor P800!
This thing could produce 17X22" prints - or much longer with an inexpensive paper-roll accessory. It's mouth was wide enough to accept thick media and even non paper-materials through various openings. And, reviewers predicted that with its newer machines, that Epson has largely overcome the clogged nozzle problem assuming that the machine produced at least one print a week and, of course, used only Epson Ultra Chrome HD pigments - in its 8 cartridges.
Moreover, one of those cartridges was an alternative hue that the machine would substitute for another cartridge when I printed B&W. That eliminated the necessity of manually replacing a cartridge and loss of ink as the machine went through a complete cleaning procedure*.
Last Black Friday, Adorama in New York offered the P800 at a discount price AND offered TWO mail-in rebates. Making it not only the lowest price I've seen on the P800, but since I can also get a tax deduction on the machine (I am a magazine editor and we use many of my prints both in the pubs and we print out POS copy for posters and POS cards) all of that combined to make my trigger finger twitch and BANG! The heavy new black device arrived in early December.
BUT... I told you that printing is a fragile craft. It'd been years since I'd done any. Moreover this machine's very sophistication would magnify any of my faults.
Soo.... Look, in spite of my prints going toward my day-job, much of my interest in things photographic is also fueled by an excitement over process. I'll bet that I've spent thousands of hours studying posted images, watching how-to videos, and reading books on everything from art criticism through color theory, lighting, and craft.
So before firing up the P800 I took the last seven or so weeks to read and study fine art photographic printing. I also bit-the-bullet and subscribed to the Adobe Creative Cloud, which added to the learning curve since I was jumping from Photoshop 4! Without LightRoom!! Heck, I can do what I imagine right now in PS4 along with the took-kit of filters I've accumulated. And Adobe Bridge has been a perfectly competent device for storing and filing my images.
However, the books made it clear that the print engines built into PS-CC and LightRoom CC are powerfully more complex than PS4's. So I've gone through a library of study.
Here's where I've come so far...
1. √ Epson: The SureColor P800 Series Manual
2. √ Lisa Snyder: The Challenge of WYSIWYG Printing, PhotoShop Magazine: January 2016, P. 54
3. √ Rob Shepard: New Epson Complete Guide to Digital Printing revised & updated 2011: Pixiq
4. √ Martin Evening: Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers 2016, Focal Press pp. 671-694.
5. √ Scott Kelby: The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC Book for Digital Photographers, New Riders
6. √ Jeff Schewe: The Digital Print: Preparing Images in Lightroom & Photoshop for Printing
7. √ Uwe Steinmuller: Fine Art Printing for Photographers: Exhibition Quality Prints with Ink-Jet Printers
9. √ Scott Kelby: 2015 , the Adobe Photoshop book for digital photographers, New Riders, Chapter 13 Pp 438-482
Epson, Adorama, and B&H all have a number of YouTube seminars led by impressive printers. So I hunkered down weeknights and weekends (and two snow days) working toward my first P800 prints. Last week I made one. Onto Epson Premium 4X6" Glossy photo paper. It was murky, muddy, and didn't come close to my monitors' images. So... I calibrated all of my 5 monitors with a newly purchased DataColor Spyder5.
Trying again, the color gamut was much wider, but the printed images were still considerably darker than the monitor images. Which brought me back to the books with special attention to color gamuts. AHAH! The images began to sparkle, and I moved up to 8X10" Epson Ultra Premium Glossy photo paper. Which is where I am now. In a few minutes I'm going to take that image atop this post (which I photographed at Christmas, but processed last night**), to see if I can replicate in print the subtlety of its RGB color range. Then...
Well, I purchased a sample pack of Epson's legendary Signature Worthy Archival Ink Jet Paper. It's worthwhile to goto www.epson.com and look at the videos they've posted on a number of these surfaces/weights/media papers, each featuring a different fine art photographer's work and thoughts on their favorite paper.
How will this work out? Hmmmm... I'll letcha' know. K?
*Note, there is still a partial cleaning routine that the P800 does, which is an encouragement to segment printing so that first all color work THEN all monotone printing is done separately to economize on ink.
** That image up there was grabbed, hand-held at 300mm, with my Canon 7D with fill-light from a Christmas tree across the room, with the main light flickering from a candle near to the girl's face.