Available Printing Technologies
As of 2015, 95% of projects we handle here at Imagefoundry are printed on high-end inkjet printers. We currently use two platforms – Epson and Canon, both available at up to 60″ print roll width.
Although we no longer offer chromagenic printing services (ie. large format digital photo imaging using machines such as Lambda, LightJet and Chromira) we still possess plenty of expertise preparing images for printing on these systems, so feel free to approach us for consultation on these matters.
While we still maintain traditional analog equipment for darkroom printing (B&W only, both silver- and platinum-based), and intaglio printing (Takach etching press, along with ability to make plates and screens) – it seems to me that these technologies are heading the same way dinosaurs and Dodo birds went. Still, if there’s an interest in running a print project based on analog techniques, we are well positioned to answer that challenge. Call or write for details!
So, with that out the way, why inkjet printing? The reasons are many.
- Vastly better resolution and detail vs. chromagenic prints
- Vastly better archival longevity, literally order of magnitude difference with regards to light fastness
- Significantly better color gamut in midtones and highlights
- 60″ wide prints vs. 50″ wide prints provide more presentation options
- Tremendous selection of top-notch papers allows for more creative expression
- Drop-dead gorgeous black&white prints – something that chromagenic machines were never good at
- Ability to print on fabrics, canvas, and more exotic options – such as hand-made washi papers and the like
On the other hand, digital chromagenic prints are cheaper, hold better color in low-key images and present more uniform appearance – specifically because of lack of any gloss differential. Still I am of opinion that future belongs to inkjet printing, even if just based on the current pace of technological progress. And two remaining manufacturers of photographic paper – Kodak and Fuji – are not doing all that well with regards to long-term survival.
Best Way to Prepare Your Images
Although traditionally 300dpi resolution is considered to be a baseline for print imaging, this is somewhat outdated information in 2015 and should be considered a lower margin if you are after exceptional prints. A modern high-end inkjet machine can easily deliver 50%-100% more of discernible detail – which is a major advantage when attempting to reproduce images with important, tiny features – such as etchings, fine ink drawings, watercolors, or even some oils and pastels.
So if you are after a supremely detailed print, aim for 450-500dpi of resolution at size. It’s harder to see improvements past that point, but if you are absolutely, positively in need of maximum perceived detail, consider setting up your files to printers’ native resolutions, which are 600dpi or 720dpi.
And, oh – that does not mean that you should just open your image in Photoshop and upsample it to 600dpi – you actually have to capture your image at that resolution.
Modern machines, when running at maximum quality setting, deliver near-continuous tone – meaning, although the image consists out of tiny dots of different colors, the dots are so tiny and packed so closely together that you can only see them with a strong magnifying glass.
This presents a bit of a challenge, specifically – if your images are prone to banding, which is a fairly common problem with photographing a sky, for example – especially if your camera set to record jpegs instead of raw files – that banding will become all the more obvious in the print.
If that is a concern please consider switching to 16bit per channel workflow; oftentime it will help. All modern platforms support true 16bit/channel processing. This is particularly relevant to grayscale images.
So far I’ve covered resolution and bit depth, the remaining pillar of high-fidelity printing is color gamut. As of 2015, the most appropriate color space for making gorgeous prints is AdobeRGB 1998. Of course, you can still continue using sRGB – just be aware that our machines are capable of printing colors that are far outside of range that sRGB specification can contain, so you might be missing out on vividness (if that is your goal). The color spaces with gamuts wider than AdobeRGB are perfectly fine too – just remember to maintain a 16bit/channel workflow through out the entire project.
About CMYK color. Working with process color has many advantages, discussing most of them would be quite outside of the scope of this quick write-up; so I’ll be brief: these advantages do not translate well to high-fidelity inkjet printing. So, don’t do it.
Of course if your artwork is prepared for a print publication, and you’ve been using CMYK color right from the start – that is totally fine, and we can handle your images properly. But if the goal is to maximize color fidelity, consider sticking with RGB. LAB color is fine too, just remember to stick with 16bit/color, just as with B&W images.