I want to take you through my printing process, step-by-step. The purpose of this article is not to be a technical document, but rather to invite you into my studio and to get an idea of what goes into creating a fine art print. We start at the point where I am finished processing the digital file and I have created a separate, re-sized version for the size that I will be printing at, 11×14 in this case. I have a file for each size, as the amount of sharpening needed varies depending on the image scaling and viewing distance.
Step 1 – Nozzle Check
There are two types of inks found in typical inkjet printers: dye and pigment. Dye inks are what you get in your consumer-grade printers. Pigment inks are found in inkjets that are intended for archival prints. Pigment inks last much longer than dye inks once applied to paper. The downside is that pigment inks are more expensive, and they have the tendency to dry out faster than dye inks, which means that clogging can be an issue if you do not print often. So the first step that I take is to print a nozzle check pattern to make sure that there are no clogs. This can lead to prints with lines or color shifts. Because my paper and ink is so expensive, I always run a nozzle check using plain copier paper.
If there are any missing lines, I will run a cleaning cycle until fixed. Once all is well, I proceed to the next step.
Step 2 – Rough Draft
Because a fine art print is on paper and the digital file is on a monitor, the two look quite different. To some degree, you can predict what the final print will look like when you are working with the file, but adjustments almost always need to be made. Hence, the first print is a full quality test print using the same paper that I use for my final artwork.
Note that I am wearing white cotton gloves. Anytime I need to touch the paper or any of the other materials that come into contact with the paper, I will wear gloves. I wear cotton gloves when I am printing, and I wear nitrile gloves when I am matting and framing. This protects the print and mat from the oil on my skin that will eventually cause discoloration. I create my work so that it will last long after I am gone.
Step 3 – Noting Changes
Once the print is complete, I will take it over to my multi-purpose table and view it under a bright spotlight. In the case of this black and white photograph Guadalupe Sunrise, I am looking for areas that I need to change the tonality of. I will either make an area lighter or darker, depending on how I want the eye to move around the scene. I will also look for any defects that I may have not seen on my monitor, such as sensor dust spots which can sometimes be difficult to see until printed. For all of these adjustments, I will use a pencil and write directly on the print, circling areas and using arrows to note an increase or decrease in tonality. For color photographs, I will also note hue or saturation adjustments.
Step 4 – Final Editing
I will take the marked print that I just made and take it back into my editing suite to make the noted adjustments on the master file, then I will create another resized file with the proper sharpening.
Step 5 – Final Print
I will make another print with the changes and study it again on my table. I will compare the noted print with the new print to see how the adjustments look and to see if I need to push them further or split the difference. I will also carefully study the entire print to make sure there are no other changes I would like to make. If I find that it is exactly how I want it, that print will be #1 of the series.
In a future article, I will show you the next step: matting my work and preparing it for sale.