My Fine Art Printing Process

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.

Epson 4900 nozzle check sheet

Epson 4900 nozzle check sheet

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.

Museo Portfolio Rag paper

My paper of choice: Museo Portfolio Rag

Loading the paper

Loading the paper manually.

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.

Test print notes

Making notes directly on the test print.

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.

Editing suite

Editing in my office.

Step 5 – Final Print

The final candidate.

Studying the final candidate.

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.

DSLR vs. Point-and-shoot

I recently took a vacation to the Bahamas with my wife. This was not going to be photo expedition as photography expeditions hardly qualify as vacations, but we still wanted to have a camera with us just in case. I’ve been considering getting a good compact to have for such scenarios. Something that would be good enough to make large prints, but small enough to fit in a pocket or in a small belt pouch. After reading many reviews, I decided on the Sony RX-100.

This camera is considered to be an enthusiasts point-and-shoot.  It has a 1 inch sensor which is in between a typical compact and a crop sensor DSLR.  But it crams 20 megapixels into that sensor which outputs file sizes that are almost as large as my full-frame Canon 5D Mk2.  Top that off with full manual mode, raw file output, and impressive battery life, and I really like this camera as a take-anywhere solution.

My wife did quite a bit of shooting, but I only created one photograph with it.  It is actually a stitch composition consisting of 9 frames manually blended together.  This technique gave me a very high resolution file, much larger than the capabilities of my DSLR (unless I use the same technique with it, which I do occasionally).

Enjoy this dramatic seascape titled Storm over Water.  It is available for purchase from my store.

Storm Over Water artwork

Storm Over Water
©Tim Herschbach 2013

Steak & Cheese on Wheat, Hold the Courtesy

Lately my wife and I have been glued to the Food Network.  My favorite show at the moment is “Restaurant Impossible” with chef Robert Irvine.  Chef Irvine comes into small failing restaurants and attempts to solve their issues.  The primary factor leading to failure is usually bad food.  The second is generally poor service.

Today I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t come up with something to write about by the end of the day, but after a quick trip to my local Subway, I have all the material I need.  I approach the counter and the man looks at me as if expecting me to have something to say.  I figure he must want my order so I was about to speak, and he double-takes back to the oven to check on something.  Once he resolved whatever issue it was, he comes back to me and literally points at me with his plasticky glove and continues to look at me as if I “know the drill”.  He spoke not one word to me.  I tried my darndest to wait for him to greet me but I couldn’t take the pregnant silence any longer so I gave him my order.  The service did not improve as I was handed off to the next person down the line.

I’ve visited several local Subway’s literally more than one hundred times over the past year and this is a common problem.  While I can speculate on the source of the problem (and I often do), my point is that these businesses are really hurting themselves when they don’t take the time to hire employees with people skills and take the time to show their customer’s that they truly respect and value them.  It would be no great feat to start a competing sub shop with friendly staff that would blow the pants off of Subway, or any of these other chains with employees that treat customers like they’re just another hurdle between them and closing time.

Like Chef Irvine, it blows me away when I see businesses with such potential make the major mistake of not staying on top of how customers are treated.  It’s so simple and inexpensive to train people how to treat customers, or to find people who are naturally personable.  But at the same time, as the overall attitude toward you as a customer declines, the potential for unbridled success grows for those of us who truly value your patronage.  It’s simple supply-and-demand economics.  Respect and gratitude are in short supply, while demand is higher than ever.

Have you had a recent customer service experience that you felt strongly about, either positively or negatively?  I’d love to hear about it!  Shoot me an email or leave a comment below.