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Printing photographs: Today’s choices

Ernesto Santos (esantos)

Keywords: printing, photographs, esantos, esantos_printing

This is the first part of a three part series on Printing your photographs.

With the explosion of social media and image sharing, printing options have taken somewhat of a back seat. I am looking into the latest technology and possibilities to the photographer who is still looking to produce a physical image. In this three-part series I tell about what is available, how to prepare your images for optimal results, and helps us wade through printers, commercial labs, and the many papers choices.

Click for an enlargement


It’s 2019 and the art and pursuit of photography continues to evolve at a fervent pace. Technology roles on, not only with the cameras, lenses, and equipment we use, but in the ways we present and share our images to the world. Interestingly, in the last five years or so, the technology for creating a physical representation of our photographs has made only incremental improvements in printing technology.

This is for several reasons. Printer manufacturers have reached a point where putting an image on paper has reached a pinnacle. Never have there been so many options to the print maker. You can print your images yourself at your home or studio, you can visit a local commercial lab, or you can upload your digital photo files to an on-line printing service, and I am sure there are a myriad of variations in between. As these options have matured we are now able to create prints that well surpass the resolution, acuity, accuracy of color, tone, depth, and dynamic range, and just as importantly, the longevity of the medium, than ever before. 

Yet, with all this technology and convenience at our fingertips, print making is in decline. More and more of us have turned away from prints simply because it is more convenient and easier to share and with more people if we post our favorite shots online. Just as we have forsaken music on disc for digital music files, so has this been the way of the photographic print. There is certainly no denying the convenience of modern media but there is something lost when listening to compressed music files and there is certainly a lot lost when viewing a smallish JPEG image on a computer display rather than holding and viewing a beautifully executed photographic print made on high quality luxurious photo or fine art paper. 

As this continues to trend in this direction printer manufacturers who base their models on inkjet print heads are concentrating the majority of their research and development dollars on printers for business and commercial uses. Solvent ink based printers get a lot of attention and are used for outdoor signage, vehicle wraps, large scale banners, and the like, applications that will dish out a lot of abuse and exposure to the elements. In spite of this desktop printers for photographs are not disappearing from the market as I believe there still is a stable and mature market with top quality output available.


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Paul Blais (PBlais) on January 11, 2020

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign

I totally agree. There are options for making amazing prints that on Facebook are not that great for quality. I use a printing company that goes the distance for quality printing. They seek out pros that want the best. They offer a huge selection of papers but go farther and provide ICC profiles for the paper and printer they will use to make your print. That means you know what you will get. This is the key for outsourcing your prints. Going to the drugstore is no longer what you want. Yes, you can get a cheap print but I feel that is fine for a print you never worked much to make. If you want to print big (our cameras can) you probably can't afford a printer that can use a 40 inch wide roll of paper. You really can't because you need to calibrate the printer TWICE a day. Pro print companies can and will do this for pro photographers and artists that want Giclee prints. There really are a lot of amazing papers out there and it is worth working with an outsourced printer if you want large prints for sale that are

Chester Johnson (chester49) on May 28, 2019

A timely article for me. I did not see this until I posted a message on the Nikonian web site. I have not printed for years as back 15 years ago it was a struggle for me to print at home. Not trying to embarrass my self...I took a photo cd that I had burn images to, to be processed. They turn out terrible. I realized I had used the color space of RGB. I was able to tweak the images using the stores photo reader and was able to obtain reasonably good prints. I think automatically when it comes to print to use the color space of RGB. However, I am beginning to think most pro-consumer printers at "C" stores or when uploading via the net to print, use the color space sRGB should be used. I am thinking now of saving all of my Light Room processed images to sRGB. Suggestions...Thank you Ernesto for an interesting and helpful article.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on May 27, 2019

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian. Winner of the Best of Nikonians Images 2018 Annual Photo Contest

Great feedback from everyone, please keep it coming! Some of the items mentioned will be covered in the next two installments. Thank you!

Rick Spehn (PSAGuy) on May 27, 2019

As a fanatic printer, I can only shake my head at the future and wonder. Companies that make excellent machines (Epson for one....because it's my brand) work to defeat the photographer from using any ink but the one THEY sell. Although I certainly get the business strategy here, "bundling" products has long been ruled illegal by the US government, yet these printing companies go to great lengths to defeat others from supplying ink as third parties. My regular third party supplier of bulk ink now has to supply a special pc board just to overcome the hurdles placed in front of it....those hurdles are there FOR NO OTHER REASON than defeating the third party ink suppliers, and thereby costing it's customers ever increasing dollars on a single supplier ink source. My irritation with Epson in this regard may steer me to look at others as my beloved 3880 enters it's 8th year of operation. It prints 4-500 prints per weekend all winter....so ink is a key cost stack item. The more companies like Epson work AGAINST their customers....the less loyalty those same customers will exhibit moving forward. One man's opinion.

Paul Blais (PBlais) on May 26, 2019

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign

Until you have seen a well done Pro quality print on premium paper your socks have not yet been blown off. Seeing a big print of your own is breath taking when well done! That includes you actually being there shooting it too! I can't afford the printer I use! The first test of a good 3rd party is if they offer print profiles for each of the paper / printers they have. Most quality printer 3rd parties calibrate twice a day. It's because they should! Ain't no cheap printers at pro quality! If you can't print a lot every day then don't! It's a more money than brains concept. If you don't need pro quality then CostCo! They really do dirt cheap prints well just not pro. I don't need test prints. I use soft proofing in Lightroom and it's enough.

Hazim Aldujaili (Haz65) on May 24, 2019

I still have the Canon Pro 9500 which has 10 inject colors and it work very well with my landscape photography but not as same quality as the portrait one . Thanks a lot for sharing this information .

Emiliano Achaval (Maui850) on May 24, 2019

Just was I was looking for. Trying to see if it's worth getting a printer for high quality printing, or use our local printer guy...

John-Erik Christensen (jec6613) on May 23, 2019

Thanks for putting this together. One thing you missed is that there are consumer level Dye-Sub printers available for 4x6 for about $100 US from Canon. They're very handy to have for the 4x6 for printing for small frames such as for your desk, and even if they don't compare in size to the nice 8x10 and 13x19 that I get from my inkjet or other sizes from a lab, their quality is top notch.

Tom Jacob (sevendayimages) on May 23, 2019

Awarded for his continuous knowledge and images sharing with community members Awarded for his win at the Best of Nikonians 2016 Photo Contest Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas. Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Thanks for putting this together Ernesto...you have made me think about printing again a photograph, it's been way too much time! :) Looking forward to the next parts, and see how I tackle it the best...cheers!