It’s often the posts that I’m least comfortable writing that deliver the greatest learning opportunities, so here we go.
I’ve just ordered my first printer. So far on the course I have used either Loxley for “proper” work, or the local high street lab for test prints. Ages ago I read in the David Hurn and Bill Jay book “on being a photographer” that professional printers tend to produce better prints and promptly postponed even considering buying a printer of my own. Looking back at the book I now realise that he was talking about analogue prints rather than digital (he’s undoubtedly right on that one, for me, but I’m learning). Buying a printer was a watershed moment for me. I had to save enough, in parallel with saving for the next course fees. I had to decide on a printer. It took a surprising amount of time to commit to A3 rather than A4, then even longer to choose between Epson and Canon – a decision driven by economics in the end. Part of me wonders if my work is good enough to spend that amount of money – whereas I know that in reality the scope for my creative growth will be boosted by being able to make my own prints, even if there is a massive learning curve ahead. I know that I shall have to improve my Photoshop and Lightroom skills hand in hand with my printing skills. I know that my next Level 1 course is unlikely to be one requiring much printing so the next year will be a good opportunity to hone these skills on photographs that don’t have to be submitted to the OCA. That said, it would be good to print my own photographs for November assessment.
So after spending far too long procrastinating and spurred to action by the imminent end of a cashback offer I ordered a Canon Pro 10S, A3+ printer. I know so little about printing it is embarrassing, we have a £80 HP all in one thing downstairs (technically it’s my husband’s, I’ve never even changed the ink in it, largely because I mainly use it for scanning and printing tutor feedback). I know that with the Canon I’ll need to print something at least once a week or the set up routine will eat too much ink (or the gods of middle earth will descend and destroy the planet or some such). I know that I can start to learn about screen calibration, or, given my elderly laptop, I can simply work by eye and trial and error until I get prints I am happy with (which may or not be the same as they appear on screen). I can use printer profiles, or I can let Photoshop control the printing. I know that my current desk is not big enough to hold both the new printer and the laptop, hence much time is being spent sorting out and reorganising my den so we can bring in the old desk from the garage and reassemble it in here. I like the idea of having one desk for digital work and one desk for analogue (as suggested by Austen Kleon in Steal Like an Artist), but will have to see how it all works out and what fits where. In the meantime, Wex were out of stock on the printers so I have a bit more time to finish getting ready for it, both in terms of finding the physical space and cultivating a positive attitude.
So much of my work is about the materiality of images that I need to build my skills in making my own prints – be they digital or analogue. A lot of this is to do with commitment I think – committing to the learning and having faith that it’s the right printer for me, that I can become a person who understands a printer and who can produce the work that I want to make.
Update 5th June
The printer has been here for about a week now, and my den now has one wooden digital desk and one steel-topped analogue desk. The printer’s on a shelf above my digital desk and my coffee quivers in the cup with the vibrations after each print. Setting up was a piece of cake, even getting it attached to the wifi was pretty uneventful. It arrived with just a few sheets of sample paper. Fotospeed is nearby so I ordered a box of 100 4×6 blanks of their 275 lustre, and figured that would get me going. I downloaded their generic printer profile and installed it. I learned pretty quickly that things will go better with a calibrated monitor. So when funds allow, probably later in the year, I’ll sort out a proper monitor and run the laptop just as a base unit with separate keyboard, mouse, graphics tablet and monitor. In the meantime I’ve ordered a Datacolor Spyder Pro5 which should be here tomorrow. Once that’s here I’ll calibrate the laptop and send off for a custom profile. There’s not much point getting a profile for an uncalibrated monitor and if I’m going to do this I might as well do it right. Finding and understanding the settings required to switch off windows/printer colour management has been tedious but I think I’m there now.
An unexpected happy find has been learning that printing photos from my iPhone is embarrassing easy. I always download manuals, but I didn’t even need to read this one. The colours are great, presumably because neither of my laptops are involved in the process. I am looking forward to populating a family photo album with minimum effort.
Even though the colour management isn’t quite there yet it has made such a difference to be able to print my work.
The Canon paper has printed fine, I think probably because I can specify everything from profile to exact printer and the quality of my monitor seems to be largely irrelevant. The prints on Fotospeed paper are much brighter/brash than I would want (apart from those sent from the iPhone which seem pretty close to perfect) so the next challenge is sorting calibrating and profiling to improve the results.
It seems as if the printer has been here forever… I calibrated my laptop screen and had a custom profile made, and printing has been a piece of cake since then. I have stuck with the Fotospeed Pro Lustre 275 paper in a variety of sizes and have happily printed everything that’s going for assessment with the obvious exception of the View Master reel, the Blurb book and my photograms (which I made in the darkroom on Ilford RC satin paper).
My next course is UVC so printing will be mainly for my personal work. I’m going to set up a better monitor and start trying out other papers. I have to say it’s been a very satisfying and rewarding learning curve.