Hosting an Exhibition – The Print

My previous post discussed the exhibition space and how to craft realistic mockups as part of the creative process.  In this post, I will cover the prints themselves.

The single most important component of the photographic exhibition is the physical print.  The print is the physical manifestation of all aspects of the photograph, from the conceptualization, interpretation, and implementation.  The viewer sees only the print, interprets only the print.  It is of the utmost importance, requiring the highest quality possible.

Generally, there are two broad categories for print making with a digital workflow, 1) printing on traditional chemistry-based photographic materials, and 2) printing with a fine-art inkjet printer on high quality fine art papers.  In either case, the photographer is faced with numerous choices of papers, developers, inks, surfaces, services, and more.  The number of options can be overwhelming and certainly cannot be explored exhaustively.

So, the first choice: traditional or inkjet? 

Well, historically, I have been steadfast in my position that inkjet printers just did not match the quality of the traditional process.  For years, I worked with Calypso Imaging to print my black and white images on their Oce LightJet 5000 on traditional Fuji Crystal Archive glossy material.  Calypso were very serious about their chemistry and color profiling.  In fact, they were the only service I could find that developed their black and white prints in black and white chemistry.  The resulting prints were amazing.  They had the look and feel that I was used to from my darkroom days.  They weren’t cheap, but they were archival and very high quality.  One major drawback was the turnaround time.  It often took more than 10 days to receive the final output, largely because they only processed black and white once per week.

On the other hand, my experience with inkjet printers was not so good.  In 2004 or 2005, I purchased a high-end printer and had very poor results.  The printer had to be used nearly every day or the jets would get clogged.  Correcting that took huge amounts of ink.  The black and white printing involved not just black and gray, but also cyan, magenta, and yellow.  The ink sat on the surface of the paper, so didn’t have the same look and feel.  Holding the print on an angle resulted in color separation (a process called metamerism).  In short, I found them to be unacceptable.  I refused to consider inkjet from that time forward.

Fast forward to 2010.  Calypso folded.  I was left with no high-quality service for my prints.  There are other services out there, but none that I could find that processed black and white in separate chemistries.  This meant that the prints came out with a bit of color.  Each print could end up with a slightly different shade, depending on the age of the chemistry involved.  In short, they were all unacceptable.

Several photographers had tried to convince me that inkjets had come a long way.  Again, I was resistant.  But, I was becoming desperate.  Then, I visited Robert Turner.  I own four of his photographs.  They are all very large and were printed on the same LightJet I described above.  Stunning is not an understatement.  During my visit, we looked at the prints he was making with his HP Z3200 44” inkjet printer.  I was very surprised to find that I liked them better than the Fuji Crystal Archive prints!  In addition, the turnaround time was immediate.  This was much more like the days of the chemical darkroom.

It was time to reconsider my views of inkjets.

I set out to review all the fine art digital inkjet printers available.  After much research, I decided to purchase an HP Z3200 24” printer.  This is a 12-color printer with one key feature of importance for a black and white photographer.  It is the only printer that prints in shades of gray in shades of gray (light gray, gray, photo gray, and matte black).  No color.  That means no metamerism.  While there are kits that allow the other manufacturer printers to print in a larger number of gray tones, those require more work to implement.

The Z3200 has a built-in spectrophotometer for calibration. It uses a gloss enhancer for high gloss prints.  With other printers, a separate step is often needed to incorporate a layer of protection for the final print.  The gloss enhancer serves this purpose.  For color printing, the 12-color process produces amazing colors.  The Z3200 is an excellent fine art printer.

The next step involved choosing a paper.  A huge selection of papers can be found.  After trying many different papers, I settled on the Innova FibaPrint Ultra Smooth Gloss 285gsm.  This produces the whitest whites, is a heavy paper, is available in 50-foot rolls, has a great texture, and produces a high-gloss print that rivals the Fuji paper.

While the roll paper is beneficial for many reasons, it does have one drawback: it won’t surrender its curl without a fight.  It can be like bending metal at times.  There is a device out there called a D-Roller.  It looks simple enough to reproduce.  So, I set off on a DIY version.  Embarrassingly, I spent more on wasted prints and materials to have purchased the D-Roller – with no success.  So, I purchased the D-Roller.  It worked like a charm first time.

It took some time to challenge my own biases.  I must say that I am very pleased with the Z3200 printer and the Innova paper.  Goes to show that biases should be revisited frequently.