Pushing print limits

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In the next few days, this image will make sense. This article will be the beginning of an intensive series focusing on printing and output.

Let’s again start with the simple question of ‘how many of you print’? For those that do, inevitably, your development is going to look something like this:

  1. Make your first print – marvel at how different it looks to the screen version
  2. Make larger prints, start to note that the detail still holds and in fact you’ve got much more resolution than you actually need even for the largest prints you’re willing to pay for/ have space to hang
  3. Pause for a moment and then decide to try making your own prints because it’s cheaper and more convenient
  4. Buy a home photo inkjet, find that it takes half a dozen tries to get one good print, add up the costs and find that ink and paper will bankrupt you in short order; worse still, lab results are still better
  5. Stop printing for a while
  6. Go back to using the lab because your print heads have clogged and the ink has dried up, and it would be cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the cartridges and heads and you really don’t want to go down that route again…
  7. Find a better lab – assuming you’re not happy with what you’re getting
  8. Start to wonder what you’re going to do with all of these 24×36” prints; you have rolled up tubes and prints all over your house
  9. Abandon printing or start selling your prints so you can make more prints
  10. Start wondering what’s next?

I’ve found myself with two challenges of late: firstly, the postal services keep destroying my poster tubes and prints – they’re pretty rigid, which means that at least some of the damage appears to be malicious. It’s simply unsustainable to run a fine art print business where you have to replace 40% of the product. Beyond that, as much as I love to do 24” wide prints, I don’t think many people have the space to hang prints that large – you’re realistically going to be at 30” wide after framing – and with a print of that size, it’s permanent: you’ve really, really got to like the subject matter. At the same time, I’d like to be able to bring fine art, very high quality printing to a wider audience; I’d like more people to appreciate the beauty of the finished article and understand why we print. There is simply no way a screen can do justice to an image, and moreover, there’s no universal standard for calibration, so it’s very difficult to ensure that everybody is seeing the same thing.

Advance warning: I’m about to contradict myself twice, in two big ways, in this article alone. There is of course an explanation and qualification, but still. I thought you should be prepared.

Firstly, I think the current iPad Mini retina has the best screen of any output device I’ve seen. And that is perhaps the only screen that can do an image reasonable justice, but then only at small sizes. It’s partially to do with consistency of calibration across all devices, and partially to do with the assumptions behind the whole ‘retina’ moniker; beyond a certain output density, the unassisted human eye cannot resolve individual components of an image. Of course, viewing distance plays an important part in this: so long as your unassisted eyes cannot resolve individual components at the intended viewing distance, resolution is sufficient. The iPad Mini retina is interesting because our eyes simply do not focus close enough – i.e. we cannot reduce the viewing distance enough – for us to be able to resolve the individual component pixels.

Human vision is thought to resolve approximately 0.3 arc-minutes; this means that any single feature taking up less of the field of view than this will not be separately distinguishable from its neighbor. This is roughly equivalent to details that are 0.1mm across at a distance of a meter. To reach this level of acuity, a 10” wide print viewed at 10” distance therefore requires approximately 10,600 pixels on the long axis. This 1-to-1 scaling holds: a 36” print viewed at 36” still requires 10,600 pixels on the long axis. However, though this is a reasonable 294PPI for the 36” print, we’re now looking at an insane 1,060PPI for the 10” print.

Not all dots and pixels or points are created equal: all inkjets require dithering and/or halftones to make up a single ‘pixel’ e2quivalent; since each dot is a single color, multiple dots – up to 12 for some printers – are needed to achieve intermediate colors other than what the inks come in. This is where things get complicated: more dots (i.e. ink droplets) are not better overall: you may get more accurate color, and perhaps be able to resolve finer detail, but only if a) the printer can lay them precisely overlapping; b) the total ink volume is below the paper’s saturation limit; c) the drops are sufficiently small physically. In any other situation, you are likely to instead get the impression of smeared details.

Once again, printer resolving power isn’t quite that cut and dried; in some situations – usually where there is a lot of semi-fractal fine detail, such as forests – imperfectly overlapping dots can also sometimes help to create the impression of subpixel detail (akin to adding a little noise after upsizing an image digitally) – so it doesn’t always work against you. There is an optimal amount of ink and number of dots not just for each printer and paper combination, but also for each individual image type. A portrait, for instance, will require far fewer dots to create a visually pleasing image than a photograph of a field of different-colored flowers or a bowl of smarties.

But, this level of output resolution in the final medium is nothing new: anybody who’s looked at a slide on a light table with or without a magnifying glass will know what I’m getting at; a large format contact print – at least 4×5” and usually 8×10” and upwards – also has the same kind of impact. (Note that contact prints in small and medium formats make no sense other than for editing/ selection as the final print is both too small for us to view comfortably, and far outresolved by the initial capture medium.) In both cases, what’s happening is that irrespective of viewing distance, the image outresolves our eyes.

The reason images like this have impact is precisely because of this impression of oversampling. Large prints have impact both because of their physical size, and because the viewing distance is sufficiently far away that you cannot discern individual constituent elements in an image. Very few large prints will hold up to nose-distance inspection; I have no shame in admitting that even whilst my say 36×36” prints still look great at a 1-foot viewing distance, they’re not going to hold up to two inches.

And here lies the next frontier I’m planning to push in printing: going smaller. Going towards no limits on viewing distance; we – printmaster Wesley Wong and I – are going to create what I like to think of as digital contact prints. There is obviously no such thing – you cannot make a print off your sensor – but through some inkjet technology voodoo and careful manipulation of settings* you can make prints that require a magnifying glass to appreciate their full resolution. They look like large format contact prints.

*It’s a tradeoff between print DPI, precise scaling of the image to the actual output size with maximal output sharpening to enhance microcontrast; balancing ink density with paper oversaturation/ tonal clipping and resolution – multiple passes are better for resolving power, but may lay too much ink compromising tonal separation and thus microcontrast – drying time between head passes; edge smoothing; dithering and halftoning; paper choice; using a RIP to drive the printer, etc…let’s just say there’s a lot of experimentation behind it, and it’s highly likely that this paragraph will sound alien to most of you. Perhaps this is something to explore further in a future article.

I have made my fair share of large prints, and I can honestly say that these really do blow me away – they have impact for a very different reason. Perhaps the best analogy is an architectural one: though the tallest building in the world is impressive for its sheer scale and physical presence, a very intelligently designed and well-detailed small dwelling can also have a captivating beauty of its own that requires the viewer/ observer to interact with it in order to fully appreciate it.

We figure the printer is outputting an effective 720PPI or thereabouts; the DPI (actual ink dots laid down is far higher – 2880 or more). By way of comparison, a normal minilab print appears to be in the 100PPI effective range; an Apple Thunderbolt Display runs 109PPI (note how it looks great at typical viewing distances of ~2ft, but not so great at six inches); the iPad Mini retina runs 326PPI. In real terms, this means that on subjects with sufficient high frequency detail, you can tell the difference between 16 and 36MP at print sizes as small as 8×12”. Who’d have though you’d need the full 36MP for an 8×12”? A few months ago, certainly not I; the bar for sufficiency appears to have moved significantly upwards – but as always, it very much depends on your definition of ‘sufficiency’.

Whilst you can still make a very satisfying 16×24” at 150 or 200 effective PPI – for which 8-12MP is sufficient – unfortunately, once you’ve seen one of these prints…there really is no going back. What it does mean is that a 2400dpi scan from the 4×5” and Acros is only going to yield a native ~13×15” print – but oh, what a print that will be! Bottom line: this level of printing is very, very unforgiving of technique, resolving power and workflow.

At this point, I suspect some of you are probably wondering where film fits into this workflow. Frankly, other than large format, and medium format for certain subjects, it is not possible to extract sufficient information from the negatives to produce prints of this quality. The ‘certain subjects’ qualification is because the irregular nature of film grain at the macro level means that it resolves fine detail structures in a different, nonlinear way compared to digital; this works in concert with some subjects – again, nonlinear fractal subjects like people or trees or mountains – to give the impression of having more detail than there actually is. For other subjects, such as those with very straight lines and hard defined edges – architecture, watches – digital holds the advantage because the recording method matches the subject.

I briefly alluded to it before, but it’s worth noting that the paper choice makes a huge difference in the resolution of the final image; this is because certain substrates do not hold ink as well as others, resulting in smearing, blotching, spreading etc. of the individual ink dots – none of which is a good thing. Our tests so far have found that Canson Infinity Platine Fiber Rag 310 (a very high grade and very expensive baryta – about $2.50 in this part of the world for a single A4 sheet) is about the best there is in terms of both detail and tonal reproduction; it also has a very high D-max. Interestingly, the irregular microstructure of the fibers themselves appear to contribute somewhat to the impression of continuing detail under a very high magnification loupe (I’m using my 10x watchmaking loupes to examine the prints) – much in the same way that the film grain can help certain subjects, albeit at a much smaller level.

Further testing is of course required to determine the optimal envelope for each type of image – low contrast, low frequency images will of course be printable larger than high frequency, high detail ones. We’ve a huge number of test prints so far of various subjects – there are just so many combinations of settings to test – but I’m fairly confident we’re close to the point where I can produce something unique, and very, very special.

What makes the process particularly challenging is that the optimal settings vary based on the subject matter, pixel quality and tonal key of the image – there is no one-size-fits-all group of settings that works for everything; each image must be first prepped for optimal perceptual reproduction at that size, and then proofed several times to find the best group of settings. It’s a very labor intensive process; more so than for large prints because of the tolerances involved; small changes to ink density can make a huge difference in the shadow tones, for instance. I’m looking forward to offering a future print run in this format very soon – though now instead of getting just one print, it’ll be an edition of several. Perhaps I should include a magnifying glass. MT

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Comments

  1. Hi Ming

    i have a question with regard to your and Wesley’s use of the Epson 9900`for ultraprinmts up to 44′.
    Why do you prefer or chose the epson 9900 over the other two comparable, similar models (12 inks, 44′) from HP and Canon ?
    Due to bigger 700ml ink cartridges –> cheaper ??? Canon offers 700ml too, similar priced as epson 300 us bucks p. ic.?? Sadly HP still not yet…

    Canon imagePROGRAF iPF8400 (S)
    HP Designjet Z3200ps 1118 mm Photo Printer

    Or have you tested all the three models before the decision making and you prefer the epson e.g. due to its colour reproduction for your ultraprints or has the epson some features that the others dont have and you need or find very useful???

    Thanks !

    • I’m pretty sure I answered this in an earlier identical comment by another poster, but it might be my memory. We have the 44″ and 60″ HP printers, and have tried the Canon. None have droplet sizes as small as the Epson, or the same degree of tuneability. The HPs have stronger blues however – but the Epson has much stronger reds/ oranges.

      • Fine. So you are slightly in favor of the epson! Sadly that the epson is not the overall leading performer in every aspect….what about the other colours green etc. also noticeable differences? So HP with better blue may be better for landscapes/nature (sky) if e.g. not autumn shots…
        So you always gonna decide if hp or epson depending on the subject of the image and or format size??

  2. Well, just thought I’d leave a follow-up comment on printing. So far I’ve found that bringing some perfectionist personality traits to print can be a recipe for a frustrating or practically maddening experience. Unless one goes to all the time and expense and has a partner wiling to go all the way to development of ‘UltraPrints.’

    I recently sent a night scene file out to two “pro print houses” and two “pro-sumer” labs in 11×14 size which I consider still somewhat small. I also had an 8×10 mini-lab trial of the same image. The prosumer print houses “corrected” the night skies all the way to blues. The pro houses to their credit kept the night skies black but produced prints that were more accurate but looked faded and dull or muddy. I found errors in my file that I hadn’t seen before but I also found lack of control over print output that seemed to far outweigh my own errors. I wasn’t pleased with any of the prints. Ironically the 8×10 mini-lab trial was arguably the most pleasing: it was mal-adjusted but just happened to produce a look that was in the ballpark, or to express the idea differently the print was wrong but pleasing to view in spite of being incorrect.

    I ran a similar process with another image and in that case the pro print house did a pretty fair job but with what seemed to be quite soft on sharpening; I didn’t remember needing to compensate for that last time I sent a file to that same house. The mini-lab comparison was awful.

    There’s also a 24×24 which is in process of being re-printed. Yes, it was actually pleasant to see in 24×24 even if the appearance was off (dull and uninteresting instead of naturally drawing a viewer into the scene — the print house thinks they can do a bit better with a re-print).

    Today I feel as if I could make a career out of printing one single image. Right until bankruptcy and I don’t feel assured it would have the intended appearance by then.

    The lack of control and the cost of unknown number of iterations per image has made a less than stellar experience so far.
    I understand how this scenario could lead people to decide to buy and operate their own printers in-house (“at least I could run the iterations in my office and get some more control….”) but I take those warnings seriously about cost and inherent quality limits.

    People buy vast numbers of prints at mini-labs every day and are probably generally satisfied with them. Which brings my comment right back around to the combination of perfectionist tendencies and printing: a recipe for some frustration.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences with us – I only wish more people would try, at least then there’d be a higher appreciation of the art, and people would know just how much work goes into producing one perfect print…like those which I’m offering for sale, for instance :)

      • Yes, it’s pleasant to see one’s own images in large print — and prints of the quality you’re producing do deserve appreciation!

        Hopefully my recent experience can be chalked up to the steep part of the curve, in time I’ll begin finding it easier to produce what I’m looking for. I must say I’m already tempted to check into how busy Wesley is 8-)

        • There’s unfortunately no way to bypass the learning portion, so yes, put it down to experience. As for Wesley – I do know he’s doing work for me until mid-next week…

  3. I did all those steps. Now I document contact printing. I guess that is the next (normal ) step. Just as manual flash or the M camera mode . Nevertheless , there are times and situations when the fastest / simpliest way is more appropriate .

  4. iskabibble says:

    Fantastic article, as usual.

    Question for you Ming: I believe you use Ilford’s DD-X to develop Acros. Can you share your dilution and time? I want to give this a try. Thanks!

    • Depends very much on your temperature – room temperature water in the tropics is 26-28C, so I’ve got to use a more dilute solution than the 1+4 they recommend. 1+8 at 26C and 10min is what I usually use. Vary agitation to taste depending on how much grain you want.

      • AH…..I always develop at 20 C. I’m thinking 15-16 mins? Does that sound right? I only want to dilute DD-X down to lower the cost. This is one expensive developer!

  5. The new iPad minis are really nice, but the color depth (color richness) is not as good as even the iPad 3. I’d choose the later purely because of the increased color gamut. It’s not too noticeable when looking at the screens separately, but if you look at them side by side then it’s really noticeable. The decreased color gamut is pretty well known on the ipad mini.

  6. While I am still digesting the entirety of this post, your comments about the iPad mini w/Retina display caught my attention as I am always interested in advances in digital display. I would be curious to hear more specifics about your preference for the iPad Mini w/Retina, especially in light of finding this article after reading your post: http://gizmodo.com/the-best-small-tablet-display-hint-its-not-the-ipad-1466653088 . I am no fan or follower of Gizmodo, but the author is from DisplayMate Technologies, so it did catch my attention. Looking forward to future posts.

    –Ken

    • I’ve not had a chance to use either the Kindle HDX or the Nexus 7 – the former isn’t available here at all – but there’s gamut, and there’s calibration. Whilst I agree that the iPad’s gamut isn’t great, the colour calibration is quite well ‘centred’ – i.e. it covers most of the gamut area you’d need it to cover, and it goes out of gamut where you’ve expect it to. Can’t comment on the others, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Think of overlapping circles; one representing the total colour space, one representing the display’s capabilities. The size of the circle represents the display’s gamut. You may have a small circle overlapping a larger one perfectly concentrically, in which case the gamut would be restricted but the output would still be accurate; you could have two equal-sized circles that don’t overlap much at all, which isles useful.

      • It sounds a lot like how the relationship between Melissa RGB in Lightroom (aka ProPhoto) and sRGB was described to me. While sRGB is a smaller space, I believe that it is shaped like a smaller version of Melissa.

        –Ken

  7. It would be great to hear more details about your printing technologies. I have been printing for a few years now and have a strong grasp on the best paper and media settings options for my current tastes but I find the learning curve to be VERY long with little progress once you hit “good” with inkjet technology. And I haven’t yet found forums out there that have knowledgable people sharing their experiences, most seem to be either far too novice.

    For example, I happen to like some pre-built profiles for my Epson 3880. I’ve dabbled with making my own and have never been able to best the canned ones. It would be great to learn about your testing methodology and what tools you found worked best. I’d say the same for RIPS. Their cost makes them a significant investment and the comparisons online leave much to be desired. I’d love to know what you’re using and how you found it can produce better results.

    • Assuming you’re starting with perfect files – most people are not, and don’t realise that that is the source of most of the problems – then you also need to have an accurate profile; an i1 calibrator is probably the best way of doing this, but even then we land up tweaking calibration by eye until the output matches intention or screen. We’ve done up to 12 proof runs to get colour absolutely perfect before, even after the i1 profile (which has to be done for each paper/ printer combination). This of course depends on you having a perfectly calibrated monitor, and good eyes! RIPs are outside my field of expertise, so I can’t comment…

  8. Michael Matthews says:

    How about distributed printing? A network of trusted printers. You specify the ink, the paper, and provide a printer profile based on a calibrated sample output from the device itself. From that point on, you’re basically controlling it remotely.

    You could require two prints of an ordered image be made, one shipped to you for approval before the customer’s copy is released. After the working relationship is established, a patch sample traveling by mail, inexpensively, could serve the same purpose.

    Do this in major cities and let the customer pick up the finished artwork. Or, at least, greatly shorten the travel and decrease opportunities for damage by having the printer ship it regionally.

    I know this may sound a bit odd, but it could lead to the creation a of class of skilled, artisan printers serving the needs of photographers and other artists who wish to sell to a high-end, limited market.

    • That’s not a bad idea, but there are just too many moving pieces to coordinate. It would probably be cheaper to just pack heavier and bill the cost back to the customer – I doubt international printers with higher costs can match my local costs, and we still have to ship.

  9. I thought sites like SmuggMugg offered digital protection from illegitimate download?

  10. Since no one else has commented on it yet, what the lead picture promises is amazing! I conservatively estimate at least 500 clean DPI (and I believe the 720 Ming mentions) just from looking at the picture of the print.

    It’s funny that we are so far past the point of sufficiency for image quality that the output medium is a bottleneck with perhaps no good solution, accessible to hobbyists, in sight.

    • Good point Andre – to hazard a guess hobbyists are just not printing enough. Probably because everyone is obsessed with gear and no one actually shoots with their camera :p

    • Thanks Andre. Oddly, the resolution advantage is even more apparent in B&W because of the contrast – though reproduction of lower contrast, finer detail structures would be easier with tonal gradients (i.e. colour).

      This particular example image (and the rest of it, of course) will be in the next print run, at this quality :)

  11. knickerhawk says:

    Really looking forward to your series of posts on this topic. I’ve been obsessing about the differences between digital prints and wet-based prints for some time now. I agree with your oversampling point with respect to one source of the difference.

    Can you share with us which other papers you tested in your quest to find the best at holding detail? In addition to the Canson Platine Fibre, were there others that came very close?

    • Sihl Photobaryta wasn’t bad, but the problem was the paper couldn’t hold much ink resulting in a lower dmax and curling/ bubbling/ print head collision issues. We’re also trailing Canson Baryta Photographique for matte prints; it’s a very nice paper indeed, but lacks that very slight sheen that the Platine Fibre has. We have a couple of boxes of Ilford Gold Silk that also looked good, but there isn’t enough quantity available here to do a print run on it – so we didn’t bother proofing it since we can’t practically use it anyway.

      • knickerhawk says:

        Thanks for the info. I’ve used both the Canson Baryta Photographique and the Ilford Gold Silk pretty extensively. Very similar papers, but I slightly prefer the Canson. Both hold the detail quite well and appear to have excellent dmax although I haven’t compared them super closely side-by-side for that. Apparently, they both have at least some OBAs, if that’s a concern. Personally, I prefer a matte finish, and these barytas are about as far as I’ll go in the other direction, so I’m not sure I’ll like the Platine but will give it a try based on your recommendation.

  12. Good luck with your endeavor. Finding a personal “holy grail” of image viewing is certainly difficult. I’m currently in stage 4 of your list above, and I have this feeling of dread that stage 5 is coming next. I may force myself to pour more money and time into the dreaded inkjet route. I’ve found that I can get good results for a good price… and at least I get myself to regularly produce finished prints when I do it myself. (Uploading and having others print, only to then receive an unacceptable result in the mail a week later, rinse and repeat, really isn’t flying with me.)

    I will say, however, that no inkjet prints have got the kind of “wow” response certain older, less accessible mediums have elicited from me. I was blown away the first time I held a Daguerreotype, and seeing stereoscopic images in a viewfinder was absolutely mesmerizing. But these old processes are so… inaccessible. Especially if you want to get your work in front of a lot of eyes.

    What to do…. what to do? It feels silly to come all this way – so close to a finished product – and have it fall apart.

    • I know the feeling – and until very recently, I’ve still been having it; it’s the sense of something missing, especially when viewed at close distances or anything less than a very large print. You do need to spend some time/ money experimenting, but I’ll be honest and say that the equipment cost to get the results you’re looking for is probably well into pro lab territory…I certainly cannot afford to run the machines I need, which is where the print master comes in…

  13. Fred Mueller says:

    Once again no time to read all the replies but it seems to me this discussion centers around ink jet technology ? What about laser printing on photographic papers ? The service I have used here in the US (White House Custom Color) does what to me looks like an incredible job both in terms of color fidelity and resolution. The color fidelity is really amazing actually. They ship in very sturdy boxes. Have never had shipping damage problems. I gave up all consideration that I could ever do as good a job with any ink jet in my own home at any price.

    I’ve printed 6 mpx files interpolated to 300 dpi at 24″ and yes from 2 inches they are not razor sharp, but from normal room distances they are excellent. My rule of thumb is that if a file looks good as an 8×10″ in your lap, it will scale up to any larger size without problem.

    • It doesn’t matter how good the technology is, if I can’t see it and QC it before shipping prints out, there’s no point. The back and forth shipping process is completely impractical. You have no control whatsoever, and no ability to tweak the final print to match the original artistic intention.

    • Same question here, I didnt even attempt inkjet, just went straight to photo paper printing at a lab that is luckily 8 miles from home. Most jobs are done that day, and they gave 5 free 8x10s for color calibration, free shipping for larger jobs and a $5 minimum. orget minilabs.

  14. Do you use an action in photoshop to resize your images to specifically suit the iPads screens dimensions and resolution?
    Excellent subject by the way. Large format contact printing was something close to my heart years ago.

    • No, I find Apple’s downsizing algorithms to be pretty good actually…

      • As opposed to android’s which I find to be horrid, or rather samsung’s as downsizing on the fly is the graphics hardware and engine’s task. High res files downresed to fit display hardware is best done with photoshop, in my tests.

        • When I first did large digital prints in the early millennium, the ripping software was the defining factor. In the mid 90s, a 2gig harddisk cost me us2500, I kid you not. And the mac quadra 950 cost me rm40, 000.00, no typo here. Ripping software could convert a a4 sized 300 dpi file into a 60 inch poster which very minimal resolution loss at intended viewing distance of three feet. Heck, I was amazed at it when viewed at 6 inches, the dithering algorithymns were yhat good. Then again, in those days, the ripping software cost in excess of rm100, 000.00.

  15. Absolutely spot on Ming, hit stage 8 and have been working on similar small format options with my printer. Very much looking forward to seeing your successes with the method.

  16. I’d simply argue that bigger is not better when it comes to print. Like any medium it does need to make conceptual sense. Aside from compensating maybe I see no reason for why big = better. I understand the impact of big, but its mostly abused. A lot of the time the details are best discovered in a smaller, more intimate work.

    • Bigger is not always better. Sometimes there are gains to be had viewing things at or larger than life size, but yes: it should make conceptual sense. Images should be big enough to give the subjects room to breathe and for the viewer to appreciate the details; how big that is precisely of course depends on the subject. That said, until recently, I hadn’t seen a print process – other than LF contact printing – that would give me the impression of ‘bottomless depth’ I was looking for.

      • One of the giants of advertising, Ian Ogilvy of O&M fame, I believe said to the effect, and I paraphrase, “Do not print a woman’s face much larger than life size (as in billboard size), no matter how beautiful she is, she will look grotesque…”.
        I agree. Now form your own opinion, the next time you take a drive.

        • Case in point, the Avon ladies along the federal highway, the latest one is not so bad, I swear the previous one was was humongously flawed, as in, picture in your mind, lips that overshadow Anita Sarawak’s… Quite sure the previous Avon girl was not that bad when viewed on a monitor by the art director…

          • That’s because the viewing perspective is incorrect. You look up at them instead of at eye level. And that certainly doesn’t match the perspective with which the image was shot.

            • Not quiet a matter of only perspective, an optical illusion much employed by horror cinema giant poster painters, where the eyes kind of follow you no matter where you are once you are on street level.
              Its more a brain thingy in regards as to scale perception in reference to known visuals. As effectively used in ‘ the attack of the 50ft woman ” of the 1950s and 1990s adaption starring daryl hannah.
              So Ogilvy was not commenting about perspective distortion. More like an understanding of scale effect on our brains, with specific regards to the fairer sex, much like how you drew lines demarcating a proper distance to enable your prints to show themselves to full effect.
              Young people who do not understand such principles, would lean on the prints and wonder what the lines were there for. Worse still, roll their eyes when reprimanded.

  17. Pedro Santos says:

    Nothing give me more pleasure than see my big print coming from the printer.
    At this moment i have a Epson 17″ Pro 4800 and a 44″ Pro 9900 :)

  18. Very timely article, as usual. I bought an Epson R3000 printer when my HP printer ran out of ink (if you believed what it was saying to you), . . . because, as you said, the new printer comes with a full load of new ink cartridges! A $600 printer now seems to cost only about $400 or less. Then you find out that the printer is subsidized so people will buy them and then the profit is made up by selling ink . . . at what someone said was the same price per oz. as caviar. I believe it; those are small cartridges and they don’t last long. And yet, even at $2.50 for expensive 19 inch paper and the ink thrown in to print it, the overall cost of a single print is still very reasonable, if not cheap. And gorgeous. And labor; but it’s a labor of love. Seems to me you either love printing at home or hate it. I really like seeing what “I” can produce on these fantastic new papers that someone is creating for us. The friends that I give prints to feel the same way and ask for more. And I agree about size. I finally went up from US standard 11×14 inches to just 12×18 (19 inch limit), and after framing I had to hunt for wall space to hang it somewhere. 12×18 is not that large, but clearly large enough for my house and most others. But even that much larger a print looks so much better than 11×14. I’ve also started to frame them without glass just so you can see the full quality of the print. Then I bought an iPad, for the reason you mentioned. I actually use it like the old contact paper or preliminary print. The resolution and quality is so high that to some extent it’s all you need so share photos with someone. Forget iPhones, way too small for anything. That leads me to the question raised above. I am asking these to myself all the time, but now I’ll pass them on to you. 1. Why not start using high quality on-line (self) book printing for photographic projects/portfolios? The price for one or even 20 copies or more is quite reasonable. That raises a another obvious question, 2. Why print anything in a paper book format when you can produce an outstanding photo book in PDF and other formats for the iPad and its retina screen? Even less expensive and infinitely reproducible. How have you answered these questions for yourself lately?

    • Yes, I’ve asked and answered both questions:

      1. I haven’t found one with acceptable quality yet, and the time/effort required for layout does not make sense. It takes probably a week to do one properly – I certainly won’t sell enough for the opportunity cost tradeoff to make sense.

      2. Because I don’t want to distribute any high resolution images in any digital format that might later be reproduced or easily redistributed. You might be able to copy a print, but it won’t be easy and it won’t be as good as the original. There is no point devaluing your own work by turning it into a commodity.

      • 2. I do see your point. But I for one wouldn’t mind the occasional opportunity to see, in a file, something like what you get to see (subject to monitor calibration, etc, of course.)
        The world is full of ‘sample images’ from every camera, that are taken without skill, available for low resolution, compressed download. I’d like to opportunity to see what a beautifully composed, lit, edited, photograph looks like in its original form, but such files are rare. Nobody distributes them for fear of devaluing their work, so they never get seen.

        • We also don’t distribute them because the majority of people and websites have no respect for IP, even with low resolution files. And we’re not going to risk our reputations by distributing crappy ones.

          • I understand. Just a little sad, that’s all. Looking forward to the prints.

            • Believe me, I’d love to find a way around it. The current format in no way does the images justice. But so long as the risk of image theft is significant, I just can’t do it.

              • Perhaps when you have retired and made your money, put up say, 1000 full res samples of your best work for absolutely free download and use. In return just ask for freewill donation to your favourite charity through a donate button and a short report on what the images wrre used for.
                No point speculating what will happen, when you have done it, let us know the good and the bad stories. At the least, it should be entertaining data for your rocking chair time.
                When I have done it, I will let you know.
                Yes, I realise this is an absolutely useless comment at this moment, but since im on my rocking chair…

              • What about viewing through your app? Is there a way to have ‘better’ images viewed via that instead of images being picked through Flickr? This would get around the whole image protection issue?

        • If you have not, download hasselblad samples. Once in a while I open them up, look at them and the latest full frame, apsc, fourthirds or whatever else camera doesnt seem so desireable after all.
          This is how I manage my GAS.

  19. Laughing my ass off, and I have yet to get into the main body of the post. I most definitely will NOT be showing this to my wife, as she thinks the printing covering the dining room table (with both leaves added in) cannot be rolled up, but must remain flat. The smallest is 30 by 40 inches…..shhh.

  20. Have you considered having the file written to large format neg film with a film writer and doing traditional contact printing? It’s a bit of work to master the process but it can give you the best of both worlds….

    • Consistency would be the issue – not to mention significantly greater time and cost investment required. I also shoot film, so I could always just direct print from that.

  21. David Kent says:

    This may be a little off topic, and I don’t mean to distract from your thread, but after posting my original comments, I was reminded of a couple of things:
    – On the iPad, for viewing photographs, I sometimes use an app called ‘Actual Pixels’, which allows image viewing at different scales, without Apples frustrating rescaling. Sometimes its nice to view a photo 1:1
    – Australian Artist Shuan Tan (http://www.shauntan.net), who generally works in Acrilic and such, had one of his children’s books (Rules of Summer) turned into an App by having the original artwork photographed in high resolution, so that each page can be explored in detail. Brushstrokes, paint, minute details, everything is visible.

    Link to app (vhttps://itunes.apple.com/au/app/rules-of-summer/id705751146?mt=8 )

    Hopes that helps someone…. I DO look forward to seeing your prints.

  22. I have the Google Nexus 10″ hi rez screen pad/tablet whose screen is higher resolution that Apple iPad and Apple OS does not support greater than 8 bit color. Android and Windows do and displays can show the difference.

    • No display can actually display >8 bit colour, even desktop monitors. The difference may well be down to profiling rather than hardware.

      The Nexus 10 does have more pixels, but not higher pixel density. I have one of those, too.

      • Latest NEC PA 27 and 31 inch monitors have 10 bit color input and their display gamut is larger than Adobe rub in the reds and blues.

        • Useful to know – I hunted one down and fell off my chair at the price…

        • you need to have graphics card that can output 10-bit, most of them don’t, the ones that do are very expensive – just a note (waiting for the delivery of PA272W myself)

          • Just one small addition to PA272 screen. Here in the UK there are 3 versions of it (sorted from cheapest to most expensive):
            – NEC PA272W (~ £950)
            – NEC SpectraView 272 (~ £1300)
            – NEC SpectraView 272 Reference (~ £1650)

            the differences between them are:
            – PA272W – screen only
            – 272 SpectraView – comes with NEC’s SpectraView SW
            – 272 SpectraView Reference – comes with SpectraView SW, calibrator, hood

            I already have i1Display Pro, so I will only buy from NEC US SpectraView SW for $90 and that will be still cheaper than SpectraView 272. I’ve looked at EIZO (I’ve had good experience in my old days as graphic designer) but their ColorEdge range is slightly more expensive than NEC but you get 5 years instead of 3 years warranty.

  23. Awesome Ming – I applaud your efforts in pushing printing to the masses. Also in going smaller – us Europeans don’t have enough wall space in our apartments to really appreciate ‘big prints’ and so this ‘digital contact sheet’ method interests me. I’ve been thinking of going down the route of making books of my favourite shots, but this way would allow one to geek over the detail of images which would be really cool!

    One comment on the mini retina – I agree on the quality. I’m getting one this week more for other work reasons, but my biggest gripe with the ipad is managing images – are you using a specific program to view and manage?

    • That’s one of the problems that was frequently cited to me: ‘we like your images, but have nowhere to put them’. I have nothing against smaller so long as the impact is still there…

      Ipad: I just have a folder with subfolders I sync.

      • What exactly do you mean by “a folder with subfolders I sync”?
        Is that an iPhoto/Aperture folder (or project or whatever) that you sync via iTunes? Or something else?

        • You make a new folder in your directory structure. Point iTunes there, and you have the option to select which subfolders within it to sync. You can thus control/ sort your images that way.

  24. Interesting and I hope it works. I’ve got to see to comment further. From what you said so far I’m with Gordon Moat, let’s see how the public will take the viewing experience.

    • Unfortunately the only way to know for sure is to host an exhibition, and that’s neither easy nor cheap…I can show some of the detail, but the results will be in the print run that follows…

  25. Although it is very expensive and not economic, I like having my 24″ Z3100 and my 3880 at home so I can keep making adjustments and get instant feedback on how the print will look. Printing is an art itself and I am fortunate to have taken classes on printing from a few print masters and have learned a lot. Paper selection and how the image looks on it is important.
    I just got some Moab Slick Rock paper to try some detailed B&W images on. Maybe some architectual building abstracts.
    Printing and framing your own work yourself is satisfying feeling.
    Look forward to seeing your smaller high rez prints.

    • I did consider running my own printers, but as you say – it doesn’t make economic sense, especially if you’re going to be using smaller format machines with higher cartridge costs. At least the larger machines have better economies of scale…

  26. Reblogged this on More Cheap Photography Tricks and commented:
    Some thoughts on the Art of Printing by Ming Thein Photography

  27. Thanks for that interesting article! I’d suggest:

    11. Start creating high quality photo books.

    Although I could not find THE photo book brand that would satisfy my quality neurosis yet, but it is a good compromise looking at all your pros and cons. If you could give us a feedback about your experience with e.g. the ‘blurb pro line’ or ‘whitewall’ in comparison with your single prints, this would be much appreciated, thanks!

    I am looking forward reading the next article from this series.

  28. Kristian Wannebo says:

    “… Interestingly, the irregular microstructure of the fibers themselves appear to contribute somewhat to the impression of continuing detail under a very high magnification loupe (I’m using my 10x watchmaking loupes to examine the prints) – much in the same way that the film grain can help certain subjects, albeit at a much smaller level. …”

    I do recognize that, although at a larger level.

    My first, and as yet only, serious experience of printing was in the 1990:es with an Epson wide carridge 720 dpi b/w inkjet printer.
    So unless I printed very large (two or even four A3+ taped together) it was a hard choice between resolution and number of grey levels.

    Whenever I was close to the printer’s limits, I found that a coarser paper gave a much more pleasing, and more “detailed”, result!

    And cf. the effect of using fractal programs in animation (when a detailed natural look is desired).

    [ I believe this is also part of a wider range (no pun intended) of human vision.
    We prefer the irregular silver grain to straight lines of pixels.
    We find a hand knit pullover with it's slightly irregular texture more pleasing than a machine knit one.
    Possibly because all lines and patterns in nature are more or less irregular. ]

  29. This is a really great article. And very helpful. I look forward to the series.

    Thanks so much.

  30. Tom Hudgins says:

    This reminds me of the first time I saw the actual illuminated manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The experienced ruined my enjoyment of print reproductions forever. Consider sending your image on an iPad Mini Retina rather than a reproduction print. It would be the equivalent of sending an original and certainly would be a easier if not cheaper. Seriously though, I wish you success with your attempt to replicate the iPad viewing experience in print.

    • That’s an interesting idea, but no, there’s no way it’d be cheaper. And something about the way apple now automatically scales images to fit screen is incredibly annoying – especially when that is an outstanding photo reproduction device…

  31. This is a really exciting series to look forward to! I was literally just contemplating having my first prints made this morning before finding the article. Specifically considering ordering some prints from a lab vs. contacting a local printmaster I recently discovered online. I’m thinking the latter since I could really use some input in choosing which images, at which sizes etc. would create the best result. Although I’m guessing the printmaster could get expensive.

    • I’d suggest the print master. You will save a lot of experimentation time and cost if he knows his stuff and can advise you accordingly. Think of it as quality over quantity!

  32. An intriguing concept. Depending on the prints, I’m interested. Looking forward to the next installment.

  33. plevyadophy says:

    Hi,
    Re malicious damage.

    I take it that the damage is being done at your end, i.e. in Malaysia right?

    Have you considered using independent carriers such as DHL, UPS and such like?

    • Actually, it would appear to be at the receiving end.

      We’re switching over to DHL for the next run – getting the prices to make sense has been the tough bit…

      • I’ve used PVC pipe with PVC endcaps to store large rolled up 19th century maps. Would that possibly work for shipping prints? Not very expensive and seems fairly indestructible.

      • plevyadophy says:

        If the receiving end, are you saying that this is happening in the same country or numerous countries?

        If just one country is causing the problem, then it could be malicious or it could be that, and this would be the case if happening at numerous destinations, customs officials are breaking into the packaging because they suspect that your tubes are being used for the transportation of contraband.

        Maybe, you could consider shipping your prints in transparent tubes, that way the customs officials can see what’s inside just by peeling back the wrapping paper around the tube, rather than having to breaking things open. An alternative would be to label your items in a more commercial way i.e. get stickers that have your logo and business detailas printed on them and use these stickers rather than hand writing the labels (this can be more reassuring for customs that nothing untoward is being shipped, or is likely to be; or perhaps gives an obvious explanation as to why a package might be a certain shape or size).

        You mention DHL, that might be a good idea if they have a system of inspections prior to shipment. I think UPS does; they often ask for contents to be inspected by their staff before being sealed and labelled for shipment and then on the package docket they document the fact that the contents have been checked by them. This will often mean that customs don’t bother to brutalise your packages to check contents.

        Just brainstorming here bro. Hope my input helps and I am not stating the obvious things you’ve already tried.

        Warmest regards
        plevyadophy

        • Appreciate the suggestions. It seems to happen randomly, and it’s not because of customs inspections – it’s just damage due to neglect.

          • plevyadophy says:

            OK, how about this idea.

            Use drainpipe tubing, the strong plastic stuff, not the heavy metal stuff. It’s extremely strong and can be picked up cheaply from hardware/DIY stores. You’d have to ensure you were buying the stuff designed for external use; the similar plumbing tubes for internal plumbing will be useless for your purposes as they are simply not robust enough.

            Also, if you can find a way to obtain some of that plastic tubing used underground by utilities companies for water suppy. Now THAT stuff is REALLY strong.

          • plevyadophy says:

            Sorry, it’s me again. Just brainstorming.

            Got another idea.

            Exhaust pipes!!

            Yep, I did say that!!! :o)

            On some cars the run of pipe from the catalytic coneverter to the back box is a separate piece and of suitable length and not of unreasonalbe price (relative to the cost of your valuable prints) especially if you buy third-party copies. Now, there is no way a print in such piping will come to harm through bad handling; any harm would have to be malicious and intentional.

            If you don’t have a large national motor accessories company near you, you might like to contact Euro Car Parts or GSF Car Parts or InCar here in the U.K. They often ship abroad and they will get you the parts at very good prices. I would hazard a guess that there will be equivalent companies nearer to you in Australia or the U.S.

            Hope I have been of help.

            Warmest regards,
            plevyadophy

  34. You’ve got me pumped! I’m still at stage 2!

  35. Sounds very cool Ming!

  36. There are a few tests that can be done to determine actual printer output resolution. Commercial printing companies often have these targets in EPS form, though the more common ones are for offset printing. One thing that is important to understand is dot gain, which on an inkject represents the spreading of the ink. Some inkjet manufacturers provide dot sizes for inkjet printing, though I have usually only seen that on high end commercial inkjet printers.

    The other factors that makes repeatability tougher are paper variation, aging of ink, and temperature/pressure/humidity changes. There are times when it has seemed that a climate controlled room was necessary to get the best output. Some of the commercial inkjet systems are better in this regard, that they are less variable under atmospheric changes.

    When the GigaPXL Project was touring, they had some super high detail ultra large prints. Near each print at the museum was a magnifying glass, to allow closer inspection. I tried a few, then observed how other people interacted with the images. Most people did not seem that impressed, despite that this was years before the Nikon D3, and long before the Nikon D800 were available. In the display hall next to that exhibit, was a collect of images from Edward Burtynsky. Those were mostly conventional C-prints from 4×5 colour negative. It was the viewing of images from Edward Burtynsky that convinced me to get a large format camera. Recently I got his latest book “Water”.

    • I suppose it’s because most people would rather have the immediate impact/ gratification of a very large print rather than take time to look at the details. I imagine it would be different for the collector or the serious photographer.

      As for Burtynsky – my copy of Water has been backordered on Amazon for some time… :(

      • I got my copy of Water from Barnes & Noble on-line, though it was shipped from the publisher. It was surprising how long it took to get here, though while I was waiting I found out that it was a limited print run. Absolutely fantastic images. It is far too much visual overload to take it all in with one sitting and viewing. One thing Burtynsky has that many of us find trouble doing, is the ability to get into places that appear to be inaccessible.

  37. Your last paragraph is both informative and innovative ….

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  1. […] This guy is a hyper-achiever. Put together an MBA ethos with a photographer’s sensibility and this is who you’ll get. He’s not a street photographer per se but I do admire his mastery of photography techniques. In two years, he wrote 780 articles, had 9.5 million visitors, and received 36 000 comments! Check out his post on printing here. […]

  2. […] on from my earlier article on pushing print limits, I’d like to show you the fruits our labour: the Ultraprint. I think the above image pretty […]

  3. […] on from the excellent reception given to my interview with Nick Brandt, and my current focus on pushing print limits, it is high time we heard from the print master himself – Wesley Wong. I can say plenty about […]

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