Basic proofing and printing with the Epson 9890

Did I mention the Epson 9890 kicks butt?

We’ve got an amazing large-format printer at the IMRC, the Epson 9890.  If you sent your photos or paintings off to be reproduced with exhibition quality, there’s a pretty good chance they’d be printed with one of these.  The good news is you don’t have to send your stuff off to be printed, because we’ve got a 9890 too!  The 9890 is a really amazing machine.  Not only does it use water-resistant pigment based inks with excellent permanence, it uses 8 different inks.  Your ink-jet at home probably uses one or two black inks, plus 3 colored inks.  In addition to the usual  cyan, magenta, and yellow, the 9890 uses light magenta, light cyan, and light gray.  The addition of these inks greatly widens its color gamutthat is, the range of colors it can reproduce.  Bottom line: the 9890 can make more colors than our home inkjets can.

A quick aside.  Say you have some great scans of your paintings you want to print on Arches hot press for an exhibition.  You’ve probably heard the term “giclee ” bandied about, and know that it’s associated with very high quality print reproduction.  You might be wondering, as I was before I researched this, can prints from the 9890 be considered giclee?  The answer is both “yes,” and “who cares?”

The term giclee is nothing more than a marketing word, and subject to no standards or regulation.  All it means today is artwork printed with an inkjet.  I could print a scan of a painting on a $50 inkjet from the dime store and call it giclee without lying!  The real question is, are prints from the Epson 9890 suitable for exhibition in galleries or a museum? The answer is absolutely!

Why proof your prints?

So, let’s get to the good stuff.  You’ve got some photo or images you want to exhibit, sell, give to your aromatherapist, etc. Naturally, you want your prints to be totally awesome.  Where do you get started?  Proofing your images. What’s proofing?  Proofing is basically making a test copy before you print your finished product.  “But Matt,” you say, “the 9890 is such an awesome printer, why would I need to make a test copy?”  It’s the same reason the camera on your phone just has a shutter button, while a $10,000 Nikon* is full of buttons, knobs, and rings.  When it comes to making pro-grade prints, “close enough” doesn’t cut it.

Have you ever printed a photo at home only to find it’s much darker than on your screen, or the purples look like blues?  Not the end of the world with a 5″ x 7″, but imagine you did that with a 40″ x 32″ photo on premium luster paper?  Not so much fun…

Professional proofing is a true art, and can require extensive experience grading color.  But I have good news!  You don’t need to learn to be a professional proofer.  When you’re printing your own work, you’re the final arbiter.  It was your eye that created the work in the first place, so use your eye to decide what visual information is important.

Now we’re going to go through the basic steps for proofing and printing.  I’m going to assume you’ve already got the image looking how you want it to on the screen.  First, here’s the original image of the photo I was printing for this post:

Proofing:

  1. Decide on a proof size.  If you’re printing much over 5″ x 7″, you probably want to make your proof much smaller than the final to save time and money.  Using Photoshop or GIMP, shrink the image size to something more manageable.  My proof was roughly 2″ x 3″.
  2. Resize your proof. When you resize the proof, uncheck the box marked resample.  This means Photoshop/GIMP won’t throw out any pixels, just change the size of the image it sends to the printer.  For example, my final print was about 22″ x 16.5″ at 150 dots per inch (dpi), and my proof was about 2.25″ x 3″ at 1100 dpi.  No pixels lost.  The 9890 can lay down well over 1100 dpi, so no worries there.
  3. Consider making a full-scale crop as a second proof. If you’re unsure what an appropriate dpi is for your print, you can make a second proof.  Go back to the original image, and resize it (resample unchecked) to the size you want for the final.  Now, crop out a small piece of that image, and use it as your proof.  This proof will give you an idea of whether you’ve blown up your image too far.  Remember to view the second proof at the same distance you’ll be viewing the final.  No pixel peeping!  Nobody is going to view your 20″ x 30″ print from 5″ away.
  4. Print the proof. Print the proof(s) on the same paper, using the same settings you’ll use for the final.  That probably means finest detail and super-microweave are checked, and high-speed is unchecked. If this is a photo you took on a fairly nice camera, you can also check 16-bit color.  If you’re printing something you made at 8-bits per channel in, say Adobe Illustrator, there’s not much point in checking off 16-bit.
  5. Compare the proof(s) to your digital original. 

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My proof
My proof

Correcting:

If you’re lucky, it’s already perfect, but you might need to make some adjustments.  Remember, your adjustments may look wrong on the screen, but the problem is that your prints don’t look like the screen. It’s best to make your adjustments fairly small, since you are essentially flying blind.  

  1. Check brightness and contrast.  I tend to find the 9890 prints come out a touch darker than my screen copy.  Cheaper printers tend to assume we want lots of contrast, which is punchy, but steals a lot of nuance from the image. Luckily the 9890 doesn’t do this, but you still may need to adjust contrast.
  2. Look at the color balance. The hue/saturation adjuster in Photoshop may be the easiest way for many people.  Try adjusting the hue slider very, very gently to shift the color balance of the entire picture.  Say your picture is too blue.  Looking at the rainbow on the slider, move the slider away from blue a tiny bit.
  3. If you need to, look at shadows and highlights.  You might feel that most of the print looks fine, but the highlights or shadows are blown.  Try opening levels in Photoshop, which will bring up a histogram with sliders.  The left slider adjusts shadows, the right slider adjusts highlights, and the middle slider adjusts mid-tones.
  4. Print another proof.
  5. Repeat the above process until you like the look of your proof.  

Do yourself a favor, and don’t get so caught up you make yourself crazy.  Chances are, nobody but you even knows what the original looks like.  Don’t worry about whether other people will think it’s a faithful copy, worry about whether the print looks good.  There’s a lot to be said for Ed Wood’s school of thought.

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Here’s my final print, on semi-gloss poster paper, about 22″ x 17″.

 

Evaluating the results


Sunset5

The original is on the left.   This is a photo of a print of a photo, so I’m not gonna claim this is scientific. The print may be a tad darker, but what are ya gonna do? What I do see is that the color is quite accurate, and displays most of the range of the original image.  I also see great detail in the shadows, which is always nice.  Best of all, there’s only a tiny loss of resolution. All in all, I call this one a success![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]