Large Format Printing and Paper Selection

Choosing the right paper for your prints can be overwhelming these days given all of the choices available, and especially critical with large print sizes. Recently I had to make 17 large prints for two corporate customers, NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC, and Lawrence Hospital in Bronxville, a suburb of NYC. I strive to provide the best possible product and experience for all of my customers, (which for me means going way beyond what is expected, and choosing the best materials and tools available) so I thought I would share some info on my paper choices and printing workflow. For my large format printing, I’m using my workhorse Canon iPF8100 printer which is still going strong after 3 years of regular use. I replaced one of the print heads 4 months ago, and Canon replaced a faulty circuit board last year under warranty. Other than that, it has worked great and ink usage is extremely good. meaning it is very efficient.

I printed mostly out of Lightroom 4, and a few images were printed out of Photoshop CS5. This was because a small number of images were captured on an older camera with less resolution, so I used Alien Skin Blowup 3 to enlarge them, and it was just easier to print out of Photoshop at that point. I used custom ICC profiles for all papers which I create using my X-Rite i1 Photo Pro spectrophotometer.

"Mt Beacon Light" - 40" x 60" Canson Platine

The 40″ x 60″ print above was printed on Canson Platine Fiber Rag 310. Why did I choose Platine? Simple, I love the texture, dmax and detailDmax is a measure of the deepest black tone a printer/ink/paper combination can reproduce, and this is important for both shadow definition and contrast. For this particular image my goal was to preserve shadow depth and create as much contrast as possible to really make the sunlight jump off the paper. I also wanted to maintain as much detail as possible, which is a key part of the image, and again Platine really does a great job of conveying that detail to the viewer. Platine also has a very nice texture which adds just a bit of depth and dimension to an otherwise flat print.

Proper camera technique really helps with making a print this large from a 35mm camera – low ISO, tripod, mirror lockup, optimal f stop and focal length for the lens, and optimal post processing. So camera settings are: ISO 200, f/8 @1/60th sec, 24mm. (That’s my iPhone with the same image for a size reference :)

"Nature Patterns" - 37" x 54" Canson Rag Photographique 310

"Autumn's Play" - 40" x 60" Canson Rag Photographique

20" x 60" Panoramas - Canson Rag Photographique

All of the above prints were made on Canson Rag Photographique 310, another favorite paper of mine but for different reasons. In this case I chose Rag Photographique for its beautiful matte finish and very smooth texture. I wanted more of a watercolor look, which really brings out the colors and creates more of a painterly effect, which I think helps convey the feel of the images as I originally conceived them. Of course dmax is still very important, and while not as high as Platine, Rag Photographique still delivers very nice blacks and rich contrast. The key of course is very careful soft-proofing and testing using small proofs to make sure the image is optimized for the paper. This is where the latest Lightroom 4 really helps with its ability to not only soft-proof, but also create print specific files for each paper you use. All of these prints were adjusted slightly for the paper, and this is really critical to maximizing your prints.

Above is the new soft-proofing feature in Lightroom 4 where you can preview the original image on the left and the adjusted “soft-proof” virtual copy on the right. Lightroom even renames the virtual copy with the name of the paper profile so you know which paper this proof is meant for – very cool. The adjustments I make to the virtual copy are only for printing, the original remains unchanged, and no need to create additional files on my hard drive – it is all generated from one RAW file.

 

Once the prints are permanently installed,  I’ll post photos of the installations once I get a chance to visit the locations. Stay tuned for some upcoming video tutorials on paper selection and soft-proofing in Lightroom 4.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Hillel B

    Yeh, it seems like quality printers, appropriate color calibration hardware & software, and paper choices are a bigger hurdle to surmount for aspiring photographers than the camera, lens(es), and tripod.
    It’s quite informative to hear of the impact of paper choices on final output.

    1. RR Jr

      Thanks Hillel for the feedback – yes printing is a whole other world with a potentially steep learning curve, but again practice and study are well worth the efforts. Certainly the choices available today can seem daunting, but as usual you have to find what works for you and your goals.

      RR

  2. Dan Sneberger

    Robert,
    I stumbled onto your website a year ago while searching for an illustrator also named Robert Rodriguez ( I was an illustrator in an earlier life) and I have been stunned/inspired/awed by your work. Do you offer any 1-1 workshops on the printing process? I live in suburban Philadelphia but I would happily travel to Beacon.
    Thanks for sharing both your work and your insight.

    dan

    1. RR Jr

      Hi Dan, thanks for the comments and feedback. Right now I am not doing any 1 on 1 workshops due to time constraints and projects I am currently working on. If that changes in the future, I will let you know. You are always welcome to participate in the printing workshop coming up in June, and as Bill mentioned it is very hands on, small class, and I try to address everyone’s needs. Any questions, please feel free to email or call.

      RR

  3. Bill Bogle Jr.

    Dan

    I took one of Robert’s printing workshops a couple years ago. It had 6 participants, and each person got to have an image worked on from file to final print, as well as Robert’s insights on his prints. It was very helpful in printing. While it may not be 1 to 1, it is a great workshop, and Robert is a great teacher. See if he is giving it soon.

    Bill Bogle, Jr.

    1. RR Jr

      Thanks Bill, really appreciate the feedback and very kind recommendation on the printing workshop – always a pleasure to work with you as a photographer and friend. Looking forward to working with you on the Arches workshop!

      RR

  4. Fred Cassara

    Hi Robert,
    Just curious if printing out of Lightroom 4 is as good as using the 16-bit photoshop plug-in for the canon ipf series.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful images and knowledge.

    Fred

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