Top 5 Printmaking Tips,Tricks,Techniques – October ’11

Have you been looking to purchase a new large format inkjet printer but aren’t sure where to begin? Are you looking to upgrade from what you currently own? Want some tips on what to look for? This month, I’ll talk about 5 things to consider when purchasing a new printer…

1. Image Quality

Depending on your target market, your image quality requirements may differ. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Resolution- Printers that can produce a minimum of 1200dpi print resolution would suit fine art reproduction and photography well. Most printers have many resolution modes, so be sure to find one that has a wide range of capabilities in terms of print resolution (an example would be 360dpi-2880dpi, covering various modes in between).

  • Color Gamut- Some newer printers have improved ink sets which widen the printable gamut you can achieve. Gamut comparisons are sometimes included in printer brochures or information kits, so check the available downloads at the manufacturer’s site. Another quick way to judge achievable gamut with various printers is to download the manufacturer’s included ICC profiles for the printer you are considering. When you Soft-Proof a profile on screen (See my tips from July ’11- TIP 5: “Soft-Proofing and using the Gamut Warning”), you can visually see what colors the printer can accurately reproduce without shifting colors (shift will vary depending on your rendering intent).

  • Density- Ink density translates to rich, deep, vibrant colors. Different ink sets can achieve higher or lower ink densities, so it’s important to compare printed samples. If you have a densitometer, try to get black and white photos and take delta readings of the black ink density. This is usually a good indication of which ink set can yield higher densities.

  • Ink Droplet Size- Droplet size is typically measured in picoliters, so look for a printer capable of a droplet size of around 4-12pl. A lower number means a smaller droplet, and a smaller droplet translates to a sharper image. Some printers have a larger or smaller droplet size, so a printed sample of a high resolution image will help you determine if the prints will be sharp enough. A general rule is the droplets should not be visible to the naked eye from the intended viewing distance of the print.

  • Ink Configuration- Printers have a variety of ink configurations generally ranging from 4 colors, 6, 8, and 12 color machines. Generally speaking, the more colors a printer has the wider the color gamut it can achieve. But this is also relative to the quality of the profile that is being used for printing as well. The inclusion of Orange and Green inks on many new printer models contribute to a wider gamut, and more attainable colors. Light versions of existing colors (Ex: Light Cyan, Light Magenta) help in smoothing gradations and improve black and white printing.

  • ICC Profiles- Are there available ICC profiles for the media you wish to use? If you manage your own color, is the printer easy to profile? Does the printer accurately reproduce color over time or does it need constant re-profiling? Look for product reviews that mention profiling capabilities.

    2. Size & Speed

    The size of the printer will depend on what image sizes you wish to offer. Do you currently own a 17″ wide printer and are not sure whether to invest in a 24″ or make the jump to 44″? If you can’t answer this question, let your customers help! Determine what sizes are most requested and this will be a great starting point. Ask your customers what sizes they would be most interested in if you had larger print capabilities. Look at what print size options are available on the web and you’ll get a good idea of what’s most common.

    If you print canvas, determine how much additional canvas you’ll need for stretching when you have larger print capabilities. This can be factored into the total print width that the printer is capable of. Wider printers usually can handle longer and heavier rolls, which can translate into overall media savings (versus printing sheets or shorter roll lengths).

    Speed is an important aspect that should not be overlooked if you need to achieve a particular amount of output each day or week. Keep in mind that faster print speeds typically mean a decrease in image resolution, so find printers that can achieve faster speeds while retaining resolution. Be aware that in some cases you may have to compromise quality for speed, or vice versa. As stated above, most printers have various settings for resolution, so test a few methods and see what the best results are in terms of speed and quality combined.

    3. Media Handling

    Make a list of everything you currently print on. Now add the media you would like to start using to that list. Newer printers have expanded capabilities for 3rd party media, so find a printer that can handle everything you wish to throw at it! While some printers might be better suited for photography, others may be geared more towards outdoor signage and short term graphics. Do you know what other printmakers in your target market are using?

    Media thickness is also something to consider, so look at a printer’s specifications sheet to find out what paper thickness it can handle. If you can see the printer in action, make note of how it handles various media that is loaded. Does thick media load easily? What about sheet fed media and manual loading trays? You certainly don’t want to struggle to use your new printer, so look for these points when demoing a new printer.

    4. Ease of Use

    Sometimes we get so caught up in features and specifications that we forget the importance of usability. Having a printer that is easy to use means less frustration and troubleshooting. If there will be more than one user, production can be seamless if there is less guess work with the printer and its settings. Ask these questions when trying to determine the ease of use:

  • Is it easy to unload and load media?
  • Is the printer’s control panel easy to navigate through and understand?
  • Is the printer driver easy to setup and use?
  • How easy is it to implement custom ICC profiles or media settings?
  • How much control does the printer give the user?
  • Is it easy enough to show others how to use it?
  • Can you save customized settings and details to recall for future print jobs?
  • Can you hit “Print” and walk away?

    5. Support

    Usually the most overlooked aspect when buying a printer is product support. Struggling to get a product working properly can be quite a frustrating experience. Before buying a printer, find out what’s supported:

  • Is phone/email support included?
  • Does the technical support staff respond quickly?
  • Do you have access to an expert or experienced users?
  • Are 3rd party ICC profiles easily attainable?
  • Are parts end-user replaceable? Do parts require a service technician to replace?
  • Is there access to tutorial videos and instructional documents?
  • If there are any known issues, are there working solutions or workarounds?
  • If my printer completely goes down, how long before I’m back up and running?

    A few more things to consider

  • Price
  • Ink usage
  • Ink cost
  • Maintenance/Cleaning
  • Warranty
  • RIP compatibility
  • Printer longevity
  • Resale value

    Are all of these points necessary or required? Are there pros and cons to each printer? While there can be many factors that determine what printer is right for you, I hope this guide will at least provide a starting point for determining what to look for.

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    • BCJordanKorengold

      Speed and Size I feel is definitely a very important factor when deciding what printer is best for you.  With today’s technology these printers all produce amazing image quality, so the next step in the decision process is, “What size do I want?”.   With a lot of people stepping up from a desktop printer I feel it’s worth the added cost to look past a 17″ and go straight to either a 24″ or 44″ to offer additional size that could be very beneficial not only from an artist perspective, but a business view point as well.  This is just my opinion from the trends that I have been noticing when others are making these purchasing decisions.  Great article, Paul these are definitely the big bullet points when in the decision stage of purchasing a new printer.