Professional photographer and printmaker Renée Besta joins us this week for a discussion on how to select the right paper types, what rendering intents do, and how long to dry your prints before varnishing.
- Rendering intents: what are they and how do you pick one?
- Renée’s go-to papers, and how to select a media type for your image
- Selling sample packs to potential buyers to showcase their options
- How long should you let a print dry before varnishing?
Listen in to learn about rendering intents, paper types, and more!
- For more from Renée, visit RenMarPhoto.com, and check out her extensive series on printing HDR photographs, as well as her most recent article: “How to Configure Printer Settings for Third Party Papers”
- As mentioned in the episode, Breathing Color offers a number of canvas and paper sample packs.
- Listeners featured in this episode include Yvan from YvanBedardPhotoNature.com.
- Love the show? Have some feedback for us? Leave us a review on iTunes.
- It can be tough to visualize the impact of rendering intents. Check out the images below for a bit of extra help:
Prefer to read over listen? Want to save this conversation for reference later? We transcribe all of our shows for these reasons! Download this episode’s transcription below:
Or, to view a web version of the transcript:
Announcer: You are listening to the #AskBC podcast. Your printmaking questions, answered by the experts!
Justin: In this episode we talk about paper type selection, rendering intents, and how long to let your canvas prints dry before varnish.
What’s up everybody? It’s your host Justin and this is episode 11 of the #AskBC podcast. Today we’re joined by special guest Renée Besta, with RenMarPhoto.com – she’s a fine art photographer, graphic designer, and printmaking expert who’s been in the industry for over 35 years.
If you guys haven’t already, read her series on HDR photography, or her latest: “How to Configure Your Printer Settings for Third Party Paper,” I’ll link up to both of these articles in the show notes, so be sure to stick around until the end of the show for those links.
Hey Renée, how’s it going? Thanks so much for joining us!
Renée: Thanks for having me, Justin, it’s going great!
Justin: Great, awesome. So without any further adieu, I’m gonna jump right into the questions if you don’t mind sharing some of your input.
Renée: I’d be happy to.
Justin: Awesome. John asks: How long should I let my canvas prints dry before applying varnish?
Renée: Okay, I’ll give you a simple answer for that. I think the minimal time that canvas prints need to dry before coating would be 24 hours, and I’ll just add a caveat to that – that you might need more drying time if you live in a particular humid environment, say it’s over 40-45 humidity. That case it may take up to 48 hours to dry, so you really need to plan this into your workflow. There is no “quick and easy” solution, I know everybody’s in a hurry to get those off the shelf and into the buyer’s hands, but I just really wanted to note that the 24 hour rule actually applies to almost any print. It’s the minimum amount of time I let my glossy photo or my fine art cotton matte paper prints dry before I mount, matte, or frame them. And, also, if a person is making their own custom ICC printer paper profiles, those prints have to dry for at least a day before you measure the color swatches or your profile may be innaurate. And that’s because prints do tend to darken as they dry, so, basically, 24 hours minimum. Could go up to two days if you’re in a humid environment.
So quickly, I just want to address why this is important. Everybody’s probably heard the geeky term “out-gassing,” now all prints go through this process – what is it? Simply, it means, “to evaporate.” Now along with water, aqueous pigment ink sets do have chemical compounds in them called glycols. They’re, mostly, it’s propylene glycol – they’re wetting agents – and as the print dries, people often think, “I just gotta wait for the water and the moisture to be released before I coat my canvas.” Well, it’s more than that. The chemical glycols also out-gas, as it gets released, and it’s important for it complete before you coat the print or matte and frame it.
Now if it’s just a regular print and you’re gonna put it behind glass, a phenomenon called “fogging,” or condensation, may occur on the glass. Once the print is framed, it’ll look like a milky substance and it can be oily to the touch, and therefore it’s really important for not only the water to evaporate, but for the glycols to be released. And it goes for all papers. So, if you’re varnishing canvas prints and they’ve not had enough time to dry or out-gas you can get trapped bubbles, ink-smearing during the coating, the canvas can sag later on, and you can have other problems.
So basically, coating too soon after printing or stretching too soon after coating can lead to those problems. And one more thing, just quickly, I want to note that just because a print is dry to the touch does not mean it’s truly dry or has had enough time to out-gas. And I’d say beware of manufacturers claims that “I’ve got this fast drying paper,” and you should never be touching a print anyways with your fingers. Always use cotton gloves. And before we go on to the next question, one quick tip: when I make my prints, I place interleaving sheets on top of them or between them if I’m doing multiple prints. And this really helps the drying process, it will accelerate it, it helps to cure the print. After maybe even a few hours or certainly one day, you’re gonna notice that sheet of paper starts to become wavy, and that’s due to moisture uptake. And if you have a print with a heavy ink load, such as canvas, that’s gonna become even more important. And you can change the paper or even with cotton matte after 24 hours and add a new sheet, so they provide protection from scratches and abrasions.
Now these are, you can buy these archival interleaving sheets or tissues at online art supply stores. I buy mine from Light Impressions, direct, or you can use clean newsprint, you know, the type that’s used for household packing, or even plain copy paper. But it does help accelerate the drying time, it’ll whip up some of those compounds, so I think that’s a tip I would like to pass on.
Justin: That was extremely and awesomely concise. I thought of about four or five sub-questions, you answered them all as you were speaking. So that was awesome.
Matt asks, “Which rendering intent should I choose when printing my photos?”
Renée: Oh, fantastic question that everyone gets. Back about 10 years ago when I first started printing and I took my first digital photography class, we used to make prints and people would always ask that: what are these ¬– rendering intents? What do they do? Why do we need them?
The answer from the instructor was, “Well I was always told that ‘perceptual’ was the right one to use for photographs,” and I would say, “Why-why-why-why?” “Well I don’t know, somebody told me.” And then you ask that person, “Well I read it somewhere.”
Well let’s just kind of take a look at what the goal of rendering intents are. What are they? Why do we need them? So in general with digital photography you can think of the entire process as sort of a funnel where you go from a very wide gamut at capture, to a smaller gamut at printer output. So the rendering intent process is really deciding what qualities of the image am I going to prioritize? And how do I handle out of gamut colors. That means the printer may not be able to print a color that’s in the source image. Now also note that these rendering intents are built into all ICC printer paper profiles, so it’s important when you make a print that you write down which rendering intent you use.
Now, when you apply an ICC profile to an image for printing, basically a decision has to be made on how you deal with these out of gamut colors. So the term “gamut” in this case, if people don’t know, it refers to the portion of the color space, like Adobe RGB, ProPhoto RGB, that your image is in – what portion of that can be reproduced by a device, such as a printer. So out of gamut simply means colors in the source file, your image, that can’t be rendered on the device to which you’re printing using a specific paper and ink set. And that makes a difference, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
So ICC rendering intents will control how the out of gamut colors are mapped to the destination output space. And so geeks can call it “source versus destination mapping.” So I hope that makes it clear what that is, basically.
Does that make sense to you?
Justin: It does, yep.
Renée: Okay, great, so, there’s three types of rendering intents, and one what is called a “varying” rendering intent. But there’s only two types suitable when you’re printing photographs and art works: perceptual and relative color metric.
Now, each of those two rendering intents have advantages and disadvantages and there are compromises made in the mapping process for both. Now each intent will place a different priority on how it renders colors within the output gamut mismatch region. That means when the printer can’t match the color that’s coming in on a 1-to-1 basis.
So, you know, let’s just look at each one individually. I’ll tell you what they do, the differences between them. Because the basic answer to the question is, there is no specific answer, you really have to test both by either soft proofing or hard proofing and it depends on how many out of gamut colors are in your image, it will depend on the paper you’re printing on, because, as you know, a matte paper has a somewhat lower color gamut than photographic papers – it depends on the quality of your printer, how many inks are in it, does it have 12 hanks, that’s gonna have more gamut.
So perceptual rendering, simply put, the goal of perceptual rendering is to produce an output rendering which is your print such that the color relationships are maintained overall that are pleasing to the viewer. And that is how that’s defined. So therefor, your color metric accuracy is sacrificed to achieve that goal. And that’s because all of the source colors, if they’re out of gamut, and they’re too big for what the printer can print, they’re compressed to fit into the destination color space. So when you’re mapping from the bigger space to the smaller space, perceptual rendering is actually going to shift the colors, even the in gamut colors, so they’re gonna be a little less bit saturated and somewhat lighter, while still trying to preserve the overall impression of the image and the relationships between the colors.
And what does that mean? It means it’s a good choice if you have a lot of out of gamut colors, and that’s something you can do in Photoshop or Lightroom, is there are checkboxes to click to look at what’s out of gamut. And that’s what I was always taught, but, as I began to print and noticed other manufacturers would recommend using Relative and the technology got better and better, such that printers can now render more and more colors, in fact there are printers that can print certain colors that are in ProPhoto RGB, which brings me to a point that I’ve made often before.
Work in the biggest color space you can, and then work your way down, like if you need to export the file to post on the web, but at least you have that because the printing technology gets better. So back to the issue now, what does relative color metric do as opposed to perceptual?
Relative color metric preserves all of the in gamut color and it will clip the out of gamut colors, whereas perceptual doesn’t’ clip, it tries to compress them within the space at the expense of what is in gamut. So therefor with relative, your color accuracy is maintained, as you don’t shift any in gamut colors to compensate for the out of gamut. And I hope that makes sense, it’s a little complex.
So with relative, you’re mapping the out of gamut colors to the closest reproducible hue in the destination, or the printer’s color space. Okay. So that really is kind of on the edge, you’re gonna lose maybe some of those colors, but if you’re actually doing post-processing with your photography and mostly you’re keeping things pretty natural, you’re not doing any far-out, overly-HDR processing, you know, most of those colors are gonna fit into the output gamut of a professional, modern inkjet printer. So therefor, I say, in most cases, relative color metric is the best option because your color accuracy is maintained, and there’s no saturation reduction for the in gamut colors unlike with perceptual.
So therefor, relative also provides higher color saturation than perceptual. So, do you have any questions about that? You’re gonna have to, you’re gonna have to make a proof – you can soft proof on the monitor, or what I like to do is just make a hard proof, and nine times out of ten I am using relative color metric.
So, also I have to say you should take into account the range of colors present in your specific image. I mean, just because your image is in a giant color space like ProPhoto RGB, doesn’t mean it’s utilizing all of those extreme colors. It could be pretty flat and not have that much color in it. So if the destination color space is gonna completely encompass those colors, despite being smaller than that original space, the relative color metric will actually give you a more accurate result. And again it’s gonna depend on the quality of your printer and it’s ink set. Like with the new Epson Ultra-Chrome HDR ink sets that have the green and orange inks on the X900 series of printers, they have a huge color gamut.
So therefor they’re less likely to have out of gamut colors than some inexpensive desktop printer that may have four, five, six inks. And again, not only does it depend on the printer but what paper are you printing on? Again, with photographic papers, metallic, glossy, luster, they have wider color gamuts and more saturation than the matte or the canvas. You’re gonna achieve a wider color gamut.
Justin: Yep, so lot’s of things to take into account, really: Paper, printer, and the image of course. So I guess the short summation, if I understand correctly, is that it’s basically image-specific with maybe a slight preference to relative color metric assuming that you’re using kind of a normal photograph that’s not overly edited with a lot of out of gamut colors. So it’s pretty hard to understand the differences between what the two different rendering intents, the two applicable rendering intents I should say, are doing to those out of gamut colors and I was just thinking as you were explaining, that it might be beneficial for us to include a kind of graph that I think we have laying around.
So I’m gonna include that graph that kind of shows what the perceptual rendering intent is doing versus the relative rendering intent to out of gamut colors in the show notes. So, listeners, be sure to stick around for the link to those show notes at the end of the episode. But I think we pretty much covered that question really, really well. So I’m gonna go ahead and move on to the third and final question.
This ones from Yvan, he’s with YvanBedardPhotoNature.com, and he asks: “Are there rules of thumb to selecting the best medium for various types of scenes?” He mentions textured versus smooth paper, canvas versus fine art and photo paper. He also mentions that he is a landscape photographer, so what’s your take on that?
Renée: Okay, first of all I want to make the comment that only the artist is going to be able to determine what type of paper will best convey their vision. I mean, there are no hard and fast rules of thumb for any given image. I mean like all art, the photographic images will speak to us in a very personal and even spiritual way, and I don’t mean to sound “airy fairy,” but it really depends on the mood you’re trying to convey and the emotional content of your particular image.
With that being said, I’m gonna provide you with some examples in a moment but first I just have a couple of recommendations that might be helpful. And again, it’s because I don’t know if Yvan is showing his work in person in a gallery, or if he makes the circuit in art festivals and sells there, or he has the opportunity to be one-on-one with the potential buyer, but first of all, I always recommend people print, especially when you’re just getting started with printmaking…print the same image on a variety of papers – both photo and matte – to determine what looks and feels best for that image. It’s the only way you’re really going to learn and to know that.
Now purchasing sample packs from manufacturers is really great for that, I always buy letter-sized paper so I can make multiple test prints. And after you print on a variety of papers for a while, you’re going to begin to know just by looking at your image what paper is gonna best evoke the mood that you wanna get across to the viewer. And you’ll also gain a lot of knowledge about the printing workflow and the process. So I mean sometimes, out in the field, I have a paper in mind when I’m just composing the image in camera.
Now, I used to be a resident artist at Studios on the Park here in Paso Robles for a few years and fortunately there I could meet potential buyers in person. So I would have a little book of small test prints output on multiple papers and that’s really helpful in the buying process, the decision-making process, because the buyer has a chance and makes a really deep connection with those papers when they can see them and feel them and they have a choice. They always go for the nicer, thicker papers, they perceive them, those substrates to have more value than a plastic-feeling, thin, photo paper.
And I also had photographs that were not for sale, they could be a canvas gallery-wrapped framed prints, or what I really like now are aluminum metal prints. And those sell like hot cakes, so I’d have them in a certain section of the gallery where they were not for sale so people could see options, so that’s helpful.
He could also try to get his work shown in a local gallery so people could make choices, because he seems to be worried, well, “are they gonna perceive this as art if it’s not on canvas?”
Another thing I’ve done through my website, or when people have contacted me, I actually have a little booklit of small print samples on various papers and I’m willing to sell them at a reasonable price to a potential buyer and then they can decide for themselves. I’ve done that probably about a dozen times, and I just curate the papers – maybe two photo papers, two matte papers, and mail them out and people are charged for that. Then they also have an investment in the buying process, once they can, you know, buy some small test prints and feel them.
So in regards to his comment about scenes of cornfields and vineyards, and he mentioned losing detail [inaudible] that don’t give good results: I agree. My advice would be don’t ever offer an image on a substrate that doesn’t make you happy. If you feel that is not in sync with your vision or the mood you’re trying to convey and you’re losing those important details, don’t use that substrate and don’t worry about a potential buyer may or may not think.
So, I’ll just go through some kind of standard, I don’t call them “rules,” but some substrates I use and why I use them.
I really love metallic papers, they make details really pop and they lend an image a 3D look and feel that I don’t think that anything else replicates. I have a real abiding love for shooting abandoned places, urb-ex photography, and that almost always requires the use of HDR because of the extreme contrast range. So metallic papers are really great for those types of shots or any types, you know, the interiors of these places often have equipment and machinery that’s gonna work well on metal.
Like if you have a subject matter that has metal or chrome machinery – you’re shooting old trains, cars, trucks, planes, industrial equipment. I mean, those are, obviously, best printed on high gloss substrates or in particular metallic paper. I know Breathing Color has their own metallic paper.
The other thing, I love, love to shoot the night sky. I’m really getting into light painting. And so I have a lot of images that have star points, star trails, the milky way. You just can’t print those images on matte or canvas, it just doesn’t work. You’re gonna lose those details. In that case, you go for the metallic or a high gloss like a fine art, like a Baryta paper, which I love.
On the other hand, I make some images that are texture blended. And that’s a popular technique in photography where you can take one or more textures, and by that I’m not talking about painting textures on an image, I mean you actually go and take photographs of objects like cracked and peeling paint on a wall, shoot some clouds, some water, some rocks, then you overlay the textures on top of your base image and reduce the opacity. Now there was an example of that in my latest article on Third Party Paper Settings in the Photoshop dialogue box where I’d taken an old fashioned postcard and overlaid it on top of an image at Avila Beach, there was a pier at sunrise, and it just worked really great.
Justin: Yeah that was a super-cool photo. What do you like printing that kind of thing on?
Renée: I would print that on a fine art cotton paper or canvas, in fact I sold that image on your canvas. There used to be a wonderful printer, that’s not moved down to Los Angeles, and he used Breathing Color Lyve and I don’t do my own canvas printing, it just takes a lot of time and I’ve got too much else to do. So that’s best sourced out, it’s not worth the time to me. And in that case, the texture-blended image, it works well, you could do that on a fine art cotton paper. I would use a texture like a cold-press paper that has more tooth than the hot-press. It’s perfect, when you’re doing texture-blended images.
The other things that are gonna work well on a matte paper, something where, you know, you want to convey a more subtle mood – like vintage, old, antique, nostalogic subjects such as those found in ghost towns, I love to go through ghost towns, you find all kinds of really cool things – it conveys a very painterly look, so that works well when you’re printing on cotton or canvas or any texture-rich subject that has, like Yvan mentioned, rocks – well, textures in there, or walls with chipped and peeling paint, rusty, crusty old objects, exterior shots of abandoned buildings or I want a more ethereal feel.
Or, scenes that just have low contrast, or if I’m out shooting and there’s a bald sky – by that I mean there’s no clouds – that works better. There’s nothing that prints worse than a bald sky on a really glossy paper. Also, you’re just trying to get that mood across. Or, if you’re a rainy or foggy day, that works great on a matte paper.
So I mean sometimes there are just emotions expressed in an image and you just don’t want to print it on a paper where it’s gonna shout. I mean, it just shouts out like a metallic or a super glossy with lots of details and saturation. Those can actually get in the way of the mood that you’re trying to express, so you just need to be more low-key. And again, that is purely an artistic decision. As I said, purchase sample packs, run test prints, and I’d say – you know, especially for people just starting out, I would hone it down, get two photo papers, maybe like a luster and a metallic, or in particular I really love the Bryta papers – those are papers that have barium sulfate coat, and they have a thick, like, fiber base. So they’re like the old dark room papers, and I did a lot of dark room work in my days. Then practice and pick two good matte papers, maybe a hot and a cold press, because if you keep dancing around, it’s so easy, there’s so many manufacturers and so many papers, you’ll never get good at printing on one paper and it’s just best to hone that down.
Get familiar with like four papers before you start doing massive experimentation on all these brands and types, or you’ll never be an expert. So I hope that gives you some idea of why I might pick glossy versus matte. And again, this is all “airy fairy,” it really is a personal or artistic decision. And I do not, ever, think about what this or that person wants. I’ve had so many people come through my gallery, and what one person likes another doesn’t. That’s a category for another podcast on trying to qualify what types of buyers, what is your target market, boy did I learn a lot with people coming in there. I had people coming into the gallery with ice cream cones, you know, holding it over a bin of matted prints, and just not taking it seriously.
So it’s a whole discussion, I mean, look how long it took in photography for it to be perceived as a legitimate art form and there are some people that still feel that way today. And with the use of smart phones and everybody posting on social media, there’s so many billions of photos out there. The value of it – I really think it’s so great that companies like Breathing Color offer these OBA-free excellent hot, cold pressed papers, the best canvas in the industry. When you have a chance to have a buyer hold that in their hand, they can do that in person, at art festivals, or in the gallery, or again, I sell them when people contact me – “well, what do you think?”
And if it’s a serious buyer, they just don’t want to go into Fine Art America or whatever, I mean, it’s just, you can’t control – I have a lot of people pressing me, “why aren’t you selling there?” Because I don’t know what the output looks like. They have metal, they have wood, they have acrylic. I mean, it’s insane. And I have to control that.
Justin: Yep, well I think you gave some great tips and the examples that you gave were really helpful with the, you know, different kinds of photography and, kind of what you would choose based on that and what kind of mood you’re trying to convey, I think that’s the most important thing I took away from that.
So, great answer, and that’s all the questions I have actually for today. So, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to do this interview and if our listeners want to find out more information about you, where can they go for that?
Renée: Just go to my website, it’s RenMarPhoto.com. That’s just a contraction of my first and middle names. Renmarphoto.com. And I really appreciate you having me as a guest, it’s awesome, thank you so much.
Justin: Oh yeah, it was great. I hope to get you on some more episodes in the future and thanks again for taking the time out of your day, I appreciate it so much.
Renée: Okay, thank you Justin.
Justin: Alright guys, that is it for today’s episode! If this is the first time that you’ve caught #AskBC, I hope that you’ve enjoyed it and gained some valuable insight from listening. I wanna thank Renée again for taking the time out of her day to join. She brought some valuable information to the table, obviously.
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We finally got our first review from Regman760, and he was just giving us some props on the Cleaning, Maintaining, and Storing the printer info we got from Ron on one of the previous episodes, so thanks Regman760, we really appreciate you listening and thanks for taking the few minutes it takes to leave that feedback on iTunes. Like I said, it’s just super helpful in letting us know we’re doing a good job and, like I said, that the information that we’re giving you guys is actually helping. For the show notes for this episode, you can visit ask-bc.com/episode11.
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