A post detailing the Top 5 Printmaking Tips,Tricks,Techniques – Print Quality, Nozzle Checks, ICC Profiles, and more.
1. The Importance of Using Accurate Print Settings, especially when Testing a New Canvas or Fine Art Paper:
In order to create a perfect print every time, the settings used to print are very important. When using the printer driver on an Epson for example, you basically have 2 crucial areas that need to be done right. First, the Color Handling needs to be set properly. When using a profile, this needs to be set to “Photoshop Manages Color” and the correct ICC Profile needs to be selected under “Output Profile”. Just as important, the correct media type that corresponds with both the media loaded and the ICC profile needs to be selected. The media type in the Epson driver controls the amount of ink that is output on a particular media. If too much ink (or not enough ink) is applied, this will seriously compromise the results of the profile. Typically, the media type is listed in the profile name so this should not be an issue. In looking at the example, the left side of the image shows output with the correct ICC profile, but the wrong media type selected. Notice how the image looks washed out and dull. The color may not be far off but this is not an accurate representation of how the image SHOULD print. The right side of the image shows the same file with the same ICC profile used, but with the correct media type. Notice that the image is more vibrant and the colors are respresented correctly when compared to the monitor (which is calibrated). When creating your own custom ICC profiles, it is best to test comparable media types to what you are printing to find the best results. Our Vibrance Luster, for example, most closely resembles Epson’s Premium Luster Photo Paper in both white point and ink capacity.
2. Optimizing Your Platen Gap (Head Height) Setting for Specific Types of Media:
This is one of the most commonly overlooked settings, but it does serve an important purpose. The Platen Gap refers to the print head height in correlation with the Platen (long, narrow reflective strip which runs across the width of the printer at the point ink is fired). Many common printing problems can be solved by appropriately adjusting the platen gap to accommodate the thickness of media that is being printed (see how by clicking here). For example, if the platen gap is set too wide when running a thinner substrate, this can result in poor resolution or sharpness in your image and banding as the ink is drying in the air on the way to the media surface. If you experience banding, try lowering your platen gap to the standard or narrow setting. Other problems, such as head strikes and overspray can occur when the platen gap is too narrow for a heavy substrate like canvas or a heavy fine art paper. This is caused by the print heads being too close to the surface of your media. A less obvious though more long term problem can also be created by running thick media using too narrow of a platen gap setting. While you may not see any headstrikes or immediate issues on your prints, your print heads may be quietly collecting debris by gently dragging along the surface of the paper or canvas. This can cause major problems of flaking down the road when this debris begins to fall off onto your media before the ink is laid down, causing white flakes (loose debris) to lift off after the print is finished, leaving white voids on the surface. It is always recommended to check with the media manufacturers recommended platen gap settings to avoid these issues. For example, our Lyve Canvas and Elegance Velvet Fine Art Paper work best on the “Wider” setting. Please refer to the chart for Epson Platen Gap settings.
3. Proper Ongoing Upkeep of Your Printer: Nozzle Check/Maintenance Suggestions
All printers will encounter normal wear and tear when printing day in and day out. In order to consistently print at the highest quality your printer can produce, it is important to keep the print heads in top condition. The easiest way to do this is by simply running a nozzle check (test print) every morning before printing. Not only does this show the current state of your print head, it also shows you if a cleaning is needed. Water-based printers (aqueous, pigment ink) have automated cleanings every 4-6 hours depending on the make and model, but you can also perform these cleanings at any time. Clogged nozzles or misfiring nozzles can cause many print issues including banding, inaccurate color output, decline in sharpness/detail, washed out colors, etc. Printing a nozzle check daily insures that you are always aware of the current state of your printer’s performance and makes it that much easier to maintain consistency. It is especially important to have a good nozzle check BEFORE creating ICC profiles.
If any nozzles are missing, this will drastically alter the accuracy of the profile and consistency. Taking 60 seconds every morning to perform this simple procedure will keep your printer running in “like-new” shape and extend its life significantly.
4. Generic ICC Profiles vs. Custom ICC Profiles: The Differences in Print Quality you will see
While most generic ICC profiles generated on another printer will work, in some cases this will not produce 100% accurate results. This is because every printer tends to “drift” from its factory standard overtime. Most new printers out on the market today allow you to recalibrate/re-linearize your printer to bring it back to “home”, but older models don’t have this capability. Custom ICC profiles are specific to your printer, ink and media you are printing on. This means that if your printer drifts over time, you can re-profile and get back the accurate color and consistency you originally started with. This also means that if you have multiple printers, you can profile each to get a match between them. The example shows the difference of using a generic ICC profile vs a custom ICC profile specifically built on the printer being used. When looking at one on it’s own, the generic profile may seem acceptable. But upon closer examination, you will find that there is a slight magenta cast to the overall image. This contributes to the cutting board having a slightly unnatural look and causes the fruit to appear darker and over saturated than they really are, most notably the apple. With a custom ICC profile (and a calibrated monitor), the image on the right accurately represents the fruit as they exist, as well as the cutting board appearing it’s natural wood finish. At the end of the day, it is best to invest in a color management device that will enable you to manage your own color and output professionally. The Eye-One Pro (X-Rite) has always been an industry standard, but the ColorMunki has proven to be an effective, low cost alternative to the Eye-One Pro. The ColorMunki is comparable to the Eye-One in terms of color accuracy, but is even easier to use (especially for novices to color management). Ultimately, if color output and consistency is important to you and your business, a color management device like the ColorMunki will insure that you get just that. And since that will also cut down on the proofing process, you will cut down on waste/reprints and lower your overall cost. Not a bad investment.
5. How Temperature/Humidity Can Affect Fine Art Printmaking, & What You Can Do About It:
Fine Art Giclee prints are almost always displayed in a temperature controlled environment, and your printer should be kept in one as well. Since humidity affects the way ink dries and the way certain media react, it is very important to have your printer in a controlled environment. The optimal printing environment is about 70 degrees F and 30-70% relative humidity. When the temperature is too hot or too cold, printer performance/quality can be compromised. To be more specific, ink may have a harder time drying when too cold, and when too hot ink may be susceptible to cracking. When printing and stretching canvas, low or high humidity levels can affect the end result drastically (from brittle, cracking edges to a stretched canvas that loosens over time). In other words, if you can avoid setting up your printer in a basement/warehouse definitely do so. Humidifiers/De-Humidifiers can be added to a troublesome room, but in an office setting running the air conditioning works wonders. An example would be setting it around 72 degrees. Since the air coming from the AC vents dry the air inside your room, it naturally lowers the humidity to a more manageable range. Getting a thermometer with a humidity reading is an essential, low cost item that should be found in every print room. The unit pictured was under $10 at the Home Depot.
What about you?
Have some ninja printer techniques/tips that you utilize? What do you think of these five? Let us know in the comments and stay tuned for future posts on the subject.
About Breathing Color
Breathing Color® is a leading designer and supplier of award-winning inkjet canvas, inkjet fine art paper, photo paper and print varnish. Breathing Color is focused on the fine art and photographic markets with products for Epson®, Canon®, HP® and Roland® Printers that lead the industry in color and longevity. Breathing Color’s customers benefit from the highest quality at competitive prices by buying direct.