Publishers Note: This is the first in our Getting Back To The Print series. We will be looking at printers, papers, RIPs, and tricks. We’ll have video conversations about printing as well as different ways to display prints. To me and all of us at Luminous-Landscape we believe that photography is all about the print. We hope you like this series as it continues through out the year.
Tao, according to Goggle: “(in Chinese philosophy) the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order”. Or from the Urban Dictionary: “The exact meaning of tao is untranslatable. Tao basically means everything. The tao is like a flow that is everywhere.”
But perhaps more in context, Derek Lin (on www.Taoism.net) points to some aspects of Tao from the teachings of Lao Tzu:
“……the truly wise don’t seem to do much at all and yet achieve whatever they want. This magic is possible, indeed unavoidable, when one is in tune with the Tao and acts without attachments.”
“……True virtue is a state where such actions flow forth naturally, requiring no conscious effort or thought.”
“……The basis for our reality and our existence is elemental and uncomplicated. Human beings create a lot of trouble for themselves by making everything more complex than they need to be. If we learn to simplify our lives, we can experience a profound satisfaction…..”
Well Dear Reader, “What’s in a Name……for software?” We’ll leave that for you to decide! ☺
SilverFast has a printing function called PrinTao; However, PrinTao 8 (PT8) is a completely new, redeveloped application from the bottom up. Users of SilverFast will not find a good part of PT8’s functionality in SilverFast. Only the name is about the same. For now, PT8 is a Mac-only application for a large number of Epson and Canon printers (see the list in the PrinTao8 website (http://www.printao8.com/), but development and support for other printers may well be in its future. It supports papers from Epson, Canon, Bonjet, Breathing Color, Canson, Hahnemuhle, Ilford, Red River, Innova, Moab, Tecco and Tetenal. Within the Mac OS environment, it can be installed on Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks and more recent. It is not compatible with Mac OS 10.8 Mountain Lion or earlier – nor will it be.
Philosophy of PT8:
PT8 is intended to be an independent, stand-alone application for printing large format photographs and any digital image in general; it bypasses the Epson driver and Colorsync, using a built-in drivers framework and colour management system.
LaserSoft Imaging (LSI) decided on this architecture in order to give them complete transparency of and control over the print pipeline.
PT8 is designed to minimize the amount of technology the user needs to know, putting most of it under the hood and allowing the user to focus on print quality, letting the software do the rest. LSI’s primary objectives were to focus on user-convenience and simplicity of operation. In this they have succeeded pretty well, as demonstrated below.
The main questions of interest to this review:
- What PT8 is and isn’t;
- Its main features and ease of use;
- Its print quality, including of course colour management and colour and tonal rendition.
What PT8 is and isn’t:
My take on much of the inkjet printing world is that, apart from higher-end users of RIPs, it essentially divides in two: those who work from image ingestion to print using Adobe Lightroom as one convenient integrated workflow, versus those who still prefer the multi-application workflows of Adobe Camera Raw or other raw converter, Adobe Bridge, Adobe Photoshop, perhaps a third party noise reducer, perhaps a third-party sharpener and then printing from Photoshop using the Epson driver or using a third-party print application. PT8 will be especially attractive to the latter group once the image editing and formatting is completed, say in Photoshop, or rendered (in TIFF for example) from a raw converter.
PT8 manages the selection, setting-up and printing of rendered digital images, such as TIFFs, PSDs, JPEGs. It does not print raw files, it does not do image editing (other than print-stage cropping to a pre-determined frame size) and it is not a design program allowing the creation of page layouts with text and photos – but it does have a rich palette of templates for layouts of photographs on a page or multiple pages. Of particular importance, image dimensions, resolution, output sharpening and edits to be made under soft-proofing should all be done in an image editor before opening the photo in PT8 for printing. PT8 does not do output sharpening, which is resolution-dependent; therefore when printing output-sharpened images, resolution and linear dimensions set in an image editor should be maintained in PT8 for optimum results. PT8 does permit viewing a soft-proof, however it cannot be used to edit colour or tonality. Most important for those printing layered images: it is essential to create a flattened version of the file for sending to PT8, because it will only recognize the background layer.
One of PT8’s key strengths is the range of image layout and positioning options it provides. There are 43 of them so far, and LSI may gradually create more of them. There is a free form template for placing photos exactly as you want them without any pre-determined constraints. There are templates for minimizing the wastage of paper when printing multiple images at a time, templates automatically placing photos for ease of cutting, and templates for various grid layouts of multiple photos or picture packages.
PT8 is meant to print photographs of any length your computer resources can handle. LSI has tested my Toronto skyline panorama, which is a 1 GB file 17 inches high and 5 feet long; they are confident it will handle much longer than that. Hence PT8 circumvents length limitations of some printers/applications.
In sum, PT8 is an application for printing a fully edited photograph, or sets of photographs, with minimum fuss and bother.
Quick Video Tour
Main Features and Ease of Use:
Anecdote: Because I have been successfully printing from Lightroom ever since version 4 provided softproofing, I had forgotten the arcane ways of the Epson driver, other than for turning off printer colour management and setting the paper size. I operate PT8 from Mavericks (OSX 10.9.5), and I now process my photos mainly in Lightroom 6.3 with infrequent recourse to Photoshop. To make the comparison prints for this review, I wanted to print the same photos using both LR5 (at the time of research for this article) and PT8. One attempt after another to make a print from LR5 failed. I kept getting an error message that the paper settings from LR and in the printer driver don’t match. It took me over an hour of patiently poking around the printer settings and the driver settings in both places to find the problems, because the “default” settings of the Epson driver and LR5 newly installed in Mavericks at the time just weren’t the same, and how many places does one need to visit for lining it all up: roll in one place versus sheet in another, type of paper versus type of paper, paper feed in the printer versus paper feed in the driver dialog, and on it went. I finally got it to print from LR and saved the preset. Turn over to PT8: several clicks on an integrated GUI and I was done. Lesson of experience: LSI has accomplished something very useful for those who would like to print painlessly without the trepidations of printer drivers and dual-sourced settings.
PT8 doesn’t provide access via your display to information about ink levels or low ink warnings, nor does it cater for any of the maintenance functions accessible in the printer driver; therefore installation of the driver is recommended even though PT8 does not use it for printing. Absent the Epson driver, if the printer runs out of ink, it will stop printing and you determine the replacement colour from the printer’s LED panel, replace the ink and continue printing. PT8 still delivers freedom from the driver for most intents and purposes.
PT8 comes equipped with a large palette of papers and canned profiles for each supported printer/paper combination. These are manufacturers’ profiles. Users can also populate the application with their own custom profiles, as I did for these tests. It’s a simple procedure. Unlike a RIP, PT8 does not support profile editing or adjustment of per channel ink laydown. A word about OEM paper/printer profiles: those I’ve worked with have improved very much over time (Epson and Ilford, perhaps others too, but I haven’t tested them). As well, the Epson printers PT8 supports are manufactured to rather uniform tolerances, hence a profile made from one printer will most likely be very usable on other printers of the same model. Manufacturer’s profiles can be better than custom profiles: it depends on the quality of the custom profile. Many users rely on high quality custom profiles, as do I, and PT8 supports them. However, if you have not been using custom profiles in the past and are satisfied with your print quality from the manufacturers’ profiles, PT8 simply lets you carry-on using them.
Installing the application is a breeze: no serial number; you slide a licensing file into a window that appears during the installation and you’re done. The application automatically picks-up your printer if it is turned on and recognized in the OS (you can verify this in Mac System Preferences>Print and Fax).
To make a print, the minimum you need to do is to choose from the following few selections directly on the main application interface “Start Pilot”; the GUI offers the choices that your printer model can handle (Fig 1).
Here’s about all you really need to do:
- If there is more than one identified printer select the one you want to use.
- Select the paper you want to use.
- Select whether you want draft, normal or high quality with or without finest detail (this affects printer dpi)
- Select your paper size (works with sheets and rolls)
- Click Create.
- The document window opens with a file browser to the left and a window conforming to the size of your paper in the centre. (Fig 2)
- Drag the photo from the file browser into the main window. [The file browser looks for photo files from the usual folders on your hard drive, and PT8 allows you to populate the browser from any other location on your hard drive.)
- Click print (make sure you have paper in the printer).
Your print is made.
This is the easiest possible case of single image printing, but using templates for multiple photos at a pass is not much more challenging.
Illustrations of selected templates are provided just below. Firstly, to fill a template, one drags the images from the left side browser to the central print preview window (Figure 3).
Free Form (Figure 4): one image (or more if you wish) is dragged from the browser to the central window. Notice the “Image Properties” box on the right, showing amongst other things the image dimensions and the resolution in PPI. At the bottom of both this box and the photo itself, there is a yellow-green-red bar with a grey button on it. This is a resolution indicator, for those who don’t want to be troubled with the arithmetic.
The resolution slider is a very handy device, worthy of some explanation here. PT8 can change image dimensions by clicking and dragging the image handles, but it does not resample the photo. This means there is an inverse relationship between output resolution and linear dimensions – to elaborate: the number of pixels in the photo remains fixed. Therefore, if you increase linear dimensions, the same pixel count is spread over more inches and the output resolution (pixels per inch) declines. The reverse happens when you reduce image dimensions. There is a range of output resolution values that will produce acceptable prints. Go too far below or above it, and image quality will visibly deteriorate. That is what the resolution slider tells you. As long as your dimensions are such that the grey button remains in the green zone (which is 200 to 400 PPI, Figure 4a), print quality in respect of this variable will be satisfactory; but if the grey button is either in the yellow or red zone, resolution is too high or too low for best quality prints.
Cell grid for different photos (Figure 5): To use this template, I selected the 9-photo 3.5*5.25 inch template from the right side, and dragged nine photos from the left-side browser, one into each cell. Where the layouts of the cells are the same regardless of the size of the sheet of paper, the dimensions of the individual cells vary proportionately. There are two ways of using these templates: either fit the entire photo into each cell, or “crop to fit” by clicking on the “Crop to Fit” button on the top ribbon of the GUI. When you crop to fit, the photo fills the cell frame, and then you drag the photo around within the cell frame to show the part of the picture you wish to retain in the print. This cropping DOES NOT crop the photo itself, only the representation of it in the particular cell frame of PT8. Crop to Fit applies to all the cells on a sheet when using the templates. However, the resolution of each photo can be adjusted independently.
Picture Package for the same photo (Figure 6): Here I selected one of the picture package templates and dragged the photo into the centre window. The same image enters into all the available cells. Because there is no resampling, the resolution of the same image is higher for the larger size and lower for the small size cells on the page.
Nested, Best Cut (Figure 7): In this example, I put as many photos into the Print Window as I wanted, and PT8 automatically arrays them in a manner that allows the user to cut the sheet into individual photos with the minimum possible number of cuts. This is quite ingenuous and handy, as those of us using paper trimmers can appreciate.
Nested, best fit (Figure 8): This is another kind of array of the same photos, this time PT8 automatically organizes them to fit in as few square inches of paper as possible. I can see this being particularly helpful to people making large numbers of prints at one shot from a roll feed, where getting maximum mileage per square foot of paper saves money.
When ready to print, the Print manager (Figure 9) in the lower right corner of the interface provides a last check on the settings that matter: your choices of printer, paper profile, print quality, paper source, rendering intent and number of copies and pages to print. All of these settings are adjustable from this interface at any time before printing. When satisfied, click Print.
The Bottom Line – Print Quality:
As pleasant a user experience that the interface is, what I like best about this application is that it makes fine prints.
Of course, given all the printing options out there, judging print quality is perhaps best done as an exercise in relatives, not absolutes. From this perspective, the question on many readers’ minds would be – does this make equal or better prints compared with “X”? So what is “X”? For me, it has been printing from LR ever since LR appeared with softproofing. My normal workflow, save for the occasional excursion into Photoshop, is to use LR from file ingestion to final print. I print with an Epson 4900 and my mainstay paper is Ilford Gold Fibre Silk.
I selected four photographs that together portray the needful for this comparison, shown in Figure 10. The upper left photo was made at the Neruda residence/museum in Isla Negra Chile. I selected it for evaluating blues, greens, red and shadow detail, and the smoothness of tonal gradation in the sky. The upper right photo was made aboard a Scandanavian Airways flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen. I selected it to evaluate orange, red, magentas, purples and the subtlety of the tonal variations in the clouds. The lower left photo was made in the Arctic. I selected it to evaluate yellows and shadow detail. The lower right photo was made in the Arctic, and I converted it to B&W in LR. I selected it to evaluate grayscale rendition and neutrality. The three landscape photos were made with my Sony NEX-6, and the one from the aircraft window with my Canon 1Ds Mark III.
The printing workflows are of course bespoke to the applications used. Everything starts in LR with raw file conversion and edits for tonality and colour. The set printed from LR were then opened one by one in the LR Print module, my custom profile for IGFS selected and the print resolution set at 360 PPI, Relative Colorimetric Rendering Intent and Standard Glossy output sharpening. The set printed from PT8 had to be rendered from LR, done by exporting them to my hard drive as non-compressed TIFF files at the same output resolution of 360 PPI. I then opened them in Photoshop and applied PK2 Output Sharpener for the same conditions as in LR: 360 PPI resolution and Glossy Inkjet Print. I then flattened the files and imported them into the PT8 browser, printing each one at the same resolution with the same printer profile as I used in LR. The main change to these files between the LR workflow and the PT8 workflow is that for the latter they became rendered TIFFs.
I took care to label the source of the PT8 set on the back of each print as being “PT8”. Print size is a close fit to a 13*19 inch cut sheet. The most striking thing about the comparison is how difficult it is to tell them apart. If you look long and hard enough at the Neruda print, there are two minor differences: the white of the boat is ever so slightly brighter in the LR print, and the shadow detail in the lower right corner ever so slightly better seen in the PT8 print. The orangey-red of the aircraft engine is ever so slightly more saturated in the LR version. For the lower left print, the shadow detail in the slopes of the mountains is ever so slightly better rendered in the PT8 version. For the B&W prints and for all other aspects of the colour prints, I fail to see any meaningful or systematic difference between the two sets of results. Even the differences I mention here would be “lost in translation” were I to scan the prints and reproduce the scanned files in this review. In sum, I’m a happy camper with the results from PT8 – anything that resembles LR quality so closely is fine for me.
There are folks who obsess about the neutrality of B&W prints. I don’t because I generally vary the temperature of the B&W prints to suit the subject matter, more often than not warming them up a bit. HOWEVER, for the benefit of those to whom this matters, I hauled out my spectrophotometer, fired-up ColorShop X (remember that very handy <Color Scratchpad> that no longer works on anything beyond Windows XP thanks to X-Rite’s counter-productive obsolescence policies?) and made some L*a*b* measurements (fortunately I kept on old PC with Windows XP just to use for this application, because nothing as handy has ever been made to replace it).
IGFS paper is quite neutral to begin with. Ilford’s stated a* b* values are -0.5 and +0.2 respectively. (Perception of non-neutrality may set in at +/- 2.0 on either axis, especially for prints looked at in isolation.) Its L* value is 97. I made two PT8 versions of the B&W print – one on IGFS, and one on Epson Cold Press Natural. The red markers on the B&W photo in Figure 10 show approximately where I took the readings. I selected a tonal range from light grey to the darkest black I could identify on the print, making 5 readings per print. The areas I selected for measurement are purposely quite monotonous within each “zone” to be sure it’s an “apples to apples” comparison. Figure 11 shows the read-outs from ColorShop-X. When you compare the L*a*b* readouts for the same zone between PT8 and LR, it’s on the whole striking how similar and how close to neutral they are. The interesting comparison with the Epson matte paper of course is how much deeper the black is on the IGFS, explaining the richer appearance of the IGFS results, and why I stopped using matte paper the day Michael Reichmann and I tested IGFS.
As PT8 is being supplied for use with professional printers up to 64” carriage-width, it is catering to a market ranging from the hobbyist to service bureaux or volume printers who value enhanced productivity features in a workflow. The various templates illustrated above plus the option for users to build their own templates are major assists to high productivity printing.
Depending on the size of your printer, prices start at $99 for 13 inch printers and go up to $699 for 60-64 inch printers. For example, the 17 inch edition is $299.00.
PrinTao 8 is available as a direct download from the PrinTao 8 website: http://www.printao8.com/store/ .
This product is highly recommended for users who wish to simplify their printing experience using high quality print software and are willing to print from non-raw versions (JPEG, TIFF, PSD) of their raw files.
Be sure to check this thread on the Forum for comment and updated information from the PrinTao developers.