1 – Introduction: about printers
If papers are important, something I discussed in my previous essay, printers are just as important. After all, it is the printer that lays the ink that goes onto the paper. As such the printer is the worker, the intermediary between what we see on the screen and what we get on the paper.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, printers are default devices. This means that they do not play a creative part in the printing process. What they do is faithfully print the image according to the information sent to them by the computer and the software. This information consists of bits of data, zeroes and ones, coded information that needs to be accurate in order to duplicate our vision faithfully and translate what we created on the screen into an accurate image using dots of ink laid onto fine art paper. The creative part is taking the photograph then controlling the color and contrast precisely during the image conversion and optimization process. These are words which, philosophically speaking, essentially mean the same thing: expressing our vision for the image. However, these same words, technically speaking, mean controlling the three variables of color — hue, saturation and luminosity (or brightness if you prefer) — with great accuracy using not only visual clues but also RGB numbers. In the world of computers, printers and software, numbers are what is shared between devices. Printers, being default devices, do not understand Vivid Green or Cadmium Red or Cerulean Blue the way an artist would. They cannot make any sense of these terms because they are meaningless to them. So, software programmers replaced traditional (and inspirational mind you) art terms with numbers because numbers are meaningful to machines. Lamp black, pure black in digital photography parlance, is now 0.0.0. Magnesium white, pure white in digital photography speak, is 255, 255, 255. Payne’s Grey, the oil paint closest to photographer’s middle grey, is 128, 128,128, halfway between pure black and pure white. Using numbers instead of names is the inevitable consequence of converting art from analog to digital. It is a consequence we must get used to if we want to express our vision successfully because the problem with a default device, with any printer, in fact, is that they do exactly what they are told to do. That is unless they malfunction, which happens frequently with printers. Unfortunate problems such as ink clogs, paper jams and the empty ink cartridge warning that inevitably comes up an inch before the print is complete are to be expected. However, assuming the printer is in good working order and that things are running smoothly, default devices do exactly what they are told to do by the software and the computer and that is print specific RGB numbers that the printer sends onto paper as ink droplets of a specific size, quantity and color.
Printers are amazing and defy our ability to duplicate what they do with human means. They can create microscopic ink droplets sent from printhead nozzles smaller than a human hair. They have the ability to duplicate millions of colors. They can print on just about any paper, thick or thin, cotton or plastic, even on bamboo or metal. However for all they can do there is one thing they cannot do or rather one thing they won’t let us do, and that is interact with the printing process. That is the problem with default devices. They do not need our help in any way while they do what they do. In fact, they work best when left alone. If we were creating a painting we could interfere with the process of image creation. We could add color where we feel it is needed, increase the contrast if we find the image too soft, correct the composition if we find it unbalanced or if we need to change the shape or a specific element. However, when using an inkjet printer we cannot add red or blue, increase or decrease contrast, change the shape of an element or alter the composition in any way. To mention these actions to a printer engineer is akin to asking a French paysan their opinion about Camembert sold in sealed tin cans or bubbly red wine, flash-frozen baguettes or other culturally criminal creations. We better not for either we already know the answer in which case we are provoking them uselessly or we do not know the answer and therefore have no business expecting a response.
Fact is there is no way to modify the image while it is printing. We simply cannot do anything whatsoever to the print that the printer is not doing. We cannot open the cover, pause the machine and retouch an area. If something is not the right color we cannot add color or change the contrast or otherwise modify the image that the printer is printing. Anything we do during printing will be harmful to the print if not potentially outright destructive to the print, the printer or both. Simply pausing the printer for a few seconds to check how the print looks may result in causing the dreaded banding effect by letting the ink laid on the print dry out and look lighter, or darker, than the fresh wet ink laid after restarting the printer. And of course, any contact with the print head while it is moving back and forth across the width of the paper will send it whirling back to its resting place, an action accompanied with a sound that alerts us to the possibility that the printer may have to be restarted, repaired, or simply decommissioned.
Printers like to be left alone when printing. In fact, they want to be left alone. This is not a team effort or a group-collective creation. This is a printer to paper exercise, with ink sprayed from one to the other, a technical tour de force in which we have no place. We are tolerated as passive observers of a process we can neither improve nor alter and punished by malfunction and print or printer destruction if we dare to interfere with the process. In fact, we may even get harmed. Print heads move pretty fast and there are a lot of sharp edges in the entrails of these machines. This is only an artistic process in terms of input and output. If we do our job right the outcome, what we create on the screen and what comes out of the printer, is art. The process of creating the print however is best left to the machine alone. We are only asked to start the process and collect the outcome. Besides creating the image in the computer, adjusting the print settings, inserting the paper in the printer and retrieving it at the end, we have no business tending to the making of the print itself.
What is missing in all of this is poetry and poetic activities. Whenever technical terms dominate an activity poetry disappears, pushed out by the need to be specific and precise. Technical terms must be direct and efficient. They leave no room for doodling, reflection, daydreaming or flanage, the de-ambulatory process favored by poets in which one walks apparently aimlessly, along the streets of a city or the countryside, looking for something to observe, watching out for the activities of others involved in work or other doings. The flaneur by definition has nothing to do. His or her activity is to watch other people being active. The flaneur is in other words inefficient. Technology is the opposite of flanage because it is about having a specific task to achieve and finding the most efficient manner to do so. Technology has a goal. Technology is effective. Flanage is none of that. Instead, it is motivated by the desire to fainéantise, to be a poet, to muse, ponder and waste one’s time because waiting time is after all not such a bad way to pass time. In fact, it is fun, deliberate and a pied de nez to technological effectiveness. (To be continued in the next essay).
2 – About this series on printing
This essay is Part C in a series of essays about printing from Lightroom. Just like Parts A and B, it is organized as a set of instructions. For this reason, I recommend you launch Lightroom on your computer and open some images in the Print Module while you are reading it. It will be much easier to follow if you are working in Lightroom while you reading this essay.
3 – Color management
In the previous two essays, we have looked at Image Layouts and at Templates and Soft Proofing respectively. In this third essay, we are going to look at color management. Color management is the process of controlling how the image will be printed by a specific printer on a specific paper.
A – What color management includes
Color management includes the following:
– Adjusting the image brightness and contrast for paper printing
– Choosing the printer profile for your printer, paper, inkset and sometimes illuminant
– Deciding whether Lightroom or your printer will control color management. In that regard, I strongly recommend that you let Lightroom control the color management because this gives you the best results.
Color management controlled by Lightroom using the profile that matches your paper
Color management controlled by your Printer using the settings set in the printer dialog box
B – The Print job
In the Print Job palette, you can either export the selected photographs as jpegs or send the photographs to the printer. Here is when to use these two options:
Use Print to Jpeg File when you want to see a digital version of what the image will look like printed.
When you print an image as a Jpeg, unless you print only a single photograph Lightroom will place all the photographs in a folder. The folder and the photographs will have the name you type in Lightroom using the name you type in the Save dialog box that comes up after you press the Print to File button.
Use Printer when you want to print your photographs on paper.
C – Selecting the correct profile
In order to color manage your print, you need to select a specific profile for the paper you are using. You do this by clicking on Profile>Managed by Printer in the Print Job palette. This opens a drop-down menu that lists all the print profiles installed on your computer. In that list, you select the profile that matches your printer and paper. Be careful when making this choice because selecting the wrong profile can result in a print that looks very different from what you see on screen. It pays to look carefully and take your time when making a profile selection. You need to use the correct profile for the specific printer and paper you are using in order to get fine art quality prints.
If you do not have profiles for your printer you can select Managed by Printer in the Print Job Palette. You will need to select the correct profile in the printer dialog box. However, use this option only as a last resource, hopefully never, because the print quality will not be as good as if you have Lightroom control all the print job settings.
You can choose which profiles you want to appear in the drop-down menu by checking them here.
D – Print adjustment
Before sending your photographs to the printer you need to adjust the print brightness. You have to do that because once printed on paper your photographs will look darker than they look on screen. This is because an image on the screen is rear-lit while an image on paper is front-lit. Because of this difference, a print on paper will almost always look darker than the digital file on the screen. The Print Adjustment slider is designed to correct for this difference. Personally, I set the print adjustment to +10. That way the image prints brighter than it looks on screen and this compensates for the difference in brightness between the image on the screen and the image on paper. However, keep in mind that this difference varies depending on your system setup and screen profiling and for that reason you may need to adjust this setting differently or make a series of test prints to find the optimal print adjustment setting for your system.
E – Print sharpening
You also need to sharpen your images for print because once printed on paper your photographs will not look as sharp as they do on screen. You do this in the Print Job palette by setting the print sharpening option and the paper option of your choice. Lightroom makes the correct sharpening adjustments based on the print size, the resolution and the paper type you select. You will also have to select the media type in the Print Job palette, either Glossy or Matte.
4 – Creating a saved print
Once you have made all the settings for a specific print job you can save these settings by using the Create Saved Print command. This command, which is located at the top right of the main window, will save the image as a Print File and place it in the image collection you are working on. Each Saved Print will be saved as an individual file. All the layout and print settings you made will be saved. The file icon of a Saved Print is that of a printer.
Using this command allows you to save images you want to print or reprint later the same way you already printed it. After saving you will see only the image of the print you just saved in your filmstrip. To see the whole collection you were working on you will have to select it again in the Collections palette.
5 – Printing the photograph
The final step is printing your photograph. However, before we send the photograph(s) to the printer we need to look at the printer settings and select the correct settings.
A – Printer settings
Here are typical printer settings for fine art printing on the Epson SC-P600 printer. I selected this printer for this essay because it is an excellent printer for fine art and because many photographers use it.
When a paper profile is selected in Lightroom it automatically turns off color management in the printer driver.
This means that when you use this setting color management is controlled by Lightroom.
The same paper type and print quality settings but this time with profile > Managed by the printer selected in Lightroom.
When no paper profile is selected in Lightroom color management is automatically turned on in the printer driver.
This means that when you use this setting color management is controlled by the printer.
B – What the print buttons do
Page Setup: opens the Page Attributes dialog box in the printer driver from where you can select the paper size or enter a custom size.
Print Settings: opens the printer dialog box in the printer driver from where you can set the Print Settings.
Print: (visible when you select Print to Printer): sends the photograph to the printer directly. It does not open any dialog box.
Printer: (visible when you select Print to Printer): opens the printer driver dialog box where you can set the Print Settings and send the photograph to the printer from the same box.
Print To File: (visible when you select Print to Jpeg file): creates a digital version of the photograph and saves it to your computer. If you print several photographs they will be saved in a folder carrying the name you chose for the photographs.
Here are all the print buttons from the left to the right side of the Lightroom interface:
Page Setup and Print Settings
Print and Printer (prints the photograph on paper)
Print to file (prints the photograph as a jpeg)
6 – Sending the print file to the printer
The final step is to click Print to send the file to the printer.
The Preparing Pring Job progress bar comes up after you send images to print to keep you informed of the print job progress.
7 – Skill enhancement exercise
Here is the skill enhancement exercise for this essay:
Open Lightroom, load some of your photographs and practice the tips outlined in this essay. Because this essay is presented as a set of instructions, it will be much easier to follow if you are working in Lightroom while you reading it.
8 – What’s next?
This series is a series and you do not want to miss the next episode because it will focus on a review of my favorite printing papers.
9- About Alain and Natalie Briot
I create fine art photographs. Before that I studied painting and drawings at the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. I have published four books and over 500 essays in many different publications, both analog and digital.
Besides creating fine art photographs I enjoy landscaping, attending cooking classes, driving sports cars and restoring bicycles. Bianchi, De Rosa and ParkPre are among my favorites together with anything Campagnolo. I like Italian bicycles, components and cars. It has a lot to do with the passion that the artists and engineers place in the design of their creations. I also like wearing driving gloves and converse shoes.
My books, Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography andHow Photographs are Soldare available in eBook format on our website here. Free samples are available.
If you enjoy my essays you will enjoy attending one of the workshops Natalie and I teach together. There is a lot more to photography than reading about it. Nothing replaces being in the field, admiring the light, composing images, creating art, experiencing incredible locations at the best time with the best light. Great landscapes, great companionship, like-minded participants and learning about how to improve your work by finding out what works and what you need to improve upon, all combined to create unique events that will change how you approach fine art photography and will show you how to take the next step with your work.
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