I am surprised at how much further along the purchase of the Canon Pixma Pro-100 printer will take me. I spent most of yesterday with it, and made fifteen prints in various sizes and configurations - just experimenting. The first thing I noticed, of course, is how disappointed I am in my own work, which is pretty much "the word" given by everyone who already has something to say about the subject. It is so true, that until you print your photos using a professional set-up, you don't really know what you've got when merely looking at them on a computer monitor. I was expecting the initial disappointment, but really had no idea what actual problems I would encounter.
With my film camera shots, the biggest disappointment is seeing dust on the scans that wasn't otherwise showing up on screen. The Epson V500 Scanner I use does a fair job at digitally removing dust, with it's Digital ICE Technology, and also I use physical measures to keep dust off my negatives while scanning, but it took a printer to reveal that it isn't being done as completely as I had thought.
As for digital, most of my prints were made from shots taken with the EOS 7D last year, which as you'll recall was a camera I was really struggling with, and so I traded it for a Rebel T3i. Of course, what I was seeing in printed images shot with the 7D was a huge amplification of what I was struggling with, which is that camera's well known auto-focus issues. The EOS 7D has a focus micro-adjust feature, by which you set the sensor back-distance individually to optimize for every lens, and it took me several months to realize that making these adjustments is not an option - you absolutely must do it. Things did improve after I did the adjustments, but the only photos I would want to print were done before I made this discovery. Result? I was printing photos that were slightly blurry. I had suspected as much viewing them on-screen, but it really shows up in a horrible way when making big prints. Some of them might be salvageable using digital sharpening ("Unsharp Mask"), but when this is done, it's pretty obvious, and unless applied very subtly, it makes bad in the other direction with an obviously phoney sharpness.
Then there is an overall challenge that comes with printing, that when an image looks bright enough on-screen, it will probably look too dark when printed. I've always encountered this in the extreme when using my previous cheap four colour ink-jet printer, but with the Pro-100, this was much less noticeable a problem. Canon has equipped this printer with four additional cartridges - Grey, Light Grey, Light Magenta and Light Cyan, which, as their names suggest, all contribute "lightness" to the print-out in a way which a standard CMY+BlacK four colour printer cannot do. To ensure that I get good light, I pretty much select "Light" in the Colour Management Dialogue box for every print. This is a good step, but I think I need to learn quite a few more tricks to improve my printing. I did manage to get one result I'm fully satisfied with - the one at the top of this page was the last one I printed out last night. Before printing, I made a Gamma adjustment and a Local Contrast boost to the original TIFF File using Photivo, re-saved it, then used GIMP to change it to B&W (because GIMP does this best by far I have found). Then I printed the TIFF using Letter sized HP Lustre Paper, making sure I turned on the "Sharpen for Printing" option. Finally, I re-scanned the print as a JPEG using my Epson V500 set at 150 ppi. It looks great, and gives me hope that I might be able to master this, and come up with a decent Gallery Exhibit.
So, as I promised yesterday, I'm going to be mostly philosophical concerning my digital imaging efforts, so here goes.
Digital Imaging might be a bit misunderstood in one sense by die-hard darkroom aficionados. I'll agree entirely that there is something wonderfully magical in the craft of darkroom printing - something that truly adds deserved value to the actual results. But I've never set foot in a darkroom, and in fact, am only now just getting my feet wet with actually "finishing the job" using digital printing.
I made an interesting discovery yesterday when I tried my first full size 13"X19". I put the paper in backwards, meaning of course, I wasn't printing on the glossy side. Amazingly, when the print made it's way out of the machine, I saw that the ink wasn't drying at all, and just laying on the paper in blotches that wouldn't even make for a good watercolour! So up until then, I had always thought that the fast-dry capability was a function of the ink itself - this is so not true! It is actually a function of the paper. The glossy side of ink-jet printing paper has a gel-coating on it which instantly absorbs the ink, controls it's dispersion, and dries it all at the same time. I say this for the benefit of my darkroom friends who might say "the darkroom offers such a wonderful chemical process that you don't get with computers and digital printers". Well, my little accidental discovery makes me beg to differ - digital printing is also a chemical process, just as much as it's a computerized process! The ink and papers used must be designed to interact together chemically, otherwise it does not work. I had always wondered how an ink-jet print - even if made with a real cheap printer, actually feels like a real darkroom glossy - in other words, you don't really 'feel' the ink at all. Now I know why that is.