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Fine Art Printing: Advice & Tips

Printing your work makes your dreams become tangible…

I was creating fine art conceptual work for about a year before I thought to print my work. It was a definite turning point in my journey as a photographer and artist. Seeing one’s own printed work is a massive motivation, commitment and inspiration all it itself.

I have been contacted on a number of occasions for advice and tips about printing for the first time. The same happened again just recently when a fellow local fine art photographer and friend contacted me for such advice. I had been preparing an article on this subject for quite some time, so his message to me was a good reminder to get that done and share what I sent him.

This is how I went about printing my work for the first time and what I learnt along the way...

My first piece of advice would be to find a printing lab that you are able to go visit and preferably speak to the printing technician themselves. This needs to be a professional printing lab that specializes in fine art printing. Do your research and choose one that is known for their personalized and excellent service. Make an appointment to meet with them, show them your portfolio and share your vision with them. Once you have identified a suitable printing lab, then things get much easier.

Get them to show you their various fine art papers and other printing options and mediums they have. Be specific to look at their fine art printing and options that are archival certified. Typically though, these come in smooth and textured fine art papers. I noticed that in South Africa we generally do not have a massive array of options to what is available from most of the fine art paper brands. They typically only have one or two options of each. This somewhat simplified some of the decision for me though. Get your printer to show you examples of work printed on the various options and see what you are attracted to. Also think about why specific printing options appeal to you and why.

For my fine art conceptual work I print on Hahnemuhle German Etching fine art paper. It is a textured paper that I feel suites the type of work beautifully and gives it a more aged/vintage look. For my other work, like beauty portraits and a few other projects, I use a smooth Photo Rag fine art paper. This is a personal preference though, so choose a paper that you feel matches the look and feel of your particular work or specific project.

Your next step is to do test prints. These can either be some really tiny prints of the full image, or strips/sections of prints at larger sizes for specific portions of images you may want to be sure of before printing the full image. In my case, I chose to print out a number of images from my portfolio as tiny 100 x 100mm prints. Printing labs may charge you to do test prints, or at least charge you at a reduced rate. Although in most instances, they will do this free of charge as a service to you.

Various printing options will have limits as to what size prints can be printed at. Be sure to check this with your printing lab i.e. do not choose a medium or paper choice that cannot print the size prints you would like to offer in your print range. For example, the widest paper my printing lab has available in my paper of choice is 1100mm. Therefore, I cannot offer prints in this paper option at 1200mm wide.

Bear in mind that because of the medium, printed work can look very different to what it does on a computer screen – particularly darker images. Have a look at the work digitally on the printing technician’s screen first before printing. The screens at your printing lab should all be colour calibrated, so make sure your images still look the way you expected them to compared to your own screen. For darker images, preferably always do a test print so that you can fine tune your printing files if necessary or lighten the darker sections.

My printing lab charges per cm of paper and they have different prices per cm for the various width options. This means one can use the full width of the paper and still only pay per cm of length. Therefore, always plan your printing jobs accordingly to make full use of the paper per cm to get as much value from every print job. For example, if I want to print a 400 x 400mm print, then my printer would print this on the 610mm wide paper roll. I then also get them to print an additional two 200 x 200mm prints along the side of the 400 x 400mm print to make full use of the 610mm wide paper. My printer then trims these for me into separate prints.

Before deciding on what sizes you are going to offer your prints at, be sure your work can print at a sufficient quality at the various sizes you choose – particularly for the bigger sizes. Check the canvas size of your files and view them at 100% to be sure they do not pixelate. Your printing technician can also advise you accordingly on this if necessary.

Check with your printer as to what file format they would prefer to receive files for printing. My printer prefers .tiff files, so I prepare these specifically for him and also do any lightening for my darker images, or colour corrections I may prefer.

I would suggest always printing your work with a border – I always specify to my printer that this needs to be a white border. Not only do I feel this protects the edges of the print, but it also makes mounting and/or framing easier without having to crop into the image. Should you want to later frame any images in borderless frames, then the prints can always be trimmed by the framer if necessary. I typically print my bigger works (i.e. 400 x 400mm and larger) with a 250mm border. My smaller works with a 150mm border.

I also use the white border around my images to sign and edition my work. I sign and edition my work in pencil in the border at the bottom of the image.

Before offering your work as prints for sale, decide on whether you are going to print your work as limited edition or as open edition. Once you decide that, then you can decide on the range of size prints you want to offer and what your edition sizes will be (if you decide to offer them as limited edition).

To give you an idea of what edition sizes look like, here is mine:

200 x 200mm: Editions of 15

300 x 300mm: Editions of 10

400 x 400mm: Editions of 7

600 x 600mm: Editions of 5

800 x 800mm: Editions of 3

Deciding on your edition and print size ranges is a personal preference and there is no wrong or right choice. Choose what you feel comfortable with and what matches your long term vision for your work.

Let me know if you have any feedback or further questions.

Happy printing!

I have a few more articles planned about various subjects. Next up is an article on framing. Let me know if you have any questions about this or other topics you would like me to cover.


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