Preparing Digital Files for Printmaking

Understanding the Basics

Getting Started

Think about what you need to achieve before you pick up the camera.

The best way to make a great print is to know what one actually looks like. The only way to learn is by looking at a whole lot of work from great printmakers throughout history, and hopefully the best of your own time period. Looking at photography books is nice but is really looking at a simulation of a print not a real artwork (unless you are a book artist). There is no substitute for the real thing.

Everyone should develop his own style and sensitivity toward making unique prints to suit their own imagery, aesthetic, and shooting styles. There is no one desired aesthetic, but there are good tools for capturing and getting on paper more accurately what you have in your mind. “Print quality” is a matter of what you want to achieve within that realm. The great thing now is that we have so many more choices and possibilities with digital imaging and pigment printing than we ever did in decades past. We are not restricted to working with whatever paper, chemistry, or film that came in a box from Kodak, Fuji, Agfa, or Ilford with all the restrictions and inconvenience that went with that technology. Those choices were hardly any choices at all, but they did often produce a lot more dedication among the practitioners. Sometimes I feel like it is just too easy with programable digital cameras these days and it tends to make people lazy. The faster things get done often the less thought goes into them. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The most important thing to consider is the quality of the photographic image itself.  Remember the old computer axiom, garbage in – garbage out. Yea, this is elementary stuff, of course, but you would be surprised at how many veteran photographers don’t take the trouble to operate their cameras they way they need to. One of the most common reasons for poor photographic results is sloppy FOCUS. The use of a tripod and cable release for long exposures or shots done in low light levels is a very good idea, and STOP DOWN the f-stop when you need to. Know what the depth of field preview button is on your camera and use it! So many people are not concentrating and don’t pay attention to the actual F Stop and Shutter Speed settings on their dslr cameras.  Often people think that auto focus and auto exposure is going to produce great results, it usually doesn’t. If you are not on top of it with every frame your camera is not going to save you. Note the settings you are using and always observe them in the METADATA information in ACR or Lightroom as well as in the camera while shooting. Preplan what you want to set a camera on BEFORE you arrive at a location and write the settings down for various applications and consciously think about them.  Observe how aperture settings alter sharpness and depth of field and how they influence the degree to which you can hold a camera steady. Observe how lower ISO settings give you sharper texture and finer tonal capability and color depth when viewed in a Raw form on the computer and eventually printed.

High ISO settings up to say 1600 and even higher can be used if exposed properly for specific purposes. However the speed comes at the expense of more noise.  Major noise reduction that is usually applied to these high ISO files produces less sharpness and softens fine detail in a file. Look at it at high magnifications in the image-editing program. Just as in film, it’s a compromise between the two, quality and speed. With greater capture speed image information suffers. This is more apparent if larger prints are desired especially when done on gloss type photo papers. Noise and sharpness problems are also more apparent when brighter colors and contrast is desired. Some people use noise as a desirable element and a creative texture. That’s cool, and when done well it can be very effective. But it should be consistent across a body of work or series of images, not just something that creeps in because of technical ignorance or convenience.

Scanning Film or Prints

If you are working from a scan, the quality of the scanning itself usually becomes to primary factor in the quality of the file. Most consumer flatbed scanners have a limited dynamic range and can result in poor shadow and highlight detail, clipped colors, and usually poor sharpness. Banding  ( distortions in the subtle transitions between light and dark) also greatly suffer from a scanning device with a limited dynamic range. Keeping the film flat is also a huge issue with both flatbed scanners as well as most of the less expensive film scanners. Some of these less than professional film scanners that do a decent job are the Nikon Super Coolscan 8000-9000 (medium format down to 35mm) and the Epson Expression V Series flatbed scanners, especially for larger films. You still have dynamic range limitations, but you do have the capability to “fluid mount” under glass by using a clean mounting fluid that will add to sharpness, increase the dynamic range somewhat, and eliminate most of the scratches and dust that is a HUGE problem with scanning film. However, you get what you pay for. In most cases it is better to outsource your scanning to a service bureau that has a fluid mount drum scanner. Good drum scans done by a good practitioner can even out perform most digital cameras, except for the ultra expensive ones, and give you a file that is as big as you need for very big prints. They also can save all the headache of having to spend hours in Photoshop retouching out all the dirt and scratches picked up on scans from less expensive CCD film scanners. Drum scans are taped to a drum so the sharpness is always totally consistent and the film can’t buckle during scanning. Drum Scanners PMT sensor technology also records a lot more shadow and highlight information than can be obtained by less expensive film scanners or dslr cameras, and they exhibit far less noise, especially in the shadow areas. The fluid mounting removes scratches and dust in the film that can take forever to clean up.

Many people believe that the Aztek Premier is the end of the line for high end drum scanning. Essentially a refinement of the Howtek Hi-Resolve 8000, it produces super large files from all film formats and captures more information on your film than you even knew was possible

 

And, no an Imacon CCD scanner is NOT a drum scanner by any stretch. It is a higher-end CCD scanner, which is essentially a digital camera turned on its side and can not produce the dynamic range and color depth of a good drum scanner. The truth of the matter though is ALL film scanners are on their way out. Most of the top scanner companies don’t even exist anymore and the ones that do are becoming marginalized. Don’t expect to see a lot of improvements or innovations in film scanning technology. The number of photographers of all kinds shooting film for digital output these days, or any kind of output has shrunk dramatically in just the last 2 or 3 years. And, it was already at a low level for the last 10 years. Scanners are just about gone as a major tech industry now.  All the research and development is going into better and cheaper digital cameras of all kinds. But for those of you wanting to continue to shoot film, especially large format film, or the ones who have a lot of valuable backlog of film already shot, drum scanning is the way to go if you can possible arrange it, especially if size and tonal subtlety are what you are after.

Scanning prints is generally considered a poor way to reproduce a subtle image compared to direct digital capture or scanning good film. You can think of of it as like making a darkroom print from a paper negative as apposed to a film negative. However, there are artists who scan prints and even all kinds of found objects all the time to create their artwork in the computer. Although print scans will never have great sharpness or dynamic range capability compared to scanning film, a decent flat bed scanner for scanning prints is very cheap by comparison and all kinds of interesting things can be done with these files later. You also can make huge files from flatbed scanners and blow them up for really big prints at almost no cost on the scanning end. If you are not into super photo quality and are more inclined to softer more experimental imagery from found objects and documents, check them out. You can buy an entire flatbed scanner that will last for many years for about the price of a 4 or 5 good drum scans. But these are different solutions for quite different problems.

Quality of Recorded Information from the Digital  Camera:

Shoot Raw!  One should always shoot in raw format to preserve everything your camera is capable of rendering. A jpeg restricts the dynamic range and edge sharpness is also affected. Jpeg is primarily a format designed for viewing files on a screen.  It may be quicker and easier to shoot in jpeg format, but you inevitably pay the price of reduced quality when it comes time to make the best possible print. Don’t judge the capture from the image in the viewfinder. Look at the histogram, and learn how to evaluate what it means. The histogram is what is primarily going to show you want you have in the file. Jpegs clip luminosity or color content in a file before you even get it into the computer.

Lighting is critical to making an intelligent photograph, and often it is the last thing amateur photographers think about. Lighting is also the least understood and most poorly executed part of most photography. Often people who know they just made a good photograph don’t know why they like it, and often the reason is they lucked out and lit it well. Stay away from creating flair that degrades both color and sharpness by not shooting into the direction of the light source, unless it is for special effect and central to the photograph.

Check out the photograph by Sabastiao Salgado of the students in the refugee camp in Afganistan as an example of how to do it right if you do need to shoot toward the light source.

 One of the greatest photographers of our time. When it comes to disciple of craft, look into this work – http://www.unicef.org/salgado/

When it comes to capturing as much data as possible, try to expose where the bias is to the right of the histogram in most cases. The brightest one stop contains 1/2 of all the values in a file. Comparatively little info is recorded in the shadows, which is the reason that shadow detail, especially at high ISO numbers can become noisy very fast. Finally, watch your histogram in the camera to make sure that your brightest values are not being clipped.

One exception to the expose to the Right rule is when shooting at high ISO settings of over 400 ISO, or when shooting jpegs, especially ones that are not 16 bit. Both of these setting have limited quality pixel data to start with.

The expose to the right image will typically look bright when loaded into the Camera Raw or Lightroom software. This is normal. Your files should be normalized in ACR or Lightroom, NOT in the camera. You may want to set your camera to observe the three color channels R-G-B. Find the optimum use of capture for your camera – Don’t Trust the LCD Screen. The best way to evaluate the file is to open it in ACR or Lightroom. This is why people often take laptops on location with them for critical work. Once you find settings that work well with the subjects and kinds of light you normally use write those settings down and use them next time.

Calibrate your monitor. Don’t try to seriously evaluate a file on a monitor that isn’t calibrated. Calibration software like Eye One by X-Rite or the Spider 2 Pro by Colorvision will work very well on any monitor, including laptops. The Nec calibration software works especially well with the new Nec Spectraview lcd displays but not with other systems.

  When calibrating your monitor most people use 6500 Kelvin color temperature setting and a gray gamma of 2.2 (which is the native gamma of Pro Photo Color space) which is not to be confused with printer gamma settings. Gamma settings express the way the gray scale is represented through the luminance information of color capture. Light levels on your monitor need to remain the same from day to day. Don’t set your monitor anywhere near an open window or bright room light.  If your screen image begins to look odd you may have a damaged monitor profile. In that case recalibrate your monitor. Most people recalibrate their monitor about once or twice a month. It should warm up for about an hour or so before you attempt to calibrate it.

After you optimize the shot in the camera you want to optimize the file in the processing of that file, either in ACR or Lightroom. If you know you are going to crop out a portion of the file you might want to do that before doing critical tone and color management of the file, then optimize the image by checking the WHITE BALANCE to remove any color casts. Use CLARITY to punch up mid-tone contrast. Clarity is related to unsharp mask and can also give the impression of greater sharpness. Digital capture needs to be punched up usually to give life to an image. It is very common for an image to look dead and dull right out of the camera. That’s usually good in that you want to capture all the data you can to work from in post processing. Just like in scanning, you can throw out slight amounts of information later but if you haven’t recorded it in the first place you don’t have a chance.

After white balancing and adjusting clarity and shadow settings, then work with the Point Curve in ACR or Lightroom. Working in Lightroom and ACR are used for GLOBAL adjustments. Localized adjustments are often, though not always, best done in Photoshop as things stand today with the software. You can do this by making selections and layer masks. Photoshop is still superior for any major pixel manipulation and retouching, as well as final noise reduction and sharpening. However, with the new Adjustment Brush in Lightroom the newer parametric programs are quickly moving into the Photoshop realm of giving the photographer localized control over selected areas of a picture. Learn everything you can about Curves in Lighroom and Photoshop because this is the most important tool to work with most tonal and subtle color adjustments in all kinds of files.

Noise Reduction and Sharpening

It is better to have a file that is slightly noisy and sharp than not sharp and totally free of noise. If it comes down to being able to hold your camera still or choosing a higher ISO it is better to choose the higher ISO. Newer versions of ACR, Lightroom, and Photoshop have improved demosaicing and noise reduction. This is a good example of how RAW files can be improved later on with refinements in the software capability. It is well known that working with a RAW file gives you the ability to achieve pretty much the same image quality as a file shot with half the ISO setting. In other words you can maintain image quality of a 100 iso capture when shooting 200 iso if this image is not opened directly into Photoshop.  The workflow is a balance between rendering fine detail and reducing noise created by digital sensors. On low-res monitors it is very difficult to see the exact effects of sharpening and noise reduction on a final print. There is no substitute for doing hard proof tests. Some good Photoshop plug-in for reducing noise in a more refined way are: Noiseware and Noise Ninja. It is difficult for noise reduction software to distinguish between high frequency noise and high frequency detail that you want to keep. This is why it is always a good idea to do this noise reduction on a LAYER COPY that can be clicked on and off. You can also have the added advantage of sliding the OPACITY SLIDER of the layer to gently fade in and out of the noise reduction layer while making test prints. Too much noise reduction and too much sharpening can clip highlight information in a file so be careful of the extremes. You can also PAINT IN noise reduction and selective sharpening by sharpening, making a snapshot in Photoshop layers palette of the effect and, painting it in with the HISTORY BRUSH only in the areas needed. Ultimately evaluate the result of these processes in the final print. You can then make PRESETS of the parameters of this sharpening and noise reduction for future use with similar subject matter with similar cameras and similar ISO settings.

Photoshop Color Settings

Incorrect or mis-assigned color space settings in the computer can really goof up a print. Pro Photo has now become the preferred color space for both the camera setting and Photoshop Color Space. This is because it will contain more varieties of color than any other color space. Click the box that says preserve embedded profiles –RGB. Click the box that says “embedded profiles”. When opening a file that was saved in a previous color space, like Adobe 1998 RGB, or srgb, Colormatch, etc, do not convert to PRO PHOTO from a file of a smaller gamut (really all color spaces at present are smaller than Pro Photo). You can’t create color information that isn’t in the pre-embedded file by converting it to a larger color space afterward. But you can shrink down a larger color space to a smaller color space for special needs, like down to srgb for the web, email, submissions, etc.

If you do need to do color correction and tonal correction in Photoshop always try to import your Raw file into PS as a 16 bit Tiff or PSD document. The more color depth you have to work with the better. Every single adjustment to color and tone in PS will eventually clip and throw away information. And like discussed before, pixel information is a lot more vulnerable to these alterations than Raw parametric data. So, you have very little pixels to loose in a 16 bit raw format and almost none to loose in an 8-bit file, especially a jpeg. Keep an eye on the Histogram in Photoshop just like you do in ACR or Lightroom. If you see clipping on the extreme right or left you know you are loosing something there. If you see white missing sections inside the histogram, you are loosing midtone information, either in the color channel, the luminosity channel or probably both. This is the case either with a film scan or a digital camera capture. Always work in as high bit mode as you possibly can even if it takes longer to process in Photoshop. Bigger files take more memory of course and take even longer to process. When you add a background layer that doubles your file size also. So, there is a lot to think about. In the future we will have cameras that capture in higher than 14 or 16 bit and at that point computers will have to be even faster and a bigger. That is one very good reason to start doing everything you can in the RAW parametric edition programs of ACR and Lightroom.

Current inkjet printers, both pigment and dye based can reproduce a lot more color gamut and a lot more luminosity (gray color content information) than any analogue type C process, Cibachrome, etc. But even then most of these printer inks cannot reproduce the whole gamut of a PRO PHOTO color space, nor can even the best displays. However, the more color range and depth you have in a file to begin with the less damage the file is likely to encounter when correcting in post production, either in ACR, Lightroom, or especially when rasterized in Photoshop. As a rendering intent, I recommend using Relative Colormetric. This intent keeps the relationship between the original file and the print file close and reduces any unnecessary white point changes in neutral areas. Some people may want to use Perceptual for certain cases where they can’t achieve the rendition of a particular color to its greatest saturation. However, you have to realize that using Perceptual can also change the relative importance of a color compared to the overall relationships of the original file as it appears on the monitor. Perceptual rendering intent compresses all color to a printable space. It usually lightens and desaturates to avoid any gamut and luminosity clipping.  Relative Colormetric rendering intent clips off only the colors that can’t be reproduced.  So a good rule of thumb is to use Relative Colormetric rendering intent unless you run into a situation where you can’t achieve the very specific HUE or SATURATION of a color. Then you can try doing a test when the file is converted directly from the RAW file to the Photoshop color space of Perceptual. You can’t go back and accurately convert a Relative Colormetric embedded file to a Perceptual file however and expect to see that difference. A good book to greater understand digital color management is Real World Color Management by Bruce Frasier . Also reading the section on color management in the books Photoshop For Photographers CS4 or CS5 by Martin Evening is a great place to start for most photographers.  Save your color settings in the Custom pull down for a particular purpose. You could save for PRINTS, for WEB, etc. and use them when needed.

Soft Proofing

Create the Proof Viewing Profile:

With an appropriate rgb file open in Photoshop – Go to VIEW>PROOF SET UP> Click on Custom> In the pull down menu that says DEVICE TO SIMULATE choose your correct PRINTER ICC PROFILE> DO NOT choose Preserve rgb numbers>Use the RENDERING INTENT that the icc profile was made with – almost always Relative Colormetric or Perceptual. >CLICK BLACK POINT COMPENSATION (this insures good black density in your print to match your display>Generally you do want to check SIMULATE PAPER COLOR, to see how the reduced contrast of paper vs. a screen image will appear>DON’T CLICK SIMULATE BLACK INK, unless you are designing a file for offset or newspaper reproduction. Click LOAD to keep the profile available, Click SAVE to save these settings in the Custom menu. From then on that Soft Proof Profile will be available to quick screen evaluation in the future. You can make one for each paper/printer combination you use.

Since large color spaces like Pro Photo and Adobe RGB often contain color relationships that can’t be actually printed, especially on fine art papers, it is essential to learn to SOFT PROOF your images on the display in Photoshop. Some printer drivers these  days do a decent job of soft-proofing as well, but some don’t so be careful there.  Soft-proofing is a simulation of how the file will actually print with a particular paper and particular printer and inkset. Thankfully, Lightroom 4 now has soft proofing capability as well as Photoshop, and that is a big step in making that platform useful for convenient and accurate printing.

There are two aspects  to SOFT-PROOFing and you should work with both elements. They are soft-proofing for color accuracy, and soft proofing for paper white reproduction. In my experience, color is a lot easier to achieve than matching paper contrast on a monitor. But you will get better at it the more you learn the specific equipment you have. The accuracy of your particular display also influences the  accuracy of paper white display. For color soft-proofing, Photoshop actually uses the print profile to convert to a display image. So if a print profile is created badly or damaged, it will look bad on the screen as well. If you see a HUGE DIFFERENCE between the screen views of different profiles in soft proofing, then something is most likely wrong with the profile itself. Certain unusual media like uncoated papers, rice paper, fabrics, or film output can look very different though, especially in regard to contrast subtlety and paper contrast. The degree to which your monitor is calibrated or not calibrated greatly effects this image on the screen. Usually with all but the most expensive lcd and led displays, it is necessary to tune down the brightness and contrast of your monitor almost as far as it will go, or ALL the way, BEFORE doing a COLOR CALIBRATION. This is because many modern monitors have a less subtle luminance (brilliancy) range than old CRT technology (though they last a lot longer and are far better for your eyes!) and most consumers are more interested in viewing bright video content and websites than making subtle pictures on paper. However, some of the higher end lcd displays like Eizo and Nec do an excellent job for soft-proofing and color matching. Click black point compensation which shows you how ink on paper will differ form black on a screen, and you may want to go back and forth between the check box for paper white rendition. Remember you are trying to bring down the luminance and gamut of the screen to what you see on paper and what paper is capable of recording. If you are viewing a test print to compare to that screen image in Photoshop move the print way over about 90% from the monitor and don’t let the monitor shed light on the print. Look at the display then turn away and look at the print separately. Small lamps with daylight balanced Solux bulbs are an inexpensive way to view prints while looking at the monitor.  The intensity of those bulbs will have to be carefully adjusted beforehand to view a color target like the free Atkinson target to approach the soft proofed luminance of the final print (done with a correct profile). Using the Atkinson printer target  or other well made color test target on the screen and on the print test is a great way to better understand the effects of soft proofing on your particular monitor situation. The Atkinson color print test target is available at – http://www.openphotographyforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2856

Print out this target using your preferred paper or papers using the icc profile you think is the best you have. Then compare the target to your calibrated monitor set to the appropriate Soft Proof profile.

The one big mistake beginner printmakers make is to spend a lot of time looking at the monitor and very little time looking at the test print. You should do exactly the opposite. Spend a lot of time evaluating all the aspects of the test print. What you want to do is achieve an interesting print, not make a nice screen display. Even the finest most expensive displays are really glorified light bulbs with color software designed to attempt to simulate an object made of pigments on paper. Glossy prints are usually easier to soft-proof but may in the end produce the least satisfying print for a concept. In the end the important thing is the PRINT not the DISPLAY. But you want to save as much time and money and do as few test prints as is possible and soft-proofing is a great place to start.  Look for subtleties in color casts in neutral areas (both on the screen as well as in the print) sharpness, maximum black, and texture in shadows and tonality in the highlight of the print. Various papers produce different characteristics so it is my opinion that it is better to really understand the characteristics of one or two papers than to continually experiment with various brands.  It is very common to have to add some increased saturation to an unprocessed digital camera file and to also add a bit of black density with a slight curve adjustment. Of course a lot depends on your lighting situation but this is a general rule. It is better to capture very slightly desaturated information and slightly flat information than to clip the end points and colors within the camera. If you don’t know how to use the eye dropper tool in Photoshop you need to learn, it is your best friend for measuring and distinguishing color casts in neutral areas that are difficult to observe on a screen.

Gamut Warning

Photoshop has a gamut-warning window that shows you if specific colors in a file can’t be accurately reproduced. However, this gamut warning doesn’t tell you how far off the gamut clipping is. This is more of an issue for trying to reproduce cymk colors for offset reproduction. It is also important if you are using a specialized uncoated media that has a reduced gamut because it doesn’t have a photo quality inkjet receptor coating. If you are going to be involved with that make sure you talk to the offset printer company to find out what can and what can’t be reproduced with a given cmyk profile that you might want to convert to. This is important when making photo postcards and gallery announcements or even with some online book publishers. Find out the correct cymk workflow and profile from them BEFORE you convert a file to send to them.

Printer Drivers and Making Settings for Output to Printer

The printer driver interface is a product of collaboration between the printer manufacturer (Epson, HP, Canon, etc) and the software developer of the operating system of the particular computer (Mac OSX, Windows 7, etc). Each time a new printer comes out or a new UPDATE to an operating system comes out, there is a potential change in the way this interface looks. Generally with subsequent updates glitches or problems with print drivers are attempted to be resolved as both the computer companies and the printer companies receive complaints. It seems that almost all new versions of operating systems have difficulties. Most issues get resolved but others may not. It is a good idea to visit the website of your particular printer company to download updates and fixes called PRINT DRIVER UPDATES or FIRMWARE UPGRADES to keep on top of potential glitches and improvements in the printer software.

Generally with printer drivers you end up having to go through two pages of settings before all the parameters are correctly set. Canon has done a really good job with the simplified well designed Photoshop Plug-In they ship with their IPF series printers. In many ways though all of the oem printer drivers seem less than impressive to me. I often feel that were are working with 21st century smart printers with 20th century sofware. These driver have changed very little since they were introduced over a decade ago.

Basically right now there are three ways in which to set up a file to be printed. The first is the PRINTER DRIVER (Epson, Canon, Hp’s software for the Mac or pc). The second is printing out of ABOBE LIGHTROOM, which is becoming very popular within the last year or so as the functionality becomes a lot more precise and user friendly. And the third way it so uses a dedicated RIP.

Rips

Rip stands for raster imager processor. When a raw or vector digital file is converted to specific pixel information for printing it is being “rasterized”. Rips were originally designed to take vector numerically ordered information like text and graphic arts information and convert it to pixels (raster information) for sending to a printer. One of the reasons for this is that image manipulation software like Photoshop was designed to work on the pixel level, pixels per inch (PPI). Inkjet printers were designed to take this information and convert it to dots on a page, dots per inch (DPI). PPI refers to virtual information before it it becomes an object form and DPI refers to actual dots on a page of the actual print. So ppi is in Photoshop and Dpi is out of the end of the printer tray. So the information in one way or another had to be converted to pixels to be used in an inkjet printer, but not necessarily for all types of printers, especially ones that don’t print photographs accurately.

Essentially what a RIP or rip like software does is to allow one to bypass the printer manufacturer’s printer driver software set up and use something that has better or specific functionality or easier functionality or all of these things. There are all kinds of rips with all kinds of functionality for different or similar purposes. Some work better on some printers than others, depending on the type of imaging to be done and the kind of inks used. Some of the things a rip can do is to allow you to print super long prints, like panorama images when the standard printer driver will stop you at certain lengths. Rips often have sophisticated package-printing capability, like the ability to create multiple sizes of a single image or different images, or quantities of that image with a simple mouse click or setting. Many of the best rips have more sophisticated dither settings as well that allow certain resolutions to be set for certain media that standard drivers don’t have. Rips also have “ink limiting” capabilities that let the printer increase or decrease ink limits for shaper results, less ink usage, or for finessing problem media like uncoated media and fabrics for instance. Rips also can have functionality to control the way in which the ink channels themselves are used or shut off entirely. Many people who use third party inksets like quad or hextone monochrome inksets have to have a rip in order to control the image density and contrast to these specific inks. Rips also allow such things as more sophisticated color control and profiling to be done with specific printers. Some of the major rips for color are Colorburst, Image Print, and Studio Print. Some of the most useful rips for monochrome are QTR (quad tone rip), BowHaus True Black and White, and Ergo Soft’s Studio Print. There is a wide range of prices and capability of these rips. One other rip like software is called Q-Image. Many people can’t say enough good things about Q-Image and I personally use it often. It allows you to print at any length you need to, control the color precisely with you standard ICC profile from any printer/ink combination. It allows for multiple layout options on a page. And it has great resampling and output sharpening capability. This software works especially well when you want to make a very large print from a less than optimum sized file. And it allows you to print longer panorama prints than most of the oem drivers allow. You simply send the file to the printer at whatever ppi size it is originally set at and the software rips the file to the optimum number of pixels (final print size) in the best way possible for that particular sized file, print size, and printer type. It is also very inexpensive for it’s capability, as is QTR for black and white printing. Q-Image and Studio Print only work on Windows based computers (but can be used on a current Intel Mac when Windows is installed).  True Black and White works only on Mac platforms. All the others mentioned can work on both PC and Mac operating systems.

http://www.ddisoftware.com/qimage/                                                 Q-Image is a great inexpensive rip like software esp to use for resampling dslr files

http://www.quadtonerip.com/html/QTRoverview.html                  Designed for the best black and white output from Epson Printers – $50.00 share ware fee

http://www.ergosoft.ch/products/studioprint/index.php                 A very sophisticated and complex rip for printing on all the major printers – expensive

http://www.colorburstrip.com/                                                               One of the best and most popular rips for color work around

http://www.colorbytesoftware.com/                                                      Makes life simple and adds  features you printer software doesn’t have

http://www.trueblackandwhite.com/                                                     Designed only for Canon large format printers, it is an excellent solution for that platform

Black and White Conversion from RGB

Black and White files can be set up in two primary ways, as either an RGB file, or as a Grayscale File depending on the method of printing and driver software or rip used in the printing. It is also possible to control the black and white content precisely in Photoshop before it is sent to a printer. Recent versions of Photoshop allow for very precise control of converting an RGB file to a black and white image for output. If you go to the bottom of the Layers Palette in Photoshop and select as an adjustment layer, Black and White, this will open a dialogue box in Ps that allows you to adjust the individual color channels to actually change the relationship between the monochrome information contained in those channels.  This is a feature that was originated in Light Room and now available in Photoshop. This is kind of like in the old days using contrast enhancement filters to lighten or darken the monochrome response of particular colors in an image shot on black and white panchromatic film. In the default setting when clicking AUTO this adjustment layer attempts to create an average panchromatic film response to the color data in the file. Click the PREVIEW button to see the result. Then you can make subtle adjustment in some or all of the color channels to lighten or darken specific areas of the picture and achieve the illusion of more separation between different parts of the picture. For instance, if you have a color image containing a bright blue and a bright green or orange,  yet the three areas may look identical in a black and white rendition of that color file.

You can use the color sliders that allow you to selectively alter the monochrome characteristics of those specific colors in a global way (the entire image) or with subsequent local selections, in a local way for specific parts of a picture. Experiment with the sliders. This Black and White filter feature will ONLY work with RGB files, not grayscale file. However you can save your changes as a grayscale file later if you want and the altered monochrome info will be there.  One interesting thing you can do in this workflow is to add HUE SATURATION adjustment layer BELOW the Black And White adjustment layer. (It has to be below to be seen by Photoshop). Then you can go into the individual color channels of the hue sat adjustment layer and actually change even more the relationships of tonal contrast between different parts of an image. This can be done to finesse contrast and value in specific color channels.

Another way to lighten or darken areas of the image is to highlight the Hue Sat adjustment layer, click Edit>Fill>select Black. Then go back to the layers palette and click on the background layer. At this point go to the tool palette and select the paint brush and set it to MULTIPLY (to add image detail density (darken) to a part of the picture to paint on) or SCREEN (to remove density information from a selective part of the picture (lighten). Set the Opacity slider on the brush tool to control the amount of this painting in of picture information. There are other ways to do this with layer masks but this is a quick and effective way to influence the values within a shape within the picture. You can do this at 50% -100% for even more accuracy over the edge detail. Always do final viewing of the results at 100% in PS before saving it. This kind of “dodging” and “burning” is much less destructive than using the harsher dodging and burning tools in Photoshop that usually do a lot of permanent damage to the file. It can also easily be undone or faded in and out of the file later after a proof print is made by doing this work on a BACKGROUND LAYER copy. I recommend using a background layer copy for all retouching that might need to be revisited later when a print proof is seen to evaluate. If you come back tomorrow after making a proof and don’t like the result you simply drag that background layer to the trash and start over and your original file is not altered (until you flatten these adjustment layers).

Our friend Amadou Diallio has written a very comprehensive book about managing a workflow for black and white digital imaging. It takes into consideration many different methods for achieving quality results regardless of the materials you may choose to use and is an excellent resource.

http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Digital-Black-Black-White/dp/1598633759

Color Toning in the Black and White Filter Menu of Photoshop

One can also create subtle hue toning presets, since even though you are working with limited color content, you still are functioning in an RGB color space. For most color inksets, the less color you use the better the longevity of the print, and the less metameric failure (changes in neutrality from tungsten to daylight light source) there will be.

HP Vivera pigments are an exception in that both the gray and the color inks are designed to fade at the same rate. And since the gray inks are already “neutralized” the driver can easily be used with or without any of the color inks involved at all. Subtly toning a monochrome print in Photoshop is easy to accomplish and the results are visible on the screen. But remember you have to be working with an RGB file here. You need to click TINT and then find a suitable COLOR by setting the various hue sliders. After doing this you can make another adjustment layer, A HUE Saturation layer, and add or subtract intensity of that color you established. OR, you could just do the whole thing in the HUE /SAT adjustment layer by clicking COLORIZE,

Homage to Smithson - © john dean 2011 Homage to Smithson – © john dean 2011

If you are printing in RGB mode –   to colorize a file, convert the bw file to RGB if it isn’t already in that space, and simply click on a HUE-SATURATION adjustment later, CLICK COLORIZE – and select the HUE and SATURATION you would like to tint the black and white (or color) file with.

OR you could do this parametrically in Lightroom or ACR, which is the least destructive way, and the most effective way for split tone effects without a rip. There are certain rips such as QTR and BowHaus True Black and white rip, Studio Print, and Image Print, that do a much better job of monochrome imagine handling. QTR is pretty easy to use and very inexpensive and has different ways of suppressing the problem color channels when trying to achieve a totally clean single hue monochrome print, as does True Black and White rip for the Canon platform.  In these cases you use a grayscale file that is 1/3 the size of the RGB files. Roy Harrington deserves a giant industry award for creating and supporting such a great tool as QTR that has supported so many Epson printers in all sizes for so long, and has done so much to move the quality of bw imaging forward for everyone. My hat’s off to Roy.

http://www.quadtonerip.com/html/QTRoverview.html

Of course it is not necessary or even desirable that every photographer make his own prints. There is a lot to it. Many great photographers simply don’t have the time or the inclination, or want to invest in the hardware and specialized materials needed to do the best work. It isn’t always the best use of their time and resources. But whatever the photographer chooses to do in this regard he needs to be aware of color management and file optimization in order to achieve the best result. And this workflow involves as much of what not to do to a file as it does what to do. And, as stated earlier, shooting, saving, and working with files in raw format is the best thing you can possibly do to improve all aspects of the situation when digital cameras are being used.

Comments Off on Preparing Digital Files for Printmaking

Comments are closed.