At our studio here in Grafton, Virginia, we produce primarily black-and-white portraits, and print the majority of our photography in-house. We decided long ago that we wanted to print our own work, not only for the cost benefits, but also for the greater level of control we have as artists over the finished look of our work.
When it comes to inkjet-printed black-and-white portraits, we've always preferred matte-surface papers, which have more of a traditional darkroom look. Because we print with an Epson Stylus Pro 9600, using the UltraChrome inkset with the matte black option, we have usually printed with Epson Enhanced Matte Paper. While the image quality was good, we were searching for something a little different to further set our work apart.
For instance, because of the heavy black-ink content of our portraits, many papers we tried became oversaturated and took on a slightly wavy or rippled appearance. For the past year, we printed on a variety of media as we searched for the perfect fit for our look and needs.
After a conversation with my account specialist at LexJet, I decided to try a roll of their Sunset Air Dried Fibre Matte.
A couple of days later, the paper was delivered. The new roll of paper was 44 inches by 50 feet on a three-inch core. We immediately created a custom output profile for the paper using the X-Rite Eye-One Photo SG with Digital ColorChecker.
Custom profiling all of our papers is a big part of the success we experience in our printing process. We could choose to download pre-made profiles for the new papers we experiment with, but vendor-supplied profiles, while they are decent, don't account for variables in printers, printing environments, deviations in the paper, or end-user needs, such as complex lighting environments.
We create output profiles for new paper types with the X-Rite Eye-One Photo SG in just a few steps…
- Print Color Target
The first thing we do when creating a new output profile is print a color target supplied by the software on the new paper type. Then we allow at least a couple of hours of drying time to ensure that the colors are settled. Because all papers, inks, and printing environments vary, we take a detailed measurement of how our papers and inks respond to one another.
- Scan the Colors
To measure this response, the next step is to use the spectrophotometer to scan or measure the colors on our printed color target. Since the spectrophotometer is connected via USB, the color information is automatically being entered into the computer as we scan.
- Rename Custom Profile
When all the color patches have been scanned, the software interprets the data and generates a new custom output profile. When given the option to rename our new profiles, we will typically name them after the actual name of the material we are profiling. The software allows you to state ahead of time in what type of lighting condition the final print will be viewed so the output profile can be geared toward what will look best. This is a powerful tool if you're printing work that will be displayed in fluorescent or mixed lighting situations.
- Select in Photoshop Print Preview
With the new profile created, we're ready to print. We make sure our new output profile has been selected in Photoshop's Print Preview window, allowing Photoshop to determine colors. The last thing you want is a file that's being color-managed twice: by Photoshop and by the print driver. You might think that two times the color management can't be all bad, but it is.
- Select Paper in Print Dialog, Disable Printer's Color Management
Here is where we select the appropriate paper type and dpi, and most importantly, we disable the printer's color management because Photoshop is now managing the colors with the new output profile we have created for our new paper type and specified lighting conditions.
In the case of the Sunset Air Dried Fibre Matte paper, as the first print came off the printer and was allowed a few minutes of drying time, it was quite a revelation to see such a clean, flat surface without ripples or waves. The heavy weight of the paper made it easy to handle.
I was extremely impressed with the quality of the white, or brightness, of the paper. It's not like a stellar bright-white surface, nor is it dull. I would describe the white as more creamy, but not vanilla. It did not take me very long to determine that it was the best matte-surface paper I've worked with.