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Re: [BKARTS] printing photographs

At 09:31 AM 30/08/2003 -0300, you wrote:
I was about to pas on this, as I don't have time to waste on a single
response to a single person.  But a subsequent mail asked that the reply be
sent to the list. So here is my experience.

" For printing photographs for a book resulting in a print equivalent in
quality to a coffee-table photography book print: what are the
recommendations for:
1. The printer type
I have been happy with results from ink jet printers, in preference to dry
ink (laser) systems.  However, dry ink systems are improving rapidly, and
will soon be competitive in some regards.  When buying a printer, do not
make assumptions:  take some representative files to the store, and have
them printed on the printer you are evaluating, and then carefully examine
and test the results.

With dry ink printers, beware of face to face transfer of ink between pages
pressed together.

With ink jet printers, try to evaluate the permanence of the prints under
your expected service conditions.

Cover images must be a lot more light fast than interior images.  If there
is some chance that the book will be displayed at an open page in bright
light, beware actinic fading.  In such a case do not depend on dye based
inks:  find printers that use pigment inks, or for which second source
pigment inks can be found.  This may make evaluation in the store moot in
regards colour values, so you might find yourself buying more than one
printer to find the right one for your purpose.  You might also be
restricted to 4 colour ink systems rather than 6 or 7 colour systems.  This
should not deter you, as current 4 colour systems are very
capable.  However, check for banding in graded colour images.  Do not go by
results at regular print quality alone: check the printer at high resolution.

Printers are much slower printing at high resolutions.  If production rate
is an issue, make sure you actually time the print rate with your type of
image and layout.  Also, if high rate production is a goal, try to find a
duplexing printer that meets your needs, as this will greatly reduce wastage.

The greatest cost in operating an ink jet system is ink cartridges.  Look
into re-inking systems, as this will reduce your ink costs by as much as
10,000% --  that's right, 100 times!  So you have a lot of things to
evaluate.  There are many bulk ink suppliers for old Epson systems, but the
newer ones all use a cartridge system with micro chips in each cartridge
specifically to make cart refilling more difficult.  Try to find a system
which uses ink tanks and replaceable print heads like some of the Canon and
HP printers.

Equivalent results can be had from some digital-to-plate services, with the
added bonus of greater permanence, but much higher cost for short runs, and
much less control on the final result.

2. Resolution of the printer
This is a matter of taste.  For plain paper on super smooth stock, there is
little benefit in greater than 300dpi.  If you use a coated paper, it is
possible to distinguish higher resolution, say between 600 and
1200dpi.  However, for most people (not professionals), this distinction is
relatively meaningless.  Be sure your clients can detect the
difference.  Most coffee table books have resolution no better than 300dpi.

Of more practical concern than resolution is the absence of printing
artifacts like banding.  There are two kinds of banding: colour resolution
banding which is visible in graded colour areas like blue sky or portrait
backgrounds, and striping from slight mis-registration between print
passes.  Most current printers have reasonable control of both, but usually
only at high print quality setting.  Print rate depends on the quality setting.

Larger format, production printers are much more expensive than their
letter sized cousins.  If you are uncertain about what you want, try your
ideas out using a letter size printer before investing in a full sized printer.

3. Paper type (some sort of semi-glossy paper thin enough to be able to flip
the page, but thick enough to be able to print on both sides of the page)
4. Paper thickness
Coated stocks are somewhat problematic, since they are usually coated on
one side only, and the coating, especially if clay based, makes the paper
much more prone to cracking.  Some photo paper coatings which are plastic
or gelatin based are flexible enough, but retain sufficient moisture to be
somewhat tacky.  This means that they should probably be interleaved to
prevent coating to coating contact, the same way you would protect
photographic emulsion.

On the plus side, there are some double sided, coated papers of suitable
thickness and opacity.  They are not cheap.

I think that the final answer is that there are two possible solutions at
the present time.

First, for a book that feels like a trade book, use super-smooth finish ink
jet paper in weights between 24lb and 32lb.  The image quality will be
slightly less than for a coated paper, but it will be quite competitive
with a trade press book.  For a coffee table book in size about 8in x 10in
or so, this paper can be printed on 11inx17in paper and bound using
standard trade book binding techniques.  Note that in most cases the grain
of these papers runs short in the 11x17 size, as they are cut from stock
primarily used to make 8-1/2x11 long grain paper.  So the 11x17 paper is
more suitable for book binding than similar 8-1/2x11.

Second, for a book that feels more like a wedding album, use any suitable
coated stock mounted or tipped in to an album style book.  This can be made
much more book-like than the conventional trade wedding album, but it will
still retain some of that feel.  Alternatively, carefully choose a double
sided paper that has enough toughness to be sewn or glued into a spine, and
print as for a standard book, but with interleaving between leaves.  End
papers and text can be intercalated on book or ink-jet paper, which may
also serve as interleaving.  For more texture and feel, use a rag art
paper, or a rough book paper.  Most thick, non-coated, acid-free (pH
neutral or alkaline) papers can be ink-jet printed.  If the paper you want
to use cannot be folded, you can guard the pages into sheets for
binding.  Or, use single sided paper guarded into sheets alternating
face-up and face-down (so that all pages face the same way after binding),
and use the back for text, the front for images.  This obviates the need
for interleaving, but be sure to evaluate the print through of text in the
weight of paper you choose.  The opacity must be very high to avoid
degradation of the images, especially with large areas of pastels, whites, etc.

One other possibility is to plastic film laminate each image page.  Such
lamination can be done with simple hand techniques, or sent out to a
service bureau.  Many photographers will have a hot laminator in the form
of a dry-mount press.  This can serve in place of interleaving, but will
considerably stiffen the page.

While these books present some binding problems, simple solutions should
not tax any competent binder.  However, commercial binderies may not be
able to handle them.

The former solution is cost effective, and has a sort of cachet as being
more book-like, whereas the latter is much more expensive, but has
photo-quality and much more variety of appearance and feel.

Recommendation for a printing service in the US?"
No experience.

These comments are not a complete, ready to go solution, as there are far
too many variables, and materials and machines are rapidly changing.  I
warn anyone contemplating this sort of service that the compilation and
execution of such books is time consuming, and will carry pre-press costs
of several hundred dollars, plus per copy costs of a hundred dollars
plus.  The cost of materials, with care, is negligible to manageable.  The
real cost is time.  If the client is willing to bear costs in the region of
US$600 plus for a few copies, then it is possibly a suitable service.  The
same remarks hold for the trade style product, except that the per-copy
cost can be very much less, in the order of US$30.  Suitable print runs are
up to scant 100s for hand work, and above 500 for commercial work.  If a
busy wedding studio were to take this on in house, they would rapidly find
themselves hiring new staff.  If it were contracted out to a small press as
a service, the lead times would normally be weeks to months, and markups
would probably be small.

Gavin Stairs
Gavin Stairs Fine Editions
525 Canterbury Road
London, Ontario
Canada   N6G 2N5

telephone: (519) 434-8555.
email: stairs@stairs.on.ca

Gavin Stairs Fine Editions is a small, computer press specializing in book
design and fine, hand-made books.

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