Seeking digital art printing vendors.
January 17, 2012 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Looking for advice about high quality printing (for my digital art) and reliable companies that specializes in this type of printing.

I want to start offering prints of some of my digital art and am looking for advice on who to outsource the printing to as well as what to look for/ lookout for. I'm new to digital art printing so any advice you care to share is greatly appreciated. Some of the things I know I'm interested in are:

- Reliable: I'd prefer an established company with an online presence however I am open to all suggestions.

- Archival: I'm not sure if this actually means what I've been led to believe it means but ultimately, I want my prints to be of high quality and durability so that they will last for my clients if taken care of properly.

- Local to the Atlanta, Georgia area: This is not a must but it would be nice to have the option to pick up my finished prints instead of having to have them shipped from another state. If the printer you'd recommend is out of state, that is ok but local would be awesome.

- Large format: By this I mean around the 24" x 36" range. Most of my work will be in the 12" range but I would like the option to go large.

- Purchasing my own ink jet printer: I would love to be able to print my own prints for small runs however all the new Epson Stylus Pros that can do 24" or bigger are out of my price range currently so unless you know of a cheaper solution, this would be something I'd have to wait on and revisit in the future.

Thanks in advance for any help and advise you care to share! :)
posted by ogunther to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds like you probably want giclee printing. Because of cost of equipment and technical knowledge needed I would leave it to the experts rather than trying to do it yourself. This place in Atlanta looks worth checking out (they can accommodate your size requirements too).
posted by Kabanos at 12:11 PM on January 17, 2012


There are two main types of large-format inkjet printers.

Those that use solvent-based inks are generally better-suited to outdoor signage, awnings, banners, etc. The color accuracy is generally not quite as good (though, getting better) and these printers typically work with a smaller ink set and a smaller overall color gamut. The primary advantage to solvent-based inks is that they are generally quite water- and weather-resistant, as well as having a high degree of UV/fade resistance. The primary disadvantage is usually having a smaller ink set, narrower color gamut, and often slightly lower practical DPI than aqueous printers. They're great for billboards, not so much for photographs and works with a lot of fine color gradation.

On the other hand you have printers using aqueous (water-based) inks, whether dye- or pigment-based. This is generally what you'll find in fine art repro shops. These printers typically have larger ink sets and a much wider color gamut. Especially with the pigmented inks, you'll also typically find better color accuracy, and sometimes higher resolutions vs solvent printers. The primary advantage to these printers is much better color repdroduction, and a much wider color gamut. We use a Canon 44" iPF-8000 with a 12-color Lucia ink set, and we have several professional photographers that use us exclusively for their large prints. The pigmented inks provide surprisingly good UV/fade resistance. The biggest weakness to aqueous printers is that because the inks are water-based, they are not suited to outdoor applications. Care must also be taken when hanging unfinished prints in a window; if the window "sweats" with condensation, this can make the image run and smear on the affected print.

Knowing what your application will be (indoor hangings only, floor graphics, outdoor images, vehicle graphics, etc) will help you find a printer best suited to work with you. There is a stunning variety of media (paper types) available for these printers. Glossy, semi-gloss, and matte photo papers of varying weights; glossy and matte canvas; backlit film; clear film; vinyl banner material; regular and self-adhesive vinyl; fabric of varying weights; and on and on. Make sure your print shop properly calibrates and profiles their printers for each media type they use; a lot of houses don't know better or just don't care, and run a generic profile (or none at all) regardless of what is loaded. The result is colors that look vastly different on matte photo paper than they do on canvas, which can be a big problem if you're trying to sell your work.

If you choose to buy your own printer and you're going for the indoor/fine arts uses, I would strongly recommend Canon over Epson. Way less finicky, cheaper overall to run, and I haven't yet seen a better-looking or more accurate ink set. The output on these 12-color Canons has to be seen to be believed, especially with subtle gradations in color (like in skin tones), with such a wide range of colors to mix from (instead of four- or six-color ink sets), there is virtually no visible dithering or banding.

There are also many options for finishing your prints. Spray-on coatings in matte and glossy finishes, heat-applied coatings like AccuShield or even full lamination; there are even textured laminates now that (roughly) simulate the look of canvas.

As far as media being archival, nearly all fine arts media is going to be acid-free and archival grade right off the bat, and the inks (at least Canon's) paired with these media types are rated into the 100s of years of life. But, it should also be noted that a paper being "acid-free" only remains so until someone touches it with ungloved hands and the oils from your skin gets into the paper. Sure, it'll probably take decades or more for the damage to show, but it still amazes me how many artists insist on acid-free, archival paper, and simply grab their proofs bare-handed when I hand them over, having worn gloves any time the roll media or finished work is handled.

I'd love to work with a fellow MeFite, but being north of Seattle, we're about as far from Atlanta as can be, and you can surely find someone local or much much closer. Good luck!
posted by xedrik at 12:27 PM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


as with any photographic prints, you absolutely want to include a page with each print on best-care procedures (frame under UV-proof glass, keep out of direct sunlight, etc)...similar info will be provided to you by your printer...oh, and the google search term you're looking for is "printing service"...also, calling your local camera store is a good place to start.

yeah, ink jet printers (for purchase) do a logarithmic price jump the wider you print...but you can generally find ones that print 13" wide in the $500 price range. even if most of the prints you make are larger, this is probably a wise purchase if even just for color proofing: "Hi, I want this the size of that wall over there...it should look like THIS"
posted by sexyrobot at 12:28 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


seconding what xedric said as well...but one other (very frustrating) thing to note, re: your 'reliable' request...often the best local printers have crap websites and vice versa...i guess it's similar to the unemployed/unemployable guy with the awesome blog vs the awesome guy who works all the time and hasn't updated their FB page in a year...Samy's camera here in L.A. has an awesome printing service...it might be worth giving them a call...they might even know someone in Atlanta...
posted by sexyrobot at 12:37 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Xedrik; I really appreciate you taking the time to answer in such detail. I'm looking for indoor hanging only at the moment though future projects could be different. Does your shop have a website? I know that shipping would be an additional consideration if I used your shop but I'd love to at least take a look at what you offer. I actually have family in Seattle (small world) so another excuse to visit would actually be welcome. :) I was under the assumption that Epson's were the printer to beat for home runs but am glad to hear that the Canon's are actually preferable. I'll take a look at them.

Thanks as well, Sexyrobot; you make a very good point. As I stated above to Xedrik, I'll take a look at the Canons and see if they have any for proofing that are within my budget.
posted by ogunther at 12:42 PM on January 17, 2012


xedrick: excellent info. I'm near Seattle and really want to know what shop you are working for as I have a need for large format printing.
posted by bz at 12:52 PM on January 17, 2012


If you want to outsource prints, I cannot say enough good things about Adorama. I've been ordering from them for years, and so have my friends. Excellent work, and they package it with care when they ship it to you.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:59 PM on January 17, 2012


I work at Bayshore Office Products, in Anacortes, WA. Our website is terrible (does that mean we're good?) and is mainly just a portal for our office supplies customers. (I'm always a little embarrassed to link people to it, but what do you do...) For reference, here is our price list (PDF); wide-format stuff is on page 8-9.

ogunther, we're always willing to take on new clients, but you're really much better off with someone you can work face-to-face with. Unless you're just wanting quick & cheap, hell-with-the-details poster prints, there really are a lot of details to work out with your printer. So many media types, weights, proofing jobs for color, and such. It's your work and you deserve to get exactly what you want, and all the back-and-forth with shipping, reviewing and signing off on proofs before print runs are started, etc., can get not only expensive, but very time consuming as well.

bz, we're in Anacortes, which is about 90 miles NW of Seattle. If that's a bit far, I can happily recommend Cascade Architectural and Engineering Supply on 9th Ave North, in Seattle. We've worked with them for years, sometimes job out scanning or laminating jobs that our equipment just can't quite handle. They have a great Contex scanner if you need scanning done, and their repro shop guys are really sharp. I actually buy a lot of our media from Cascade, and they have a very large variety in stock.
posted by xedrik at 3:30 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


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