A Coloured View of Digital Print Making
By David Crowther
Digital print making. What is your view? What can digital printing do for the photographer, designer, fine art reproducer and digital artist? You may well have asked, how can it help me?
You are not alone if you have approached digital print making with caution and trepidation. Digital print making encompasses such a broad area that it is probably best to define it first, then explore the capabilities and possibilities. This will help provide answers to the questions above.
First, the digital component of print making means that you have numbers that represent something in our case, an image on a computer. Digital images are made up of pixels, which contain the numerical data that describes colour. Each pixel in an image can be modified or manipulated and thus transformed for digital print output to enable us to see a physical image.
Many imaging professionals I have spoken with have distinct views on the aforementioned paragraph. Some have the opinion that the craft has gone; that the control and individuality have been lost. The quality, expression and consistency in the final print are seen by some as difficult to reproduce. Others have commented that after a sometimes-steep learning curve, digital print making has provided them with a new lease on creativity. Opposing views to be sure!
Second, the actual print making conjures up many differing ideas. For creative types- the photographer, designer, fine art reproducer and digital artist- this means art intended for display in a gallery, home or workplace- but not simply as an adornment. Art stimulates the mind, ignites inspiration, touches our emotions and provides a conduit with the creator and the viewers ideas and feelings. Art can be purchased and sold. Art can mean many different things to different people, but essentially I have provided a general view. Art is not about digital print making in the commercial sense- producing posters, POS signage, bill boards and other forms where the customer is trying to sell and promote a particular product or service.
Now that we have established a definition of print making, let us consider our second question. What can digital printing do for you as a photographer, designer, fine art reproducer or digital artist? First, consider that digital print making is removed and entirely different to traditional printing. Traditional printing refers to the various commercial processes of ink on paper, offset lithography, letterpress and gravure (intaglio) all of which require a large number of prints to be reproduced at one time. The focus of traditional printing is about a physical transfer of the image by plate and/or blanket to paper by direct contact and pressure. With digital print making there is no such contact or printing plate. The image data is output directly to the print device, which in most of our cases will be an inkjet printer. As with most things, the only constant is change. Digital capture, digital image creation and digital print making have changed the way we can communicate visually. The goal posts have been moved by the proverbial country mile! Digital print making provides flexibility, cost control, artistic license, predictability and more
This leads us into our final question, how digital print making help you? You will have some initial set up costs a computer system, a choice of inkjet printer and the on going costs of consumables, inkjet media and ink. But these are necessary and within your control. Once you are set up, digital print making can be done on demand, as required. A one off, maybe two, or how about 200 prints? Digital print making allows you to be choosy, letting you print as many as you can afford at the time, with the added bonus of there being no need to find a place to store a whole print run as with traditional printing.
Flexibility? Would you like to produce a limited edition run of 10 prints, on a water resistant canvas, numbered and signed? How about trying a colour and a black & white version of the same digital image? Different sizes of the same image, different cropping or a new media type? All of these are achievable and allow you to experiment more freely at your own pace and time. All of this far surpasses the limitations of traditional print.
Printing your own digital images gives you, the digital creator, complete control of the print making process. Which printer do you prefer? What type of ink set- matt black or photo black? Photographic media- glossy or silk? Fine art media- cotton based, textured, archival matt or something different entirely? Not happy with the final colour? You can decide to increase the contrast, saturation, etc. You have the luxury of deciding what look and feel is best. You get to see immediately what the result is like with your settings, on your printer, and with your ink choice. Add to this the availability of double sided photographic and fine art media and a whole new dimension is added to the options being offered. A finished album of thumbnails for quick reference, a family studio shoot professionally presented and finished in an album, limited edition book run ready to be traditionally bound and hard covered and, double sided media can also be printed borderless the choices are literally limited only by your creativity.
Predictability. Your digital images are stored on computer hard disk or external computer storage media (CD, DVD, etc). The digital values in your files do not change or fade with time. They can be reprinted to produce an identical finish within the boundaries of media, inks and hardware and software.
In this issues column, we have steered away from looking specifically at colour management. Instead, the advantages and benefits of digital print making have been highlighted. Freedom of expression in digital print making is now greater than ever and will continue to expand. Now that you have a grasp of the fundamentals of digital print making, why not explore the possibilities and see how this ever-growing technology can benefit you?
David Crowther is the manager of Chromaticity Australia.
Chromaticity Australia offer colour management training and consulting. http://www.des-pl.com.au/
David writes a regular Workshop page for Digital Reproduction magazine.