Using Outside Printing Companies

By Andrew Darlow 

Are you able to invest the time and effort it takes to handle your own inkjet printing? Preparing files, hand-feeding individual sheets of paper or loading rolls of canvas, waiting for printing to finish, and trimming and mounting prints when necessary?

In many cases, you can save time and money by printing your work yourself, but it’s a good idea to think about the many costs and other commitments that are involved before making any printer purchase.

There are many reasons to consider having someone else do your printing for you. Also consider the investment necessary to keep inks and paper on hand.

How do you find a reliable and competent printer? In many cases, traditional photo labs are where professional photographers go to have their inkjet prints made. The same features one looks for in a lab carry over to inkjet printing:

Customer Service
Fast Turnaround
Finishing Options (such as canvas stretching and mounting/spraying)

Also consider a studio dedicated to fine-art inkjet printing. There are many of these studios out there, and you’ll often find that the owners are photographers who print for themselves when they aren’t producing editions for their clients.

How to find fine-art printmaking companies:
• Internet research. Search on “fine art inkjet reproduction” or similar words.
• Resource referrals. At least four of the guest artists profiled in “301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers” run studios that specialize in fine art printing.
• Professional referrals. Ask peers and in professional newsgroups and forums such as and the Digital-FineArt Yahoo Group (Andrew Darlow, moderator).
• Vendors and sponsors. Check into the sponsors and vendors at events that cater to professional photographers, like Imaging USA and other conventions, workshops and photo contests.

The following is partially excerpted from "301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers" (Course Technology, PTR)


There are many companies that can make prints for you from your digital files, negatives, or prints. A company specializing in fine-art output is often called an atelier, which is a French term that means art studio. Below are some tips to help make the proofing and printing process go more smoothly.

TIP 13
Ask for a sample print.

Many companies are happy to send you a sample print at no charge, or they will sometimes charge a nominal fee to send a sample. Some will even print your full image (or a portion of an image) on a few different papers at a discounted rate if you are interested in possibly using their services.

TIP 14
Visit in person if possible.

The best way to get a feel for a printing company is to see their facilities in person. The most valuable part of this type of visit is to see sample prints that they’ve done for other artists. Working on-site also allows you to proof images under the lighting that your printmaker uses, which will generally be very consistent (such as a 5,000 Kelvin light box). Some printmakers have more than one lighting setup, which is even better because it allows you to see how your work will look in different situations. For example, at Fine Print Imaging in Fort Collins, Colo., you can review your prints under typical gallery lighting (using 3,500–4,000K halogen spotlights), or in lighting that simulates the walls of a typical home with daylight streaming in through windows (about 5,000K), or even under typical office lighting (overhead warm white fluorescent lights).

TIP 15 Match your lighting.
If you can’t work on-site with your fine art printmaker, it is important that you view your prints in a similar quality of light. For example, you can view your images in a darkened room in your home or studio, with the same quantity and type of bulbs focused on your prints, and from the same distance and angle as your printmaker does in his studio. This may require you to invest in a color-corrected light box, or you and your printmaker can both use a high quality set of halogen lamps. One well regarded manufacturer is SoLux. Their bulbs come in a range of color temperatures and beam spreads, from narrow spot to flood, and they also make fixtures and lamps that are well-suited to their bulbs. See Chapter 14, “Packing, Lighting, and Framing,” for more on this topic.

This area of Fine Print Imaging in Fort Collins, Colo., is often used by customers to see their work in different lighting situations. A canvas print is viewed under traditional gallery spotlights (left). The same print can also be viewed under fluorescent lighting, seen in the ceiling. In the same room, light from the outside can be used to simulate a home or business setting, or a combination of halogen spotlights and natural daylight, as shown here (right), can be tested. Images ©Andrew Darlow

TIP 16
Buy a smaller version of a similar printer.

To reduce the cost and time spent proofing projects, consider buying a printer that is similar to the one your printmaker is using. An example would be for you to purchase an Epson Stylus Photo R2880 (13-inch) if your printmaker has an Epson Stylus Pro 9880 (44-inch) because both use the exact same inks. Other examples of two-printer models that use the same inks are the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF5000 (17-inch) and the Canon imagePROGRAF iPF9000 (60-inch) and the HP Photosmart Pro B9180 (13-inch) and the HP Designjet Z2100 (24- or 44-inch).

It’s also important that each set of printers be calibrated and profiled. Even though the paper and ink used are the same with each set of printers, some differences in color and density are to be expected. However, there are some techniques that can help you make your prints more closely match those of your printmaker. See Chapter 4, “Color Management & Driver Tips,” for techniques related to this topic.

TIP 17
Ask your printmaker to keep a sample of each approved image.

If you plan to print a specific image again as part of an edition, ask your printmaker to keep a sample print of the final approved image and keep one on file yourself. If you’d like to have very tight control over your images (in other words, if you would like to only have a specific number of final prints in circulation), you can write with an ink-based pen or marker, in one or more areas of the sample, print the words “Test Print—not for sale.” Even a year or more after the first prints are made, the sample can be taken out of storage and used as a reference without having to send your printmaker a print. See Chapter 13, “Exhibitions, Editioning, and Image Tracking,” for more about creating editions of prints.

A sample showing how a print can be marked up so that it can be kept as a proof, without affecting the size of the final print edition. However, you may want to (or in some cases, you may be required by law) to disclose the number of test prints that exist on a “written instrument,” such as a Certificate of Authenticity. Image ©Andrew Darlow

Andrew Darlow is a photographer and digital imaging consultant based in the New York City area. He is editor of The Imaging Buffet, an online resource with news, reviews and interviews covering the subjects of digital photography and printing. Portions of this article were excerpted from Darlow's book, "301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques: An Essential Printing Resource for Photographers" (Course Technology, PTR), which covers tips and techniques for prepping, printing and displaying prints made using inkjet printers.

For free chapter downloads and Darlow's color management/printing workshop and lecture schedule, visit



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