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Whats Wrong With My Prints
The Joys And Frustrations Of Ink Jet Printing

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Ilford brings the prestigious Galerie name to ink jet papers with three new products including Classic Pearl, Smooth Pearl, and Smooth Gloss.

 

"What one has experienced one will never understand in print." --Isadora Duncan

The headline for this month's column is a question I received in a letter from a reader that included several prints he considered to be of unacceptable quality. I agreed with him, by the way. Part of the problem of extracting the maximum quality from any photo-realistic ink jet printer is understanding a few basic facts of life about paper and ink and selecting the right paper to work with your specific printer.

Every ink jet printer manufacturer uses different inks; so right out of the box one kind of paper will not produce the same photographic quality with every possible printer. The best results will almost always be achieved by using paper that was designed by the printer company to work with their printers. Third-party paper manufacturers have to design their paper to work with a majority of available printers and sometimes the match is a good one and sometimes it is not. The third-party ink jet papers, such as those from Adorama, Pictorico, and Tetenal I've tested for Shutterbug and eDigitalPhoto.com produced excellent results with the specific Epson printers mentioned in the reviews, not every possible printer.

Part of the problem of getting acceptable prints can be traced to the papers, but it's a two-way street and ink plays an important role. All ink jet printers do not use the same ink formulations. Some companies use pigment-based inks for their black ink cartridge and dye inks in their CMY or CMYcm color cartridges, while others, such as Epson, use dye-based inks for all of their photo printers, except for the Stylus Photo 2000P which uses pigmented inks for archival reasons. Epson's new Gemini system, designed to make prints for a professional photographer's clients, also uses pigment-based inks.

Dye and pigmented inks can be combined on plain paper because of this media's high ink absorption rate, but when printing on coated stock, such as photo paper, printers that use different kinds of inks turn off the black ink and, in effect, become three or five color models, not the four or six you thought. The blacks in print on coated papers made under these conditions are a composite made from the CMY inks. The reason for using this kind of system is that pigmented black ink is slightly better than dye-based ink for printing sharp, dense, black text on plain paper and some manufacturers prioritize black text over photo quality.

Paper Type Selection
Because of these differences, selecting the paper type in the printer driver is a critical step in achieving the best possible photo-realistic results. Each paper setting in the driver uses a different look-up table and assigns different maximum ink saturation. Any ink jet printer can print black and color inks on plain paper at the same time. But if you select the wrong media--either by accident or on purpose--you can get poor results. If you select Plain Paper to force your pigment/dye printer to print all four or six colors on coated photo paper you will get an oversaturated, ugly print because plain paper requires more ink than glossy paper.

HP's Photosmart 715 camera provided 3.3 megapixel resolution in a user friendly design that mimics a traditional 35mm point-and-shoot camera. The controls are similar and are placed where you might expect them.

Optimization Tips
I know this will be painful for some of you, but read the printer manual. They are usually mercifully short but contain information on the most important bit of software for getting the best results--the printer driver. The manual has all kinds of information about what kind of media works best at what settings and other features, such as how to make borderless or double-sided prints, if your printer has these capabilities.

Read the instruction sheets that come inside the paper's packaging to see which driver settings are compatible with the paper and what driver settings will produce the best results. Since this is an imperfect world, go to the paper company's web site to look for the current recommendations.

Out here in the real world there are lots of variables and not every paper and ink combination works together perfectly. Before making a big investment in papers, purchase a sampler pack or small quantity of a paper and follow previous advice in this column to make prints using your own test files. Write notes about the driver's settings and paper used with a pencil or Sanford Sharpie on the back of the prints and put them in a file for future reference.

A friend in the computer industry created an acronym for this process: CPR or Choose your Paper and Resolution correctly. I would change that to read "Carefully" but either way, it's good advice.

Ilford Galerie Ink Jet Paper
Ilford brings its prestigious Galerie name to ink jet papers with three new products including Classic Pearl, Smooth Pearl, and Smooth Gloss. All three Ilford Galerie papers are resin coated and the Classic Pearl has a traditional ink jet receiving layer to produce a real photographic look and feel. The two smooth papers (I was only able to test the Smooth Gloss version) use microceramic technology that produces "instant drying." They can be handled immediately after printing, making them ideal for producing comps and other quick production projects. I cranked out a bunch of Zed cards on Galerie Smooth Gloss paper using an Epson Stylus Photo 1280 and was pleased with both the look and how absolutely bone-dry the prints were. You can stick the prints in an envelope right away and mail them to prospective photo buyers or hand them directly to a client. No drying time required.

Image quality on the Smooth Gloss paper when printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 1280 is amazing, with clear natural color and modest contrast. In fact, this is one of the best glossy papers I've ever used. Ilford's Galerie ink jet papers are compatible with Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark printers and are available in letter-size, 11x17", and 13x19" sizes. The Classic Pearl paper has Ilford's signature pearl finish that prevents glare, minimizes finger marks, and adds to the traditional photo look. Images printed on Galerie Classic Pearl have stability similar to real photographs and will last up to 20 years depending on the type of ink used. Ilford plans to introduce a Galerie Classic Gloss within the next few months, and since the Smooth Gloss paper is so impressive, I can't wait to see what this new paper looks like. Additional information is available on the Ilford web site (www.ilford.com/galerie), which also is the best place to check for the latest driver settings for your ink jet printer.

New HP Digicam
HP has wrapped up its Photosmart 715 digital camera in a slightly chunky shape that's easy to hold with all the controls placed exactly where you expect them to be. The camera is also smart enough to warn if you leave the lens cap on; it makes an annoying noise and lights up the 1.8" LCD preview screen with a photo indicating how hard it is to make pictures with the lens cap in place. The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.0 and a 35mm equivalent focal length of 34-102mm, making it ideal for all-round photography.

Zoom control falls easily to thumb and functions smoothly. The front has a 46mm thread allowing the use of supplementary lenses, such as those available from Tiffen (www.tiffen.com). The Photosmart 715 uses CompactFlash cards as storage media and includes a 16MB card, which provides a maximum of 10 shots at the camera's top resolution of 2048x1536. Resolution is controlled by a button on the top of the 715; the more stars, the higher the resolution and the bigger the file.

Since the major controls are mechanical buttons, the LCD panel is used more intelligently than most digicams. Immediately after an image is captured, you see a display giving you the option to save or delete it. Default is safe, so you can take a peek, if you like, or just keep making photographs. Using the LCD and its controls to delete an image after it's been stored is just as easy to accomplish. Connection to your computer is with the bundled USB cord and HP provides ACDSee software to let you browse images and provides proprietary software that makes it a snap for digital newbies to e-mail or send images to web-based serv-ices, but more experienced users will use a CompactFlash card reader along with their existing software for manipulation, output, and presentation. More information about the camera can be found at www.hp.com.

Crucial Technology offers CompactFlash memory cards in seven different densities including 8MB, 16MB, 32MB, 48MB, 64MB, 96MB, and 128MB. Inserting a 128MB Crucial CompactFlash card into the Epson PhotoPC 3100Z digital camera instantly gave me the capacity to capture 237 images at the digicam's maximum 3.3 megapixel resolution.

New Source Of Compact Flash Cards
Crucial Technology, one of the world's largest memory upgrade suppliers, got into the removable camera media game by introducing a family of Type I CompactFlash memory cards for use in digital cameras, handheld computers and digital music players. Crucial offers CompactFlash memory in seven different capacities, including 8MB, 16MB, 32MB, 48MB, 64MB, 96MB, and 128MB. Crucial's CompactFlash memory products are mechanically and electronically compliant with the CompactFlash Association's (www.compactflash.org) specifications. Inserting a 128MB Crucial CompactFlash card into the (newly lowered price) $599 Epson PhotoPC 3100Z digital camera gave me the capacity to capture 237 images at the digicam's maximum 3.3 megapixel resolution. At web-sized resolution I could store 600 images on the card! When ordering cards online with Crucial's Memory Selector program, you'll get a 10 percent discount off their standard prices. The Memory Selector program is a proprietary web tool that makes it easy for customers to match the right memory with their electronic devices and can be found at www.crucial.com. More information about the advantages and uses of CompactFlash memory cards can be found in Crucial's online library at www.crucial.com/library.

Wash And Wear Digital Media
CompactFlash cards are designed with Flash technology, a non-volatile storage solution that won't lose its information once power is removed from the card. CompactFlash memory is noiseless, considerably lighter, consumes less battery power, and is more rugged than the rotating disk drives used by some digital camera media. Now we know they are washable, too. No kidding. My pal, photojournalist Barry Staver, recently removed a pair of pants from his washing machine and found a CompactFlash card he used for an assignment. He dried the card off, inserted it into a card reader connected to his computer, and was surprised to discover that all of the image files were still intact and ready to go. Kids, don't try this one at home.

Plug-In Of The Month
JASC, who makes the Windows-based image editor Paint Shop Pro, just got into the Photoshop compatible plug-in business with the introduction of Virtual Painter. This family of 12 special effects filters works with Paint Shop Pro as well as Windows versions of any popular image-editing program including Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and others. Virtual Painter accomplishes what I really enjoy doing with Photoshop: It allows you to add so-called painterly effects to photographs. The filter names say it all. Within Photoshop's Filter>Virtual Painter submenu you'll find Pastel, Collage, Rectangles, Drawing, Silk Screen, Impasto, Color Pencil, Pointillism, Oil Painting, Gouache, Watercolor, and Triangles. The interface is simple and easy to use, although I wish the dialog box was larger and had a bigger Preview window, although JASC addresses that problem within the plug-in itself with a full-screen Adjust window. Virtual Painter lets you experiment with different materials by clicking on what real estate agents would call a cozy-sized Preview window to pop-up a Material list that holds 12 different media including Canvas, Paper, and Washi (Japanese Paper Art). Then it's back to the interface where JASC says you can reproduce the "texture, lighting, and brilliance of a true artistic work."

The real fun begins when you click the Adjust window for full-screen tweaking. This lets you apply just the right touch of color, deformation and focus. When you click OK, you'll go back to the interface where you'll watch your digital masterpiece literally being painted. For more information or to download a demo version of Virtual Painter, visit www.jasc.com.

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