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Epson Pro 3880 – First Print

Wednesday 7 September 2011

It’s 10:06pm and I am cranking out my first full-page print – a 12×16 printed on 13×19…

Wild Ginger, Spring, Bruce Trail

My original goal was to have the first print by dinner time today, but I was being rather ambitious than realistic.

I picked up the printer this morning (thanks Lan at Vistek, Mississauga!) and spent some time looking through the various papers they had in stock. Before going, I had done my research and had settled on three papers:

  • Ilford GALERIE Gold Fibre Silk – a beautiful, silky smooth baryta paper, reminiscent of the glory days in the darkroom with Galerie paper;
  • MOAB Entrada Natural – a gorgeous rag fine art paper that will be great for the more artsy shots;
  • Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag – yet another beautiful paper with a long history.

Each of these papers have a few things in common. Since I am looking at longevity and fine prints, I figured I should do it right with 100% cotton rag substrate and no Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs). No RC, no photo glossy, no alpha cellulose – just the best paper possible. Not the most expensive (Hahnemuhle is a fortune!) but every bit as good as the most expensive. As well, each of the papers came with excellent recommendations:

     The price of these papers is reasonable, too. For 13×19″ sheets, they run about $3.00 to $3.40 per sheet. The equivalent Hahnemuhle is 1.5x to 2x those prices.
     So with boxes of paper under my arm away I went back up the 401 then down into my basement. Wow – what a process! Unpacking took more than a few minutes with all the tape and quite ingenious packaging of the printer. I also had to drag my old desk out of the crawl space to support it. To the uninitiated, it’s quite large! Installing the inks was simple enough, but there are 9 of them so it takes time.
     After a bite to eat and some church business (you know, committee work) I was back at it. But where to start?!? I can’t just plug it in and send a print over – there’s a bit of a learning curve here. I had to download paper profiles from each of the manufacturers and discover exactly what media settings were needed for each paper. The Epson print drivers are great, but, let’s face it, Epson wants us to use their paper so they build in the presets for their paper, not others. I had thought about using Epson paper, but they’re the printer experts, not the paper experts. Mind you, they have some beautiful papers (I’m looking forward to trying the Cold Press Natural).
     Finally, around 5pm I was ready to print, but it’s also dinner time. We are one of those seemingly dying breeds of families that still have dinner together – a chance to get caught up with everyone and their day. So finally at about 7:30pm I was down in the basement again. But which photo to choose as my first? After sorting through a few dozen, I decided on this one. I shot it earlier this spring on a beautifully foggy day on the Bruce Trail near Chedoke Golf Course in Hamilton. Laurie and I had a wonderful morning hike along there; she birding and I photographing. With BBC Proms streaming through the stereo (Proms 70 – Holst: The Planets) I set to work.
     Back in the days of darkrooms, we would make test strips at different exposures then different contrasts to nail down just the right combination. I’ve created a Lightroom printing preset that does the same thing: it prints just a 3″ strip of the photo. From that strip, I can judge just how the colour, contrast and exposure look. I am not using a monitor profile at this time (I know – big taboo), but at $275 for one that would do the job well, I figured with my MacBook Pro screen fine tuned and an experienced colour darkroom photographic eye, I could do a pretty good job. And, considering this is my first foray into pigment inks and fine art paper, I’d say I’ve done fairly well. I ended up doing 5 – 3″ test strips on a single 13×19 (with space for one more test) before printing a full-sized print. Setting up the Lightroom presets for both the test strip and the final print also took some time to get just right. But, finally, the full-sized print began emerging from the printer.
     Wow! It the final print looks great. I’m sure I’ll see it differently tomorrow but I am so looking forward to finally getting back “in the darkroom” after this 11-year hiatus. Maybe I’ll try a black-and-white. And just think – no water running for hours on end; no more waiting 20 minutes for the colour developer and blix for each test strip; no feeling around in the dark to cut paper (and not my fingers!); no squeegeeing/sponging of large wet sheets, hoping not to scratch one. I do miss the smell of a darkroom, that pungent acetic acid smell, but perhaps the smell of pigment ink will begin to replace that nostalgia. But I sure won’t miss the chemicals down the sink and the endless use of water for washing. Digital printing is here to stay!
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