So, you’re ready to make the next, masterful step: printing your star black and white image for a permanent private or museum collection, using only your skills and your Epson Stylus Pro 3880 or SureColor P800. If you’ve read my other posts on fine art printing, you’ll know that often I suggest using 1440 dpi and high-speed printing (these are also Red River Paper‘s suggestions, and as they help pay for the blog, give ’em a visit if you appreciate these posts). However, high speed printing has been known to cause banding issues on the Epsons, but only intermittently; tests by folks at MIT have also been inconclusive about the quality differences on the high speed setting. So in this case, there’s no room for imperfections, and you need to ensure nothing—and I do mean nothing—can be nitpicked about your final product, so here we’ll be making the jump to the “SuperPhoto.” The best part about this process: It’s pretty darn easy to fix banding in your fine art prints using your Epson.
A quick note on this tutorial: The sample images I’m using are scanned, rather than shot on the copy stand. While I usually prefer the latter route, my point can be well made with the ease of scanning this time, so if you notice dust and some splotches on the print scans, I judge those tertiary to the point of discussing banding.
Before we get started, let’s make a couple of things clear. First, I am an Epson evangelist. After all, I teach at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and Epson is our printing educational partner; also, I’ve printed on nearly every other brand of wide-format inkjet imaginable, and the simple truth is my experiences with Epson have been better than any. I’ve also found that no printer is perfect, and even my venerable (and treasured) Epson Stylus Pro 3880 has its…um, issues (just Google “Epson Pizza Wheel” and you’ll understand). But at the end of the day, I trust my Epson to deliver. Period.
Second, I like a lot of different papers. I have some prints that look best on Canson Infinity Arches Rag, while others are best suited to Hahnemuhle FineArt Baryta. When I teach courses at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, I use Epson Velvet and Epson Ultra Premium Glossy exclusively, and I have a very sincere love affair with Velvet (my wife isn’t jealous, though). Red River papers are a large volume of paper in my stock, and the manufacturer I’ll use for this exercise (and please use this link to purchase, as it helps pay for the blog–thanks in advance). The point is, I choose papers to fit the print, not the other way around. You must first understand your vision for your image, and its unique characteristics, in order to properly choose a paper and printing method.
One challenge of any printer is head alignment, and the Epson is no exception, especially on the high speed setting. High speed means the printer lays down ink on both traverses of the print head, which means absolute print head alignment is critical. If the head is slightly out of alignment, that means slight banding (seen under a loupe) will appear in the final print (see the example on the left). While most people might not notice it, to a curator or a professional, this is a serious problem. Translation: Fix it, or else.
A search on the Web will turn up any number of viable solutions, but this is often more confusing than helpful; moreover, many are simply not appropriate in this situation. Now, let me qualify this with a disclaimer: Your banding might come from other issues (if this is a hot topic for folks, please let me know and I’ll work on a post detailing how to fix those problems), so if this post doesn’t help you resolve them, don’t give up.
The image I’m using is of a rancher named George from western Nebraska, made on a Saturday morning in early May as he and his family rounded up the cattle for branding; it’s shot at a low depth of field, which often exacerbated the banding issue if it rears its ugly head. I’ve used the side-by-side format here so that you can make an easier comparison regarding the banding, including the detail area in a green box.
If you’re having a hard time seeing the problem on the overall print comparison, take a look at the detail boxes below. Note the dark lines that are present in the left (before) version of the print.
So—hopefully—you can see the issues between the two prints, and have a visual basis for the rest of the tutorial.
Switching to 2880 dpi and Toggling High Speed Printing
So where do we begin? Here, our solution is a simple matter of unchecked boxes. I’ll be showing the process for both the Stylus Pro 3880 and the new SureColor P800, just to make sure it’s clear for owners of each model. Also, I’ll be printing on Mac OS X through Photoshop CS6 (I’ve held out on CC as I like CS6’s interface a lot more).
Choose File > Print, and at the top of the Photoshop dialog, click Print Settings. I won’t notate any differences between the Stylus pro 3880 and the SureColor P800 until there actually are any, so don’t worry.
When you click the Print Settings button, a new dialog will appear: the Print window. Below Paper Size, you’ll see a pull down menu with Layout selected.
Instead of Layout, select Printer Settings.
In the Printer Settings dialog, you’ll see an Output Resolution pull down option. SuperFine – 1440 dpi is usually selected (unless you’ve changed it prior to this tutorial); in our case, select SuperPhoto – 2880 dpi. This is similar for both the Stylus Pro 3880 and the SureColor P800.
Now that we’ve made sure we’re printing at maximum resolution, we’ll turn off the high speed option by UN-checking the High Speed box.
The Stylus Pro 3880 and SureColor difference is here. Some people have found (in Mac OS X, at least) that when they select SuperPhoto, the High Speed dialog checks automatically, and is greyed-out so that it cannot be unchecked. In this case, don’t fret. While this has happened to me, the solution I have found workable (and simple) is to: 1) reselect SuperFine in the Output Resolution; 2) uncheck High Speed; 3) select SuperPhoto again. In these cases, it seems to be a software bug in the Epson driver, but since it’s easily remedied, I haven’t heard of any other problems in this area. I’m hoping to get my hands on a P800 for rigorous testing soon, so if I do discover any issues with this, I’ll let you know.
That’s it! With SuperPhoto selected and the nefarious High Speed negated, print away. You should be able to see a distinct difference in the detail and smoothness of problem areas in your prints when using this solution.
While there are a lot of different causes of banding in prints, a number of general banding issues can be solved through the configuration I’ve just given you. I’m also working on an advanced-level tutorial for print feed adjustment, but this will be for folks who are VERY comfortable being, well…”techies.” Regardless, I hope you’ve found this lesson helpful, and happy holidays.