UPDATE (2015-12-25): I’ve examined the new print dialog for the Epson SureColor P800, and there is only one significant change; “Finest Detail” is no longer an option in the dialog. Nothing else has changed. However, if you experience any banding issues or are making museum-grade prints, see my post on fixing banding here.
I’ve been printing on my new Epson Stylus Pro 3880 for about a month now, preparing the 40 pieces for my West Nebraska Arts Center show that opens on March 1. I’ve been very, very impressed with the results, as have clients who have seen the work, and I think the difference in quality between the 3800 and the 3880 is noticeable. The challenge is getting those superb results if you’re a novice, and this tutorial is meant as a starting point for giclée newcomers. I have to give some of the credit to my ascension of the learning curve to Terry Cockerham, who is a master of the giclée process, to the point he keeps both an Epson 3880 and 4900 pretty well heated up every day.
Before I continue, I’ll say this up front: When you choose to purchase printing papers such as Hanhemühle, Red River, Epson, Canson or Moab, please do so using the links on this blog. Dick Blick Art Materials provides all the papers listed except for Red River, which provides its paper direct. Whenever you purchase by clicking through from this blog to these sites, it helps pay for all the materials, ink, time and technology I need in order to provide you with these posts. Thanks in advance.
Also, I prefer to disclose that I’m a brand agnostic; if I choose to use a company’s materials or equipment, it’s because I’ve found them to be up to my own high standards (just ask my students), and I don’t stick to just one brand. I think that’s important for my readers, too, as it’s never any help to read someone’s work that is a parrot voice. If there’s a problem with something I’m reviewing, you’ll know about it. As one writing professor in my undergrad said about all life, perfection is something for which we strive, but seldom attain. The same is true for any product.
Introduction & Using an ICC Profile
Let’s start with a paper and print overview. For this tutorial, I’ll use my photo “Leif and Claire” and Canson Infinity Arches Museum Velin Rag 13 x 19 in 250gsm as the paper. Since the Canson is a fine art paper, it will require the 3880 to switch to matte black ink, which will use a hefty amount of ink (4.6 mL from an 80 mL cartridge). The lesson is simple: Print all your matte paper work together to save ink due to cartridge switches.
It can be daunting for a newbie to even begin the journey to quality prints, but the first step on the road toward success is choosing the correct ICC profile. ICC stands for International Color Consortium, a group including Microsoft, Kodak and Apple that met years ago to determine the methods for handling digital color handling. Paper manufacturers develop ICC profiles for each paper they produce, and usually provide these for download free of charge. The profiles ensure your prints have accurate color matching based on the material type, which is mould-made, whitener-free paper in the case of the Canson. You can download Canson profiles here.
I’m a Mac user, so I’ll be showing the process for installing the ICC profile using that system (sorry, Windows folks).
After unzipping the download, you’ll drop the profile into Macintosh HD > Library > ColorSync > Profiles. Once you’ve done this, the profile should be immediate available, but I usually quit and reopen Photoshop just in case.
Prepping the Print
Now let’s prep the print. I make a habit of saving copies of master prints for each color profile I use, so I’m saving a copy of “Leif and Claire” as “LeifAndClaireAdobe1998.psd”.
(This way, there’s no destructive editing that becomes irreversible, since converting an image to a new color profile will also flatten the image.)
In Photoshop, select Edit > Convert to Profile. A dialog will pop up that provides a series of options for varying printing methods, but in our case, we want to select RGB > Adobe RGB (1998).
In the lower section of the dialog under Conversion Options, make sure to leave the Adobe (ACE) selected, but choose “Perceptual” in the Intent pull-down, and check “Use Black Point Compensation.” Click OK, and your conversion is made.
Printing the Print
Now comes the tougher part. For the Canson, you’ll need to install the Manual Rear Tray on the Epson; a tutorial is for the tray installation and loading the paper is here. Load your paper at this time, then in Photoshop choose File > Print.
You’ll see a complex dialog pop up. We’re going to set a number of different elements here. We’ll work in the Color Management menu on the right-hand side of the dialog, from top to bottom. First, and most importantly, we need to select Document color management (don’t use Proof), and set the Color Handling to Photoshop Manages Colors. This ensures your ICC profile you installed earlier becomes the managing method for the print, and now find your profile (cifa_3880_velin250_m_bk.icc) in the Printer Profile pull down menu. To match the print Rendering Intent to our profile Rendering Intent we specified earlier, select Perceptual in the Rendering Intent pull down. According to Adobe, a Perceptual setting “Aims to preserve the visual relationship between colors so it’s perceived as natural to the human eye.” Canson requires this setting for the Arches Velin Museum Rag Paper. Finally, check the Black Point Compensation checkbox to make sure Photoshop adjusts for differences in the black point levels when converting colors. Don’t click Print yet-we’re not done.
Now we’ll set the details in the Epson dialog. Under Copies in the center of the dialog, click the “Print Settings…” button. A new dialog will appear.
Set your paper size to Super A3 / B 13 x 19 in (Manual Rear) in the Paper Size pull down. Since “Leif and Claire has borders, I’m not selecting Borderless for this application.
Second, select the Color Matching option in the last pull down; check to make sure ColorSync is greyed-out.
Last, select the Printer Settings option in the pull down, and make sure the Basic tab is selected. Under Media Type, select Fine Art Paper > Velvet Fine Art Paper. Don’t use Watercolor Bright White; Museum Rag is a warm-tone paper, and your white settings will suffer for the mistake. Output resolution should be 1440 dpi (2880 slows print times with no noticeable improvements in quality), and click High Speed (but NOT Finest Detail—it is unnecessary, according to Epson; it is only useful when printing vector graphics and type). Save to close the dialog, check to make sure your image is centered and fits within the paper, and you’re ready. Click print.
I hope the tutorial helps clear up some of the processes for creating a matched color print on the Epson Stylus Pro 3880. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or comment, and next time, I’ll detail some ways to fine-tune prints for better color saturation and balance.