Who makes archival prints the old-fashioned way in these online days?

I got into the business of fine art printing (and later, out) to satisfy a need: mine. As a fine art photographer who’s gained some local reknown by photographing an ongoing series I call Vanishing Austin (since 2004), I was frustrated by the print results I got when I’d leave a DVD or upload an image file with a local or online vendor. There was no one to discuss my file prep with, no one to consult on the best kind of print paper for the look I was after, no one to review my file with me to be sure the deeps I wanted would print deep, or that the highlights I strived for wouldn’t blow out in the printing process.

I opened a gallery and art services business in 2010, with an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 (a professional imaging system that prints up to 44″ wide in 10 Epson Ultrachrome pigment color inks plus two blacks) and set about to print with the skills and knowledge to tweak the best results from an image file. The goal was to astound and satisfy customers who were as demanding about the art of printing as I was, with one-on-one custom service.

The Fine Art of Printing

I kept our pricing in line with the services in Central Texas and the online printing sites (that only provided the more typical file-upload-and-batch-process workflow). I stocked two high-quality Epson papers, two higher-end Moab art and photo papers, added Red River Pearl Metallic and lots of samples, so customers could have some options to see how their work looked on differing substrates. I set up a soft-proofing on-the-spot system in-house on our iMac 27″ and encouraged customers to be a part of the process and watch their prints roll off the Epson Pro 9900.

I eagerly shared knowledge about making high-quality images for print, and answered questions about file prep, color profiles, file formats and more so customers felt like collaborators in making their prints shine. Once clients gained trust in our quality and service, I set up a file-upload system using Dropbox, encouraging phone conversations about the uploaded files, even custom proofing or strip tests by delivery, for customers who couldn’t get to my downtown Austin studio for one-on-one service.

These are times of less and less personal service, with so much available online. But I’ve found I’m not alone in desiring the craft of what I create to be of critical importance to my process. It’s ultimately about the end result, the finished product, the stunning print, that I am committed to, as much as it is about the thrill of creation behind the lens.

What’s your idea of a finished product? Are you content to have it viewed online, or are you old-school in wanting that gorgeous print that’s been lovingly made on a richly-textured art paper or pearly-finished photo paper?

I'd love to hear what you think

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