Spectrum Photographic: How to get great prints

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Spectrum Photographic is a longstanding professional imaging lab specialising in high quality fine art and photographic printing, as well as archival mounting. Founded in 1993, and now nestled in the heart of Brighton, Spectrum has grown into one of the UK’s leading photographic printing and finishing centres. Specialising in archival mounting, fine art and photographic printing, they offer Giclée and C-type printing alongside a range of museum and exhibition quality services. We spoke to one of their master printers on how to get the best prints from your photos.

1. Is it better to shoot the original image in JPEG or Raw? How much post-processing should I do to the image before printing it, and are there any adjustments that most images need to get better print results?

Spectrum would recommend shooting in Raw and editing images as 16 Bit TIFFS (not JPEGSs) as this will ensure that the file retains quality when printing. Once the file has been edited, and before printing, we recommend saving the files as high resolution JPEGs. This is the best file type for printing, as it reduces the risk of file corruption, and as long as the file is saved as a “high resolution” JPEG you will see no loss of quality when printing. If you are experimenting with post-production, or if you have not used a lab before, we recommend producing test prints. Regarding getting the best results from a file, there are no hard and fast rules – testing is key as is having a calibrated workflow.

2. How important is it to have a colour-calibrated monitor to process the image on and how can I ensure that what I see on screen is what comes out on the print?

Absolutely vital – if your screen is not calibrated you are essentially working blind and cannot guarantee results. Spectrum provides helpful information on the website with regards to colour management. For consistency it is not only important to work on a desktop calibrated screen but also to ensure your environment is not affected by overpowering colours (such as a bright pink wall). Although we don’t recommend laptops for image processing (as the screen can change with the slightest movement) this is how a lot of people work now, so we would suggest being mindful about where you are editing your images, as different lighting will effect what you are seeing. Our studio is painted in a neutral grey and has a grey floor and the master printers wear muted colours to work. These may seem like small touches, but they are vital elements when producing fine art prints.

3. Do I need to process the image differently depending on what type of paper I choose to have the print on?

This is a good question! We supply ICC profiles to help photographers soft proof images before printing so they can adjust files to ensure they look the same on every paper. Images will need tweaks to counteract the characteristics of individual papers (for example; warm base white)

4. How do I get the right file size to make large prints (larger than the native size of the image from the camera)?

It is important to know where you would like to go with the image and what your end result will be. For example, will you be displaying it in an exhibition? Is it going in a portfolio? Will it go on the wall in your home? It is very much down to the individual file characteristics and the photographer’s expectations. We have seen files blow up to produce large format vinyls that cover the breadth of a wall – as the installation is meant to be viewed at a distance the file could be pushed beyond our recommendation for fine detail, but the medium used for display retains the image quality as suitable for viewing from a distance. As a rule we recommend not printing below 150dpi, but with digital files straight from the camera we have seen great results from a lower dpi – as with image editing, this is very subjective.

5. What are the current trends in terms of printing paper?

The Pigment print papers (Giclée) are very popular and this is because there is such a variety of different finishes now available. C-type is still extremely popular and we are also very excited about the new FujiFilm MAXIMA with its increased archival properties and wider colour gamut. This will be available through Spectrum in January 2019 and we have already had quite a few requests for this paper. Ephemeral papers, such as wall vinyl, blue back papers and poster media are also very popular for short term displays.

6. Why use a pro lab?

Pro labs offer archival printing services – which provides the assurance of quality and longevity. Spectrum is a Hahnemühle certified lab, which means we follow strict guidelines with regards to our Giclée printing process. Pro labs also offer bespoke sizes – so not just the standard photographic sizes – we print to the millimetre and on wide format printers, which provides great flexibility for our customers to create bespoke products.

One of Spectrum's regular clients is Benjamin Graham, the overall winner of Landscape Photographer of the Year 2017. Benjamin says, 'I have been sending my larger print orders to Spectrum for three years. Their products and service during this time have been exemplary in every way. Prior to submission for printing, I use their profiles for soft-proofing my files in Photoshop. Their supplied prints are are virtually indistinguishable from the on-screen images I submit. Beautifully presented and finished, Spectrum's Durospec frame-less acrylic mounting process is the epitome of contemporary gallery-level quality.'

Visit the Spectrum Photographic website here.