1/20/16

Photo Lab Reviews - Fine Art Prints


This is part 3 of my print to ship series which documents my creating and selling process.  It turns out the print part of this journey took me for quite a ride.  So far I've reviewed C-prints and Silver GelatinPress Prints, and now Fine Art Prints.  The next chapter will be... spoiler alert... professional printing from home with my new Epson Surecolor P600!  It's so accurate, that I've chosen to use some of my home prints to compare with the lab prints for this post.  Most the labs use various models of Epson printers, themselves.

Ok, so first off, lets define what Fine Art Prints are.  They go by the names Giclee, Pigment Prints, and Archival Inkjet Prints.  You find them hanging in galleries and museums.  They are printed on inkjet printers, but not your $100 home printer.  Fine Art printers are beautiful machines that use pigment inks.  You can buy dye ink professional printers, such as the Canon Pro-100,  but the prints will not last quite as long.  Pigment ink has an edge with longevity.

Now lets talk papers.  Every lab offers a different array.  Almost all my prints were on matte and cotton rag paper.  I could do an entire blog post on papers but will keep this short.   The main attributes you will need to decide on are:  glossy vs matte, the amount of texture, and natural vs bright white papers.  Added whiteners will chip away at the longevity, stay away from them if that is important to you.

Fine art prints are more delicate than their plastic counterparts.  What may work to frame for a gallery may not be a great idea to throw in a box and let everyone rub their grubby hands on them.   Most the papers I tried were 100% cotton and very similar to the thick art papers you would find in an art supply store used for drawing or watercolor.   The first print I received made my heart leap.   Fine Art printing is the best my images have ever looked on paper, but at a price.  Handle with care.

Prints never look the same on screen as they do in real life.  I've done my best to present some rough images here, but my descriptions may be more accurate.  Especially since everyone is viewing these with different monitor settings.   Also, some of these comparisons are on different paper types which may also affect the outcome.  Click on any image for a larger view.

Here are the labs I tried, in no particular order:

 
Fine Print Imaging

What I Ordered:  8x12 print on Fine Art Smooth Paper

Ordering: I ordered through their Fine Print Express site.  This means they are not going to baby your images.  They will print exactly what you send them, so make sure it's prepped correctly.   All prep instructions can be found here.   An additional 1/2 inch white border is added to all fine art prints.  That means my 8x12 image was printed on a 9x13 sheet of paper.  They have updated their printing profiles since I last ordered which may give even better print accuracy. 

Shipping: It was $9 for the size I ordered. 

Samples:  You may request free paper samples via the contact form.

Who they are for:  Fine art photographers, both hobbyist and professional.  I know of at least one fine art gallery that uses them regularly. 

Pros: My print was pretty good, it shipped in eco-friendly materials, and the customer service was good.  I had called to ask a few questions and they walked me through everything. 

Cons: If I had to nitpick, I'd rather upload in srgb rather than Adobe RGB color space.  It's one click of a button, but for anyone unfamiliar with color space it may throw them off.   My print lacked a little punch in the contrast and was a tad lighter than other labs.  On the bright side, it meant my dark tones didn't block up and lose detail. 


Fine Print Imaging Review
Left: Fine Print Imaging -  Right: Digital Silver Imaging- both on cotton rag paper

 
   

Musea

What I Ordered:  I sampled a 5x7 of each paper type they offer. 

Ordering: I have only ordered the samples but their ordering process looks straightforward enough.

Shipping: $10, free over $75, reasonable turnaround time. 

Samples: Musea offers free samples of each of their paper types, with your photos printed on them.  I want to point out this is very generous offer.   I do regret not printing the same image on all four samples, it would have made my paper comparison easier.

Who they are for: Professionals can apply for an account here.  Musea would be a good fit for high end portrait photographers who order small proofs in quantity or large custom framed prints. Musea will also host a proof site for you to sell to clients if you so desire.

Pros:  My prints were were accurate and almost as good as my home printer.  They also offer custom sized prints and custom cut mats. 

Cons: Because they are a small company, they sometimes close for holidays or events.  Plan accordingly.


musea lab print review fine art
From left: Digital Silver Imaging, Musea, Epson p600, all 3 on cotton rag paper



    

Panopticon Imaging

What I ordered: 11x14 print on Epson Hot Press Paper.  I actually won this print on their Facebook page!

Ordering:  It's been so long I don't remember the upload details, but it looks like a basic upload process.  A half inch border was added around my image, bringing the paper size to 12x15.  I believe you can request a larger border to suit your preferences.

Shipping:  Shipping was fair and my 11x14 shipped flat rather than rolled which made me happy.

Samples: None that I know of but they will quote you a price if you want to order a small proof image.

Who they are for: Fine Art Photographers, both professional and hobbyists.   I would feel comfortable printing exhibition work with this company and I know several photographers who do.

Pros: This was the most accurate print of all the labs I tried.  I purposefully chose a dark image with lots of detail to see how it would measure up.  This is the closest print quality to my home printer.  My husband swears my printer makes the image pop a little more, but I hardly think anyone would notice.   The customer service was really great.  They were able to give me advice on what papers would suit my work and made me feel at ease about the entire process.

Cons:  Despite shipping in a flat container, my print had a really strong curve to it and took quite awhile and lots of books to flatten out.  It's fine when framing, but I'd hate to re-sell a curled print to a customer.  I'm not sure if this can be helped or if it's just how some prints come off the roll.



panopticon lab review
Left: Epson p600 - Right: Panopticon - both printed on Epson Hot Press cotton rag paper



Top: Panopticon - Bottom: Epson p600












        

Digital Silver Imaging

What I ordered: I sampled  four types of Value Print inkjet papers, along with their Silver Gelatin RC paper which I reviewed here

Ordering:  Value Printing prints your files without anyone tampering with them customizing them, but you have limited paper choices.  Value Printing is ordered through a ROES software system.  This was hands down the easiest ordering of all the fine art labs I tested.  I wish every lab had an interface like this. 

Shipping:  Forever.   Ok, not forever, but it felt like it.   I think my first prints took over two weeks.  That, along with fairly high shipping costs were a deal breaker for me.  Their product quality did not stand out enough for me to justify the shipping.  Update:  DSI has responded to the shipping issues and will soon offer a USPS option along with getting their ROES orders out more timely.

Samples:  You can get a discount on 8x10 samples and a coupon towards your next order here

Who they are for:  Professionals and hobbyists. 

Pros:  The prices on the fine art paper were affordable and I was able to order sizes as small as 5x7.    A 5x7 on a lightweight cotton rag paper ran me $6 before shipping. 

Cons: The lack of paper options with Value Printing was a bummer.  My print on matte paper had a cyan color tint.  My print on cotton rag lost detail in the shadows and looked too inky.  I wouldn't resell either one.  My print on Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta was better, but I didn't like the in-hand feel of the paper, something that is important to me.  I prefer their Silver Gelatin RC Pearl prints over all their inkjet papers I tried.



Digital Silver Imaging Inkjet Prints
Left: Digital Silver Imaging on Matte Paper - Right: Epson p600 on cotton rag


Loktah

What I ordered:  I ordered an 8x10 print on their fine art matte paper.

Ordering:  ROES

Shipping: $5 for orders over $15 and free for orders over $32.  While one of their big claims is being an eco-friendly business - they did not ship in eco-friendly packaging any of the times I ordered.   Maybe this will change in the future.

Samples:  Samples are free but you pay shipping.

Who they are for:  Professional photographers can apply here.

Pros:  Loktah's fine art prints are priced very competitively, especially their mid to large sizes. 

Cons:  As you can see from the print comparison below, the blacks need some help, along with the color cast.  I printed this same image with various labs on various papers (c-print, silver gelatin, press print) and Loktah's was the least accurate.




Lotktah lab review
Left: Lotkah on fine art matte paper - Right: Epson p600 on cotton rag


More in this Series:

Part 1: C-Prints and Silver Gelatin Lab Review
Part 2: Press Prints Lab Review
Part 4: Printer Review - Epson p600
Part 5: Choosing a Storefront - Etsy vs Tictail 
Part 6: Eco-friendly Packaging and Shipping


7 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review! We're glad you liked the experience and our environmental efforts! FYI, we have recently updated our paper profiles and are thrilled with the results!

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    1. Wonderful! I thought you had mentioned when I called last year that you were planning to update. I'll update the post. Thanks for letting me know!

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  2. thanks so much for this - your posts are crazy helpful!!!

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  3. Wow, this is incredibly helpful! Your work is stunning!

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  4. I used to have my own Epson printer and printed on Hahnemuhle's Baryta paper. I loved the prints. I not longer have the printer and need to find a place to get similar quality prints for my business. Ideally, I'd love to find a printer that offers the same paper.

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    Replies
    1. Digital Silver Imaging offers Hahnemühle Photo Silk Baryta. Not sure if it's the exact stock you are looking for?

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