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Printing Large Format Photography

By Melissa Donovan 

Many industries rely on large format digital printers. In fine art photography, where color, quality, and archiving are of the utmost importance, they fit the requirements. New ink sets and refined media allow for the reproduction of photographs at a high image resolution in big print at a level of affordability and accessibility. The following artists utilize large format printers in unique, different ways, but what resonates from each is the passion of translating their messages through art to a broad audience.


Sean Davey: Aloha to Beach & Surf

Beginning in 1977, Sean Davey embarked on the profession of photography. It took several decades to develop his position in the industry. In the 1990s, while in Australia, he worked in commercial color labs and mastered multiple developing processes in the darkroom. In 2004, he made the switch from film to digital. “I could see that it was the future. I didn’t want to be that guy playing catch up somewhere down the road,” explains Davey.


Today Davey is based on the North Shore of Oahu in HI and specializes in beach and surf photography. As a freelance photographer his publishing career now boasts over 140 magazine covers. Despite the multiple sources of income generated through these titles, Davey looked to bring in additional profit he could control on his own terms.


“I already had a massive archive of thousands of images and so I decided to concentrate less on making images and put an emphasis on marketing what I had, so I went into the print selling business,” he shares. Realizing the potential of his portfolio, Davey turned to digital print.


Initially, he utilized third-party Web sites, but the partnership required him to surrender some of the profits. In response, he purchased an Epson Stylus Pro 9900. The printer not only enables Davey to keep all of the earnings, but allows him to control the entire process—from output to shipping. With his experience in the darkroom, he ensures that every piece of art that leaves the studio is perfect. Shipments are guaranteed within a day or two of order submission thanks to quick output and fast drying. Also, because he prints in house, Davey signs the artwork.


The Epson Stylus Pro 9900 allows for the output of prints up to 44 inches in width and over 100 inches in height. “It produces the most amazing B&W that I’ve seen on a home printer,” he continues. Epson UltraChrome HDR pigment ink utilizes ten colors, including orange and green.


Davey says the device allows him to concentrate on marketing his imagery as extra large canvases. Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper and Exhibition Canvas Gloss are commonly used. The photo paper delivers bold and clear prints and Davey cites the canvas as the best he’s ever worked with. Projects printed off the Epson Stylus Pro 9900 include traditional 11x14-inch prints to panoramic and semi-panoramic pieces at 24x72 and 24x48 inches, respectively. Davey rolls final pieces and ships in a tube. Customers then take them to be framed or gallery stretched.


There are challenges related to digital print. Davey says perhaps the biggest is properly understanding color management. “You need to have a good quality monitor and have it calibrated, and then understand the routines involved with the printing dialogue,” he recommends.


The printer is utilized several times a week to output work for many of Davey’s customers. Originally he assumed his traditional client base of publishers and readers of those works would purchase the large format prints. However, bigger business entities reach out to order ocean- and beach-related artwork and often refer him to others.


Davey’s move to in-house printing and control of his product is something he sees other photographers and artists slowly transitioning to. He believes the art world is moving away from traditional gallery sales and instead online will play a large part in the distribution of both original and reproduced pieces.


The quick turnaround associated with an in-house large format device is also essential, especially for walk-in customers looking for a quick sale. With Davey’s main location in HI—home to many tourists—the ability to print fast is a major consideration. When the sale is made, visitors take a big piece of aloha home with them. View more of Davey’s work at


Onne van der Wal: A Change in Course

Onne van der Wal celebrates 25 years as a professional photographer. When digital imaging appeared, he held off on making the transition from film but after much thought felt it was a natural progression. In addition, his Canon U.S.A., Inc. film-based camera made it easy to make the switch to digital—while the body of the camera changed, the lens remained the same.


van der Wal considers himself a commercial shooter—nabbing shots of sailing and yachting, scenic oceanic views, and nautical-theme artistry for many yacht and recreational boating clients. He fell into offering his work to traditional art lovers thanks to his wife, Tenley van der Wal, looking for a change in career.


“My wife was an interior designer, but found herself wanting to do more so she suggested I open a gallery portraying my work. I wasn’t interested in running the gallery and didn’t have a lot of time to do so, so my wife said she would. She found the space and used her interior design skills. She picks all of the images that we sell in the store and online, as well as the frames,” reflects van der Wal.


The gallery, based in Newport, RI, has been in operation for about ten years. Initially photographs were outsourced to another company to be printed, but van der Wal quickly realized the potential of bringing the print aspect of the business in house. Sticking with a familiar brand, he looked to Canon for a large format digital device. The first, a 36-inch, was purchased five or six years ago. Then a 44-inch device, the imagePROGRAF iPF8100, was acquired and the first printer sold due to footprint restraints.


Initially, it was daunting to operate the printer. The color management and color profiles were the hardest to grasp. However, van der Wal credits the technical support team at Canon as being top notch in troubleshooting abilities.


That same printer runs in the gallery, outputting anywhere from ten to 15 prints daily. This includes limited edition photography, posters, and mini prints. “It was an obvious decision and I highly recommend it. I come into the gallery and there is always a stack of freshly printed images ready for me to sign,” states van der Wal. He initially learned how to operate the device and then taught two other gallery employees, who are now the main operators.


Photographs are printed on glossy photographic paper or matte canvas—all from Canon. 99 percent of the canvas works are wrapped and some are finished with a frame. With the ability to print to 44 inches in width in house, van der Wal finds the possibilities endless, and likes the flexibility. The maximum width of the imagePROGRAF iPF8100 is frequently used and sometimes murals are designed out of three or four panels to create an even larger image.


With the gallery located in the busy tourist town of Newport, van der Wal receives a steady stream of out-of-state visitors studying his portfolio. Many pop in and spend an hour looking and then leave empty handed. However, these seemingly fruitless experiences result in an order placed on the Web a few days later. On the other hand, European and other international tourists visit the gallery and request a print immediately. This is where the in-house printing capabilities of the imagePROGRAF iPF8100 come in handy. “We print right there and roll the output up and place in a tube. It’s so useful, it’s like printing money,” shares van der Wal.


It is these types of sales that are made possible by digital. Before, as a commercial photographer, van der Wal didn’t have the product. Now, with the gallery and in-house wide format printer, a whole new market is available—private homes, offices, and hotels. The gallery now accounts for 50 percent of business sales. van der Wal finds that many art patrons purchase first, second, and third photographs and much of his referrals are based on word of mouth. View more of van der Wal’s work at


Jim Nickelson: All About the Print

Based in Camden, ME, Jim Nickelson owns Jim Nickelson Photography and Nickelson Editions Fine Art Digital Printmaking. Professionally photographing and printing for the last five years, he translates what he’s learned from his own work into a profitable business model and vice versa.


“I find that many of the problems I’ve solved for my clients also prove invaluable in my own work. Similarly, my experience as an artist helps me relate to my clients and to understand what they seek in their prints. I find that my dual roles as a printmaker and photographer are mutually beneficial,” he explains.


Nickelson always envisioned his personal work printed large, making it immersive for the viewer, an essential component to his message. He specializes in landscape and night photography, particularly in the square format. While an Epson Stylus Pro 9900 was initially purchased for his own work, he quickly learned that many other photographers, painters, and artists hoped to create large format prints.


The 44-inch Epson printer is ideal due to its great output quality and service. For color-based prints the printer’s UltraChrome HDR ink set is exclusively used, cited as “fabulous” in terms of color capability and the overall feel of the print.


Media choice is vast, as Nickelson admits to working with about 20 different papers regularly—although the most common are fine art matte or fiber-based luster. “For my personal work I usually use Canson Infinity Platine Fibre Rag for its color capability, pleasing surface texture, lack of optical brighteners, and overall brilliance,” shares Nickelson. He routinely works with papers from Canson or Hahnemühle FineArt.


Between clients’ work and his own the Epson runs daily, “all the time it seems.” The printer is designed and equipped to handle such a workload. While Nickelson admits to a bit of trial and error in the initial stages of implementing large format services into his business, today’s challenges are primarily found in the handling part of the process.


“It took some optimization of my workspace, and some costly trial and error, to get a large format print from my printer to my paper cutter and then into a box or tube without causing damage to the print,” he shares. After much experimenting, the best method for transport involves a four- by four-foot sheet of plywood that catches the print as it comes off the printer and then allows for easy maneuvering over to the cutting table. The process has minimized the potential for damaging prints.


The increase in interest from Nickelson’s peers is great. “More of my collectors and clients desire large prints, so the ability to do them is essential. Prints are the main vehicle for my photography, so the ability to print myself and in varying sizes is vital.”


While there is profit potential from bringing large format digital printing in house, Nickelson admits that it takes work to reap the benefits. He says it’s important to keep expenses in check when it comes to purchasing the latest and greatest technology. While newer printers may be attractive, if they don’t have a lot of impact on the final print then it isn’t a necessary business decision. His Epson Stylus Pro 9900 continues to output well-made prints. View more of Nickelson’s work at


Sally Wiener Grotta: Invisible Technology

Telling a good story, translating what the artist sees to the artwork so the viewer experiences it as well, that’s the goal Sally Wiener Grotta strives to achieve with every piece she creates. Back in the early 1990s Grotta and her husband became pioneers in digital photography. While on assignment in ME they discovered the Center for Creative Imaging and worked with what Grotta calls a strange, noisy device—the original Kodak DCA camera—built on a modified Nikon body. The images it output had a nasty blue hue. The “hunchback camera” as she describes it hooked her. “I was in love and realized immediately the potential, what new kinds of art we could create,” shares Grotta.


Shortly after stumbling upon digital photography, Grotta was tasked with creating one of the first all digital shows at the Apple Market Center in New York City, NY. To create big prints, negatives were generated and then output. Grotta says the biggest challenge in working with early large format printers was the lack of color management. It was nearly impossible to predict how the print would look before it was output. Money, time, and materials were constantly wasted. Despite this, Grotta’s love for big print continued to grow.


“I truly believe photography is about the print. I love large photos. The details captured by today’s camera are beautifully expressed by a big printer. The print is then able to surround viewers with that detail, so they experience what I experienced and enter into the world I saw,” explains Grotta.


Her exhibition, The Wordsmiths Project, which showcased professionals behind the scenes in publishing, maxed out the dimension capacity of her own printer, at 20x24 inches—but it still wasn’t large enough for her. In 2009, with the start of American Hands—which studies American artisans working with their hands in traditional trades such as weaving, spinning, glassblowing, and bookbinding—Grotta hoped to achieve even larger prints.


With Hewlett-Packard (HP) already a sponsor of her ongoing American Hands exhibition through HP Workstations, she contacted the company to see if she could use the HP Designjet Z3200—a 44-inch printer—to output her work. She had seen the device when first introduced to the marketplace and was impressed with the quality of the ink, and more importantly the built-in color management, which she classifies as a dream come true. HP graciously compiled with her request.


Set up in her PA home-based studio, Grotta says it’s wonderful to have the printer so close—waking up at 3 a.m. to print a vision is a blessing and a curse. The printer’s media versatility is particularly beneficial to Grotta in terms of American Hands. Each trade is depicted as a large gallery wrapped canvas center piece with hard wood plank storyboards surrounding it. These are constantly changed, added to, or newly created, as Grotta continues to capture these workers in action—whether new contacts or revisiting old ones.


She is currently exploring mixed media through the creation of tapestries. Graphics are printed on large pieces of canvas and paint, string, or other media is added. Inspired by the printer’s flexibility, Grotta says it opens up her creative freedom. Recently, she’s continued advancing the opportunities presented by the device by printing on fabric. A gold spun silk, while porous, is printed while placed on top of white paper. The result is two images—a positive one on the silk and a ghost image on the paper, which Grotta says is “freeing” and a “delight.”


The color reliability, image quality, and level of detail shown on each piece of media does not vary. “It creates eye-popping pictures, with a depth in tonality and a great richness. The reds and browns in particular, since I do a lot of work in sepia tones, are very luscious,” she says. Grotta works with the HP 70 ink set, which is a pigment-based ink.


Grotta uses the HP Designjet Z3200 regularly. It depends on the exhibit, when it occurs, and how large of a venue. For example, American Hands—which was displayed eight times in 2012—used a different set of artwork at every function. Sometimes, when the venue is larger than the previous, it needs to be filled with more artwork and Grotta must print additional images.


During busy pre-exhibition allotments of time, the printer runs three weeks straight every day, or it can be quiet for two months. The beauty of the device, however, is that despite lying dormant for long periods, it picks up where it left off. “It’s invisible technology, an extension of the artistry that enables creativity. I trust the printer to be there for me, I depend on it like my camera,” admits Grotta. View more of Grotta’s work at


Feb2013, Digital Output

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