From early January I began to contact several companies about the paper and fabric products they offer and obtained test strips of my prints on a selected few. The selection task is complicated by the price differences for final printing with some offering student discount and others none.
The sample packs were helpful in being able to see the products close up rather than on screen, feel the surfaces and consider their compatibility with the subject matter of my images and the surfaces for hanging them.
The images for the first exhibition at MVV Environment Devonport Ltd were relatively easy to resolve as I decided to match the corporate images already in the venue rather than introducing a style that was not compatible with the industrial surroundings or durable given the high footfall of visitors. Thus they were printed on paper and mounted on pvc board by the printer they use at an advantageous corporate rate.
However the choices for the second exhibition at The Clay Factory invited many more options being a location for artists, small businesses and community activities. While presenting images in the best way possible with quality being a priority, practical constraints can place limitations on the type of printing (inkjet versus light), surfaces (gigclee versus C-type), mounting (foamex/board/wood/aluminium) and framed or unframed. Fixings also come into play with velcro being the best option for the first exhibition on plastered walls and magnets and nails for the second being part on metal wall and partly on a slatted wood wall.
Paper: Having scrutinised the sample packs and websites and visited the print shop at Falmouth University to look at samples and discuss prices, my choices for test strips were made. These came from four sources (PhotoLab at Falmouth, Blackfriars in Plymouth, Digital Colour Services in Somerset, The Print Space in London). C-type Matt still had a sheen and felt flimsy. Hahnemuhle Pearl was much more effective (in my mind), better still was Hahnemuhle Photorag with its textured surface and for the beach debris in particular, the Gigclee Hahnemuhle German Etching was the winner. But, and there had to be a downside, the surface is easily damaged and the cost for each of these options was beyond my current budget for the sizes I wanted some of the images printed at. The information will still be used should the images be required for future exhibitions including the MA Photography graduate exhibition 20th June to 2nd July at The Print Space.
I went on to order small images in poster and mounted poster formats to check the quality of the printing and colours with Photobox. While this organisation may not be considered a competitor in the upper echelons of printing fine art, my feet have stayed firmly on the ground in considering the industrial setting, practical issues with weight and hanging, the time scale for production and costs given that this is a second capital outlay for the project and completion of the MA. Pleased with the results for the posters which are light and should stay put with magnets, I am less happy with a couple of mounted posters and have removed them from the selection for the slatted wooden wall. This firm has also supplied several sets of 7.5×7.5 cms magnetised images which I intend to display initially in grid arrangements but will be inviting visitors to rearrange them to their liking.
Fabrics: I shortlisted natural fabrics from the extensive range of products by Contrado. Of the three samples, each on different fabrics, one was too flimsy and silky (Cotton Satin 172gsm), one had a fleecy felt feel and the image looked awful (Polar Fleece 285gsm) and the third was super (Gaia Eco Woven 100% recycled 280gsm). The textural qualities of the image matched the texture produced in the weave of the fabric. Having immediately rejected the first two, the downside of the third came with thinking about hanging by magnets and the possibility of the weight of the fabric causing some gravitational sagging in between the magnets thus spoiling the image.
Posters and flyers: Most recently I have obtained samples for printing flyers and posters. Having tried Instantprint before and being pleased with the A3 posters and the price I have ordered from them again for my second exhibition. While I had some troubled thoughts about use of paper and ink resources (the choice for posters was limited) for the posters I partly resolved my dilemma by having the flyers double sided and on recycled paper. Thus my bio and project explanation are on the back and they can therefore double up as handouts at the exhibition as well as being used for pre-exhibition publicity. The costs will still be less than using my paper, inks and time printing them at home.
What have I learned? Well if I were to advise another person about having their photographic images printed by someone else I would suggest the following:
- Get sample packs early, they are usually free although you may need to pay postage. Holding, feeling and seeing the surfaces close up is a world away from looking at a screen and trying to make potentially costly decisions.
- Consider the context in which you are displaying the images including the compatibility with other art works as well as the walls and surfaces of the premises.
- Take account of the surfaces available for presenting your images in relation to the planned size and weight of the printed product including any mounts and frames, in order to determine the fixings you will need. Adjustments to printing and mounting plans may be needed should there be limitations on the fixings you can use as specified by the venue.
- Do invest in test strips. It is a relatively small outlay compared with having made a costly printing decision and found the printed surface does not wok for the image or location for various reasons. There is plenty of advice offered by printing companies online and by telephone on how to prepares your images for test strips.
- Print your images and obtain fixings in plenty of time for the exhibition!