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How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?
  
 
lara_ckl
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


I have some high-detail landscape shots I want to print big. 32" to 36" on the long side. So, I sent a test image to a two commercial printers. The results I got back were disappointing.

Below are the samples.

Note that these are _extreme_ enlargements of a 3/4" x 3/8" section of a 5"x7" print. All three prints were scanned, cropped and exported to FM the same way.

I understand that I am not supposed to scrutinize prints at high magnification at close distances. Yes, I get all that. BUT, if you compare all three prints, it is clear that the home-made print (on a $130 printer) is better RELATIVE TO the commercial prints. The straight edges of the white sleeve is stair-stepped on the commercial prints but not on the home-made print. The commercial prints are also very pixelated and grainy.

I have spoken to both commercial printers and they both said that that was the best they can do, and that I did nothing wrong in my export workflow.

Is this really the best commercial printers can do?

My "home" printer can only do 19" at the widest. What am I to do for a 32"-36" print?

Background:
Original image was 4333x3095 pixels. Print size was 5"x7". All three prints were inkjet.
For the commercial prints, I exported a JPG file from Lightroom at 300dpi, Standard sharpening, Matte paper, 100% JPEG quality, sRGB.
For the home print, I printed directly to the printer from Lightroom at 300dpi, Standard sharpening, Matte paper, 16 Bit output, color management by printer, no print adjustment.

Cross posted to Nikon because the camera was a D810





Com1. Matte paper.







Com2. Velvet paper.







Hom1. Luster paper.




Mar 03, 2017 at 03:59 PM
Bernie
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


For starters, if this is from a scanned print, you're doing pretty good. In any event, there is tremendous variability in commercial labs. Either find a good lab that can do what you need (there are a few that are discussed here) or do the uprezzing and additional PP yourself and then hand it off to the lab. You can do cropped test prints on your own printer of problem areas at full size where noise / sharpening or where there are other issues.

The problem I ran into was one of color (or lack thereof) and the inability to print decently on papers that they said they could. I eventually opted to get my own 24" printer and have not regretted it at all.



Mar 04, 2017 at 04:01 PM
Steve Perry
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


I tired a variety of commercial print labs and came to the same conclusions - I'm better off doing it myself. Every time I tired a print from a lab and compared it to the same image done from my own printer, it wasn't even close. I went through a period where I think I tried about a half dozen of the big name labs, and while some did better than others, they just couldn't beat the detail, color, and tonal range I was getting at home.

Sad thing is, I hate printing, and I'm never going to be accused of being an expert at it. However, even my meager skills are enough to easily beat out the big labs with my Canon iPF 6400. I'd really love to find a lab that could do better so I could sell my printer and never have to do it myself again, but so far, no takers.



Mar 04, 2017 at 04:41 PM
kdphotography
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


There is much more going on in the printing process than simply pushing the "print button." Different printers have different print requirements for best quality output; post-processing on the image; the use of printer utilities and RIPS; the selection of the type/quality of printing substrate, and the use of custom ICC profiles, etc.----all can have an impact on the quality of a print. A fine art printer should be able to offer higher quality products as well as spend more time with you than a typical commercial pro-lab.

Ken
www.carmelfineartprinting.com




Mar 04, 2017 at 04:52 PM
chez
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


I've had the same experience with professional labs, very inconsistent results. I sent the same image to the same lab 3 different times resulting in 3 prints that looked different from one another. To me, this is totally unacceptable and quickly came to the realization that I can do better myself.

I now have 3 printers which produce excellent prints and I have the ability to quickly proof a print on multiple surfaces before deciding which paper type I want the final large print to be on.

If you are to print at home and want consistent reliable results, you need to be disciplined and follow a strict colour managed process. If you start taking short cuts, you'll end up no better than the labs. There is definitely a skill to printing and one needs to take the time to acquire this skill or you'll be frustrated.

Many of the high end printers were designed for high production and don't like to be idle for too long. People can spend a lot of wasted time and ink dealing with clogs if they leave some printers alone for too long.

I use 2 HP Z3100 printers and a Epson 3880 converted for Piezography inks. With these printers, I have very little trouble with clogged heads.

Once you get good at printing, the cost for a large print is a fraction of what you would pay a professional lab. Depending on how many prints you make, the cost of a printer can quickly be recovered.



Mar 04, 2017 at 05:03 PM
DGC1
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


So, you want to enlarge a postage stamp to 24" X 36" What kind of quality do you think that will result in?


Mar 04, 2017 at 08:13 PM
ckcarr
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


You may as well suck it up and get yourself a 24" printer.

Of course, ink might kill you. $55 or more per cartridge, 9-12 cartridges... Or, you may print once or twice and there's your $2,000 printer sitting there...

But 24" wide, and as long as you want....

I go in printing streaks though, sometimes nothing for six months, and then a flurry of activity...
And then there's the paper.... Now I only like very few presentation papers... $$

And why bother printing if you aren't going to do a nice frame.... $$



Mar 04, 2017 at 09:17 PM
chez
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


DGC1 wrote:
So, you want to enlarge a postage stamp to 24" X 36" What kind of quality do you think that will result in?


The original image had plenty of pixels to make a 5x7 which is what the OP is comparing. The bottom line the prints from the lab look worse than the print produced at home...which is my finding as well.



Mar 04, 2017 at 10:00 PM
chez
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


ckcarr wrote:
You may as well suck it up and get yourself a 24" printer.

Of course, ink might kill you. $55 or more per cartridge, 9-12 cartridges... Or, you may print once or twice and there's your $2,000 printer sitting there...

But 24" wide, and as long as you want....

I go in printing streaks though, sometimes nothing for six months, and then a flurry of activity...
And then there's the paper.... Now I only like very few presentation papers... $$

And why bother printing if you aren't going to do a nice frame.... $$


You know what is the biggest waste of $$$ is all the expensive cameras and lenses and to only view the image on a screen. That to me is $$$ down the drain.

I print a lot of my images, don't necessarily hang them all up, but I do put them into portfolios which I bring out when I have guests over. Great way to show off your work...that ability to hold a print, see and feel the paper texture blows them away...much more so than when I show images on a monitor or big screen TV.



Mar 04, 2017 at 10:02 PM
Mark_L
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


I've concluded the opposite. A 16x12 on fujiflex from a lab that does do pro work, gives icc profiles and matches my calibrated screen almost precisely is 1.15. The cost of ink will kill you even more-so if you use it infrequently because the ink goes off and cleaning cycles blow through it at an alarming rate. I have heard some wedding photogs in the US even use Costco (seriously). It is all about finding the right lab; I've had some trials done from cheapo places and have got results like you have shown too.

If the lab doesn't have icc profiles on their site a precise file instructions with colour space, resolution etc. move on as they will not not able to produce good results even if they have the right printer. Pretty much all labs run an automated process and who knows what goes on with some of the cheaper ones in terms of sharpening, up/downsampling etc. which is the issue you are seeing.



Mar 04, 2017 at 11:49 PM
 

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lara_ckl
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


DGC1 wrote:
So, you want to enlarge a postage stamp to 24" X 36" What kind of quality do you think that will result in?


My original image was 4333x3095 pixels (as stated). More than enough pixels to enlarge to 24x36.

More to the point, I was not complaining about the ABSOLUTE detail of the resulting image. I was comparing the commercial prints vs home-made prints. The 2 commercial print examples I provided had stair-stepped edges and a grainy appearance COMPARED TO the home-made print.



Mar 05, 2017 at 12:07 AM
lara_ckl
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


chez wrote:
You know what is the biggest waste of $$$ is all the expensive cameras and lenses and to only view the image on a screen. That to me is $$$ down the drain.


That's what got me thinking. People on the internet often say, "You are not going to see a difference between X and Y unless you print big."

Are they really printing big? Is anyone printing big?

What's the point of buying a lens that can "resolve" 2 lines at 10000 feet when the line is going to show up as stair-stepped shadows on a print?


Edited on Mar 05, 2017 at 12:27 AM · View previous versions



Mar 05, 2017 at 12:17 AM
lara_ckl
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


Steve Perry wrote:
Sad thing is, I hate printing, and I'm never going to be accused of being an expert at it. However, even my meager skills are enough to easily beat out the big labs with my Canon iPF 6400. I'd really love to find a lab that could do better so I could sell my printer and never have to do it myself again, but so far, no takers.


Steve, my thoughts exactly. I stress/obsess over taking the shot. I stress/obsess over post-processing the image. I would gladly forego stressing and obsessing over printing.



Mar 05, 2017 at 12:26 AM
chez
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


lara_ckl wrote:
Steve, my thoughts exactly. I stress/obsess over taking the shot. I stress/obsess over post-processing the image. I would gladly forego stressing and obsessing over printing.


I love printing. Its the final step where your vision comes alive. Nothing like watching a nice big print come off the printer.



Mar 05, 2017 at 12:28 AM
lara_ckl
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


Mark_L wrote:
I've concluded the opposite. A 16x12 on fujiflex from a lab that does do pro work, gives icc profiles and matches my calibrated screen almost precisely is 1.15. The cost of ink will kill you even more-so if you use it infrequently because the ink goes off and cleaning cycles blow through it at an alarming rate. I have heard some wedding photogs in the US even use Costco (seriously). It is all about finding the right lab; I've had some trials done from cheapo places and have got results like you have shown too.

If the lab doesn't have icc
...Show more

I agree with you. If I can find a good commercial printer, on the long run, I will be saving money. Especially, if I am looking to print anything wider than 19 inches. (I am not selling my prints. There are just that many prints I can hang on my walls before my house turns into a shrine.)



Mar 05, 2017 at 12:43 AM
Jeff Donald
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


What type of machine is your commercial printer using? Not all commercial machines are created equal. This looks like a print from an old analog printer that was converted to digital. Modern commercial printers should do a much better job.


Mar 05, 2017 at 02:01 AM
PhotoMaximum
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


^^ What Jeff said.

The size that the OP is printing at requires a printer that costs real money. For a print shop investing in large printers the profit structure is about volume, expenses and all the decision making factors in deciding how long to keep a particular printer model in service vs. investing in the latest and greatest.

The new printer (technology) at home you are proofing little test segments of your images from might be several generations ahead of the commercial print shop you are considering for the final large prints.

Edited on Mar 05, 2017 at 03:37 AM · View previous versions



Mar 05, 2017 at 02:08 AM
PhotoMaximum
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


The constant Joker in the Deck here is viewing distance. How does the print look hanging on the wall?


Mar 05, 2017 at 03:32 AM
nmguy
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


A thought on the aliasing (stair steps). It looks like your samples are pretty highly magnified. You can get some blockiness (has a spell checker red line under it, guess it isn't a real word) from the compression algorithm. If your home print is from a RAW, TIFF, or something not compressed it may be the compressed file format viewed at large scale that's causing your headache.

It may be worthwhile to print the same JPEG file you sent to the commercial printer on your home printer. If the aliasing is there when printed from the JPEG file then it's a file format issue. If the blockiness isn't there then this is just another of my fine ideas gone to hell .

thx,
Glenn



Mar 05, 2017 at 05:09 AM
CanadaMark
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · How can commercial prints be so bad vs home-made prints?


Interesting results.

Com1 is just brutal, the resolution is so low it looks pixelated. Very poor result from that printer. I wonder if they use a low resolution by default because it's just a 5X7.

Com2 vs Home is more interesting. Com2 is much more detailed than Hom1, the latter of which looks like it had noise reduction applied because all the fine detail is gone. Com2 is much grainier but fine detail is much better and probably looks better from a normal viewing distance.

Another thing to try would be to not downsize at all to 300ppi, send them the original file and let them decide the best way to go about the rest. That's what I do and I've never had an issue with commercial printers.

If you are worried about printing big, you might try printing on Canvas - that medium is extremely forgiving and can even look good under 100ppi if you aren't holding your nose right up to it.



Mar 05, 2017 at 06:36 AM
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